Ah, sweet obsession.
The Legend of Zelda series has always seemed particularly mythological to me. I played the original NES games on my father's console as a child and then when Ocarina of Time came around I was astounded at the level of depth, graphical polish and the level of addictiveness the game offered.
Majora's Mask wasn't as a big as a revelation for me, although I did enjoy it. I for one, was not put off by the use of time travel in the game as a mechanism to push you forward as things lost could quickly be re-obtained by rolling around the field as a Goron for a bit. It was just a bit "me too" featuring more or less identical progression to its predecessor released 2 years earlier.
I enjoyed Windwaker on an entirely different level to the other games. It offered something drastically different, with a renewed emphasis on exploration and turned me into an almost compulsive collector (which I already kind of am with video games in general.)
The little games in between like the Four Swords Adventures and Minish Cap didn't particularly appeal to me enough to warrant a purchase as I was waiting for another real instalment of the series to be released. Well, it was a long wait between Windwaker and Twilight Princess.
When Twilight Princess came along I was in the middle of my little Nintendo hating spree where I totally ignored everything they were releasing. It's frustrating to me now in retrospect to think of how ignorant I was to deprive myself of the fantastic games being released on the Gamecube and at the launch of the Wii around that period.
Recently when I had my little change of heart and became a warm fan of Nintendo I purchased Twilight Princess in addition to a couple of other games with my console.
I have been consistently amazed by this game. There's just something indescribably appealing about it that fills me with this sense of elation while I'm playing it.
Link (or Frank or whatever you want to call yourself) is a goat herd who lives in Ordon Village. While running an errand to Hyrule Castle he is mysteriously struck down and turned into a wolf. He finds himself with a mysterious, petite companion named Midna who gradually warms to him more and more as she accompanies him on his adventures. Link (Frank) learns that the evil King of Twilight known as Zant has his sights set firmly on the kingdom's Princess (guess who?) and thusly his journey begins in earnest.
Link controls very well. The nunchuck is used to maneuver him around the world, pressing A to roll and lashing out with the Wii remote to strike with his sword. Holding Z on the nuchuck raises Link's shield and in time further uses for it become apparent.
As the game progresses Link can learn Hidden Skills which augment his current stock of fighting moves. These Hidden Skills are mostly used to quickly dispatch an enemy or are defensive like the Shield Bash. They aren't particularly easy to find though and you must do a bit of exploring to find them.
The flow of the game is such that it will be familiar to Zelda veterans but isn't samey to the point of being tiresome. The game is paced intelligently with lot's of story slipping neatly into intelligent gaps in the exploration. The pace of the game is driving and although you're never really explicitly told what to do it is hard to become lost as the nature of the clues provided for you are balanced perfectly. For instance, occasionally a red target will appear on your map, giving you a general idea of where you need to be but what needs to be done there remains a mystery. It keeps the pace up, while not ruining the gameplay for you.
The nature of the dungeons is also refreshing. The "dungeons" in Twilight Princess are unlike other games in the series. Most aren't temples or obvious caves but towers, mansions or mines. They flow so organically into one another that sometimes I didn't actually realize I had entered a "dungeon" area. It was a genuine surprise and that's what I like in a game, that element of unpredictability that keeps things feeling fresh.
To think the vast world of Hyrule once fit on a single Gamecube disc is somewhat unbelievable. Every inch of the world, which is huge, is rendered with immaculate detail from soft lighting filtering through trees to the many tiny details on rock faces and buildings.
The muted tones of the world may not appeal to everyone, but they do to me. It makes Hyrule feel organic, grass isn't luminescent and tree bark doesn't glow a sickly brown. The pastel colors similar games use to render the world have been omitted here for a more day dreamy, fantastical presentation that makes the world look like a beautiful painting at times.
Although Hyrule is split into many very distinctive provinces the land doesn't feel fragmented at all, with each unique portion of the land flowing naturally into one another from the scorching Gerudo Desert to the winter wonderland that is Snowtop Mountain.
The soundtrack is one of nuance and variety. The theme that plays when exploring the field is driving and inspirational, urging you to adventure through it as you gallop around on your horse (whom by default is called Epona, but I renamed Greg.)
Town themes are jaunty and fun, boss battles play with a variation of the main theme thrown in with traditional Zelda style battle tunes and even minor incidental music displays that level of stylistic polish the rest of the soundtrack shines from.
Twilight Princess is a Zelda game of course, so then it is safe to assume the level of collectables is quite high. In this entry in the series the main side quest collectables are Golden Bugs and Poe's Souls. The characterization of the individuals who request you to collect the bugs and souls for them is eccentric and charming.
Apart from the requisite collectables there are the typical heart pieces and expansions for your wallet and quiver. These things are always fun and satisfying to collect and they are here for you to find.
There is very little not to like about Twilight Princess. Most of the criticism is in regards to some of the presentational mechanics that have become characteristic of the series.
To begin with there is a lot of text to wade through, sometimes too much text and in the transition to the Wii it would have been nice to find this entry in the series with voice acting, even if it was just for major cutscenes. It's not a major detriment and anyone with even a moderate attention span should be able to sit through the text, as it is very engaging. It's just been a long time since Ocarina of Time, it's probably the right time to take that next presentational step and add voice acting.
The camera is a jerk at times. It's a pretty rare occurrence, but it always seems to happen when you're standing precariously on the edge of a cliff staring over a bubbling pit of lava or shifting sand. The camera will try to snap behind Link, yet get stuck on something or the lock on system won't work properly. Like I said, it's very rare, but it certainly did happen.
The Bottom Line
As of writing I've sunk just under 30 hours into Twilight Princess and I intend to invest many more returning to Hyrule over and over again to immerse myself in the magnificently rendered world.
The adapted control scheme, beautiful presentation, intelligent and masterful pace, genius dungeon design and engaging story made me so happy while I was playing. I almost instantly fell in love with Twilight Princess and the minor faults concerning the presentation and camera really don't mean anything.
This is officially one of the greatest games I have ever played, an example of gaming Nirvana, and something every self respecting gamer should experience.