The latest and arguably greatest Zelda is one of the best reasons to have a Nintendo Wii
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is one of the cornerstones of Nintendo's new Wii. It marks the series' return to a more conventional style of artwork and gameplay after the last Zelda, Wind Waker, experimented with a cel-shaded cartoony look and a quasi free-roaming structure. So it's no surprise that Twilight Princess feels safe and even somewhat rote, at least early on. But by the time it's over, about fifty hours later, you'll have gotten your money's worth and then some. This is a triumph of art, design, interactivity, and storytelling. Innovative? Nah, not really. It doesn't need to be. Instead, it's a solid iteration of one of gaming's most beloved and reliable franchises.
The twist in Twilight Princess -- even the Zelda games need a twist these days -- is that the hero Link shifts in and out of a twilight realm, morphing into a wolf in the process. Twilight Princess gets a lot of mileage out of the distinction between human Link and wolf Link, particularly later in the game. There are areas that you'll visit as both a human and a wolf, which require re-thinking how you get around. You never appreciate opposable thumbs quite so much as when you don't have them.
Also new is Link's sidekick, Midna, a naked monkey-esque creature wearing a strange oversized helmet. She attaches herself to Link during his first wolf transformation and then accompanies him throughout the game as a sort of ambassador from the twilight realm. Her motives aren't obvious until the third act, and most of the time it's not even clear whether she's a good guy. This makes for a much more interesting dynamic than having a fat fairy man or a talking point of light tag along after Link.
Right off the bat, it's a bit surprising how derivative Twilight Princess feels. The wolf schtick obviously recalls Okami. In fact, the structure of the first act, in which Link cleanses the world of twilight by freeing animal gods, is almost identical to Okami. The twilight world looks, and particularly sounds, like Silent Hill; the ominous musical tones seem to have been directly ripped from Konami's horror classic. You can all but hear someone in the background asking, "Have you seen Cheryl?" Midna's design is strangely like the villain from Sony's Ape Escape games (there are even apes running loose in the first part of the game, merrily shrieking and slapping their pink butts at Link!). You'll find bits of Ratchet & Clank, Shadow of the Colossus, and Metroid in this Zelda. But for the most part, the game doesn't suffer from these comparisons and is instead richer for drawing from -- or even simply coinciding with -- other sources.
The biggest problem with Twilight Princess is pacing. It has a slow opening that will dissuade a lot of casual gamers and even fans of the series. It's not until after the ten hour mark that things really pick up. By the time you've gotten to the end of the game, where the developers seem to have relegated some of the weaker dungeons, you're invested in the sheer momentum of the experience, along with a desire to see how things turn out. In fact, the conclusion stalls itself for a while with a great big tease: before getting to the end, Twilight Princess sends you scurrying around to visit neglected corners of the world. And it works. Frankly, the time for FedEx quests like these is after a game has gotten under your skin. Now you've got an incentive to run back and forth, because you really want to know what's going to happen next.
As you'd expect from a Zelda game, Twilight Princess is linear in that it's a carefully guided experience. But instead of feeling restrictive, the sense is that a skilled storyteller is unfolding a narrative for you, occasionally with puzzles, sometimes with travel, and most of the time with a progression of gameplay dynamics like new weapons or gadgets. The dungeons are a perfect example of this, and most of them are great. By following the map, you'll navigate your way through delicately orchestrated challenges and puzzles. Solutions are almost always grand 'A-ha!' moments. It's the same with the bosses. Unlike, for instance, Metroid bosses that force you to fight them until you've honed your skills, the boss battles in Zelda are simple spectacular puzzles, easy to pull off once you figure them out. Almost without exception, the fearsome bosses in Twilight Princess were a true joy instead of an obstacle.
As far as gameplay goes, Twilight Princess (and the Zelda series in general) is much like the old Sierra adventure games. There are some of the trappings of action or role-playing, but it mainly comes down to solving puzzles that are woven into a cohesive game world. However, unlike many of those old Sierra games, these puzzles make sense, and the solutions aren't the sort of user-hostile logic pretzels that helped kill the genre of adventure games. It's unfortunate that Twilight Princess sets the tone with a potential bit of confusion (hint: you don't need the slingshot when you think you need it), but overall, it perfectly tickles that sweet spot between too obvious and too frustrating.
Your adventure is peppered with little bits of varied gameplay, including side hobbies like fishing, bug collecting, and ripping the souls out of wandering ghosts. There are also mandatory minigames, some of which are pretty weak. The flying and white-water rafting are underwhelming, but at least they're not as absurd as the ill-conceived SSX Link sequence. A grid puzzle with a pair of statues is likely to live in infamy, at least for those of us without the benefit of an online walk-through or FAQ. And there's one escort missions on horseback that will make you want to retire your mount. Although Link's horse has a few moments in the spotlight, he gets short-shrift this time around, thanks in part to a system of twilight portals. Sorry, old buddy, but there's nothing like inter-dimensional gates to obsolete travel by horseback.
But most of Twilight Princess is wonderfully varied and gives you an exciting sense of continually discovering exciting new things (that is, after the first ten hours of standard-issue Link upgrades). The menagerie of creatures is clever and extensive. The settings are distinct, even when they're hackneyed. Yes, there's a lava world, an ice world, an underwater world, etc. etc. But as you get new gadgets, you'll want to revisit old areas, and you'll even be rewarded for simply exploring. This Zelda is clearly built to cater to players who might want to wander off the scripted path. A couple of late-game money sinks will give you even more of an incentive to get out and see the world.
It looks fantastic, drawing on the power of artwork instead of graphics hardware. There's nothing here that you couldn't do on the Gamecube, which is why Twilight Princess will also be released for the Gamecube. But the visuals hold their own against any next-gen system. Like Okami, Twilight Princess is a testament to the power of creativity and imagination over mere technology. The interface doesn't do anything particularly special with the Wii controller, although it's always a thrill to hear Midna giggle through the Wiimote speaker whenever she wants to tell you something. It's also really helpful that certain bits of combat feedback play through that speaker so they stand out above the other sounds of a battle. But the Wii support feels, quite literally, like it's only peripheral.
The bottom line is that you don't really need a Wii to appreciate The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. You do, however, need one to play it now. Otherwise, you'll have to wait a few weeks for the Gamecube version. Either way, it's well worth it. As the latest and arguably greatest Zelda, Twilight Princess is every bit as good as you'd expect. Here is the accumulated experience, talent, and imagination that has made the Legend of Zelda one of the most beloved and reliable franchises in the world. Our Nintendos, be they Gamecubes or Wiis, are the richer for it. And so are we.
CRITICS' SCORES from Gamerankings.com
|13 Nov 2006||GameSpy||5.0/5|
|13 Nov 2006||UnderGroundOnline||19.0/20|
|14 Nov 2006||GamersMark||9.6/10|
|14 Nov 2006||Lawrence||9.9/10|
|15 Nov 2006||Gamerz-Edge||10.0/10|
|15 Nov 2006||GameBrink||99.0/100|
- Effective twist with twilight world, wolf morphing; Great bosses and puzzles; Satisfying game progression; Looks and sounds wonderful
- Slow start and awkward pacing; A few weak minigames; No real Wii specific gameplay