Release Date: Q1 2006
This year's gaming event for the Everyman, Game And Music Experience (G.A.M.E.), was sure to please. With a great many titles to play on virtually every platform, there was something for everyone to enjoy, from new titles for the Nokia nGage to classics like PS1's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. While there weren't many upcoming titles in attendance, at least one caught the eye of everyone in attendance: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
As most already know, this title will be for the current generation of Nintendo hardware, but I must admit to being surprised when I saw it action. Though modest in the hardware department, Twilight Princess beats virtually every PS2 (and, in some cases, Xbox) title in terms of looks. No longer rendered by way of cel-shading like 2003's Wind Waker, Twilight Princess is a return to the look and style of Link in the N64 days. For the first time, the general public was allowed to play and enjoy what only press and VIP have had the privilege of seeing up until now. No new content was unveiled at G.A.M.E., but this was the first chance that the public could actually get a hands-on with the new Link, and everybody was impressed. Make no mistake, Twilight Princess looks to be the best Zelda title released yet, and that is no small feat when you compare it to Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.
The demo getting the most action was the Marauder Battle, in which Link shows off the new horseback fighting mechanics of the game. It takes the lock-on feature from Wind Waker and incorporates it into the fighting style on horseback. Simply hold down the "A" button to swing the camera in the direction of an enemy and attack. The battle on horseback curtails attacking your opponent twice. Each enemy horse has a rider and an archer. Your first attack dismounts the archer, knocking him to the ground, but the rider will swing out of reach of your sword in order to ride back and pick up the archer. You must quickly knock the rider off before he has the chance to get there. Fortunately, the "A" button can once again be used to re-lock onto your previous target. It requires some getting used to steering on horseback and fighting at the same time, but the controls are intuitive, and the action is very addictive.
For those of you just getting up to speed with this hotly anticipated title, here's some vital information:
Directed by Eiji Aonuma – Starting off as a designer at Nintendo, Aonuma believes the name "Mario" was derived from the word "Marionette" (reflecting his background in mechanical figures and articulation). He worked under Shigeru Miyamoto as Assistant Director for Ocarina of Time. Miyamoto-san was very impressed by his work and promoted him to Director for Majora's Mask. Aonuma then served as Chief Director for 2003's Wind Waker.
The game starts in Toaru Village, a small colony on the outskirts of Hyrule, where we are introduced to the new Link. Older than the one in Wind Waker, he is rendered in a more realistic style, in keeping with Aonuma-san's Majora's Mask. Link begins the game as a wrangler herding goats, which actually preps you for advanced gameplay, including the aforementioned Marauder Battle. Link must call on his trusty steed, Epona, which comes crashing thru a barn. Mounting her, you get accustomed to the control scheme for herding goats (and later for attacking the Chieftain in the Marauder Battle).
For those of you unfamiliar with the GameCube and its capabilities, let it be said that Twilight Princess delivers jaw-dropping visuals and even more impressive draw distances. In the aforementioned Toaru Village, Link encounters a tutorial puzzle involving a Toaru villager and a beehive. The vista around him is nothing less than a beautifully-rendered stream. Progressing from there, the stream becomes a larger, more rapid force of nature. A mother cries out for help as her baby is being carried downstream. The rendered water is some of the best you will see in a console game, including the Xbox.
Let it be known that Nintendo states the horseback travel is included in Twilight Princess not just for novelty, but because it is essential for travel. The distances involved in the game are significantly larger than any other Zelda title (and often larger than most other adventure games)! In the Marauder Battle sequence, the sheer size is given away by the distant horizon, which goes on forever. The Marauder demo has no collision walls or limitations on "riding into the sunset," and the map goes on and on until you successfully knock the Chieftain off his horse. Once you do, he re-mounts and scurries away to an even more impressive castle. It is here that you face him in a final showdown by way of a deadly joust over a dark chasm.
Sporting some new innovations for the Zelda franchise, the Forest Temple Level can be seen as a big leap ahead. Unlike previous titles where the dungeons were just that, Twilight Princess takes the concept and adds a unique blend of imagination and technical achievement. In the Temple demo, the dungeon itself is actually a living tree, with branch-like walkways, vegetation, and a very organic design. Luminescent particles filter down from above, creating a look reminiscent of Lothlórien in the Lord of the Rings. The level itself requires pathfinding, much like Indiana Jones creeping through an ancient lost temple. Armed with Deku nuts found hanging everywhere, Link must toss them at ropes and vines in order to proceed further. This demo is a strong example of how interactive the level design has become for Zelda.
Whereas Twilight Princess is very much like Majora's Mask in the looks department, the control scheme is almost identical to that in Wind Waker, which is a good thing. The analog stick is used to move Link, while the yellow C-stick gives you manual control of the camera and your point of view. The boomerang is back (this time creating a gale of wind when thrown), and the R button can be used to lock on and track a target. Like Wind Waker, multiple targets can be locked onto and fired upon. For the most part, the control scheme refined in Wind Waker is intact, making for a near-seamless transition into this game. Even novices will find the controls to be intuitive and relatively simple to pick up, especially with the plethora of in-game practice puzzles.
Two Hyrules - Last year's Metroid Prime: Echoes introduced us to a world with a Light side and a Dark side, and the same will be found in Twilight Princess. Known as the Twilight World, it is where the dark enemies of Hyrule lurk. As the game begins, it begins seeping out into the Light World (Hyrule), but Link soon finds himself inextricably pulled into the Twilight World. There, he finds that the realm's magic can transform him into a grey wolf, a feat which comes in handy with his newfound ally, Midna. With her riding on Link's back, the two fight in tandem to defeat the Twilight World's foes. Nobody knows her allegiances, and Nintendo has hinted that she is not necessarily good but has an agenda all her own…
Zelda - The Princess is back, but not in the way we have come to expect over previous titles. She is dressed in funeral attire, as she feels powerless against the dark forces of the Twilight World, which is slowly consuming Hyrule. Additionally, Nintendo has hinted that she too can transform into a creature. Whereas Link can change into a wolf in the Twilight World, Zelda can transform into a hawk. This is purely speculation, but it must be noted that a number of promotional pictures show Link carrying a hawk on his arm.
It has also been speculated that Twilight Princess derived its name from the Japanese manga "Tasogare no Himegimi," which, when translated, means "The Twilight Princess." Tasogare no Himegimi is inspired by the U.S. film "Ladyhawke," starring Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer. In the film, the hero turns into a wolf, and the princess into a hawk. The hero could not speak to the princess, as she was a hawk while he was human. When she reverted into a princess, the hero would transform into a wolf. In light of this, the picture of Link carrying a hawk bears resemblance to the manga and the movie. The hawk on his arm may very well be Zelda, but for now, only Nintendo knows the truth. Soon, however, we shall all know the answer ....
Expect more on Twilight Princess as it nears release!
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