The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
|Release Date:||December 8th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
Zelda. One word, one series of games destined to make legions of gamers foam at the mouth. Since Nintendo introduced us on the NES back in 1985, Link and his never-ending quest to save princess Zelda have enchanted gamers on every Nintendo console released. Each adventure has historically built on the last, improving and tweaking (Ocarina of Time) while occasionally innovating in radical departures to the standards of the series (Wind Waker). For a series that has arguably become more important to Nintendo fans than Mario himself, it is a fitting tribute that for Nintendo's latest console, the Wii, Zelda has become a flagship launch title, leaving the Italian plumber grooming his whiskers until later this year.
Launch titles are often fraught with issues, a by-product of the strict time limits imposed on development. Twilight Princess has no such problems. Originally scheduled for release in 2005 on the GameCube, Nintendo took an extra year fine-tuning and adding content whilst making it Wii compatible. The result of this extra year? One of the most polished and complete gaming experiences on any console, let alone the Wii.
While the last two Zelda titles, Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, portrayed Link in his younger incarnation, Twilight Princess returns to us the mature and older hero seen in parts of Ocarina of Time. As a result the story is darker and more gritty than any in the series before it. With cut-scenes depicting murder, execution, battles in throne rooms and violent kidnap, this is much stronger stuff than fans will be used to. Thrust into the kingdom of Hyrule, it's time to train up another Hero of Time and save the princess. Zelda games aren't renowned for their story, but what they lack in this area they make up for with an abundance of charm and enthusiasm. Twilight Princess has both. While the plot may seem typical save the realm material, there's enough twists and surprises to keep you going until the very end.
From the moment Link wakes up and sets foot outside his door for another day herding goats, it's apparent just how good this game looks. Sure, technically this game is light years behind the next-gen consoles, but what it lacks in textures and fancy frills, it makes up for with stunning art direction. Reminding me at times of the beautiful Shadow of the Colossus, the designs in Twilight Princess are both breathtaking and epic. Spiralling towers, roaring waterfalls, blizzard-stricken tundras and crumbling ruins are all depicted with a cinematic flair and proficiency not seen in games for some time. Exploring every new area, every dungeon becomes a joy due to the diverse and intricate settings Twilight Princess consistently produces.
Dungeons are the pulsing, beating heart that tie together the mammoth body that is any Zelda title, and Twilight Princess is no exception. Offering structure to bewildering scope, each dungeon provides a new object, and with it opens up more areas of the map. Each offers a very different experience to the last, and are an absolute joy to work through. More than ever before, these dungeons feel like tangible places. In previous titles some dungeons suffered from a Tardis-style mentality, feeling like obscure connections of rooms that have no relation to the outside world. In Twilight Princess, if you enter a ruined mansion, it's precisely that - a dungeon where the map is given out by the sick wife in the sitting room, and the man of the house is cooking soup in the kitchen next door. Enter a mystical desert prison and you're treated to a stunningly grand and yet claustrophobic experience, culminating in an awesome boss battle and cut-scene.
Bosses have always been fantastic in Zelda games, and Twilight Princess again takes the traditions of the series and builds upon it to great effect. With another nod towards Shadow of the Colossus, bosses can be staggeringly huge and entertaining events. The water temple boss in particular stands out as being a frightening yet awesome experience as you fight a gargantuan sea monster in a huge submerged arena. It's refreshing to play a game where both getting to a boss and the boss itself is a treat and a pleasure.
Of course, one of the real question marks for those who haven't played the game is the nature of the Wii controls. Are they tacked on? Are they gimmicky? The answer, as with most Wii games, is a resounding no. Playing with the Wii remote becomes comfortable instantly, and actions are well thought out and useful. Link's main set of controls don't offer much in the way of immersion (though slashing away ferociously at a frustrating enemy is satisfying), but they are incredible useful short-cuts that allow complex moves to be strung together - from dazzling sword-play to horseback archery. Truly I can't imagine going back to standard controls again for Zelda, and it's a triumph of design that the controls never once frustrate. Oh, and fishing with the Wii remote is good fun.
Yup, fishing. The staple mini-game from recent Zelda titles is back, and is an astonishingly complete and time-sinking activity. But the fun doesn't stop there. If you're bored of the main quest, there's always white water rafting, wrestling, snowboarding, chicken hang-gliding and goat herding to keep you amused - and that's not even the complete list. Even if none of these take your fancy, so big is Hyrule and its surrounding provinces, that even just exploring on horse-back becomes an adventure.
Epona is one way to travel, but with Twilight Princess comes Link's new ability to turn into a wolf. Far from a throwaway trick, this becomes central to both story and progress. Accompanied by the adorable Midna (who acts as a cooler, funnier and more likeable Navi) much of the game's puzzles revolve around successfully using the wolf's ability when necessary. Both cute and deadly, the wolf form has different strengths to Link's human side. Bestial strength and acrobatics become useful for traversing certain areas, while others require you to howl out tunes to unlock events and areas. Much like the ocarina from Ocarina of Time, howling requires some relatively simple simon-says work before you're treated to stunning howled tunes accompanied by swelling orchestra. In a nice touch, many of these tunes are classic ones from older games. Watching a wolf howl out a tune from older games on a moonlit plateau is both charming, stirring and touching. These are moments I'll cherish for some time, and are a reminder of the quality of the game.
As with any large game, at the end of the day it's the little touches that impress. Is it the way your wolf will snatch small creatures out of the air and toss them to the ground ferociously? Is it the way you can play fetch with dogs, or the way Link automatically swallow dives into water? It's all these things and the hundreds of other careful touches that distinguish this game above just about every other game released. Perhaps what I love most about Twilight Princess is the way the series has finally acknowledged what gamers want to do. Finally I can use all my weapons on horse-back. Finally I can joust on epic bridges or get involved in mounted chases while harassed by evil raiders. And, most importantly, finally I can do that utterly cool but useless sword move where you twirl it around your wrist. Zelda takes every awesome fantasy scene you've ever seen and adds them to it's already considerable melting pot of ideas and activities.
I could go on for hours talking about Twilight Princess, trying to impress you by recounting every fantastic moment I played through. But that's not for me to show, it's for you to discover and experience on your own. Twilight Princess is a game that just keeps rewarding the gamer, and one that has been crafted with such care and devotion it's impossible not to be drawn in. The conclusion is simple - if you own a Wii you must own this game. If you don't own a Wii, you need to seriously start thinking about it - games this good just don't come around very often. This is the best Zelda title ever released - and in this industry that's just about the highest praise you can get.
- Stunning art design
- Majestic, epic
- Huge, lots to do
- Nostalgic yet fresh
- Wii controls blend in perfectly
- Everything else
Not so good stuff
- Maybe too slow at the start for some
- Bosses could be slightly harder
Many thought that Wind Waker was a bad move from Nintendo, as the move to cel-shaded graphics was not appreciated by a large number of fans. If you were not a fan of Wind Waker then I'm sure that Twilight Princess more than makes up for your loss. Link's never looked better, the world has never looked better and the game-play itself has never been better. Although Twilight Princess can be a little easy, the game never loses its fun factor and the story keeps you hooked. For such a huge game (70 hours for me in fact), it's amazing that I can't think of any serious issues it has. From the dungeons and exploration of the world to the surprisingly addictive fishing mini game, you'll be hooked on Twilight Princess for weeks. Ocarina of Time is one of my favourite games ever, but I'm seriously having trouble figuring out which one I prefer. One thing is clear - this should start some interesting arguments with friends.
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