Dust off your GameCube and enter the fantastic world of Hyrule once again.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has been anticipated for so long, it’s hard to believe that it’s actually here. With several years of development and hype behind the game, there will inevitably be a few people who feel disappointed. However, Twilight Princess is everything Zelda fans have been waiting for, a truly expansive adventure masterpiece and a final hurrah for the little box called GameCube. Presentation, storytelling, and game mechanics all come together for a once-in-a-generation experience.
As usual, Twilight Princess tells the story of one of the legendary Links, a chosen hero from a small village tasked with saving the kingdom of Hyrule and Princess Zelda from inevitable doom. Casting a shadow over Hyrule, the Twilight Realm embodies the duality found in previous Zelda games, and it is in this realm that Link undergoes a transformation into a wolf. Early parts of the story involve an effort to eradicate the invading twilight from the land, but through various plot developments, the tale becomes much more than that.
While reminiscent of Link’s rabbit transformation in A Link to the Past, as a wolf, Link actually retains versions of many of his attacks. Though Link in human form already possesses a unique connection with wildlife, in his beast form, he gains animal senses and the ability to talk with the animals. Controls are designed to mimic the four-legged form and have advantages and disadvantages compared to Link’s human form. Some puzzles require you to switch between Link’s two forms.
Twilight Princess has a much different tone than The Wind Waker, replacing the whimsical characters and events with far darker themes and situations. Still, Nintendo does manage to retain certain critical elements such as large facial expressions, several comic moments, and even some cartoon effects and humor, which serve to expand the personality of the game.
Midna is an imp from the Twilight Realm who helps Link escape from a jail early in the game. While Link is in wolf form, she rides on his back and helps him get to hard-to-reach places. When Link is in human form, Midna hides in Link’s shadow but can be called upon for assistance. At first, Midna differs greatly from the helpful Navi, beginning the adventure offering subtle back-handed advice while giggling to herself and even deriding Link while getting him to do her bidding. Though hiding her true motives, her character develops the most in the game, and she eventually warms up to the hero.
Though Link doesn’t start out asleep as he does in many of the Zelda games, the game begins slowly, methodically introducing each new item, weapon, and skill, which allows players completely new to the series to get into the game. The first half of the game focuses on story development, while the latter half involves mostly dungeon quests. The scope of the game is huge, and while fairly linear, the game offers plenty of locales to explore. Hyrule is big enough this time around that its lands are separated into provinces.
Like many recent Nintendo games, The Wind Waker suffered from a serious lack of challenge. Twilight Princess is not significantly more difficult, but I was pleased to actually see the Game Over screen, which I never encountered in its predecessor. Players do respawn close to where they perished, rather than restarting an entire segment, which softens the consequence of dying considerably. Combat generally proceeds as in previous Zelda games with the sword as the primary weapon and L-targeting serving as an important battle mechanic. Throughout the game, Link can learn special new techniques, which make fighting a little more dynamic and dramatic. While not too difficult to take down once their weakness is discovered, the bosses are impressive creations that often require the use of a combination of different items to defeat.
It’s not just the fighting difficulty that has been cranked up. In previous games, most Zelda puzzles seemed to naturally be completed by an “I wonder what will happen if I try this" mentality. The puzzles in Twilight Princess, while still logical, are not always as obvious, which could result in players wandering around a fair amount if the environments are not meticulously examined, but none of the puzzles are actually too dastardly in design.
While The Wind Waker was also an amazing game due to its visual style and sense of fun, it was somewhat short. Twilight Princess more than addresses this problem by including more dungeons than any Zelda game since Ocarina of Time. The dungeons aren’t trivial ordeals, either. The standard block and button pushing puzzles return, but are accompanied by others that make use of new weapons such as the magnetic iron boots and Spider-man-inspired double claw shots. Classic locations such as the Forest Temple, Zora’s Domain, and Death Mountain are re-imagined, with new locations making an appearance. Hyrule Field is expansive, but traveling it on horse is not the exercise in monotony that Wind Waker’s waters were.
A downside to the game’s length is that some of it does feel a little too much like filler. There are several collect-a-thons, some required and some not, which break up the pace of an otherwise excellent experience. A good example of what to expect is that heart containers are now made up of five pieces instead of the classic four. Of course, mini-games like fishing are included for those players who specifically want to take a break from the epic adventure.
Much of the game, from the cinematic title screen to familiar areas within Hyrule, is clearly meant to evoke a next-generation Ocarina of Time. While perhaps it doesn’t possess quite the huge jump in design that Ocarina of Time did, Twilight Princess is a more than competent evolution of the series and the dedication developers put into it shows. Twilight Princess supersedes Ocarina of Time in design, and with such a superior production, it’s hard to go back. The twilight-covered Hyrule in particular provides a unique and eerie atmosphere, and the more standard locales each exude their own type of beauty that simply must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Though not without faults, the graphics are easily some of the best on GameCube, and outclass those found in many next-gen titles. Cut-scenes are all rendered in real-time. Especially for those replaying certain sections, Nintendo has graciously included a skip button (Start) for cinema scenes. Sound is sometimes a little bland, but offers its share of solid themes, usually rearranged versions of classic Zelda music.
Of course, with the dual format GameCube and Wii release, the big question on people’s minds is which game offers the superior experience. The answer is both and neither because both games have their benefits and drawbacks. For the minority of gamers that have 16:9 televisions, the GameCube version does lack the Wii’s widescreen support, though both versions support progressive scan. However, it does include third-person camera controls, which can be adjusted with the C-stick. Item access is also a bit more convenient due to the traditional controller layout. As for the sword controls, the GameCube version is more responsive since gestures do not need to be interpreted, resulting in gameplay that feels a little bit faster. However, the trade-off is that the spin attack cannot be performed as quickly, and any weapons involving aiming are much slower with less precise targeting. Link does gain one extra crouching move while riding Epona.
The Wii version can be played in a more laid back manner due to its split controller design, but the GC version was where the original control scheme was devised and is likely to feel slightly more natural to Zelda veterans. The control schemes between the two versions are intuitive enough that players can naturally switch between the two. The sole issue to consider is that the entire game is reversed on the Wii version, meaning everything left is right and vice-versa, which can be disorienting. For the purists, Link retains his traditional left-handedness in the GameCube version.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is one of those few genre-defining games that while clearly dedicated to fans of the series, also serves as a wonderful adventure for those new to the series. Zelda revisits many of the ideas that made the Zelda series classic, but does include enough new content to make it an original and satisfying experience. In an era of shortened and simplified games, Twilight Princess stands as a testament to the benefit of high production games. As such, Twilight Princess is a game for all gamers and easily one of the greatest games ever crafted.