The biggest Zelda to date but also one of the less creative ones.
The Zelda series has come a long way. From the early 2D games to the epic 3D quests such as Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda is one of the main household names in video games.
When the GameCube was first shown, a short clip was shown with protagonist Link fighting his nemesis Ganondorf. While this was only a tech demo of what the system could do, it became the basic outline of what people expected a future Zelda game for the system would look like. How different this turned out to be...
In 2003 Nintendo finally brought the series to GameCube with The Wind Waker, a game that was visually nothing like the older games. Instead of the mature and naturalistic style seen in games like Ocarina of Time, gamers got a cartoony cell-shaded world with a big-eyed Link that looked like he stepped right out of a Disney cartoon. While fans were sceptical at first, they soon grew to love this new style and appreciated it just as much as the old style. In its own way, it was just as stunning as Ocarina of Time was for its time.
While many fans loved this graphical overhaul, they also expressed their fears that their much-loved traditional Link would sink into the mists of video game history. Those fans were put at ease, however, as Nintendo made their largest Zelda epic yet also the most realistic-looking ever made. The result of their labour was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
This game, released in late 2006, was the GameCube's swan song while also the first major classic for the brand new Wii system. While originally made for just the GameCube, Nintendo decided to use the Wii controls to their advantage and publish a Wii version as well. Motion controls would require Link to hold his sword in his right hand for gameplay convenience, while he had always been left-handed. As a result, the Wii version is the complete mirror image of the GameCube version. It doesn't affect the game one bit, though, so you wont mind at all.
In Twilight Princess, the land of Hyrule is slowly being swallowed by a strange veil of Twilight. This curse reduces those who dwell in it to mere spirits. Only one is not transformed into a spirit. That one is a young man named Link. Instead, he turns into a wolf. Aided by a mysterious creature called Midna, Link must travel Hyrule in both wolf form as well as his human form and eventually face off against Zant, the evil King of Twilight.
The variation between the two forms becomes more important as you keep on progressing through the story. In the later phases of the game you will be forced to continually alter between the two forms to solve puzzles, reach certain areas and fight different foes. This creates two different ways to approach the obstacles in the game making the game much more interesting. It's comparable to the child/adult mechanic from Ocarina of Time and especially the mask transformations from Majora's Mask. As a wolf Link can't use items but he can use a charge attack, walk along ropes, bite foes, use his wolf senses to see hidden secrets and invisible foes as well as dig with his paws.
When he's a human Link can use his usual arsenal of items including old favorites such as the bow, clawshot, sword, bombs etc. There's also a few new ones. The most interesting one is the Spinner. This gear-shaped device allows Link to move along tracks on walls to reach far-off areas. It is too bad it's used rather sporadically as it is one of the most creative and fun items in the series. This item should be brought back in later titles.
The progression of the game is rather linear. You go from town to field to dungeon and then to the next town. There are several different provinces divided in many different areas, most of which are familiar such as Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, the forest, Gerudo Desert and Hyrule Castle Town.
In each province there are one or two dungeons. Ranging from the lava-filled mines of the Goron Tribe to the fish-like Zora's Lakebed Temple, each of the dungeons has its own distinct look and feel. They are full of brain-teasing puzzles, hidden treasures and interesting monsters. My favourite one is a town that floats in the sky like an airship.
At the end of each dungeon there is a boss. The bosses seen in this game are some of the most impressive ones ever. They are gigantic and give the fights an epic David vs. Goliath feel unprecedented in the series.
Visually the game is impressive. While it is clear the game was originally a GameCube game, it still looks very nice on Wii and the GameCube version is probably the most visually impressive game on that system, anyway. Even though it is not perfect from a technical point of view on Wii, it's got an atmosphere, artistic approach and attention to detail rarely, if at all, seen in any Nintendo game. Especially the Twilight looks very impressive from an artistic point of view with gloomy dark clouds and a strange feeling of half-light. You really need to see it for yourself to truly grasp what I mean. The dungeons and buildings are also a marvel of visual design
The music is some of the best in the series. It is too bad it's not fully orchestrated but it is some of the best music MIDI can offer. From the epic tunes of Hyrule Field to the dark and gloomy theme of the haunted Arbiter's Grounds, it's all varied and fitting.
Twilight Princess is one of the best Zelda games when it comes to characters and their development. There are some lovable characters in there that are hard to forget. The most notable is your main companion Midna, a very sarcastic and witty creature from the Twilight World. She is like Navi in Ocarina of Time but far more interesting and much cooler. (As well as far less annoying.) As the game progresses you'll find out more about her mysterious origins. She needs your help to defeat Zant. Zant is the King who conquered the Twilight Realm and now wants to conquer the Light World as well and dethrone princess Zelda. Some supporting characters are just funny such as Talo, a little kid of about 4 years old who is actually much more intelligent than most of the adults in the game and he turns out to be a great entrepreneur.
The quest is long and engaging and the world is bigger than ever before. The sheer scope of the overworld begs you to explore every corner of it There are lots of little quests and collectibles in good Zelda fashion to prolong the game's length including the grueling quest of the infamous Cave of Ordeals.
The Wii controls really make the game more playable. Simply swing the Wii Remote to slash your sword, point at foes to use your arrows or quickly select your desired item. It's very intuitive and makes it stand out just that little bit from the GameCube version.
To put it simply; this game does little to innovate. It's a very traditional Zelda game. Particularly Ocarina of Time fans will feel a little too familiar with this game. The first few dungeons are a big déja-vu. Most Zelda games from the past decade such as Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker or Phantom Hourglass had things that set them apart from other entries in the series. Twilight Princess fails miserably in this area.
Particularly familiar is the Lakebed Temple. It's very similar to the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time (including being at the bottom of Lake Hylia) or Great Bay Temple in Majora's Mask. And it doesn't stop there, the Forest Temple, Goron Mines, Kakariko Village, Lake Hylia, it's mostly been there, done that. It's not until about halfway through the game that the dungeons and environments start getting a bit more original and actually feel inspired.
There are no true innovations in the very formula of the series either. The wolf mechanic is great but its still just a variation on older concepts, particularly the transformations from Majora's Mask.
This gets worse if you consider the game's progression is very linear for a Zelda game and you miss the open-ended feel that made the series such a hit in the early titles, especially since the world is so big and engaging. It's the age-old overworld-dungeon formula. It could have been much more fun if you could do the dungeons in a different order each time you play the game.
Sound effects are classic and you can hear them through the Wii Remote speaker. For example, if you use your bow you hear the string being pulled back through the controller. It's is of very low sound quality, though, and it unfortunately never becomes more than just a gimmick, they could have gone the extra mile and make some kind of cool Wii-exclusive feature out of it.
The story is very traditional and that gets worse as you progress further into the game. Many old ideas are carried over to this game, few new ones are introduced.
The few original concepts such as the Spinner are used only rarely.
The Bottom Line
Large, epic and engaging. Visually impressive with lots of style and atmosphere. Great cast of characters. Wii controls simply feel better than buttons. The biggest, most complete Zelda game in existence today.
Unoriginal and mostly a rehash of concepts from Ocarina of Time both in environments as well as storyline. Controller sound is bad and gimmicky. The Spinner should be used more. Bring it back in new games, Nintendo!
If you are looking for a long and engaging Zelda quest with an impressive presentation, look no further than Twilight Princess. If you are looking for an original and defining Zelda game, this is not your game, however.