The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Despite their best efforts, Nintendo had to face the inevitable: the Gamecube was dying. A handful of nasty problems were to blame for the console’s painfully slow demise. The ever-shrinking supply of third party support left the Gamecube with a limited selection of titles when compared with its competitors. Nintendo’s need to implement gimmicky peripherals, such as the microphone and the Gameboy Advance connection cable, detracted from what could have been some of the most interesting titles ever seen on the system. Not even the wonderful concept of Wavebird controller and games like Super Smash Bros. Melee, Resident Evil 4, and F-Zero GX could save the Gamecube from damnation. With the advent of the Wii, Nintendo decided to spare the console from any more suffering; as per the sendoffs for the last few of their consoles, the Gamecube would get one last Legend of Zelda as its sendoff into the annals of video game history.
And boy, what a sendoff it was.
The land of Hyrule has never seen better days than these. The once-tiny kingdom has spread far and wide across the continent, allowing for new roads, towns, and provinces to spring up and add to the wealth and commerce of the land. In one of the local townships, a young goat herder in training named Link is taking the day off. In between running errands for the local townfolk, nabbing vegetables out of his neighbor’s yard and fishing out of the glimmering river waters, he’s a far cry from the little boy that we met in Ocarina of Time. Tomorrow, he’s going to embark on a journey to Hyrule Castle in an attempt to make sure Princess Zelda hasn’t forgotten about his town. But before he can go through with such a meaningless plot device, the skies darken overhead, casting the entire kingdom into a state of perpetual dusk. The noonday sun is replaced with the faint glow of a false Twilight, the shadows creep into monstrous life, and everyone from the pudgy storekeeper to the bratty kids next door is turned into a spirit and left to wander aimlessly throughout the town. But since Link is obviously the latest incarnation of the hero of the Legend of Zelda series, he’s charged with the salvation of not only his friends and family, but of Hyrule itself.
“Despite their best efforts, Nintendo had to face the inevitable: the Gamecube was dying.”That doesn’t mean he’s completely immune to the effects of the Twilight, though. After getting sucked into the darkened realm, he’s transformed from a simple farm boy into a wolf. That’s right. Hyrule’s savior is changed (thankfully temporarily) from a sword-swinging killing machine of legend into little more than a blue-eyed ball of pale fur and fangs. Don’t let the little beast fool you, though; even if Link can’t wield an item as a wolf, his ability to rip into an enemy’s jugular is a considerable asset. He also has the ability to track certain people (made easier by the conveniently bright scent trail wafting through the breeze), as well as dig up Rupees and other items buried in the dirt. In order to get his heroic Hyrulian self back in order, Link will have to wander through a few areas and slaughter a bunch of mystical bugs. Since all of the pests are strewn throughout, our hero will have to break into every house, lunge at every suspicious-looking box, and sniff out all the little nooks and crannies around. Upon completing this tedious and poorly veiled adaptation of the Ocarina of Time’s Skulltulla sidequest and exterminating all the vermin in the area, the local god will give Link his body back and command him to kill off the rest of the evil in the nearby dungeon.
Fortunately, adventuring as a Hyrulian is far more fun than pawing through dirt and killing insects. In the typical fashion of the last few Legend of Zelda console titles, Link will explore an area room by room, snag an item or two along the way, and eventually slay some fearsome boss at the end. Seasoned Zelda veterans will find that traversing the dungeons of Twilight Princess will involve the kinds of puzzles and traps that previous titles have offered. Can’t figure out a way to make that wooden door budge? Try killing all of the slime-drooling killer plants in the room. Layers of vines and giant spider webs can be roasted if you’ve got some flames handy. Even lighting all the unused torches in a given area will likely make a treasure chest materialize out of thin air and provide you with a compass, map, or key necessary for a dungeon’s completion. Twilight Princess, however, makes a few spins on some old classics; Link’s iron boots aren’t just for exploring the watery depths of Lake Hylia, but latching onto metallic structures as well. Despite some cleverly designed puzzles and lengthy dungeons, many of the enemies are pushovers when compared to their predecessors. After slogging though a bunch of trap-laden rooms, the boss battles will seem brief, easy, and unsatisfying.
“Don’t let the little beast fool you, though; even if Link can’t wield an item as a wolf, his ability to rip into an enemy’s jugular is a considerable asset.”Thankfully, conquering the dungeons isn’t the only thing that’ll keep the game going. Twilight Princess boasts numerous sidequests and mini games to grab you attention. Remember that little puddle of a fishing hole in Ocarina of Time? It’s been expanded and remodeled into fully-fledged pond with foggy waters, mossy rock formations, and multiple species of fish to snag. Since the Skulltulla sidequest is (unfortunately) ingrained into the main gameplay of the first few dungeons, the game tries to make it up to you by spreading a bunch of beetles, snails, and other insects throughout Hyrule. Though finding all of them can prove challenging, the monetary rewards from a certain bug-obsessed character makes up for it. There’s nothing better than rafting through the churning rapids of Zora’s River and shooting targets or boarding down the icy slopes of Snowpeak. There’s even an undead swordsman that can teach Link a bunch of special attacks and offensive stances. Needless to say, you’ve got a lot of diversions from saving Hyrule.
By the way, upgrading Link’s health has also been expanded. Previous games had you seek out four Heart Pieces to extend our hero’s lifespan, but Twilight Princess makes you seek out one more. While hardcore Zelda fans may regard this as a damning flaw, this expansion allows for more exploration; with so many items and upgrades strewn throughout Hyrule, there are plenty of hidden grottos, darkened caves, and other faraway places worth looking into. With such a long quest ahead of you, the game grants you access to the usual Master Sword and Hero’s Bow, as well as a few fresh takes on some old-school items. Fans of A Link to the Past will be glad to see that the Lantern is back in action with its practical uses. The Hookshot has been upgraded into a badass extendable claw, and even Epona, Link’s mighty steed of old, can be beckoned with a simple blowing of the right kind of grass.
“There’s nothing better than rafting through the churning rapids of Zora’s River and shooting targets or boarding down the icy slopes of Snowpeak.”That’s right, Zelda fans. After a brief hiatus in The Wind Waker, the legendary horse is back in action. The steed has grown from the pathetic little pony in Ocarina of Time into a fully developed combat horse. With a press of the button, you can send Epona into a blazingly fast gallop and even slice and dice your foes from horseback. Unfortunately, the old beast of burden becomes increasingly impractical as the quest wears on; she may be able to outrun Link by miles and jump over fences, but her controls can be sluggish and frustrating at times. The lack of many horseback battles doesn’t help, either. The worst part for Epona, however, comes later on in the game; Link will be granted the power to teleport all over Hyrule, thus eliminating any need (outside of nostalgia, anyway) to ride the steed ever again.
Ironically, Epona’s ultimate failure is the result of another spin on an older character. Veterans of Ocarina of Time may be still haunted by the sounds of Navi, Link’s frequently annoying fairy assistant. That little pixie has been replaced by a darkly humored being named Midna. Despite her toothy grins, independent motivations, and outright lack of respect for our hero, she’s one of the freshest concepts in a game that features more old ideas than new. Indeed, much of Twilight Princess takes ideas and concepts or previous Zelda titles and re-imagines them with an updated look. The Sacred Grove has been reworked from a mere maze of trees into some wonderfully detailed ruins covered in fallen leaves, and overgrown vines. Castle Town is no longer a little village, but a bustling town filled with food markets and crowds of well-dressed peasants. The game goes to great lengths to show off its setting and atmosphere; flames cast realistic light and shadows, grass can be stepped underfoot, and even the smallest buildings feature more ornate details than anything ever seen in a Zelda game. Even though Twilight Princess borrows several concepts from its predecessors, it’s easily the best depictions overall.
This does not mean that Twilight Princess is a perfect game. Nor does it mean that it is best title in its respective series. This game is more or less the latest version of a realm that has been long established and already seen. Yes, the story is darker, longer, and more character driven than anything before it. Yes, the dungeons and sidequests are remarkably well crafted. That doesn’t mean that both seasoned Zelda fans and newcomers alike will enjoy the lacking difficulty and the other small problems that plague the game. From a purely graphical standpoint, Twilight Princess is the pinnacle of what the Gamecube can offer: wonderfully detailed worlds and engrossing atmospheres. But for those that have played older Zelda religiously, this title may seem like nothing more than a glorified remake. But hey, Link’s back and kicking evil’s ass. That’s always a good thing.