We were delighted to hear the announcement at Nintendo's briefing Tuesday morning that a playable demo of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks would be on the show floor at E3 2009. The massive lineup for the game seemed to indicate that our enthusiasm was well shared across the gaming community.
Nintendo is still being very tight-lipped about the storyline, and would only divulge the fact that Spirit Tracks takes place about 100 years after the events of Phantom Hourglass. We have also been informed that travel between lands would take place by train, replacing the boat seen in the previous title.
The game looks and works just like Phantom Hourglass, using the stylus to control motion and actions. The added twist is that Link no longer needs to run from the Phantoms; he has one as his buddy. Using the stylus, you can draw a path for the Phantom to take and have him help you solve puzzles. Some of these puzzles will be familiar to fans of the franchise, but some of the mechanics of the Phantom buddy allowed Nintendo to create some completely new ones. For instance, we used the phantom to step on one of the two keystones to unlock a door, had it walk through fire to get to a switch on the other side, and then jumped onto its back to carry us across a river of lava. He's really quite useful, just not too bright.
Somewhat surprisingly, Nintendo has confirmed that there is no DSi-specific content in this game. We had expected that the game would have at least an optional side quest to help promote the recently revised platform. However, the microphone has been reused in new ways for this title, including one weapon dubbed the Whirlwind that is activated by blowing into the microphone.
The demo featured three game modes: dungeon, boss and train. In dungeon mode, the player can quite simply jump straight into one of the story's dungeons. As you defeat bosses in the main story, they will become unlocked for you to fight them again in the boss mode. The train mode allows the player to practice using Link's only vehicle.
When on the train, Link must use a turret to shoot enemies such as wolves that approach the tracks. In addition, pesky farm animals will often block the tracks and the player must use the horn to disperse them. The train will inevitably come to multiple crossroads, requiring the player to quickly refer to the map and make a decision, but that's about as much direction control as you're expected to do.
Ultimately, it's the story that will be the primary driver for the success of this title, and we're very eager to play the full release of Spirit Tracks this Holiday season.