The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was one of those games I always wanted to try, but I didn’t have a Wii. I only got one a few years ago, when I was already reviewing games and writing for a living. At that point Twilight Princess was staring at me from the bundle I bought (through a sale on the SAG forums!), and too many of those games that came with were traded in for something else.
So what has this got to do with a game review? I started Legend of Zelda late. My first venture was actually Skyward Sword, where I started to see the appeal of the franchise. Now that Twilight Princess was getting the HD treatment, I was quite interested. So here we are.
It all starts with an unassuming
The first hour of this game is a rather painful tutorial, setting up the village where you live and what you do for a living, as well as your relationship with the various people in the village. It has its purpose, sure, but it had me doubting myself. “Oh man, here we go. I signed up for 30 hours of the exact same thing again.” Legolas and Steve (I mean Link and Epona) were bumbling around town. Then disaster strikes and suddenly I am a wolf. Wait what?
Stuck in a world where people are trapped as spirits, you are forced into servitude if you ever want to become human again. Its a darker game than you might be expecting, with monsters that look monstrous, rather than the cutesy foes in the other games. Instead of fighting a bee, your flying nemesis is a large winged creature with glowing tribal markings where a head should be. Its just a bit more gruesome than normal, without becoming something a kid couldn’t play.
Being a wolf has its advantages though. Faster running, the ability to dig holes for treasure or burrow into nearby areas and the improved senses all kind of make up for your loss of opposable thumbs. While it is similar to the masks of Majora’s Mask, the caveat of not being able to choose to return to human form means you will start to see areas differently. Places that are simple to bypass as a human are a whole other matter for a wolf.
Luckily you are not alone. A spirit from the realm of shadow, Midna, serves as your guide / slave master. She is also one million times better company than Navi, who is thankfully absent this time round. Midna is mostly matter of fact with a bit of derision, backed by her powers. She also cares deeply, though she hides it pretty well.
Get your map and compass out, boy
The real stars, as is the case I think in most Legend of Zelda games, are the temples. The level design is a marvel to behold, with the game slowly egging you towards the end. A formula exists to stop you from getting too lost during the maze-like structures: you should, almost always find a map of the place, giving you an idea of the layout. Next is a new piece of equipment to allow new interactions with the world around you, or a method to navigate to parts of rooms that were previously impossible to reach. Failing that, you will gain access to something that changes the layout of the room itself, allowing you to travel deeper into the temple. After this, a compass will mark all the chests on your map, so that you can hunt for more money, collectibles, small keys and then the big key, which lets you into the boss’ lair.
The formula sounds simple on paper, but seeing it in execution is amazing. Small details around you are always hinting at nearby objects that one day you will be able to move, or destroy or traverse to. I spent a lot of time looking for these objects but some of them are built into the world in such a clever way that you only notice that they have a function once you are able to interact with them. This is sublime design and the more time I spend playing Legend of Zelda games, the more I realise that this is probably the progenitor or father figure of many adventure games I played while growing up. Moments from Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain, God of War, Castlevania and so many other games came to mind. Sure things are dated, but its the same feeling as watching the original Star Trek series, with Kirk and seeing some of those tropes in the place where they were born. Each temple has that “ah-ha” moment, and it leaves a feeling of joy, either as you press further, or when you leave with a new way to explore the world of Hyrule. At one point, I thought to myself, that if I ever have kids, this is the game that I would make them play, to teach them about progress and paying attention and how something that looks impossible will become passable with the correct tools.
When not solving puzzles in temples you are out saving people or collecting things, which is pretty standard Legend of Zelda fare. With anything from a larger quiver to a bigger health bar, there are many mini-games around the world for you to participate in. Most of the time, these are fun, or over quickly. The worst, however, are the parts that involve you riding around on Steve (I mean Epona). For some reason your horse controls like a sluggish battleship and smacking into anything brings you to a complete halt as you get stuck in the side of the level. When I had a choice, I ran around as a wolf instead, because the horse sections really just detracted from the game for me, thanks to poor controls.
On the graphics side the game looks beautiful. I wish they had taken the time to add some extra geometry to the ground, walls and mountains as things look far too flat, but the textures are crisp and the character models are really impressive. I shouldn’t even have to mention it, but even during busy sections of the game the framerate doesn’t drop, something I have seen in other HD versions of games. The pause when you hit a monster, or several monsters, does feel a tad longer than it has to be, but that is a matter of taste, really.
Don’t let the cute graphics fool you. There is a meaty 28 hour game here, complete with moving themes of romance, loss and becoming a hero, all while getting better gear and learning better moves to dispatch foes. I always give Garth K a lot of grief that every Legend of Zelda game is the exact same thing. This one made me eat my words.
Caveat: I wasn’t able to try the dungeon that gets activated by the amiibo, because I will only get it once my order is sent to me when the game hits retail. In fact, I left all the amiibo stuff alone, as I never once felt the need to go fetch one, register it for the game, and then get whatever benefit / change that it offered me. I will do the dungeon once I am able, and possibly discuss it *and* the odd DLC-esque nature of requiring a physical object to access content in a game.