A Link to the Past� The Wind Waker� Ocarina of Time� all excellent games (the latter being arguably the best game ever made) under the Zelda banner. With such successes in creating fantastic games you'd be more than correct to think that such things can only last so long in videogaming. Yet the people behind the Zelda games have managed to keep up the momentum for as long as most of us can remember.
With that in mind it shouldn't be too difficult to assess the qualities of the newest addition to the Zelda franchise (especially if you've played them before). Even so, there are still new things about Twilight Princess which intrigue us into how Nintendo manage to keep things fresh after so long.
The introduction to Twilight Princess more than echoes similarities with Ocarina of Time, as Link rides Epona across a lush landscape. This could be seen as a bad thing in the greater scheme of things - a developer trying to recapture the love players had for a great game can be a lazy attempt at getting sales figures up. If that were the case it wouldn't be much of a concern anyway, as trying to recapture the love and affection people had for OoT would still be worth the coin. Fortunately, once you sit down and dig into Twilight Princess you're greeted with a game that is very similar to OoT, but manages to build upon that great game with many new and interesting concepts. The biggest of all being the Twilight tint to the world of Hyrule, which will be pressed upon later.
The game begins with you taking the control of our expected hero - Link (though you can still name him yourself, along with Epona) waking up in the small village of Ordon. This time round our hero is a ranch worker helping his friend to herd goats and keep the ranch in check (even allowing you to take part in a fun mini-game involving getting the goats back into the stables). All things seem nice and well until Link is asked by the local weapon master to take a gift to the palace of Hyrule, and this is where our journey begins.
The game does well (as always) to keep things fun and interesting while steadily increasing your skills along the way. Once you actually leave the village you're equipped with enough knowledge to help you for the coming challenges. But before you do get the chance to leave the village you're introduced to the other aspect of Twilight Princess, which is the Twilight realm.
An accurate way to describe what the Twilight realm appears like would be to point out games such as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus as they contain a very similar visual tone and feeling about them. The world is a darkish colour and has many strange creatures littered around which take no hesitation to be your end. The Twilight realm even has an effect on your character, as Link is transformed into a wolf.
While in the wolf form the controls and general gameplay remain mostly the same with a few exceptions like being able to use your senses to see things normal people wouldn't, and using Midna to elevate you to high places and even kill otherwise invincible enemies. If you're wondering who Midna is, she's the little ginger haired thing that you see on wolf-Link�s back in the many screenshots of the game. You're introduced to this interesting character when you first change into a wolf, and she becomes the primary help and guidance figure for most of the game (as was the King of Red Lions in Wind Waker). Of course she plays a much larger role in the storyline, but that's for potential players to explore for themselves.
The main focus of the game when in Twilight-mode is to find a way to bring the world around you back to the normal way of things, which includes turning Link back into a human. The main challenge to do this is to find and kill electric little bugs that contain fairy tears which are needed to transform the world back to normal. This process is mainly a puzzle in finding out ways to make the bugs appear, and adds a nice new tone to the game.
When not in Twilight-mode the game plays the way it always has with not much change made from Wind Waker, this isn't a bad thing of course but sometimes you do wonder if there could be a more fluid system for item selection than what you currently have to use. Going into the item menu and selecting a button command to assign the item to still works fine, but it can become a bit of a drag when you're in combat and looking for the correct item to use.
In the game all Link's movements and combat manoeuvres are intact and work as well as ever. There's even more depth in the combat this time round as there are hidden skills to be found around the world which utilise moves that many Zelda players have never seen before. A minor complaint about the movement controls is that jumping is still an automatic event in Twilight Princess, which means you'll still end up 'jumping' off a ledge instead of just dropping off as you intended if you don't slow the thumbstick movement down enough. It's something which you can easily work around by being extra careful, but can be frustrating if you're trying to do things quickly.
The biggest change to the gameplay for Twilight Princess is the inclusion of the Wii remote function. As to be expected the game doesn't exactly fully utilise the remote (what with the game being in development before the Wii came into the picture), but the function doesn't feel as 'tacked on' as one would expect. Being able to swing the sword with the remote doesn't add a superb notion to the game, but it's still nice to have. The main improvements the Wii remote offers are to the aiming and fishing aspects of the game. For example, you can now take direct aim at the screen with the remote and shoot targets yourself which absorbs you into the game that little bit more. With fishing you actually use the remote as an actual rod by lifting it up and casting it out to the river, while using the nun-chuck to reel any biting fish in. It's not a full blown advancement on the non Wii remote Gamecube version, but it still offers that little bit extra.
Speaking of fishing, it's great to note that there are plenty of mini-games and side-features in Twilight Princess to keep fans happy. If one is to go around and complete all the extra content in the game then they're easily looking at 70+ hours gametime, which is excellent for a game as fun to play as this.
There's even a special cave in the game that has shades of the Dark Realm for Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, and the Pit of 100 Trials in Paper Mario. It has 50 levels and offers at least a moderate challenge for even the most experienced of Zelda players (especially if they opt to go through the cave twice). Sadly, it's difficult to not think that Nintendo put this cave in the game because the main content of the game is - like Wind Waker - a bit too easy.
It's not that the puzzles are easy, as they're well laid out and consist of general head-scratching situations to what most Zelda players are used to. On that front Twilight Princess offers more than enough, but on the enemy combat front the game doesn't increase difficulty to a high enough degree. For example, a boss battle usually consists of you finding the weakness in the puzzle-like manner we expect, but once you learn that it's easy enough to bring down the enemy. Sometimes the boss will throw in some surprising and random movements to throw you off balance, but it's not enough to make you break into a sweat most of the time.
[Minor spoiler alert] One of the more memorable bosses has you chasing his large head on rail-like walls (on an item you acquire earlier on - a rather cool item at that). Eventually you have to jump from side-to-side in order to avoid his fire balls and catch upto him to do some damage. After hitting him a few times he then throws in a few spike laced boulders that go round the rails making you have to jump from side-to-side to dodge them, but instead of the boulders remaining on the walls they completely disappear when the bosses' head rears back into view. Actually leaving the spiked boulders still on the walls would greatly increase the challenge of the boss while still maintaining a fair difficult level. [Spoiler finished]
Even so, with the slightly easy difficult level of the main-game Twilight Princess does still at least offer side-content which is a bit more challenging, therefore balancing the issue out somewhat. At the end of the day the content - whether easy or difficult - is still extremely enjoyable, and that's the main thing with any game.
On the graphics side of things Twilight Princess looks fantastic on most levels. Sadly it's nowhere near the calibre we saw in the Wind Waker, but at the same time this isn't a cel-shaded game (though the graphics-engine for Twilight Princess is said to be a heavily modified version of what Wind Waker was, so you might see a few similar things from Wind Waker). Even with the technology being used Twilight Princess still looks a lot better than some 'Next-Generation' efforts, not mainly because of the excellent artistic skill, but because the performance of the visuals don't ever fault. The game looks glorious no matter where you are, or how many enemies are on the screen at once� or even if you're in a huge area with castles, buildings and mountains in the distance.
It's true that a lot of the visual style in Twilight Princess is borrowed from Ocarina of Time, but there are enough modifications and updates there to make it still look fresh and feel like a new game. The game makes best use of all the elements of the world by giving us areas drenched in lush trees, rivers, rocky mountains and even snowy regions. Of course all the NPCs and enemies also look the part, with fabulous design used on every little detail, thus making the game look and feel better every time you start it up.
With all the features stated above you're probably expecting your typical Zelda affair, a nice sized game with challenging dungeons (at least on the puzzle front), gorgeous environments, nasty looking enemies, excellent gameplay and plenty of mini-games. And for the most part that's exactly what Twilight Princess is, but above all the else the game's storyline and general feel make it better than any Zelda released before.
The story takes on a much more mature and darker tone in this instalment, and thus allows the presentation value to be even higher than before. It's a great story with all the aspects we want in Zelda - a peaceful beginning, a mysterious middle, and a climatic but very rewarding finish. We would usually take these things for granted, but with the amount of games these days cutting out a large chunk of the story we should be ever-more grateful that Twilight Princess offers the full package in one game.
Even with the low-points of some ageing gameplay functions, and the questionable difficulty, Twilight Princess manages to contain all the best elements of the last few console-based Zelda games while building on them and making it - ultimately - the best Zelda game ever created. It isn't easy to write that, but that's exactly what you're looking at when you play Twilight Princess.
To push things even further into perspective, it's not difficult at all for me to say Twilight Princess is the greatest videogame ever created. The level of detail, love and affection this game contains is exactly what people should get from a videogame. What elevates it so far ahead is the sheer attention-to-detail that the developers have put into the game. Nothing has been overlooked and everything about the game looks and feels excellent. The fun factor is almost always at 110%, and by the end of the game you're almost in tears that it's all over.
Twilight Princess is the very reason why most of us started playing the games in the first place, and if you really are wondering why you're still playing games today then I cannot recommend this masterpiece of gaming design enough. An absolutely superb game and the best I have ever played.
10 / 10