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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

A return to form for the Big N? Andrew Macarthy hopes so...

With so much hype regarding the next generation of consoles priming themselves to hit our stores, starting with the Xbox 360 in just a matter of weeks, it is often easy for such excitement to eclipse the steady stream of games still in development for the here-and-now machines. However, the single game that may just define this generation, and definitely should not be cast aside, is Nintendo's latest Legend of Zelda offering - subtitled, The Twilight Princess.

Nintendo's first GameCube Zelda game, Wind Waker received lukewarm responses from some gaming circles who dubbed it with the name 'Celda', due to its cel-shaded graphics. Other disappointments included the shortage of dungeons and the drawn out sea-crossing journeys. Twilight Princess looks set to silence the critics by fixing all previous complaints, first and foremost by boasting more realistic graphics and a seemingly darker style of gameplay. The character models have been satisfactorily elongated, whilst still retaining their slight anime feel. In fact, originally penned for a November 2005 release, Nintendo have delayed the release until March 2006 so that the developers could add more content and fine-tune the game. Worryingly, the announcement of a delay leaves Nintendo with a gaping hole in its Christmas release schedule, but let's not worry about that just now.

The script writers at Nintendo aren't particularly famous for their plot-writing skills. Rather than going all out with a tale that has more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction, you can imagine the meeting always going a little slow before someone utters, 'How about our lowly hero rescues a princess/stops kingdom being destroyed by defeating big boss in a castle looming with storm clouds? Dramatic music, dismembered enemies, that kind of thing.' followed by satisfied affirmative murmurs from the rest of the team and another cup of Toadstool tea and biscuits. Perhaps not. Much more likely is that Nintendo want to continue to adhere to their mantra that declares that gameplay is prioritized over flashy graphics and storylines. To that, I have to agree. I'd much rather be off exploring, than watching yet another five minute cut-scene that I can't skip no matter how much I batter the A, B and Start buttons. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The ins and outs of the Twilight Princess' plot have yet to be fully disclosed, but this is what we do know. The game begins with Link, a young man, living in Toaru, a village outside Hyrule where he works as a wrangler. One day he is ordered to attend the Hyrule Summit, but discovers that the kingdom has been blanketed in darkness, essentially becoming a Twilight realm. On entering, he is transformed into a werewolf and captured. Luckily, he is released by a mysterious character, Midna. Together, by solving puzzles and gathering information from friendly folk, as well as Link's abilities and Midna's knowledge, the pair set off to discover and defeat the cause of Hyrule's shadowy existence.

At E3 in May this year, Nintendo gave journalists their first hands-on experience of the game, just a little taster to what they could expect. Four different areas were playable - a town, a dungeon, a horse battle and a boss battle. As in the trailers that have been released, the detail of the graphics remains rich, and each section of play flows smoothly and in a stylishly cinematic fashion. The game has been described amongst other marvelings as just looking 'more alive.' Each of the four environments is high in resolution and beautifully crafted, from galloping on Epona to battling with a few of Hyrule's ugly minions.

Control-wise, fans familiar with context sensitive method of Zelda games from Ocarina of Time onwards will have no problem at all adjusting to Twilight Princess. The A button acts as the main action trigger, whilst onscreen prompts provide information on any other input needed. Attacking is mainly reliant on the B button, whilst holding the control stick in various directions provides variations on the method of sword attack. Furthermore, the L shoulder button can be used to target enemies for increased accuracy. Items from Link's inventory are easily accessed via the D-pad and, similarly to previous incarnations of the game, can be assigned to the X and Y buttons.

Despite the game's seemingly flawless appearance, early players did notice a few imperfections and glitches which they felt spoilt their immersion into the game. These ranged from small complaints - that Link got himself wedged into holes whilst crawling, to the rather worrying - that his trusted equine, Epona handled with the maneuverability of a dustcart with a punctured tire. Hopefully, though, in the months between E3 and the game's eventual release, Nintendo will have laid rest to these concerns. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The Twilight Princess is the title that Nintendo fans the world over have been waiting for, with first impressions being very promising. Here's hoping that it will be the game that once again exposes the brilliance of creativity and originality that Nintendo are capable of producing, whilst also offering a much-deserved all-formats chart hit and momentum that carries over to the dawning of Nintendo's Revolution console. Only time will tell.

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