The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Playing a new Zelda game is like the actual experience of a day that you've been looking forward to for a very long time - such as your grandmother's 80th surprise birthday bash. For months previous you've been eyeing up everything in exact detail, from the size of cake to the colour of the balloons and just how the octogenarian might react to the stripper you've ordered to arrive after the dessert of jelly and ice-cream. Of course, the day passes better than you could ever have hoped, but it's just that, the sheer faultlessness of the time that highlights the bits that, though almost inevitable (after all, nothing's perfect) you'd wish hadn't occurred and will doubtlessly want to forget. You know, like the moment that granddad lost his teeth in the blamange, little cousin Sarah going AWOL for the whole day and Dad's trousers splitting in the middle of some desperately dated disco dancing. Like the pre-described party invite of a lifetime, Twilight Princess is a videogame full to bursting with flawless highs, marred by some teeth-grindingly annoying moments and technical oversights that, just momentarily, are bitter pills to swallow.
The grand adventure begins gently with Link, employed as a farmhand living in the quaint village of Ordon. Goats are his speciality and as you will no doubt discover, he's a dab hand at keeping them in line. Before things really kick off, a chance to get to grips with the controls is cunningly concealed amongst a range of simple tasks. Herding animals on horseback is delightful, calling on the ability of a bird of prey is mesmerising and fishing; fishing is frustrating. The fiddly Wii remote controls turn a task renowned for its serenity into a mission to Google for help faster than a salmon caught in the river rapids. One of the most enjoyable pastimes in The Ocarina of Time is just plain broken this time around and a disastrous example of how the Wii's unique controller might have ruined what is, essentially, a GameCube game.
Thankfully, however, this early snag turns out to be just that - a snag - because for all the fretting and worries over the Wii controls being 'tagged on' as an afterthought, they function brilliantly otherwise. Sword fighting is obviously the biggest test for the controller, and, whilst it might not consist of much more than waggling the remote back and forth to slash and jab, (with a little nunchuck rotation added into the mix), the experience is completely engaging. The nunchuck also takes care of targeting, movement and defence leaving your other hand free to unleash your wrath. Soon almost without realising, you'll be gesturing towards your television at a speed incomputable by the human eye and with an increasing amount of vigour and intent as the difficulty of enemies increase. In addition, the pointing capabilities of the Wii remote make (with a bit of practice, admittedly), using range weapons such as the bow and slingshot more captivating than the originally-penned, traditional method could ever have been.
Swords, bombs and bows are, naturally, dangerous pieces of equipment, so it comes as no surprise that Nintendo have provided young Link a lot of room away from innocents to master them all. In fact, Hyrule is the biggest it has ever been, a scale that you can only fully appreciate when galloping from one end to the other on the back of Epona. Luckily, Link's other travelling companion, Midna, a creature from the Twilight world, is on hand to nudge you in the right direction as well help warp you from one end of the map to the other at the touch of a button. She's your Navi (Link's fairy helper in OoT) of sorts, but with a wittier charm and a much more physical presence.
Midna isn't the only similarity that Twilight Princess shares with its 64-bit predecessor, especially in terms of locations and place names. From Hyrule Castle to Death Mountain and Lake Hylia, these recognisable sites and their mix of temples and dangers all appear as beefed up, extended re-creations of their former selves. Also similar to OoT, many locations can be visited in two forms. It was as a young and grown up Link in OoT and this time it's as in human form or, in the Twilight realm in the guise of a wolf. What at first appeared in screenshots as a potentially risky deviation from Link's ordinary form reveals itself as an exciting and refreshing change from the norm that lasts exactly the right amount of time so to not outstay its welcome. It works because the wolf's control is set to the same controls as that of Link's, so there's no need to memorise any extra skills. The highlight has to be wolfie's ability to leap great distances up and across perilous terrain under the guidance of Midna, closely followed by the feeling of satisfaction brought about by leaping upon enemies, tearing them apart with a pair of gnashers powerful enough to make any dentist proud.
Of course, temples are the real meat and potato of Zelda's pie, and Twilight Princess does not disappoint in the size of its helpings. There are nine in total, filled with classic Zelda puzzling. The problem solving elements within each dungeon will present a more than familiar test for veteran fans of the series, but somehow they have managed to remain as appealingly fresh as they did since Link set out on his first quest nearly 20 years ago. Unlike the overprotective, handholding nature of Wind Waker's temples, Twilight Princess is more than happy to dump you in each giant, sprawling structure and let you figure things out for yourself with almost complete independence. Many of the bamboozling solutions to opening locked doors and reaching chests in seemingly impossible locations boil down to a mixture of skill, luck, experimentation and a keen eye for subtle environmental details. And while nothing can be taken away from the trials and tribulations that exist within each varied dungeon, it is important to note that, as novel as they appear, the same temple framework has existed for a month shy of two decades and isn't the innovation it once was, particularly in the light of titles such as God of War and Shadow of the Colossus.
Although the game world is massive and visiting Link's old hangouts is a lovely chance to remind the untrained and uneducated of what you did there in years gone by, it comes as a disappointment that Twilight Princess' world isn't completely different to what we already knew. Nintendo must have some of the most talented teams of developers in the world and we know that Wind Waker's sea-fairing, treasure-seeking style didn't sit well with many hardcore fans, they must've known it wouldn't, but they still went ahead. It's a shame that they couldn't have demonstrated the same fearless approach once again, instead they've played it safe with a tried, tested and ultimately conservative effort in terms of Nintendo's reputation for innovation. ,p>In part, the same kind of pessimism must also beeline in the direction of Twilight Princess's graphical style. The other Wind Waker gripe from Zelda zealots was its cel-shaded, cartoon-like presentation. It upset fans desperate for the 'real-life' Zelda hinted at in early GameCube trailers. In fact, Wind Waker is widely regarded as the most accomplished of any game in terms of artistic style. Every inch of the world dotted upon the Great Sea beams with colour, personality and an unmistakable style. In contrast, Twilight Princess' world is, well, drab. That's not to say that it isn't pretty or unimpressive in parts because it is. In fact, as artistic direction goes it is very impressive indeed. However, the overbearing pallet of greens, browns and golden yellows throughout Hyrule just don't cut it in next to the wondrous, striking hues of Wind Waker. Of course, if we move the graphical comparison away from a title built for yesterday's generation of consoles, then the flaws are blindingly obvious. The machine's limited power means that you'll find jagged edges aplenty and a host of blurred textures that, in cut scenes especially, don't really stand in equal stead to the standard that the rest of the game sets.
That said, the game was built from the ground up for GameCube hardware, and, by those standards, Twilight Princess looks remarkable, certainly one of the best-looking titles on the console. The animation throughout is faultless, while every location oozes with natural beauty and architectural character. While you might not care about the plight of troubled individuals you meet along the way for hours after you've rescued them, for the cinematic moments in which their plight is revealed, it's difficult not to feel at least a twinge of determination to help. Nintendo also seem to have focused more attention than ever on making the story-telling sections of the game as professionally constructed and emotive as possible, and for the majority of the time they pull it out of the bag. A special mention has to go Link's teleportation to and from the Twilight Realm; a moment where he is snatched with surprising force by a gigantic, glowing fist into the unknown.
Link is Nintendo's most famous mute. Other than core emotional signifiers such as shouting and screaming, he has remained silent, relying on non-playable characters to fill in the gaps with regards to his mini mutterings. This tradition continues in Twilight Princess, but in an era where audio quality and memory restrictions are no longer an issue, many might question why the rest of the game's characters also rely on text alone to express their thoughts. It's a fair point, but one that doesn't really matter that much in a title that doesn't rely too heavily on words alone to convey its narrative. As mentioned, there is enough emotion in any of the characters facial and bodily gesticulations to communicate their thinking. As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words and, fortunately, Twilight Princess excels in proving this phrase true. That's not to say in-game speech shouldn't be a consideration for Nintendo in the future, but for now they seem to have gotten away without its inclusion.
The same, unfortunately, can't be said for the game's midi-based soundtrack. Much of Twilight Princess's musical accompaniment consists of re-workings and remixes of OoT's much-loved melodies, providing, as with many of the games other elements, a delightful sense of nostalgia. However, once again it's difficult to believe that a brand new batch of compositions couldn't be created, especially since this was the case with Wind Waker, which certainly had its own share of tones, memorably etching themselves into players' psyche. Also, why stick with midi when a full orchestral backing is becoming the industry standard, especially in games of such grandeur? The Mario and Zelda Big Band (great live CD, by the way) proved how wonderful some of the series' musical pieces sounded when played by a diverse ensemble of instruments, so it is no less than gutting that the effort wasn't made for Link's most epic adventure yet.
Regardless of the criticisms penned in this article, do not doubt for a moment that Twilight Princess is one of greatest videogames you will be lucky enough to play, not just this year, but also one of the best you will ever have experienced. As the beginning of this piece outlined, such great expectation for a game along with its almost absolute excellence can easily draw attention to some of its shortcomings, which for the most part are aesthetical and do not detract from the gameplay in the least. Every minute of Twilight Princess throws up a new challenge, laugh, puzzle or emotional scene, enough to put lesser titles in the genre to shame. With upwards of 40 hours of game play (that's excluding side-quests and the hours you could spend exploring and simply messing around in Hyrule), screen-filling, imaginatively designed boss fights and just so much to do, there's no complaints here about getting your money's worth. It might not be the utterly revolutionary Zelda title that we all expected and its not without its faults, but one thing is clear: Twilight Princess is worth the Wii's price tag alone, even if the fishing does put you at risk of a coronary.