Review by BlueSunrise

"Homecoming"

Note: This review is based on the Wii version of the game.

It was released with insurmountable expectations. In the wake of a four-year development cycle, an industry-shaking console launch, and Nintendo's own promise that this would be the best Legend to ever grace our televisions, it's hard to imagine any game in recent memory that has came under so much attention (and scrutiny) than The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

It was to be expected, really; since Ocarina of Time redefined the series a decade ago on the now-ancient Nintendo 64, fans have been clamoring for that one, true Zelda adventure that would do Ocarina justice - and maybe even top it. Fantastic as they were in their own rights, N64's Majora's Mask and GameCube's The Wind Waker brought the series into somewhat controversial directions. Well, it's time for Link and co. to come home.

Make no mistake about it: Twilight Princess most certainly tops Ocarina of Time. And like many of the games in the franchise before it, this new Legend is a fantastic effort through and through that proves once again why Nintendo employs the most talented developers in the world. Everything that you've come to expect from this storied series has returned in true form: the compelling story line, terrific art direction, ageless melodies, and that same rock-solid game design that we've all come to expect. It's a tremendously-worthwhile experience that deserves my highest recommendations. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is simply a must-have title, no questions asked.

But one important question must be asked: is it perfect? Can it be perfect? In a word, yes. And in another word, no. As we all know, Twilight Princess was (and always will be) a GameCube title ported onto the Wii for obvious financial reasons. Without a big gun in the system's launch arsenal (Super Mario, Metroid, and Super Smash Bros. were all missing), the Big N made the decision to fully integrate this new Zelda adventure, GameCube's swan song, as the premiere launch title for their white wonder. If gamers wanted to experience this gem, they'd either have to buy a Wii or wait for the GameCube version, which would be a limited-print run.

Whether you see this as a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you, but after experiencing this latest Legend, I am convinced that it was the right move. Read on.

A Link to the Past

Link's quest opens in similar fare when compared to many previous games in the series: you'll play as a humble boy with humble beginnings in a humble town. Ordon Village is the place, and it functions as a tutorial of sorts (much like Kokiri Village in Ocarina of Time) to get gamers acquainted with the title's Wii-centric controls. Beyond this cozy town lies the great kingdom of Hyrule and a quest for the ages. Like Ocarina and Wind Waker before it, Twilight Princess is very much a coming-of-age story as an ordinary boy discovers that he possesses within him the extraordinary powers necessary to win the war of good versus evil.

And as such, Twilight Princess is a homecoming of sorts for the series. The game pays tribute to many entries in the franchise (most specifically Ocarina of Time) and I've heard the game described as a love letter from Nintendo to its legions of fans. All of the familiar faces and places embedded in your imagination and in your heart return here, like old friends visiting after so many years have passed. If reliving elements from Ocarina of Time and other Zelda games makes you wax nostalgic, you may just want to stay awhile. The Gorons and Death Mountain make a return, the Zoras and their kingdom are present, there are some woods that may just be lost, Kakariko Village is back, and, of course, Hyrule Castle and the bustling Castle Town surrounding it are accounted for. There are bombs, arrows, rupees, and heart pieces. You'll use an item found midway through a dungeon to defeat its boss. There's a musical element of sorts in the game. This game's got that whole “dark parallel universe” thing going for it found in several other titles.

In other words: Link is still Link, and Zelda is still Zelda. Although Nintendo has added plenty of new features to reinvigorate the franchise (more on that in a bit), it's still the same core adventure that we played ten years ago. And it's still absolutely fantastic. Still, in a time when Nintendo has effective called out the industry for a lack of creativity, it's a bit disappointing to see the company take such a formulaic approach here. There are several fetch-quests thrown in, too, and while they're certainly not as bad as finding pieces of a certain golden object (Wind Waker, I'm looking at you), it's tedious having to wander around aimlessly trying to find X amount of orbs in a province to restore the light to it. As a whole, Twilight Princess, while spinning a tale that is wholly compelling, feels a bit predictable and, I dare say, even a little stale. If you want a dramatic reinvention of the series, you're not going to find it here.

That said, it's best not to fix what isn't broken, and Twilight Princess most certainly is not broken. Nintendo has implemented plenty of new things to give the game a fresh feeling. The biggest change in the experience is Link's inherent ability to transform. While transforming itself isn't a new concept (see Majora's Mask), the mechanic is at its finest level of polish here. Link can change into a wolf this time around, and his animal side is probably one of the coolest transformations I've seen in any game. You can't use your items in this form, so you're forced to rely on your abilities as a beast to solve puzzles and take out enemies. Wolf Link is faster than human Link, and he has a sixth sense of sorts that allows him to home in on scents and track where they're headed, amongst other powers. While you'll only play as the divine beast in certain sequences of the game at first, eventually you'll be able to switch back and forth between human and animal form on the fly. Needless to say, this makes for some very dynamic experiences and some very dynamic dungeons.

Speaking of dungeons, this game is packed with them, and they're just as polished as ever. The puzzles are so clever and the designs still so fresh and relevant that they make competing games on other platforms look like rubbish in comparison. It's still that “find map, find compass, find item, beat boss with item” experience, but it's still gaming gold. You have your “staple” dungeons, with elemental themes, but towards the end of the game there are some really neat designs for these intricate mazes. Nintendo has outdone itself once again, and I'm sure you'll agree once you experience the game for yourself.

The game as a whole is a healthy 30-40 hours for experienced gamers, but could easily be much longer for novice players or those who like to seek out all of the game's many side quests. It's longer than normal for an action-adventure game, though quite shy of the 70-hour mark originally boasted by Nintendo. There's so much to see and so much to do that it would be feasible to see that number approached, however.

I'll touch on difficulty. Twilight Princess is certainly harder than Wind Waker, but I still wish that it the overall game could have been more challenging. Most enemies can be defeated simply by whacking at them with your sword enough times, and the bosses, while magnificent in their size and design, are mostly pushovers. If a PlayStation 2 game such as God of War can include multiple difficulty settings, why can't Zelda? Clearly the focus of the game is on the puzzle design, so it's a good thing that it's represented well.

The Wii-mote is Mightier than the Sword

Undoubtedly, the most controversial issue surrounding Twilight Princess was Nintendo's decision to take a game that was built from the ground-up for the GameCube and port it to the Wii for the console's launch in November of 2006. Not only did this decision delay the game from a possible 2005 release for another year, but now many questions were being posed by fans and critics alike. How will it play? Will the Wii-mote controls feel tacked-on? Will it be a gimmick? Will your arms get tired? Initial reports from the Wii build of Twilight Princess at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) were mixed, and there was a considerable amount of backlash from the gaming community. Some fans refused to purchase the Wii version on the point that they would buy the GameCube because it was for the “system it was intended for”.

After finishing the game, let me set the record straight: the Wii version of Twilight Princess is clearly the definitive version of the game - just as Nintendo said it would be all along. Oh, and your arms will not get tired. Of course, content-wise, this version and its GameCube counterpart are nearly identical, but throw the Wii Remote into the mix and you've got two Zeldas that play quite differently from one another.

Let me begin with what turned out well with the Wii version. Aiming the various items in the game feels fantastic, because it's really a matter of pointing at the screen. By doing this, utilizing the bow or the clawshot (hookshot) feels much more responsive and engaging. Regressing back to aiming with an analog stick would feel archaic in comparison.

It's worth noting that being able to separate your hands from one another (as opposed to having both of them be glued to one hunk of plastic) feels positively liberating. I've never played a game with this much luxury. And, of course, the Wii version is the only one in which you can experience wireless rumble.

I found utilizing Link's main weapon to be something of a double-edged sword (no pun intended). You might love it, you might not. I'm somewhere in-between. In order to unsheathe your sword and swipe at enemies, you do so by gently flicking the Wii Remote with your wrist (or doing a huge sweeping motion if that's your thing). This is normally quite responsive, but more than once I found myself frantically waving the Wii-mote around without Link so much as moving an inch when I needed to unsheathe my sword; meanwhile, enemies swarmed all around me. Once your sword is out, moving your wrist feels natural, but I still can't shake the feeling that it isn't any real improvement over simply tapping a button. Since your movements aren't mirrored onscreen, there's no real finesses or technique to it. However, I will say that in some moments, particularly boss battles, it does add a level of immersion and visceral excitement not found in other Zelda titles. Remember fighting Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and how you had to reflect his projectiles back at him with your sword? Imagine how cool that fight would have been if you were actually swiping yourself instead of pushing a button. That's what the Wii-mote brings to Twilight Princess, and I am very excited to see how Nintendo plans to incorporate it in an original Zelda title built ground-up for the Wii.

Using the nunchuk attachment doesn't quite feel as intuitive as moving the Wii-mote. You'll shake it to make Link perform a spin attack. This works great, but eventually you'll learn other techniques that aren't so great. For example, jabbing forward with the nunchuk will make Link jab forward with his shield. The problem with this is that the game has trouble distinguishing what exactly you're trying to do. I almost always ended up doing a spin attack when I meant to do a shield jab. After enough failed attempts, I simply learned to stop attempting a shield jab at all. Again, the issue is raised as to whether or not this is really a step forward when I could have pressed a button just as easily.

Another nagging aspect of the Wii-mote, and this is more of a hardware concern, is button placement. The 1 and 2 buttons and placed just enough out of reach of your thumb, as is the d-pad, to make it slightly uncomfortable (and I have large hands). You'll have to frequently adjust your hand's position to reach these buttons during gameplay. Thankfully, they're used for secondary functions like switching items, so it's not too much of an issue.

Finally, I'll make mention of the camera. GameCube's Wind Waker gave players free access to it, which was a welcomed addition to the series. This free-form camera control returns only in the GameCube version of the game, probably due to Nintendo not having a second analog stick to work with when mapping the controls to the Wii-mote. Why can't we simply hold the C button and move the analog stick around to change the camera angle? Instead, we are forced to use Z to center it behind us. Thing is, the Z button is also used to lock on to enemies. So if you're trying to center the camera near a baddie, you'll end up locking on to him instead of centering the camera. This is simply frustrating when a simple solution could have been so easily implemented.

All gripes aside, I will still say that I really like the Wii control scheme and can't imagine going back to a traditional controller since you'll be aiming at the screen so often in the game, especially during the second half. However, your own preferences may find you choosing a more traditional control scheme that the GameCube build offers.

This Present Darkness

In what seems to be a recurring theme for many of Nintendo's games, the game world in Twilight Princess is split into alternate dimensions of sorts. You've seen it in the long-ago SNES quest A Link to the Past (light and dark realms), N64 megahit Ocarina of Time (two different points in time), and, more recently, the excellent GameCube adventure Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (light and dark variations of the same world). In Twilight Princess, it's the Twilight Realm, a shadow form of Hyrule that has always coexisted peacefully with the light side until - you guessed it- that peace was broken. The storyline is notably better than past Zelda titles, with impressive cinematic work and character development, particularly with Midna, an imp-like character who assists Link in the game. It's no Metal Gear Solid, but Twilight Princess still has that movie-like feeling as well as that charm and quirky humor that you've come to know and love from the series. The game's dialogue is well-written and several characters possess a fascinating degree of depth (and could easily be dissected by message board-dwellers over pages and pages of discussion). Let's just say that this game is called Twilight Princess for a reason, and when you discover why, you'll see it as a stroke of literary genius (even if you did see it coming).

Because the dialogue is well-written, it's a shame to see that Nintendo continues to shy away from voice acting for its characters. Believe me, I'm all for Link being the silent protagonist, and I do worry about poor voice actors polluting the game (this could be remedied with a simple on/off switch), but several points in the game simply scream out for voice acting - if the ending boss battle doesn't demand it, then I've never seen a game that does.

The game's music is very well done, but there's nothing here that stands out as truly memorable. That may just be my nostalgic side speaking as I dream of the ballads of Link's Awakening and Ocarina of Time, however. While we're on the topic of sound, it's hard to process Nintendo's insistence on using MIDI-quality music in the game. Surely the size of the Wii discs isn't a factor, so there's no excuse for not featuring fully orchestrated music in the game. For a title as epic and as huge as Zelda, why must we listen to the game's heavenly themes in the manner they're presented?

Moving on to the visual side of the spectrum, Twilight Princess is a very pretty title, and it is telling that the best-looking Wii game at launch is technically a GameCube effort. Some textures look fuzzy close up, but the draw distance, lighting, frame rate, and any other technical jargon I could throw at you - chalk it up as “excellent”. Nintendo seems to put a coat of shine and polish over all of its first-party efforts and Zelda has never been an exception. The Twilight Realm in particularly feels claustrophobic thanks to the graphics engine, much like Dark Aether did in Metroid Prime 2. Though let me throw this out there - as much as I yearned for a dark, gritty Zelda all this time - I think I prefer the highly-colored, stylized prowess of Wind Waker more than I do the generic greenish-brown fantasy land that Twilight Princess presents us with.

If you want to see this game in all its intended glory, pick up a set of component cables and play it in progressive scan mode. The Wii version also has exclusive 16x9 widescreen support, which should please videophiles that have those new-fangled widescreen displays. Besides the 16x9 capability, both the GameCube and Wii versions look nearly identical.

A Lasting Legend

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is truly a homecoming for the franchise. It's a labor of love and devotion from Nintendo to its fans, and it's also an outstanding game. I could fill pages and pages with words concerning how well this game works, because they're the same words that describe why Zelda works so well in general. I'll say it again: this title deserves some of my highest recommendations.

It does have its annoyances; at times it's formulaic, tedious, predictable, and at times it feels dated. But when it shines, Twilight Princess shines brighter than any other Zelda title out there. Is it the best? I'll leave that much up to you.

So take in the sights and sounds of Twilight Princess, appreciate it for the loving fan service that it is, and look forward with me to the next 3D Zelda adventure, one that truly utilizes the Wii Remote in ways we can only dream about now. You better believe that I'm already counting down the days.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/18/06


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