Few franchises hold the sway that The Legend of Zelda does. A new Zelda game is almost always met with rave reviews and massive sales, so it's unsurprising that the most popular launch title for the Nintendo Wii is Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. It was originally designed for the GameCube, but Nintendo chose to create two versions instead: the GameCube version, and a updated version that takes advantage of the Wii's new motion-sensitive controller exclusive to the system. After what felt like countless years of waiting, Twilight Princess is finally out, and the good news is that it's fantastic.
The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess unsurprisingly tells the story of a young blond Hylian named Link. The teenage Link is a hometown hero in his village, famous for his skill at riding, swordplay and his good nature. However, when a band of mysterious creatures attacks his village and kidnaps the local children, Link is the only one who can rescue them. Following the children, Link stumbles upon a mysterious portal, and upon being dragged through it, Link enters the Realm of Twilight. A mirror version of Hyrule, the Realm of Twilight is shrouded in eternal night, and any who enter turn into spirits ... except for Link. When he steps into the Twilight, Link transforms into a grey wolf and is promptly captured. With the help of a enigmatic imp named Midna, Link escapes and sets out to figure out the mystery of the Twilight.
More than anything, the big worry about The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess was its controls. It was the first big test of the Wii's new controller, and the first sign of how it would function outside of "gimmick" games. I'm pleased to say that while the Wii controls are not necessarily better than a classic controller would be, they are significantly more fun. Players move Link using the Nunchuck attachment, which isn't too different from the GameCube and Nintendo 64 methods. The first real change comes in melee combat: Rather than simply pressing a button to swing Link's sword, players "slash" the Wiimote repeatedly to perform a combo. This can be done via a full-out slash or simply by "shaking" the remote. Of all the new controls, this is probably the most controversial.
In all honesty, swinging the Wiimote is a bit slower and more awkward than simply pressing the button, and unless you're in a particularly fun mood, you'll most likely find yourself "shaking" instead of "swinging." Luckily, the other aspects of combat are a bit better. Link's signature Spin Attack is done by shaking the Nunchuck attachment, and the new Shield Bash attack is done by thrusting the Nunchuck toward the screen. While the spin attack doesn't feel particularly natural, the Shield Bash is perfect. The times I found myself "slashing" the Wiimote were often directly after a Bash, which really feels like a natural maneuver.
While melee combat isn't particularly better, projectile combat is significantly improved. Rather than moving a slow cursor around, the Wiimote's cursor functions as a crosshair for these weapons, allowing quick and accurate fire against multiple enemies. It doesn't seem like a huge difference at first, but once you get the hang of it, it makes ranged combat significantly faster and more enjoyable. The Wiimote is accurate enough to allow you to strike enemies outside of the range of Z-Targeting or even to shoot an enemy arrow out of the air! While I won't miss the sword controls, it will be difficult to get used to Ocarina of Time's bow after Twilight Princess.
Beyond the Wii controls, much of The Legend of the Zelda: The Twilight Princess will feel familiar to series veterans. Link travels from dungeon to dungeon, collecting plot items until his inevitable confrontation with the evil that hides within the Twilight. Although not quite matching up to Link to the Past or The Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess has more than enough dungeons to keep the player busy for a while. While most dungeons follow the classic Zelda formula, a few go outside the usual bounds, including such places as a Yeti's winter mansion and a besieged city of chicken-people high in the sky. The dungeons are mostly well designed, with minimal backtracking and a sensible progression that rarely leaves the player struggling to find out where to go next. While a few fall into the backtracking trap (I'm looking at you, Water Temple), most manage to be fun and make creative and interesting use of the dungeon's signature item.
The biggest complaint I would have about Twilight Princess's dungeons would be the bosses. Don't misunderstand me: They're not bad bosses. Most of the bosses are extremely well designed and a lot of fun to fight, but they are all incredibly easy, even by Zelda standards. The seventh dungeon boss (my least favorite) is simply a slightly modified version of the original boss of The Ocarina of Time's first dungeon! Many can be beaten on your first try without even a single heart lost, and even the most difficult bosses shouldn't provide more than a slight challenge. The good news is that they are incredibly dramatic, from fighting a flying skull while climbing up the side of a massive monolith to leaping Shadow of the Colossus-style onto the back of a fire-breathing dragon. The final boss sequence in particular is just so awesome that I created a save file just to play it again and again.
Sadly, regular foes are not any more difficult than the bosses. Most enemies go down in one or two strikes at most; the few that require more hits usually have some kind of special defense that the player must break through before they can do full damage. However, as Link progresses through the game, he learns new hidden skills from a mysterious skeletal warrior. Ranging from the aforementioned Shield Bash to an improved Spin Attack, these new moves allow Link to break through most of the special defenses, turning these harder foes into more fodder for Link's sword. Difficult combat has never been a major part of Zelda, but it is rather sad to see such a detailed combat system fall by the wayside due to the lack of difficult foes.
Almost all the iconic items from the other Zelda games make a return in Twilight Princess, although each has some kind of new upgrade that significantly changes how they function. The Boomerang now can lock onto targets and create massive tornados, the Bow can be customized to function as a sniper weapon or to shoot explosive bombs instead of arrows, and the Iron Boots can now be used to walk along magnetic walls. Of course, there are also a number of new items as well, including the Spinner, a pseudo-hoverboard that allows Link to climb specific walls and travel over sand and ice without slipping, and the Dominion Rod, a magical staff that lets Link animate stone statues to do his bidding. My only complaint about these new items is that they don't see anywhere as much use as the returning classics; The Dominion Rod in particular seems to basically vanish outside of its signature dungeon. While the modified returning items are a real blast, especially the Double Clawshot, it would have been nice for these newcomers to get some more screen time.
Perhaps the most important of Link's new abilities is his wolf form. While normally unable to control his transformation, Link eventually masters the skill to change from human to wolf at will, and mastering the different abilities is the key to many puzzles. While in his lupine form, Link is unable to use items or weapons, and instead must rely on both Midna's special powers and his own wolfy prowess. Although he can't use his sword and shield, Link's wolf form has razor-sharp claws and fangs that function in basically the same way, allowing him to tear through enemies like paper. If he needs to attack multiple enemies at once, Midna can project a circular orange field of energy that allows Link to attack everything within it at once. Beyond his combat ability, Link's wolf form is also significantly more agile than his human counterpart and can leap huge gaps with ease. Perhaps the most interesting and unique of his abilities is the Sense Mode, which reduces Link's visual range in order to boost all his other senses. In this mode, Link can follow scents, see things outside of the human visual spectrum such as ghosts, and see through deep Twilight mist. Unlike the other 3D Zelda games, Link has no instrument in Twilight Princess. Instead, the few times that Link needs to use a song, his Wolf form howls the melody.
Besides his Wolf form, Link also has access to his loyal horse Epona. Although not significantly changed from her appearance in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, there are a few changes that make horseback riding a bit more interesting. First and foremost is that Link can now attack with his sword on horseback, in addition to using bows. There are a number of sequences that have Link battling enemies on horseback, including a number of boss-like "jousts" against strong foes. Link can also steal an enemy's riding boar if he defeats them. While not as loyal or fast as Epona, the riding boar can be used to smash through barriers and enemies with ease. Sadly, Epona doesn't get as much use as one would hope from the large world of Hyrule. The first real period where you can explore the entire land in human form comes after Link has gained the ability to transform at will, and in Wolf form, Link has the ability to use "Twilight Portals" to warp from location to location. Portals are everywhere, and there is rarely a need to ride Epona to a place where Link could reach faster by warping.
Twilight Princess was originally a GameCube game, and it shows graphically. Compared to games on the 360 or PS3, it's notably inferior. In some aspects, it even falls behind a few GameCube games, but don't take that to mean it is a bad-looking game because it isn't in the least. While a few aspects could have been improved, the game itself looks great, the level and character design is simply top-notch, the redesigned monsters are particularly effective (except for the Redeads, which have been reduced to a simple sword-wielding knight), and the characters are expressive and interesting. Despite the fact that Link doesn't utter a single word throughout the entire game, you get a real sense of his personality and feelings just from his facial expressions, and Midna is one of the most surprisingly expressive game characters in recent memory.
Of course, Twilight Princess sounds great. All of the classic Zelda tunes are back in full force, and all of them sound great. Interestingly, much of the sound effects are done from the Wiimote's speaker instead of your television, from the slash of a sword to the iconic jingle when Link finds a new item. While an interesting idea, the sound effects do sound a bit tinny when compared to the normal effects. One notable oddity is the fact that some characters, particularly Midna, have many snippets of pseudo-voice acting, but the game itself has no actual voiceovers. The addition of minimal amounts of pseudo-voice acting makes the absence all the more notable; it's not a major problem, but it's just a bit strange.
In the end, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is an excellent game. It is fun, packed to the brim with side quests, looks great, plays fantastically well and is overall a top-notch Zelda offering. Those looking for a title for their Wiis are strongly encouraged to pick this up, and those looking for a reason to buy a Wii: Look no further. If there is one must-own game for the Wii, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is it.
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