Whenever a new Zelda game is announced the gaming world goes crazy. While not the highest selling gaming series ever created, Zelda games are well known for their high quality and for their ability to push the action-adventure genre to new boundaries. In this case Twilight Princess was originally developed as a Gamecube game and later ported to the Wii. And while its origins on Gamecube hardware are often apparent in visual presentation and audio quality, Zelda once more proves that it is capable of pushing the genre forward.
But let’s start at the beginning. In Twilight Princess, Link lives as a farmer in the dreamily mountains of Ordon, always on the side of his friend Illya. The first hours of the game clearly focus on introducing the player to the gameplay, which can become tedious at times. Helping and supporting the various people of your home village may be a nice way to introduce new gamers to the series but even new gamers may feel bored at some point by the amazingly long introduction. The first third of the game is rather straight-forward, which is a shame considering Zelda is all about freedom.
Luckily the game offers you more and more freedom after the first two dungeons and slowly introduces you to the huge amount of things to do and items to collect. And there are many of them: There are the traditional ones, like bow and arrows, three different types of bombs or the hookshot that allows you to reach platforms far away but also new ones like the conductor you can use to grind walls. In Twilight Princess you can even combine some items to make them more useful.
One of the most impressive features in Nintendo’s first Wii Zelda game is Link's ability to transform into a wolf: In Zelda’s latest console iteration Hyrule is being threatened by an anomalous darkness covering the country that transforms men into animals. Link discovers this darkness early in the game, making him transform into a wolf. As an animal Link's olfaction improves a lot, enabling him to detect burrows, items and even certain odors by pushing left or right on the D-Pad. Always on your side (or rather your back) is Midna, a mysterious creature of the shadows covering Hyrule. Using the magic of her people, Midna helps Wolf Link to perform huge jumps and supports him with words and deeds. Midna plays an important role in the game, but I won’t give you any spoilers here so we’ll get right back to the gameplay. One of the most surprising facts about the wolf is that Nintendo once more succeeded in integrating a new feature so well that it actually adds to the gameplay. Changing your form works incredibly fast and the wolf’s flexibility is a blast to say the least. You’ll often find yourself running around and digging holes just for the sake of it.
Back in human form Link not only uses items but also wields his sword. And let me tell you: Beating enemies in a sword fight feels just as amazing as it did back in 1998 when The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released. But this time the sword fights feel even more engaging as you will learn more and more techniques to kill your opponents as the game progresses. Some of the attacks look and feel almost artistic, and mastering them makes the fights even more fun. But that’s not all Zelda has to offer: Epona, Link's horse is back and riding feels truly amazing in this game. Epona is often urgently needed to cross Hyrule in all its hugeness. But there’s even more: Nintendo also implemented a fishing game, this time including different baits and fishes, which will keep you busy for hours thanks to the use of the Wii remote as a fishing rod. Feel like Snowboarding? No worries, it’s implemented in the game. Fancy shooting some targets? Go for it. Maybe you’d like to do some wrestling with a Goron? Guess what, it is right there in the game.
But those entire examples are only used to tell that Zelda’s gameplay can be described in one word. And that word is rich. There is not a single game on the Wii that gives you so much freedom and let’s you explore such a variety of different things.
And it gets even better when adding in the huge amount of side quests the game has to offer. During the course of the game you can collect more than 20 golden bugs, buy an optional armour, increase the size of your wallet and quiver, unlock additional items, collect 60 ghost souls and gather a huge amount of heart pieces, one of Zelda’s most typical and traditional elements: 5 pieces add up to a new heart in your life bar that can contain up to 20 hearts. Of course heart pieces and the rare heart containers (which increase your life bar by one heart immediately) can also be found in a dungeon, which brings me to my next topic.
Dungeons have been an integral part of the Zelda series since the release of the very first game back in 1987. With the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Nintendo took dungeons to the 3rd dimension, allowing for an even bigger facet of puzzles and challenges. With Twilight Princess Nintendo once more offers a huge amount of puzzle solving and the dungeons felt way more interesting to me than the ones seen in The Wind Waker: Each one has its own theme and while the first two dungeons are rather basic and part of the lengthy tutorial of the game, the latter ones will impress you again and again. Be it a cave at the bottom of a lake or a ruin in the mountains, inhabited by an abominable snowman and his wife, each dungeon feels distinctively different from each other and offers you different tasks and challenges to master. Some of the dungeons pick you up for a journey through time resembling the ones found in previous Zelda games while others feel completely new and fresh. And although I sometimes felt like the copying of older dungeons of the series was used a tad too often, Twilight Princess surely offers some of the best ever seen in a Zelda game.
Another traditional element of the Zelda series has always been a big over world that lets you discover all kinds of secrets and challenges. In Twilight Princess Hyrule Field, a huge area of pasture and veldt, covers most of the over world and works as a connection between the specific areas and towns in the game; and as a trigger to arouse your sense of discovery. And it is simply beautiful: Green hills are cognizable on the horizon; the landscape varies from field to wasteland and the mountains, castles and surfaces you still have to discover are always visible, even from far away. Yes, you will notice that Twilight Princess was originally developed as a Gamecube game: Some character models consist of only a small amount of polygons and most of the ground floor textures are blurred but whatever the game may lack on a pure technical standpoint it makes up for with its amazingly well thought out art style. Unlike many other modern games, Twilight Princess features a wide variety of vibrant colours and uses a distinctive drawing style throughout the whole game. You can easily recognise the game in the course of a second, which is one of the many things that made the Zelda series so popular in the first place. During twilight your vision is blurred and the hills, buildings and characters almost seem to glow. One of the most amazing effects in the game surely is the water: It actually flows and reacts like real water and the lightning effects used to make it look more interesting are beautiful to say the least: It sparkles and twinkles and even if it doesn’t look exactly like real water you won’t care because it is so amazing from an artistic point of view. The same goes for the other lightning effects used in the game. When you wield your lantern Link’s face will reflect the light, in the Twilight Realm everything has some sort of blurred glimmer on it...I could go on but you get the deal. Twilight Princess looks amazing for a game that was originally developed on Gamecube hardware and is a nice foretaste to the next Wii Zelda game.
The game’s soundtrack is simply amazing: Instead of just recycling tracks from older Zelda games Nintendo went the extra mile to compose a completely new overworld theme, a recognizable and memorial piece that will often accompany you at important scenes during the game, completely presented to you by an orchestrated soundtrack. Unfortunately most of the other compositions are midi soundtracks composed on the computer and once more Nintendo refused to include voice acting in the game – only Midna talks in some kind of weird fantasy language. Everything else is simply amazing, though. The soundtrack of this game is so epic even weeks after finishing it you’ll still hum its melodies. You absolutely need to listen to some of the darker compositions. Very well done.
But to come to an end: Is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess the best Zelda game ever created? Well, not to disappoint you but this is something you guys will have to decide for yourselves. A better question would be: Is this game one of the best games on Wii and Gamecube? Yes, it is. Definitely. And while there are some flaws that have to be pointed out – the lack of voice acting, the use of midis as music, the sometimes blurry textures and the slow start of the game come to mind – Zelda is once again as good as it’s going to get. You won’t find a better action adventure on either the Wii or the Gamecube and probably on the other consoles as well. One last question to answer is: Should you go for the Wii version? Well, that depends. Purists may like the Gamecube version better as it offers Zelda gameplay in its most traditional form. On the other hand the implementation of the Wii remote, while not groundbreaking, works decently so it really comes down to your personal preference.
Whichever version you choose, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is an amazing game that is going to keep you busy for weeks to come. Well done, Nintendo. Now I’m hyped for the next Zelda game again.