The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
There is nary a gamer out there who would deny that The Legend of Zelda is one of the greatest franchises of all time. The series, first appearing on the NES, has been incredibly successful, delivering near-perfect adventure experiences that were groundbreaking at release and are still easy to appreciate. When the series made the jump to 3D on the N64 with Ocarina of Time, it adapted perfectly, and is remembered as one of the best- if not the best- adventure games of all time. A darker, more brooding, sequel followed and was also well received. Then came the GameCube. The Wind Waker ditched the realistic/anime look and instead went for a “kiddy” cartoon look. It was a fantastic game, to be sure, but the design choice alienated fans who appreciated the maturity of the previous titles. Well, their prayers have been answered. Twilight Princess is about as dark as you could ask for, and after a long time in development hell, it’s finally here to continue the Zelda tradition of excellence. There are a few hitches here and there, but this is one Wii game no one will want to miss.
As far as stories go, Zelda has always been fairly generic. Chosen one this, holy blade that, Princess in distress, etc etc. Up until now, the appreciation of the series has mostly been through the storytelling, not the story (with the exception of Majora’s Mask). However, Twilight Princess goes into waters previously unknown to the series. Ordon Village, the home of Link, is attacked by goblins who steal all of the children away. Trying to rescue them, Link comes into contact with the Twilight, a bizarre realm which once acted as a balance with the Light, but is now stretching beyond its place. In this realm, Link is turned into a wolf and arrested. He is rescued by Midna, an imp who then teaches Link all about living as a wolf rides on his back bossing him around. This is a very interesting relationship, as Midna’s intentions are less than clear, if even honest. What’s more, it seems like the encroaching Twilight is Zelda’s fault. It’s up to Link- with Midna’s “help”- to put an end to the Twilight. Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s easy to point out that Twilight is very, very dark, compared to other games in the series or otherwise. It’s by no means gruesome, but the mood of the game is subdued, and there are many creepy characters to contend with. The Link/Midna interaction is especially interesting, since it practically denies Link of the usual pure-of-heart hero status- Midna is a sort of monkey on his back, manipulating him and his actions. She’s even around when he’s in human form- as his shadow.
The gameplay on the Nintendo Wii is reminiscent of Ocarina of Time’s famous HUD layout. Items are mapped to the remote’s d-pad, while movement is handled by the nunchuck. Swinging the remote in various ways performs sword swipes, cuts, and stabs, and flicking the nunchuck will cause Link to perform the classic spin strike. The motion sensing controller is put to use best when projectile weapons are in use, such as the boomerang or bow, being used to aim. The controls are the same for both human and wolf forms, which makes things nice and easy: incapable of using a sword, wolf Link attacks with his teeth. The basic formula of combat hasn’t changed much, but there are some hidden combos that can be unlocked to make it look and feel a bit more diverse. The same can be said about the rest of the game. Twilight Princess features the same basic setup of an overworld hub featuring smaller offshoots which, in turn, contain the meat of the game- dungeons. The dungeons are all very well designed, perfecting the puzzles to a point where they never get overly frustrating. Bosses, however, are disappointingly easy. However, to make up for this, most of them are more intense cinematic experiences that are certainly more fun than trial and error runs.
Twilight Princess isn’t a reinvention of the series, which some fans may find disappointing. The layout, excluding the motion control, is almost exactly the same as the previous three games. The difference here is that while nothing has really changed, the standard has been tweaked and tuned to perfection. Out of the now four 3D Zelda games available across the N64-GC-Wii platforms, Twilight Princess is most certainly the definitive. It features the most cohesive overworld, delivering a version of Hyrule that Ocarina tried to portray but couldn’t due to the N64’s hardware limitations. It’s not the biggest, but it feels a lot more like one kingdom than Wind Waker’s endless blue ocean did. It’s also the most streamlined, having a plot that clicks forward at a constant rate and never resorts to soulless fetch-quests and padding. By fixing the few things that were broken, Nintendo has perfected the formula for adventure play. The wolf sections aren’t as drastic an addition as they may seem, as they control exactly the same and are really just an extension of the storytelling. Make no mistake: if you have a pulse, you will enjoy this game.
The graphics in Twilight Princess have attracted a lot of attention, due to the fact that it marks a return to the anime stylings of the N64 games. Overall, the game looks absolutely gorgeous, with a slightly gothic air to it. The downside, however, is that the Wii hardware simply can’t pump out photorealistic visuals the way the 360 and PS3 can, so many textures are blurry and undefined. Still, it’s the effort that counts, and it’s clear that everything you see in Twilight Princess was lovingly crafted. In particular, the dark world looks great. Everything is strangely digital, with geometric designs and vaguely disturbing monsters inhabiting it. In this realm, everything seems to be a shade of gray, with some blinding HDR work piercing a little bit of muddy yellow into the mix. If you can get your hands on some component cables, the game looks even nicer, with sharp colors and crisp edges. The sound design is top-notch too, but unfortunately, consists mostly of MIDI compositions. The few songs that are truly orchestral are absolutely brilliant, echoing the same moodiness as the visuals. One aspect of the sound may be unforgivable to some people in this day and age- a lack of voice acting. Prepare to do a good amount of reading, because once again no one utters a word, excluding your shady companion. Midna is fully “voiced” but her language is a creepy garbled mumble. Still, this is hardly a devastating blow against the game, and overall the audio/video package is great, especially as this is a launch title for the Wii.
If you are one of the three people who didn’t buy Twilight Princess with the Wii console, do yourself a favor and pick it up. If you’re still holding out on a Wii, or haven’t been able to find one yet, find solace in the fact that Twilight more than validates the purchase of the system. Mixing the classic Zelda formula with a more mature tale, Twilight Princess is an epic of the highest caliber that gamers will not want to miss.
Ten out of ten