A good game, but a weaker Zelda
In 2006, Nintendo finally unleashed their latest console on the public, with strong first party support at launch. Of course, everyone got to play Wii Sports, but after everyone was all done swinging, batting, and hitting invisible objects with their newfangled controllers, only two critically acclaimed titles remained on the shelf. One of them was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. In order to spur sales of their newest console, Nintendo made a last-minute decision to bring the game to the Nintendo Wii, and release it weeks before its Gamecube counterpart, forcing Wii purchases from only the biggest Nintendo fans out there. And it worked. Twilight Princess is one of the best-selling titles in the Zelda series to date, as well as one of the only near-simultaneous multi-console releases in Nintendo history.
Strangely, I somehow missed Twilight Princess when it was first released. Even though I got a Wii console at launch season, the idea of a “dark, mature” Zelda didn’t personally appeal to me, and it didn’t seem necessary for one of my favorite franchises in gaming to go Teen rated. Twilight Princess always passed me by, and I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in playing it until the second Wii Zelda, Skyward Sword was released. After playing Skyward Sword and absolutely loving it to pieces, I wanted to give the Wii’s previous Zelda game a shot and see how it compared to its successor, and the series as a whole. I was a little disappointed at the result.
Twilight Princess acts like a more polished and expansive take on the original 3D Zelda, Ocarina of Time. I got quite a sense of déjà-vu more than once as I made my way through this version of Hyrule. The game feels like a natural extension of the gameplay, visual, and even aural design of the 1998 smash, and it certainly tops it in a lot of ways. That said, it isn’t quite as fresh as other games in the series.
If you’ve ever played a Zelda game before, you know what to expect. Find dungeons, get items, solve puzzles, fight bosses, and in general, being the hero du jour. Twilight Princess is no different in that respect. What is different is how big Twilight Princess is. The back of the box doesn’t lie when it says that the game is the biggest Zelda game to date, even five years after the game’s release. You could easily fit most of the other Zelda world maps inside of Twilight Princess’ Hyrule. The world would take a player a good chunk of time to completely walk around (without rolling) and explore all of its regions only on foot. Luckily, you have a horse in this game, and you’ll absolutely need it to get around since on-foot travel is ridiculously slow in Twilight Princess. While it doesn’t compare to other video game fantasy worlds such as Tamriel or Azeroth, Twilight Princess’ world size is very impressive by Zelda standards.
The Wii controls are pretty good. They don’t really immerse you into the experience, which was supposed to be the console’s main selling point, but they do work well for the most part. Rather than having the game accurately track your sword swings, flicking the remote acts as a replacement button for sword swinging. The game doesn’t even attempt to track the direction of your sword, so you can flail away with reckless abandon and Link will take care of the rest. You can actually swing your sword while moving in this game, which helps make the controls feel a bit more fluid. Certain items allow the player to aim them by pointing at the screen. The game tries to allow the player to point at the edges of the screen to rotate the camera, but I found this to be poorly implemented and slow to respond. Other games, even at launch, did a much better job with these type of controls, but Nintendo hadn’t quite figured it out yet. Thankfully, you can at least rotate Link using the Nunchuck, though vertical aiming can still be slow. In addition, it can be a little challenging to keep your cursor pointed at the screen, as when you want to use one of these items, you will have to flail your remote around a bit to try and get your cursor back onto the screen if it’s not already pointing there. Still the pointing controls help to make the game feel more at home on the Wii. The Nunchuck handles camera control and movement, but its motion sensors are used to handle several of Link’s special attacks. Shaking it from left to right activates a spin move, while jabbing it forward does a shield bash. This is one of the rare Wii games to actually use every single last button and function of the Wii controller, which I do love. With two exceptions, this really wasn’t the game to put the Wii’s motion capabilities to the test, but as far as mapping a Gamecube game’s controls for the infant technology, it gets the job done.
By far the most Wii-like element of the game is the fishing, and more specifically, the lure fishing. It almost has a MotionPlus feel to it, as it tracks the angle of your Wii remote for the rod amazingly well, and uses the Nunchuck to reel in. The fishing itself has more depth to it than you would expect, as you can choose several different lures to better attract various kinds of fish. It could have made a great minigame for Wii Sports, and I’m surprised that Nintendo didn’t simply copy it over for either the original or Resort.
As you go through the game, you’ll unlock special sword abilities from a mysterious unnamed character, who looks like an enemy but is actually an ally. There are seven in all, and towards the back half of the game it becomes necessary to actually make use of them, because the enemies are typically decked out in full armor and are much faster. This is a truly wonderful addition to the Zelda series, and I would love to see it expanded in future installments.
The biggest new addition to the Zelda formula is the ability to transform into a wolf. In wolf form, Link is less strong and cannot use items but moves much faster, and has a really neat special move which allows you to target several enemies at once. In addition, Link can also dig to enter new areas and uncover treasures, and can activate a special “Senses” mode which allows you to see digging areas and invisible enemies and objects, which can be used to solve puzzles. You also have the ability to warp across Hyrule as a wolf, but for some reason, the game doesn’t let you warp around as a human, which did get a little annoying. If you chose to warp as a human, you would have to transform back again after you warped, which got VERY annoying, especially since Midna, your companion, will complain if you attempt to transform in the sight of friendly characters. On a basic level, it really isn’t terribly different from the transformations in Majora’s Mask, yet playing as a wolf isn’t quite as FUN as any of those, though it certainly trumps being a bunny.
Another feature that I really liked is the ability to calibrate the pointer in-game. I’ve never seen this feature in any Wii game before, and it’s baffling why it hasn’t been in any game that I’ve played since.
There were quite a few annoyances that really held this one back from becoming the best Zelda ever. For one, the game introduces great, innovative items in many of the game’s dungeons, then does virtually nothing with them after you’ve completed their debut dungeons. Some items, such as the Ball and Chain and the Gale Boomerang, are literally only used during the level they are featured in, and MAYBE a couple of times in the surrounding area if you’re lucky. There are too many items and not enough locations in Hyrule to actually make use of them.
Speaking of Hyrule, I found that the developers failed to add anything really interesting to the world. Sure, there were SOME hidden caves and areas, but much of Hyrule consists of wide, open spaces connected by narrow channels with literally nothing to see or do. If you’re going to make such a big world, you have to have the gameplay content to match, and Twilight Princess simply doesn’t have enough. At times, the world size is extremely overbearing, as you’re forced to go around Hyrule several times throughout the game. The size of the world can make getting to your next objective somewhat of a dull experience, but with so little to distract you along the way, at least you’ll get there sooner. On the lus side, when you DO manage to find something interesting, it is very rewarding. I just wish there was a bit more to find.
The second was that there were too many strange, random things that I felt really didn’t belong in a Zelda game. The opening of the game has you herding goats into a barn. You have to do this twice at the start, and it’s about as interesting as it sounds. I also found the inclusion of sumo wrestling to also be a bit strange in a Zelda game, with awkward and frustrating movement controls making it a chore to play. In addition, several of the towns had too much of a wild west feel to them in terms of look and music, which sticks out like a sore thumb in the medieval fantasy themed game. In general it seems like the art designers went out of their way to make everything look as ugly as possible, which gives the game a gritty, realistic look, but it wasn’t something I personally enjoyed. Give me color and flashy animations, not dirt and grime.
The game doesn’t feel quite as inspired as other Zelda games. At times, Twilight Princess seems to be just going through the motions. In particular, some of the sidequests are just downright boring. In one quest, you’ll have to get 3000 Rupees to raise up money so that one of the Ordon kids can set up a shop in town. Rupees are almost completely worthless in this game, so this is the one sinkhole they can actually fill up. By the time I had beaten the game, I STILL had not completed this sidequest. Even some of the required quests aren’t that great. There’s a really tedious quest where you have to seek out invisible electric bugs as a wolf to get rid of the Twilight. You have to do it three times in the game, with almost no changes or surprises each time.
While Zelda games are not especially known for their stories, they always are engaging on a basic, and sometimes emotional level. At the very least, they’re certainly Nintendo’s best stories. Well, except for Twilight Princess, that is. The story really doesn’t hang together well in Twilight Princess, as many elements aren’t explained or are confusing and important characters and plot threads are dropped or virtually ignored for large sections of the game. Why was the game even called Zelda to begin with? She played virtually no part in this story at all, and yet it’s her name in the title of the game. The ending itself feels rather abrupt and strangely incomplete, and the story as a whole just felt rushed. It would have helped if the cutscenes weren’t so ponderous and slowly paced. I found myself saying “get on with it” for far too many times during the cutscenes, because it wasn’t really holding my attention.
The game’s difficulty feels highly inconsistent. The puzzles and level designs are some of the most grueling of the entire series, perhaps the hardest they have ever been, but the combat feels like a pushover, especially in the boss area. Part of the reason the ending feels underwhelming is that the final boss goes down far too easily. I think that by making the combat feel more fluid, they took away a lot of the challenge that came from the more clunky controls of past Zelda games. Yes, the FEEL is more enjoyable, but you’ll often wish that the enemies were just a little harder as a result.
There is another mini-game called Roll-Goal that is playable at the Fishing Hut. It’s a basic ball-rolling game, but the motion controls are poorly implemented. You are supposed to tilt your remote to place a marble in a cup, but the tilt of your remote doesn’t affect the level of tilt in the game and acts as a digital trigger. Combine that with platforms that are only the size of your marble, and you have an exercise in frustration.
The Bottom Line
Twilight Princess is an undeniably good, and at times great game. Since it’s a Zelda game, I would have expected nothing less. If most Wii games were at least as good as Twilight Princess, then the Wii could possibly have been the best console ever made. But compared to other Zelda titles, Twilight Princess lacks that special “something” that always makes a console Zelda game a one-of-a-kind, standout experience that only happens every few years. In attempting to go dark and edgy, Nintendo loses a bit of the almost child-like sense of wonder that all of their best games have been built upon, also losing some of their creativity in the process.