When it launched, Twilight Princess had a lot on its shoulders. Being the latest entry in the long running, critically acclaimed Zelda series it had the burden of living up to its name, and as Nintendo’s launch title for the Wii console alongside Wii Sports it had to carry the console for its first Christmas. I can attest that Twilight Princess has broad enough shoulders; it lives up to its heritage and then some and is still one of the best reasons to own a Wii.
Billed by many as a spiritual remake to Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess is a return to the “realistic” art style and land-based adventuring of that title. Once again, the protaganist is an ordinary young boy, often referred to as Link, but named by the player. Link lives in Ordon village, seemingly on his own (he’s a bit older this time), and is quite respected among the villagers for his horse-riding skills. Your first task is to herd the sheep, a clever ruse to teach you how to control the trusty Epona. Next up is that Zelda staple: a spot of fishing, and after that a bit of target practice with a newly acquired slingshot.
Intuitive Controls and One Small Twist
All the controls are spot on, with the Wii remote increasing the tactile feel of fishing, aiming and sword-swinging. You can imagine the controls – fishing requires a quick flick of the remote to throw the line in, a flick up to reel it back; aiming makes use of the pointing function of the remote; controlling Link’s movements uses the analog stick on the nunchuk attachment; sword-swinging is triggered by a quick flick of the remote, with different swings being selected by different button-presses as the flick is carried out. One big adjustment was made for this Wii version: because most people will pick up the remote in their right hand, the designers felt it wouldn’t feel right for Link to hold his sword in his left (as he always has), and so the whole world created for the GameCube version has been mirrored in the Wii one.
The Twilight Realm and Zelda
The peaceful activities in the pastoral village of Ordon don’t last too long before things turn for the worse (much worse), and a Twilight pervades the land. Link finds himself in the form of a wolf, and is joined by a strange Twilight-dweller called Midna who seems to have her own agendas in helping you. Zelda is the Princess of Hyrule, and it soon falls upon you to rescue both her and the land shadowed in Twilight. The Twilight Realm is magnificently imagined with colours muted, sound taking on a ghostly quality, other-worldly enemies and a deep sense of loneliness. In Wolf form, Link is far more limited in ability, but acquires an extra “sense” that allows you to see things that might otherwise be invisible. Because of this you are able to slow the advance of the Shadow and, in time, return the world to Light.
The structure is similar to other Zelda games but for those who have never entered the land of Hyrule I will elaborate slightly. You must explore the overworld (which is massive in this game), always preparing yourself or finding the way to reach an important location where something of value is kept, something which will help in the fight against the one who is causing the strife in the land. There are few games that match the feel of exploration as well as the Zelda series – behind just about every tree or rock there is something hidden, and finding these so-called “dungeons” I am speaking of is often accompanied with the joy of discovery as a new path is opened. The dungeons themselves are each uniquely themed and each feature their own sort of puzzles, but always have a similar overarching structure. This kind of game needs a fine balance between freedom (to feel the adventure) and direction (to not lose track of where we are and where we are going), and Twilight Princess has the two in perfect harmony (For reference, I found that The Wind Waker was immense in the adventure department, but wasn’t big on providing direction. Twilight Princess simply keeps the two aspects in balance).
The Heart of the Adventure : The Dungeon
Dungeons are a series of rooms, each of which will have some sort of puzzle to solve in order to progress. These are not puzzles of the Sudoku or Resident Evil kind though – they are cleverly implemented and logically set up scenarios and will require you to always be on the lookout for ways you can affect the environment with the items at your disposal. The developers’ ingenuity never ceases to amaze me as they present new scenarios in just about every room. In most dungeons you will find a new item which you will need in order to progress and which will open up all sorts of new challenges and solutions for you. When you need to backtrack a few rooms in a dungeon, very often there is a shorter path back than the one there, or the use of a new item makes a previous room much easier to navigate, a testament to the impeccable design of the dungeons as the designers limit the repetition in the game to a minimum. The chief end of the dungeon is the boss, and these are always fantastic in design and choreography. These are not your cheap-trick “giant health-bar” bosses – they are never that difficult once you know what you need to do, but they are magnificent in grandeur and a joy to conquer.
Along with adventuring and clever use of items, there is also plain old fighting, the jumping around and sword-swinging used to dispatch all manner of minion. It’s superbly implemented here, and seems to have quite a bit more depth in terms of options than the Wind Waker’s system (and Ocarina of Time’s). There are “secret skills” you can learn during the game – by finding howling stones and howling the correct tune you call a White Wolf who vows to teach you should you find him with “sword in hand.” These skills can then be used in battle and I would argue are quite necessary in some fights. On the whole there is significantly more content in this game than the Wind Waker in terms of dungeons, and the country of Hyrule feels as vast to explore as the open seas were. Despite thoroughly enjoying the sailing of that game, I was thankful this time for the numerous warp points provided for getting around the land quickly.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
I really don’t want to give away any more details of the plot as, simple as it is, it does contain quite a few surprises, as well as memorable characters which shouldn’t be spoiled by me. For long time Zelda fans this is everything you could want in a Zelda game – a huge world to explore (albeit sparsely populated, which only adds to the pervading sadness), lots of dungeons to raid with much variety, some brand new items, a few twists on old items, new combat techniques, new-fangled but perfectly nailed controls, a plethora of collectibles and a whole new adventure to take up. For those who have not been initiated into the world of Link and Hyrule, you are in for the gaming experience of your life – honestly, this must be the pinnacle of epic gaming. Approach the Twilight realm with respect; explore Hyrule with the glee of a child; leap for joy when you discover a hidden cache of rupees; punch the air when you conquer your massive foes; and then feel the sense of loss when you must leave this beautiful land of the Princess of Zelda once your work is done.