IGN Review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Ocarina, your time is up. It took Nintendo almost a decade to do it, but the publisher has finally created a new Zelda game that is so well designed and so epic that it deserves to be crowned the best in its class. Twilight Princess spent four years in development by one of the most talented teams in the world. The game, helmed by Eiji Aonuma (Majora's Mask, Wind Waker) is every bit the culmination of the franchise and also a true spiritual sequel to the Big N's 1998 N64 classic. This is much larger, darker and more difficult adventure than GameCube's Wind Waker, which is sure to please purists. It is also a title that is available on two Nintendo systems - GameCube and Wii. While the new generation version boasts a few extras that make it the better of the two choices, the GameCube original is still no slouch.
We could easily write a 10-page review of Twilight Princess, exploring every nook and cranny, detailing every character, every boss, and every last temple, but we don't want to spoil the adventure that awaits you. We realize that the last thing our viewers want with this review is to stumble upon major spoilers, so we've done our best to keep significant story developments and weapon and item upgrades from our critique. That being true, we will be referencing some common themes, characters, previously shown items, temples and more as examples to back up our opinions.
When the game opens to a sweeping view of Link as he rides Epona across a vast landscape, you can't help conjuring memories of Ocarina's epic beginnings. And at least for the first half of the adventure, Twilight Princess does indeed feel very much like Ocarina of Time for a new generation of players. Not only does Link start his quest from a small village on the outskirts of Hyrule proper, but he eventually makes his way to cities and temples that have all been seen before - in less detail, of course - almost a decade ago. Were these familiarities representative of the adventure as a whole, the title might find itself with an identity problem. A good identity problem, mind you - even a full-blown remake of Ocarina would be destined for greatness - but an identity problem nevertheless. Thankfully, though, the game also sharply divides the old from the new by way of an engrossing storyline that travels Nintendo's beloved hero into an alternate realm known simply as the Twilight. It is from this beautiful bloom-filled, particle-drowned Hyrulian wasteland that some very different changes are introduced to the old gameplay formula.
For starters, Link changes into a wolf and takes on brand new beast abilities. Via some uncharacteristically well-choreographed cut-scenes, the aspiring warrior transforms into the four-legged animal and eventually meets Zelda, who has been imprisoned in the Twilight. He's also introduced to Midna, a pivotal character to the storyline and quest to follow. This is a dark world and it's complemented by a decidedly dark premise. There are no beheadings or, for that matter, even genuine gore, but compared to the always colorful, cartoony affair that was Wind Waker, this stuff may as well be Resident Evil. In one particularly compelling cinematic halfway through the game, the storyline even ponders what might happen if Link himself turned to evil. Nintendo has utilized motion-capturing for characters and the added fluidity is immediately noticeable, but that's hardly the primary reason why these sequences are so welcomed. Rather, the tale has matured and advanced well beyond the templated save-the-princess routine and into something that holds interest not simply to support some well-rounded gameplay mechanics, but as an attraction of its own. As you play, you will generally want to know who Midna is and what here motivation to help Link might be, just as you'll be itching to discover what the true power of the Twilight King.
Nintendo's newfound attention to spinning a good yarn seems to clash with its reluctance to join the new millennium and populate its breathtaking worlds with characters whose words are voiced and not bubbled. This, of course, remains a point of heated debate amongst die-hards and we're willing to wager that fans will be copy-and-pasting this very critique to message boards before the virtual ink has dried, but we're not backing down in our assertion that it's time for real, true voice-acting. We understand that Link is a heroic mute and that's fine by us, but the remaining populace has something to say and we don't want to read it. Although the bustling city of Castle Town is the centerpiece of Hyrule, there is an air of claustrophobia surrounding it because the characters never really speak.
Some gamers have resisted the Wii version of Twilight Princess because they feel that the new control scheme is unnecessary. The GameCube build of the title provides a more conventional alternative that feels very familiar to anybody who has played a Zelda entry before and incidentally as polished as ever. There are even a couple advantages to playing with a traditional controller over the Wii remote. For one, players who enjoyed titles like Wind Waker will understand immediately how to maneuver Link like a pro in Twilight Princess because the same fundamental controls still apply. The character is moved swiftly with the left analog stick and the right opens access to the camera - an option missed in the Wii incarnation. Swordplay is assigned to a button instead of gestures and is easily executed. Drawing and using Link's blade maybe quicker, especially where the spin attack is concerned, but that said the Wii build does facilitate a welcomed layer of immersion made possible by acting out sword slashes with gestures, and that is missed from the GCN build.
Where the GameCube build comes up short is the area of aiming, whether it's for the Hero's Bow or the Gale Boomerang. Now that we've played through the Wii version of Twilight Princess and experienced pinpoint targeting accuracy via the console's unique remote, it's difficult to go back to the archaic analog stick-based aiming mechanism that the GCN utilizes. Don't get us wrong because it still works just fine. However, in comparison to the Wii remote, it's slow-going and imprecise.
Early on in the game, Link becomes trapped in the Twilight and - in wolf form - must fight to break free, at which point he returns to his human shape. Later in the adventure, he can switch between the forms at his whim and this mechanic is integrated into level designs and puzzles. Controlling the wolf is similar to maneuvering Link, but the beast form offers you greater speed, the ability to jump at will, a spectacular energy field that encapsulates and destroys the Twilight's enemies (known as Shadow Beings) and sensory equipment. The wolf can, for example, use the sense of smell to find hidden items, see the trapped spirits of Hyrule's inhabitants, and even follow a character's scent. All of these animal powers are not only integral to progressing, but quite a lot of fun in practice, too. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Midna herself becomes accessible in wolf form and she is able to guide the beast to areas unattainable by Link. As you can imagine, some clever puzzles are based around all the above functionality. By mid-game, Link can also call upon Midna to warp all over the map, cutting down on what could be tedious travel, especially if you need to go back and forth between provinces, as you often must.
Twilight Princess is a gargantuan adventure filled with a dazzling variety of places to see, people and creatures to meet and things to do. The scope of the game is epic and you can play it however you please. For the purposes of this review, we tore through the main adventure and oftentimes overlooked the meaty selection of side quests. We later came back to them and were amazed by their depth. In one corner of the map there is a beautiful, lifelike pond whose primary purpose is to house fish. You could conceivably spend hours upon hours at this location doing nothing but casting your lure. A robust fishing mechanic has been enhanced through the use of the Wii remote and nunchuk and as a result the process of catching a big one is all the more engrossing. In contrast, though, you could speed through the game and never so much as bother with the fishing options. There are an impressive number of other side quests and mini games that follow this same, impressive structure.
When Link isn't riding Epona, transforming into wolves, speeding down streams or snowboarding on an ice shard 1080-style over a powdery peak, he's usually in a temple - there are almost 10 of them. Some of these dungeons will seem familiar to Ocarina of Time fans. You will travel to the obligatory lava-filled Goron Temple and you will see the Forest Temple, too. That being noted, these locations are completely changed from their predecessor's counterparts; they're packed with new and clever puzzles, infested with fresh enemies, and just as you will use recognizable items and weapons to traverse them, so will you gain access to brand new ones - a few of them exceptionally awesome. We don't want to go into too many details, of course, so let's just say that Link actually rides one of these new items.
The complaint could be made that Twilight Princess is too similar to Ocarina of Time because the basic play style is familiar and because some faces and places return. However, we think such criticisms are unfounded because they seem to suggest that Zelda's masterful control mechanics should be changed simply for the sake of being different. These criticisms also ignore everything about the game that is completely new - there's a lot of it. Consider the Twilight Realm, Link's new wolf mechanics, some of the incredible new weapons and items he amasses, and a few of the several original locations and temples, which are fascinating. The Temple of Time is hidden somewhere in this enormous new game, but so is a dungeon in the sky. This is definitely the Zelda universe and yet it is in many ways a compelling re-imagining of that universe.
The game will test you. When we first played it at length with a group of journalists, we saw a lot of game over screens. We bit the dust a couple times ourselves. Some of the environmental puzzles in the temples are brain teasers, to be sure, as evidenced by the fact that we still have bruises on our foreheads from banging them against a nearby wall. Even so, all said and done we found ourselves hoping for just a little more where challenge is concerned, particularly for boss battles. Although the design and size of these grotesque, awe-inspiring creatures are practically immeasurable, they can usually be bested without ever endangering Link's life force, which is unfortunate. To be fair, some enemies do inflict more damage on Link than others and it is harder to amass hearts than in previous games.
Twilight Princess happens to be a very pretty GCN effort. Although Nintendo's new console is roughly twice as powerful, the visual differences between the two versions of the game are minimal. While both incarnations support a progressive-scan mode, only the Wii build also features a 16:9 widescreen option. Meanwhile, some gamers have complained that the GCN title is riddled with more framerate slowdowns than the steady running Wii game, but we have not encountered these issues while playing.
The game world is vast and beautifully designed. Nintendo's artists have worked overtime to model the characters and locations that make up Hyrule and it shows. Link features more detail than ever before and many of the enemies that looked quasi-silly in previous Zelda titles are now genuinely spooky. Take, for instance, the Poes -- ghosts which now feature designs that resemble the grim reaper.
There are definitely visual standouts. The shimmering, realistic water in the game is gorgeous. The Twilight Realm's bloomy art style is equally impressive. And the particle and lighting effects that highlight everything from flowing lava to fights with enemies are second to none.
Then again, this is a GCN title and let's face it, the system is five years old. Some of the textures, particularly those skinning the admittedly immense Hyrule Field, are blurry and even ugly. Nintendo also has an unfortunate tendency to frame cinematics with blurry structures and other objects in the background, which detracts from the presentation. Beyond the low-resolution make-up of some characters and locations, though, we honestly don't have too many complaints, which is quite the feat given that we're self-proclaimed graphics junkies.
Nintendo missed a big opportunity where music is concerned, though. The developer consistently creates some of the most memorable and beloved musical compositions in the business and in no franchise are there more memorable and catchy songs than Zelda. Twilight Princess features these wonderful tracks, but the majority of them are MIDI-based and not orchestrated. The MIDI tunes are passable, but they lack the punch and crispness of their orchestrated counterparts. We honestly can't understand Nintendo's decision not to invest more time and resources into the music because Wii discs do not share the storage limitations of GCN ones.
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