No one sitting in the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles was particularly surprised when the lovable Reggie Fils-Aimes, in his traditionally charming style, told us Nintendo would release The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on GameCube and Wii simultaneously, and on the Wii launch date. I guess, at best, we could say we were a bit surprised when he used the slightly technical term "separate SKUs" to describe the two different versions, but naturally that's only to establish that there are quite distinct differences between the two versions. For example, one's a giant badger.
A lie. And in many ways, I have to kind of thank Nintendo for deciding to place the Wii demo pods in a small, cramped, sweaty room that it took hours to get into, as unlike last year, where if you got a chance to play Twilight Princess after only waiting a queue for, oh, 4 or 5 hours you felt lucky, this year the new arrangement all but halved that time I spent waiting in the queue to get a go. Thanks!
But is the Wii version worth the wait? Well, this is by far the Wii demo that had me the most torn, offering a both a fishing section and a small, quite straightforward dungeon with which to explore the Twilight Princess by using the Wii's unique interface.
The Twilight Princess features all of the standard series tropes that we've come to expect, with each one slightly modified by aspects of the Wii's controller. Link is able to do his usual fighting shtick simply by battering the A button, with his spin attack accessible by shaking the Wii's nunchuck. He draws arrows over his bow using the Wii controller as a pointer. Within a certain section of the screen (a middle circle), you can aim precisely, and outside that your pointer movement also moves the camera. Link's boomerang is handled much the same way, and, you guessed it, so is the grappling hook.
The problem here is that, particularly in the case of this demo, the aiming is incredibly twitchy. Almost unplayably so, with each use of the bow and arrows the most stupidly tense use of small hand movements since the last time you played Operation. Against an enraged Tyrannosaurus Rex. It seems so frankly tacked on that I really question the need for it at all, but perhaps with the pointer's sensitivity fixed it will turn out to be a more vital, and immersive part of the game.
The short level also features Link using his heavy metal boots to attach himself to a giant moving magnet, and later fighting a huge boss monster, who, were I looking for the perfect description of it, I would call it the Rancor monster from Return of the Jedi on fire. Dispatched by tripping him over by grabbing his leg chains and pulling while wearing the heavy metal boots before dashing around him to stab him in his head repeatedly, this, again, quite easily fits the form of, oh, every single Zelda game since Link to a Past.
Indeed, playing this short demo I was amazed by just how disillusioned I've become. Having already played through and completed Zelda 64 and The Wind Waker, I can only hope the game offers at least something more than the tired mechanic of going to a dungeon, finding an item in the dungeon that is critical to beating that very dungeon, and then killing the boss with that item too. Repeatedly. Twilight Princess is really going to have to offer something more, and using the Wii controller in such a predictable way isn't going to cut it.
Which is what made the second demo such a revelation. Little more than a simple fishing game that could have been included in a Wii Sports title or something, you flick your line forward with, yes, a flick of your wrist holding the A button, and pull and tease the lure back to you by, yes again, pulling and teasing the Wii controller. If a fish bites, the Wii controller begins to vibrate terribly, softening when you hold your hand in a position that means that the fish isn't as resisting as much, until finally you manage to land one.
And that's all there really is to it. However, unlike the strict, regimented design of the short dungeon level, this was a second of the game you were allowed to just play without repercussion (Link wasn't even keeping the fish, instead choosing to throw them back regardless of their quality). Which featured truly lovely graphical effects (the water was just gorgeous) and fun, meaningless fishing action that feels just like the real thing; at one point I honestly swore to myself I could feel the line spinning away from the 'rod' in my hand, even. But is some utterly gorgeous and fun fishing really going to be enough to make the Wii version stand out as preferable to its GameCube bretheren?
Right now, with the general awfulness and tacked on feel of the Wii specific functions other than fishing, I have to say no, it really isn't. It’s a strange choice to release your launch title killer app on more than one platform simultaneously, with neither looking to be particularly better than the other, but I guess Nintendo must have some idea what they’re doing, right? I mean, they'll probably just intentionally cripple the GameCube version, or something.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess arrives on Nintendo Wii and GameCube on the Wii Launch date, which should be set as sometime in autumn, 2006.