"You got a below average score (4)!"

When a new Zelda was announced at E3 all the way back in 2004, grown men literally wept at the reappearance of Adult Link. But the game was delayed for years -- some think on purpose -- allowing for it to become a Wii launch title and assist in the Wii's overnight success despite being a simple port from the Gamecube version. But the original version of Twilight Princess, the Gamecube version that should have housed the title from day one without a ton of delays, was still of course released. This was excellent news, since The Wind Waker was the only main series Zelda title released post-N64 since Ocarina of Time and fans were itching for a Zelda game without bad cel shading in it. The delays were of course forgivable in the eyes of fans, seeing as Ocarina of Time was delayed for years and ended up one of the greatest games ever made. Could Twilight Princess use a similar pattern for itself and see equal acclaim?

In a word: no. Twilight Princess is the very definition of wasted potential, especially paired with how long the game took to finally hit shelves. There is wasted potential all through the game, and a ton of silly little oversights that should flat-out not be in a game that gets delayed for so long. It does however retain all the tried and true Zelda methods -- even risking having some feel forced at times -- and ends up a good enough game by the end thanks mostly to a well-developed story and Ocarina of Time gameplay elements. But "good enough" does not help Twilight Princess rank with gaming's elite.

At the very beginning, Link is in the farm village of Ordon doing what farmers typically do; herd up goats, grabbing chickens by the legs, looking for loose money under rocks, playing with owls, fishing and flirting with girls. All without ever speaking, since it's a guarantee Nintendo will treat their best characters like avatars and never give them an actual personality. Every year Nintendo tells us how great they are, and every year we get the same exact thing and most new additions don't work out correctly.

Anyway, Link goes through a very extensive exposition process in his little home town, but he eventually gets ganked by some pigs and imprisoned in another world entirely. When he wakes up, he's in prison and gets the double whammy of not being human anymore. He's stuck as a wolf, with an imp named Midna floating around and taunting his every move. Midna is the supporting actor that steals the show, though in the beginning she acts like a selfish little tool that only cares about helping herself. She does eventually help Link get out of prison, and explains that he's stuck in the world of Twilight. Link can either sit around and do nothing, ensuring that he remains a lone wolf forever, or he can help her and maybe return home with no real guarantees either way.

Cue another gigantic exposition, this time with Wolf Link learning the ropes. Literally. Eventually Link learns that the Twilight Realm is the antithesis of the Light World and that the place he was imprisoned is actually Hyrule Castle, and an evil sorcerer named Zant one day decided to spread the influence of darkness into the Light World. This caused parts of the Light World to get thrown into chaos, and Link somehow gets cursed to wolf form whenever he enters here. Eventually, after what can be hours of gameplay, Link makes it back to being a human form and enters the game's first dungeon. If one considers the time from beginning of the game until first entering the Forest Temple the game's tutorial, then a couple of comparisons can be made here. In just the tutorial for Twilight Princess, you could probably beat the original Legend of Zelda or Adventure of Link, get to the Dark World in Link to the Past and possibly even clear two dungeons in Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess has a bad habit of being far too big and drawn-out, and it plagues the game all the way to the very end.

The first half of the game especially is a chore to play. Your main task will be traversing a world that's entirely too big, freeing the world from the Twilight's influence and tracking down three vaguely defined armor pieces for Midna. She barely mentions anything about what the artifacts do, only that they're really powerful and it falling into the wrong hands is out of the question. Never mind that Midna herself isn't defined as good or evil by this point, but Link goes along with the plan anyway. These three artifacts obviously come from three different dungeons, all needing their own annoying line of fetch quest nonsense before entering.

To free parts of the world from the Twilight's influence, Link has to enter the Twilight, find some ancient light god and fill a necklace with bugs only visible to Wolf Link. All the while, with the sole exception of being in the three dungeons themselves, you'll feel like you've been stuck in a never-ending tech demo. The first half of the game is littered with the game forcing lame stuff on you, such as scripted mid-bosses, badly done horseback combat, Wolf Link's "Sense" command, everything involving Wolf Link in general, and on and on and on. The game, gameplay and story range from "Bad" to "What the hell were they thinking?" until you enter the Lakebed Temple. By no coincidence, it's right about this time where the game drastically reduces lame gimmicks and leaves you to your own vices -- dungeon hopping, in other words. Of course, leave it to a lot of fans to get it completely backwards. A lot of people think the first half of the game was the best part, so Nintendo is bound to give us a ton of useless exposition in every game from now on. Of course, there's still the old Zelda issue of using an item in the dungeon you find it in, then barely touching it again. Twilight Princess takes this to a whole new extreme. Other than the Hookshots -- The game calls them "Clawshots", but spare us the semantics; they're Hookshots -- and the Bow, you can count on one hand the number of times you'll use an item outside the dungeon you find it in. Two new items, the Spinner and Dominion Rod, are the big offenders of this and only add to the game's overall problem of wasted potential.

Right around the end of Lakebed Temple, the game picks up by a lot. Characters, especially Midna, are given a ton of development, the story as a whole gets pretty good (for a Nintendo title, at least) and the gameplay gets very fun albeit in a game that remains too damn big. You're again hunting for items found in dungeons, but this time it's to put together an item called the Mirror of Twilight so that Link can enter the Twilight Realm and kick some ass. And if any character can invade the most evil place in any Nintendo game, it's Link. Even though the guy never speaks, he's a badass made out of concrete and chiseled by titanium. All the gods of the universe could band together, beat the crap out of Link for two weeks and then throw him into Hell itself, and all Link would suffer is the loss of half a heart. All this is done with a character design loosely influenced by Robin Hood. Imagine how awesome Link would be if he actually looked like a man.

The game's second half is also made better by a lot of gameplay improvements not seen in the stupidly long exposition sequences. Link can transform freely from human to wolf forms, which is an option that should have been there from the very beginning. Warp points will exist all over the world thanks to Link's efforts in the first half, which helps to shrink an oversized world down to manageable levels, and the game is just overall great in the latter parts. The story will eventually climax and various villains will get their asses whipped, which is what we've come to expect from Zelda games. Twilight Princess does this very well, though Zelda and the final boss feel extremely forced, almost as if they're in the game because they had to be. Things eventually culminate in one of the worst endings of any game ever made, yet again leaving a bad taste in the player's mouth. But that is the true story of Twilight Princess -- wasted potential and the unshakable feeling something is missing despite how massive the game is.

From a pure gameplay perspective, this is where all of the most egregious such violations take place. The short version of this is that Twilight Princess has the best set of dungeons in the entire series, great bosses, a pretty good set of items, some fun mini games and side quests, and a completely lousy everything else getting in the way of anything that could make Twilight Princess fun. It is no coincidence that the most fun part of the game is when the dungeon-hopping finally kicks in, because you're doing what makes Zelda games fun and not dealing with all the extraneous BS of getting to them. The first half of the game especially is just horrible about this.

Most of the fun things in Twilight Princess are canceled out by what could have been, bad gimmicks or just plain old stupid oversights. For example, Epona is always fun to ride around on and have fun with, but you can't call her at will until near the end of the game and horseback combat -- a huge selling point for this game -- is horribly done. You're better off ditching the horse and fighting on foot. The items are mostly good, but are rarely used outside the dungeon you find them in. The Spinner especially just reeks of wasted potential; you only need the item one or two more times following the Arbiter's Grounds. If you're a completionist gamer, you'll need it maybe four or five times after competing the Arbiter's Grounds. Wolf Link was a good idea in theory, but virtually all the parts where you have to use this form are forced, gimmicky and terrible. Scent following is especially lame, and is forced upon you until the very end of the game. It also isn't until the second half of the game where you can freely switch between human and wolf form, and even then you're stuck going into a menu first rather than the switch taking one button. The biggest issue everyone always complains about in Ocarina of Time is Iron Boots not being a C item; you have to go into the Start menu a million times to get through the Water Temple. A decade later, Nintendo is still making games with the same stupid oversights.

Speaking of menus, you have to use the horrendous octagonal analog stick to navigate them in Twilight Princess. For whatever reason, the D-Pad cannot be used to navigate menus, which is one of the stupidest oversights possible. This is what happens when games are intentionally delayed to sell unreleased systems; you get stupid oversights like lack of D-Pad use in menus. And the list just goes on and on and on.

Twilight Princess has no ocarina in it. Which is fine for exploring new ideas, but Nintendo also removed everything that made the ocarina good in Ocarina of Time. People didn't care about having an ocarina; they cared about the after-effects of using it. The instrument could have been a guitar shaped from a human spine for all it mattered. In Twilight Princess, you can't make it rain whenever you want. You can't have random fun with enemies by using a Sun Song to freeze the undead. Especially notable is how there is no quick way of switching from day to night or night to day, which makes Poe hunting one of the game's biggest chores. If you go hunting for Poes, fly around like a bat out of hell at night. Because once the sun comes up, you have to wait eons for night time again. And the list of bad oversights just keeps going and going.

Rupees. Oh dear God, the rupees. The rupee system in this game encompasses everything bad about Twilight Princess in one fell swoop. The game throws money at you like you're a Saturday night stripper, yet there is next to nothing to spend your "hard earned" money on. But this is no problem, because who cares about walking around with a full wallet in a Zelda game, right?

Wrong. If you find a treasure with bombs in it and you have full bombs, you'll take the treasure anyway. Full arrows, but you find more arrows? No problem. But if you find a rupee treasure chest (and no joke, over half the treasure chests in this game have money in them) and your wallet is full, Link just puts it back. Even if your wallet isn't full and taking the rupee puts Link over max -- Example: Your rupee max is 300, you're holding 296 and find a Blue Rupee in a treasure chest -- he puts it back. Even worse, you'd better free up 60 straight hours or so and play this entire game in one shot. Because if you turn the game off and come back later, be prepared to relearn what every non-green rupee's value is.

Just on the off chance you forget:

You got a blue rupee (5)!
You got a yellow rupee (10)!
You got a red rupee (20)!
You got a purple rupee (50)!
You got an orange rupee (100)!
You got a silver rupee (200)!

And yes, there are treasure chests even near the end of the game that have green rupees in them. The little value 1 guys. The whole rupee issue in this game is galactically stupid, even by Nintendo standards. It stops being as big an issue once you get the Magic Armor, but the Magic Armor itself is also subpar. It drains rupees constantly while worn, and drains rupees if Link gets hit. Most people will only use this armor to snuff out treasures on a full wallet, otherwise it's barely worth the trouble. Its one legitimate use is inside the Cave of Ordeals, an optional gauntlet dungeon that serves no purpose other than proving Nintendo can, in fact, fail at camera angles.

And even with all this, there are still tons more dumb mechanics and silly oversights. The Zora Armor is decent in theory, but you swim so slowly compared to Majora's Mask it makes no real difference outside the whole not drowning thing. The Cave of Ordeals could have been a cool little side challenge, but it makes too much of an effort to swarm Link with enemies. This causes horrendous targeting errors, bad camera angles and a ton of enemies getting a stupid advantage solely because of camera angles and a targeting system. If Nintendo wants to recreate Devil May Cry fine, but give Link some added speed and let him keep up with the hordes of enemies. As presently constituted, the advertised enemy hordes are little more than Nintendo's proof of how far they've fallen when it comes to first party game development. Even the hidden sword skills, some of which are designed to help Link deal with hordes of enemies easier, feel like a bad gimmick.

A lot of companies or individuals that experience prolonged periods of success get really stupid, because they don't know what failure is. They're told for years how great they are, how everything they do is golden. When they finally jump the shark and start making one bad choice after another, they cannot be told their ideas are bad. Samuel L. Jackson, The Rock, Mariah Carey, Eddie Murphy and a host of 2008's failed banks and investment firms are all perfect examples of this. Nintendo has long since passed this line in their game development. Twilight Princess is the rarest type of game, because it ends up being good despite its own development. A ton of the game feels rushed, gimmicky, forced, childish.... but yet miraculously, the end product isn't all that bad. This is likely because Nintendo, on muscle memory alone, remembered what made them iconic in the first place. Because despite all the useless nonsense this game throws at you, it still has amazing dungeons, epic boss fights and ends up with a fairly good storyline. It's a miracle Midna ends up such a great character, because Nintendo's new ideas haven't worked in years.

Musically, Twilight Princess bumbles its way into having a great soundtrack thanks to using themes from past Zelda games and tweaking them a bit. But it's no surprise that known songs are mostly good, and the new songs are pretty much pond scum playing instruments and hoping for the best. Graphics are passable enough given how this is a Gamecube title, though the coloring of the Twilight Realm leaves a lot to be desired. Even Nintendo has fallen into the recent development trend of everything being different shades of brown.

In the end, Twilight Princess is an interesting case. If you're a Zelda fan, you'll probably be able to like this game even with the long line of wasted potential and bad oversights. If not, you can safely skip this. It offers little new paradigms and likely feeds into your opinion of why the Zelda series -- and Nintendo as a whole -- isn't good in the first place. The game does some things really well, like dungeons, bosses, items and mini games. It does other things not so well, like lack of D Pad functionality in menus and pretty much everything outside of dungeons, bosses, items and mini games.

Since you'll only be spending 40% of the game having any fun (See also: "In dungeons"), the game gets a 4/10. Twilight Princess had amazing potential, but virtually all of it gets wasted by how bad most non-dungeon aspects of the game are. If this is Nintendo's so-called best effort, they're in trouble.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 07/20/09, Updated 02/08/10

Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (US, 12/11/06)


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