A Tentative Introduction
There are a number of inherent problems with writing this review. First and foremost among them is that it flies in the face of popular opinion.
The second problem is more philosophical. A game can never be judged absolutely. Any fair opinion should be relative, with the prospective player taken into account. Put it this way: this is a Zelda game and if you like Zelda games, its mere existence as the next part of the saga probably earns it a high score. The aesthetics, the intricate structure of the temples, how natural the gameplay feels (Oh, hang on, I need to be a wolf here. Of course!) probably guarantees an immediate 10 out 10.
Relatively, then, this is a great game. You could go as far as call it a masterpiece. In terms of the pros and cons of what has preceded, its probably everything you could ever want from a Zelda game.
Certainly, this seems to be what I've read time and time again. Everywhere. When the whole world disagrees with you, you begin to wonder if maybe you're just wrong. Or mad.
Part of my reason for writing this is simply to tie down what I don't like. Exactly why I didn't enjoy this game. Another reason is therapy. I get no in-depth computer game debate with those I live with, so, writing it out, arguing a case, it eases my troubled soul.
The other reason is that being relative only goes so far. If you've played every Zelda game from the start, if you've struggled through every temple with incarnation of Link for decades, you're in on the joke and you're sniggering with glee in the corner and giving sly side-glances to me. Because I just don't get it and the following is an attempt to explain why. Its my personal reaction and it probably sounds like the rambling of a lunatic to 99% of those of you who have played the game.
But. Here goes.
I flirted with The Ocarina of Time on my friend's N64. Thats as much as I knew about Zelda before coming to Twilight Princess. If anything I say is horribly irreverent, its because I know nothing of this cult's god.
Several years after Ocarina, I bought a Wii. This is a console that, in my opinion, I purchased too early in its life cycle. I'm not disappointed with it. I'm not going to get rid of it. I'm just going to wait. And I'm going to have to because the only thing I'm playing on it at the moment is Mario Kart 64 and, good though Mario Kart is, it is not the reason I bought a Nintendo Wii.
I needed a game that didn't require four giggly friends to be any fun and I thought: Zelda, its meant to be fantastic and, finally, I get to see what all the fuss is about. And what the Triforce is.
I will forgive any game its tutorial section. Sadly, you generally have to. "Hey, SuperSoldier X, you're going to save the universe. Do you know how to look up?" Still, Twilight Princess' was quaint and charming and not too tedious. Then the orcs turned up. They're not called orcs but that's certainly what they looked like to me.
The game began properly and I saw what it was all these reviews were talking about. The beautiful art design. The intuitive nature of the puzzles. The way the game successfully manufactured an epic feel. Lots of games try this - the whole, "A new evil is rising..." stuff but I've rarely played a game that is so accomplished in rendering it. The first time the wolves sang to one another over a misty, dreamlike version of Hyrule... that got me. The first half of the game doesn't put a foot wrong.
But, about halfway through, around the time of the temple in the lake, I was beginning to get bored. I had invested in the story and, now, I wanted it to see where it would go. Instead, I felt like I was being stalled.
I found myself repeating the same thing, over and over again and getting increasingly frustrated with the repetition.
I'd claw my way through a temple in this way: reach a room; run around the room a bit, utterly confused; try a bunch of stuff to get through the room; get frustrated with the game, backtrack, return; finally work out what to do, successfully complete the room and feel two things. A small "Hooray!" of triumph, followed by the reluctant sign of realisation that, in five or ten minutes, I'd reach another room that would infuriate me. Is this, I wondered, the magic of Zelda?
Bemoan my lack of prowess at the game and, sure, thats probably partially responsible, but on the main occasions where large periods of backtracking occurred, the confusion occurred stemmed from the fact that I reached a room and did not yet have the correct item to transverse it. I don't think I've played a game before where, at certain points, you have to actually fail and run away. You see stuff in the distance that you can't do yet. That was new to me and took some getting used to.
Also, I don't think I've played many platformers where the responsibility of jumping is taken out of your hands. This really irritated me. At the point where you are dying quite a lot because the game is jumping you a fraction further to the left than you wanted and you can't change your mind at the last minute and not jump, small things began to grate. The fact that, instead of infinite retries, after a certain period of time I died for real and, as penance, had to actually click retry just baffled me. It may be a trivial point but, when you hear the "Oh no, Zelda, you've died!" musical motif so many times, you begin to get a little bitter.
The point here is larger, though. A temple, with all its irritations and small successes, is geared around that one door that requires The Really Big Key. Through that door, there should be something special. Something climactic. Something that justifies what came before.
The boss battles in Twilight Princess are pathetic. This is probably the closest I can get to an actual objective fact in all of this.
The simple truth of the matter is, at one point, a huge fish swims around you in circles until you kill it.
Will Smith and Burn Out
About three quarters of the way through the film, there's a sort of twist, or narrative conceit that brought to mind Bad Boys II. Honest. It reminded me of that bit where the film is pretty much over and then they go to Cuba.
Zelda's equivalent is providing another three temples of fun, fun, fun. At this point, I must have played for 30 hours and I could sort of see where the game was going. My interest level had peaked and now, it began to decline.
Game burn out. It happens.
I'm particularly reminiscent of its occurrence in the original Command and Conquer: Red Alert. In that seminal PC title, after lots of missions building hundreds of tanks and blowing hundreds of tanks up, the game placed some "non-productive" missions inside a building. You were given infantry, a time limit, and an objective that I forget. All I remember is that, to complete it, you had to directly assault flame towers. With infantry.
The game ceased to do what it was doing well and, thus, ceased to be fun.
I genuinely believe this happens with Zelda: Twilight Princess, too. Put it like this, there's a tighter, more focused, more satisfying twenty-hour game in there, but its been stretched over double the length. Thus, in places, it gets a bit thin. Particularly when this happens:
"Hey, Link. Revisit all those locations, bringing statues to life!"
Sure, it doesn't take that long but it felt sort of unnecessary to me. Some half-hearted puzzles spread around with the awesome power of geography. It wasn't fun, it was just a mindless chore to get to the next bit.
More and more, thats what Zelda was becoming.
Why provide 40 hours of gameplay, anyway? Longer games are good but... two whole days is a bit bloated, surely? Of course, its also sort of expected from Zelda.
There's this whole bunch of stuff you expect from a Zelda game. Locations, characters, the Triforce, magic... Twilight Princess provides all of it and expands the game so it can proudly pronounce: "Longer than EVER!" The whole experience has got this warm fuzziness of "We've been here before." If I had been there before, I'm sure it would have been a blast.
But this was my first time. I was interested in the story and the story alone. I am not a kleptomaniac. I do not want to go around and collect bugs for some girl. I want to save the world. Therefore, the side-attractions of the main structure - the mini games - did not really enthrall me.
And I would say that Zelda is not the sort of game you should rush through. This is what I tried. Going from Temple to Temple with the sort of urgency I felt someone trying to save the world should conduct themselves with. Perhaps this was a mistake but, generally, I play games with a clear mission structure. First person shooters and real time strategy games. This is my inbred response to an overarching threat: to defeat it. No-one ever told me you shouldn't play Zelda like this.
Maybe you should sit back and savour Zelda, letting it wash over you like a warm spring day. Maybe they should put that on the box.
In following the story and in wanting to complete the game I probably did not explore the fabled depth of the game. However, I do not actually think mini-games constitute depth. Indeed, I struggle with Zelda's definition as an RPG, unless that stands for robust platforming game. You jump about, you kill cartoony enemies, you save the princess. This is not life-changingly complex, however you dress it up.
The final conclusion to the game is, I feel, utterly botched. I don't want to spoil the plot but I do not think an effective storyline twist is suddenly introducing another character who was In Control All Along.
Yes, the production values are immense. Yes, its beautiful. Yes, it has it moments. But, taken as a whole, I think the traditions of Zelda are simplistic and dated, the game is too long to retain a consistently high level of minute-per-minute entertainment and the moments that should be the most thrilling are the weakest.
In the end, I completed Zelda because I had invested a lot of time in it and felt obliged too. This is not a good reason to complete a game. The entire game (particularly the final section) is geared to the final showdown, and when that is as dissatisfying as the boss battles that preceded, when the final scenes are such a deflating bum note, it taints the entire preceding experience.
Part of me wonders just how many people - even the real die hard fans - were ultimately satisfied with the game's conclusion but, again, maybe I just don't get the joke.
6 / 10