Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date (Wii Version): November 19, 2006 (North America), December 2, 2006 (Japan), December 7, 2006 (Australia), December 8, 2006 (Europe)
Release Date (GameCube Version):
December 11, 2006 (North America), December 2, 2006 (Japan), December 19, 2006 (Australia), December 15, 2006 (Europe)
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo Wii
ESRB Rating: T (Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence)

Introduction

While The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the Nintendo GameCube was a success, many gamers (myself not included) disliked the cartoonish cel-shaded art style it introduced to the series. These gamers fondly remembered an early GameCube tech demo starring a graphically-enhanced version of the N64-era 'realistic' Link and pushed for a return to this style in the next Zelda game. Nintendo, for their part, made vague remarks about a 'Wind Waker 2' and showed nothing, until their E3 press conference in 2004. With the unveiling of the Nintendo DS handheld dominating the show, Nintendo did not seem to have any major news about Zelda or, for that matter, any other major new GameCube game... until the end. The brief trailer for the 'realistic Zelda' shown at E3 2004 came out of nowhere, surprising Nintendo's many fans and leading to widespread speculation for the (eventual) two and a half years before Twilight Princess's release.

Originally planned for release in November 2005 for the GameCube, Twilight Princess was delayed twice, first to spring 2006 and then, finally, to fall 2006. With the imminent release of Nintendo's new console, now named Wii, Nintendo announced at E3 2006 that it would not only be released as a GameCube game, but would also be the flagship Wii title at that console's launch in November/December 2006. The two versions would differ due to the vast difference between the two systems' controllers, but would still both be the same complete game; no bonus Wii or GameCube content would be added.

Story and Characters

While Link begins the game as a farmhand in rustic Ordon Village, his destiny as the legendary hero becomes evident early on, when the world of Hyrule is transformed into an eerie wasteland through contact with the mysterious Twilight Realm. In this state, all the people are transformed into insubstantial spirits, but Link is instead transfigured into a grey wolf. Teaming up with the impish twilight being Midna, Link then works to drive back the the twilight covering Hyrule and regain his human form. Link is aided on his quest by a number of allies, including the non-human Gorons and Zora, the people of Ordon and Kakariko Villages, and an underground group devoted to the restoration of Hyrule (who, of course, leave most of the dirty work to Link). The story-heavy presentation revels in both a refreshingly twisty main plot and a variety of a small character subplots, some optional, and some integral to Link's quest.

Control (Wii Version)

As the world's prime introduction to the Wii controller for full-length 'hardcore' games, the control scheme for Twilight Princess received a large amount of scrutiny. Fortunately, Nintendo was able to produce a set of controls that stood up to this scrutiny and proved a comfortable, improved interface to the classic 3D Zelda gameplay. The Wiimote is used with the Nunchuck attachement to provide both movement and pointer functionality with two-hand motion sensing.

The most welcome improvement the Wii interface brings is in the aiming of various items. The standard Zelda boomerang, bow, and hookshot return, but rather than aiming at their targets with a joystick and reticle, the Wiimote's pointing ability is used. Aiming on the fly, which has been something of a chore for previous 3D Zelda games, becomes smooth, precise, and intuitive with this method, employing the Wiimote's trigger-like B button as the action button.

Sword combat has also been revamped to use the Wii's two-handed motion sensing. Rather than providing an action button for swinging Link's sword, Nintendo mapped it to a side-to-side swing of the Wiimote, which can be as vigorous or (almost) as gentle as you want. This does not mean that the sword tracks the motion of the Wiimote in any way, but rather is simply the use of a gesture as a direct replacement for a button press. Special combat moves found by Link through his adventure make use of more motion sensing gestures. Link's spin attack can now be performed without a warm-up by shaking the Nunchuck left and right quickly, and his shield can be used to stun enemies with a forward push of the Nunchuck, for a satisfying sense of connection to the game world. Combat as Wolf Link is controlled identically, but the control in this case feels unnatural, as Wolf Link's charging and biting attacks map poorly to Wiimote shakes.

Nevertheless, the restricted button set of the Wii controller does result in some more awkward controls, as well. The single analog stick has brought an end to the free camera rotation of the GameCube Zelda games, returning to the Z-centering camera of the N64 games, which sometimes clashes with the use of the Z button for lock-on targeting. Unlike the GameCube version, which has two buttons Link's items can be assigned to, there is only one active item mapped to the B button. While three other items can be equipped to the left, right, and down directions on the Wiimote's D-pad, these are swapped with the active item on a button-press due to the relative inaccessibility of the D-pad, thus requiring a second button-press to actually use. Despite these deficiencies, the Wii control for Twilight Princess is a considerable improvement over the already comfortable GameCube control scheme.

Gameplay

Twilight Princess makes few major changes to the 3D Zelda play style established in Ocarina of Time. Horseback riding makes a return following Wind Waker's focus on sailing, and Link's usual series of items appears once again, though with some added twists. Twilight Princess features the largest land area of any 3D Zelda game (Wind Waker's world is larger but mostly water), with several wide-open areas well-built for riding. These areas are home to several involving set-pieces and a variety of secrets. The exploration of this vast world becomes wide open about a third of the way into the game, and the later dungeon items can be used to uncover an even wider variety of treasures. Several collectibles are found around the world, which can be traded in town for useful benefits. The tradition of giving Link a companion for this quest reaches a new level with the capricious twilight being Midna, whose fascinating character almost makes up for the collection of nagging fairies Link has been saddled with in other games. In addition to her helpful hints, Midna can also teleport Link to the locations in Hyrule they've previously visited, and she helps out Wolf Link with a variety of puzzles with some, more direct, actions.

The heart of the gameplay, as with any Zelda game, is found in the game's nine dungeons. The beginning of the game has the usual forest temple, fire temple, water temple progression created in Ocarina of Time but later on Link visits some truly inventive areas, complete with original items. The dungeon items are used to great effect in each level, and although some early items seem unused outside their host temple they resurface just long enough later for the player to have forgotten about them. Despite the difficulty of some of the dungeons, the bosses in Twilight Princess are surprisingly easy. All of the bosses require the dungeon item to defeat, but only the last two require any major effort from a seasoned Zelda veteran. Overall, though, the gameplay is the solidest and most refined of the 3D Zelda games, and the main quest is longer and more varied than any of them.

Graphics and Sound

While the concurrent Gamecube/Wii development prevented Twilight Princess from taking advantage of any additional horsepower in the newer system outside of offering a widescreen mode, it remains a graphically impressive game, and probably the most graphically intense GameCube game. While the lower resolution prevents it from looking as sharp as an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 game, the artistic design more than makes up for the deficiency. The designers at Nintendo have made Twilight Princess the most detailed and varied of the series, with the pastoral Ordon Village seeming worlds away from the Wild West ghost town of Kakariko Village, and both contrasting against the bustling walled Castle Town. It is in the areas covered in twilight, though that the style most impresses. While the 'normal' world is fairly realistic in style, the Twilight Realm is warped into something much creepier. Floating 'slabs' of darkness, grotesque creatures, and unusual colours combine to create a version of Hyrule that is at once both recognizable and clearly corrupted.

The synthesised soundtrack has been the source of no small criticism, especially following the fully-orchestrated trailer, but real-time synthesis allows for the music to dynamically follow the action, permitting its use as a subtle clue to the player when monsters approach. The music is the usual solid mix of classic tunes and new material, and serves its purpose well. Sound effects are the best of the series to date, with the sounds of characters, enemies, and items appropriately matching their appearance. Many sound effects are played through the Wiimote speaker for greater verisimilitude; the bow effect is the best executed of these, but most of the others are also well done. Nintendo has once again eschewed the use of voice-over dialogue in favour of a pure text-box approach, with Link as a mute (but not expressionless) hero. This may have been done for reasons of space on the GameCube disc, but bad voice acting would also reflect poorly on the (otherwise high) production values, and any voice work would have translation/lip synching issues to deal with, possibly delaying an already late game.

Summary

Nintendo's Legend of Zelda team has done it again; Twilight Princess stands next to the all-time classic Ocarina of Time as the best of the series in 3D. While Ocarina revolutionized the adventure genre by translating the classic Zelda formula into 3D, Twilight Princess is perhaps the most refined 3D adventure yet produced by Nintendo. Long-time fans of the series will see much that is familiar here, but the depth of the gameplay will bring them back for more. Meanwhile, the smooth Wii control brings new moves to Link's arsenal and makes the game more accessible to new players. Though it may not be the reinvention of Zelda for a new era, Twilight Princess deserved its place as the flagship Wii launch game and as the GameCube's last hurrah.

Pros:

  • Vast world with numerous quests, dungeons, and items
  • Plot driven adventure with many well-drawn characters, especially Link's travelling companion Midna
  • Wii control is solid and improves on GameCube control in most areas

Cons:

  • Awkward camera control and Wolf Link combat control on Wii
  • Repeats many classic Zelda tropes, occasionally a little more than is good for it
  • Another late GameCube game is co-opted to boost the Wii (though a GameCube version still saw release)

(CC)
This writeup is copyright 2007 by me and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.5/ .

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