Review by AtlusSaGa

"Yes, the GCN version still exists."

It's hard to imagine that once upon a time, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a Gamecube exclusive title. The dark, gritty trailer shown at E3 2004 promised a back to basics Zelda adventure, fresh off two titles that were most decidedly not traditional Zelda fare. After numerous delays, Nintendo dropped the news that the Gamecubes crowning jewel would appear on it's brand new system in addition to the GCN. Months passed, and as Wii hype exploded, the fanfare for the GCN version died considerably. Now, nearly a month after the release of Twilight Princess on the WII, the forgotten edition of the game debuts as a last hurrah for Nintendo's purple box.

Obviously, The Ocarina of Time is one of, if not the most loved entries to the Zelda series. The follow ups to Nintendo's magnum opus did not garner the same amount of love from the Zelda fanboys. Majoras Mask was criticized for it's rushed three day system and the small number of dungeons, while The Wind Waker was criticized for it's cartoony graphics and somewhat shallow difficulty level. However off base these concerns were, the Zelda faithful wanted a return to the Hyrule found in Ocarina of Time, and Nintendo delivered. Perhaps the most jolting thing about this game is how similar it is OoT. Hyrule very much feels the same as it did back then, even with a few landscape changes. This is not a bad thing however, as Twilight Princess takes the atmosphere founded in OoT, and adds its own style to it.

One thing you'll notice is the darker atmosphere then past Zelda games, especially in contrast to Wind Waker. The world has been engulfed in darkness, and you as the newest Link is given the task to save it. While story is not at the top of the list when it comes to reasons for playing a Zelda game, Twilight Princess lags behind in the story department even more so then it's predecessors. I'm not even going to attempt to piece together where this falls into the messy Legend of Zelda timeline, but the story here is very forgettable, and for perhaps the first time in a Zelda game, I found that I simply didn't care why I was saving the world. I was Link, I had Epona and I was traversing though dungeons. When it comes to Zelda, that's about all that's important really.

The core gameplay remains largely untouched. You still control Link through a huge, expansive world, exploring dungeons and finding new items. Really, not much is different here. Of course, the big addition to the series is the ability to transform into wolf form. At certain events early on the game, you'll be required to play as Wolf Link while you attempt to return different regions back to light. While this could have very easily been a tacked on feature to show innovation, thankfully Nintendo didn't skimp out on the wolf. It plays just as smooth and crisp as Link, and can even do a few things Link can't. Use your wolf “senses” to spot hidden items, enemies, and sniff out trails of characters you may be pursuing. Later in the game the wolf is interchangeable with Link, and required to solve puzzles.

A staple of the Zelda series have always been its large and expansive dungeons. Those are back in full force here. The traditional forest, fire, water, etc dungeons all show up, unfortunately they are slightly less memorable then the dungeons found in earlier Zelda games. Maybe this is because the same dungeon formula that has appeared in every 3D Zelda so far is growing thin. This isn't to say none of the dungeons are memorable though, as a few later ones are true gems, unfortunately there's more lackluster dungeons then not. Still though, most of the are still very well designed, which is to be expected from the series.

The control scheme is very much the same as it always have been. This is undoubtedly a good thing, as Zelda is known for its tight controls. While it will ultimately always be compared to its twin brother on the Wii, I fall into the GCN camp myself. Zelda should be played with a control pad, and the GCN gets this right. My one complaint when it comes to controls, is horse back combat. This just feels ackward and unresponsive most of the time, and it's almost always easier to dismount Epona and take care of the baddies on foot. It's a shame to, as a little more care could have made horse back combat a very fun feature.

One area where Twilight Princess unfortunately fails is making Hyrule seem alive. One of the reasons I enjoyed Majoras Mask so much was the interaction with Termina. Every NPC had something to do, someplace to go, or something to say. This is not the case with Twilight Princess, as it often feels like Link is alone in this huge world. While that may be fine for Shadow of the Colossus, it's not for a Zelda game. If I'm saving the world, I would like to be able to interact with it a little. Most towns and villages are virtually ghost towns, with very little activity. Even Castle Town has very little to do. As big as Hyrule is, it's disappointing that Nintendo couldn't bring it to life.

Visually, the game is outstanding for a GCN title. The world is absolutely huge, many times the size of the Hyrule found in Ocarina of Time. Even with it's expansiveness, it still manages to look great. The game truly pushes the GCN to its absolute limits. The art style is especially riveting in the Twilight World. I could describe it, but words can't really do it any justice as to how cool it looks. This said however, it should be mentioned that the GCN is five years old, and a game of this size undoubtedly is going to have some issues in the graphic department. Many textures are bland, boring and ugly. The water effects are not done well, and the framerate drags when you're confronted with numerous enemies. Even with those quirks however, it still manages to be a fantastic looking game.

While it may shine visually, Twilight Princess suffers in the audio category. The series is still using the MIDI format for music instead of an orchestral score. This is very disappointing, as the music just can not capture the epic feel of the game itself. While classic Zelda tracks are always nice, the new stuff leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully Nintendo moves on to an orchestral score in future editions. Also noticeable is the lack of voice acting, which is definitely a touchy subject among the Zelda faithful. While I understand why voice acting may not be welcome among the most die hard fans, unfortunately the game suffers because of it. Link as a silent hero is fine, but the rest of Hyrule needs a voice. Also disturbing is the absence of an Ocarina. In its place Link's wolf form can play melodies by howling, but this obviously doesn't have the same effect as an Ocarina.

I'm of two minds concerning Twilight Princess. On one hand, this is classic Zelda. The fans wanted another Ocarina of Time, and they essentially got it. The game very much feels like OoT had it been made ten years later. It improves upon OoT, and serves up the winning Zelda formula. It truly is a spectacular game, OoT successor or not. On the other hand though, it was very refreshing to see Nintendo branch of in other directions with Majoras Mask and Wind Waker. Both those games were truly original, which is why it's a little disheartening to see Twilight Princess bear so many striking similarities to OoT. It's still a fantastic game however, and there really could be no better send off for the GCN.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/03/07

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