[17 April 2007]
PopMatters Associate Multimedia Editor
Released to critical acclaim and almost universal praise, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess represents one of the main reasons you should pick up a Nintendo Wii or GameCube. Considered the best in the franchise thus far by many, the game delivers on the classic elements of adventure and combat that have kept people coming back to the series for over a decade. And for the most part, all the praise is merited.
The game’s plot achieves a degree of multi-layered appeal that is reminiscent of a Pixar Film by containing elements that appeal to both adults and children. The Land of Hyrule is being overtaken by an evil King as he leads a campaign to engulf everything in shadows. Starting out from such a simple premise, the plot advances in complexity as Link must aid members of two worlds in order to put a stop to the evil plot. Cursed to transform into a wolf whenever he enters the Realm of Shadows, players have to deal with the prejudices of being considered a monster themselves in this form throughout the game. Even the ultimate villain, Ganon, presents a simple character on some levels, and yet by the end, his parting speech gives him a complexity that echoes of Faulkner’s Sutpen. Throw in a few twists and a varied cast of side characters and you have a storyline will keep you playing right up to the end.
The graphics themselves are impressive for the Nintendo Wii. The scenery looks like something straight out of New Zealand and is scaled large enough to make the player feel a true sensation of size. The horse sequences, while entertaining, become as essential as the warp point feature for traveling across the enormous landscape. Although perhaps not breaking the boundary of lifelike imagery, the game certainly achieves moments where you wouldn’t mind visiting Hyrule yourself. Character designs are a cross between Blizzard’s exaggerated style for the monsters, while the human characters resemble your average anime character. Link himself doesn’t quite deserve the title of adult, coming across instead as an effeminate 16 year old. For those used to this curious quirk of Japanese culture it shouldn’t be a bother, but personally, I found myself constantly reminded of the first time I saw the band Hansen and being unable to decide if they were girls or not.
Controls for the Wii are surprisingly functional for people who don’t want to exercise every time they play a game. A flick of the wrist can swing your sword and although the direction can be controlled it scarcely matters in terms of damage. Combat rarely needs more thought than waving your remote throughout the game. Bosses tend to revolve around locating their weakness and only the sword dueling sections require real concentration and strategy. The nunchuck controls movement and also serves as your shield arm, a jab or wave executing the shield bash or sword sweep. By the end of the game I found myself in what will probably become a standard pose for the Wii: head leaning against my left hand as it steered and the right up and waving about while I slashed at enemies. It is a surprisingly natural and comfortable position after all these years of using one over-sized controller.
The game maintains the basic formula of going to a bunch of dungeons to collect pieces of something, then finding out there are even more pieces of some other thing you need. Each dungeon is well-crafted and consistently different from the others. To help you solve the numerous puzzles, many of the old items are back such as the Boomerang, Bow & Arrow, and Clawshot. Link has a few new tricks in his bag as well, such as the bizarre Magic Dreidel that he can cruise around on or the Ball & Chain, used for smashing stuff. But the game’s true moments of magic are not the well-designed puzzles or epic boss fights (which you come to expect in the series), but the plethora of in-between quests. The most successful parts of the game are the moments that travel outside the formula; being chased by boar-riding Orcs or being trapped in wolf form.
Overall, there are only a few complaints to be found. It would have been nice to have more of a variety of weapons than ‘Regular Sword’ and ‘Master Sword’ or ‘Metal Shield’ and ‘Wooden Shield’. Although the game contains the usual abundance of secrets, I found myself wishing they were tad more useful for gameplay. Although there are a total of 40 hidden life containers hidden throughout, the game isn’t really hard enough to necessitate searching for them. The same goes for the two scavenger hunt side-quests; by the time you can complete them you scarcely need their rewards of money or a larger purse. When I reached the point where I had to choose between finding all the secrets or facing the last dungeon, I simply didn’t see a reason for hunting around for all that stuff.
If Twilight Princess is any indication, at the very least, Nintendo will have no trouble continuing their already staple franchises onto this new platform. If you’ve never played a Zelda game before, do yourself a favor and try it. And if you have, you’ll find that the series is still delivering the same heaping dose of goodness that it always has.