Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wii review: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Originally scheduled as one of the last releases for the Gamecube, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess received the green light for a Wii version as well. While both games are essentially the same (save for a mirrored layout of the world), Twilight Princess on the Wii brings a new element to the franchise - motion controls. Instead of standing still and cutting grass in search of rupees and hearts, Link can move and swing his sword at the same time - this makes a noticeable difference, and makes gameplay feel more fluid. However, because of the development shift, Twilight Princess' release date was delayed almost two years. The final product doesn't feel dated, per se, but it does feel lackluster in certain areas.

Twilight Princess introduces Link as a ranch hand in Ordon Village. When he is supposed to deliver a gift to Hyrule castle, Link finds that monsters have entered the forest near his home, which leads up to the first temple. The Forest Temple serves as an introduction to the combat and puzzle mechanics of Twilight Princess. Across the board, these respond similar to how they did in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, though there are some differences that come with the territory of the Wii's motion controls. After that first step forward into the story, Link finds himself in the Twilight Realm, a world where a golden glow cradles landscapes of varying shades of grey. It is here that Link meets Midna, an impish Twilit and his travelling companion for the remainder of the game. Link learns that Zant, another Twilit, has cast the Twilight material all over Hyrule, including the castle, and has usurped Princess Zelda of her throne.

It's difficult to explain much more of the plot without giving away some of the game's best moments. The main story is rather long, and a few key plot developments will alter both the course of said story and the way in which players view certain individuals. All in all, the storytelling is superb – as captivating as any Zelda title before it. The mythos of the sages and the sacred realm are explored more directly than in many of the recent Zelda titles, and Twilight Princess does well to tie itself to some key events in the grand timeline of the entire series. However, Twilight Princess does seem to want to identify heavily with Ocarina of Time. Everything from character designs to the last portion of the main story arc - heck, even the opening title screen - screams out a throwback to the N64 classic.

Twilight Princess is not as reliant on motion controls as other Wii titles. The direction players swing the Wiimote will affect the direction Link swings his sword (horizontal, vertical, forward thrust, and spin attack), but there isn’t any real need to be overly precise with these actions. Players can just as easily remain seated, making swift flicks with their wrists, since movement and item/weapon management is handled through the joystick, D-pad, and buttons.

Speaking of items, there are a few new inclusions like as the Ball and Chain, and Dominion Rod that see prominent use in their respective dungeons, but only provide help in a few instances thereafter. The Spinner does prove useful in traversing terrain in Hyrule field, providing access to otherwise unreachable treasure chests. The rest are weapons that have been carried over from previous games, though some are given a new twist. The Hero’s Bow, Slingshot, and Lantern all work exactly as you would expect them to. The Iron Boots allow Link to sink to the bottom of a body of water, but also help him traverse the Goron Mines more quickly, as they are attracted to magnetic surfaces. The gale boomerang creates gusts of wind, allowing Link to solve puzzles similar to those in Wind Waker’s Forbidden Woods, acting as both the boomerang and Deku Leaf. Early in the game, the clawshot seems relatively unassuming, as the Twilight Princess equivalent to the hookshot. But once player acquire the double clawshot, they will find it an invaluable asset – one I doubt Nintendo will go without in future Zelda titles.

Link will spend a fair amount of time as a wolf early in the game. This transformation is something new to the series - more drastic a change than the transformation masks of Majora's Mask. In wolf form, Link can sense trails and hidden items, while moving at a much more rapid rate than when on his two human feet. Combat capabilities shift to Midna's orange arm as well as wolf Link's own charge and tackle abilities. Wolf Link can also learn a number of howl tunes throughout the course of the game, though players need not memorize these, as they see nowhere near as frequent of use as the songs in the N64 titles. Once players are allowed to ride Epona wherever their heart desires, use of Wolf Link will be almost completely nixed, as the horse proves a much faster method of travel. That, and swinging the Master Sword and firing the Hero's Bow from horseback are much more exciting.

The dungeons are beautifully detailed, much like the rest of Hyrule. For the most part, they follow a traditional pattern – Lakebed temple represents water, Goron Mines represents fire. There are a few new dungeons that break the mold in both their elements and layout, with The City in the Sky being more puzzle heavy, and the Palace of Twilight requiring Link to be more quick and agile than usual. Each presents different enemies, many of which need to be dispatched with the dungeon's respective major weapon. Across the board, though, these dungeons are too easy. Lakebed Temple has an uncanny linearity to its layout and puzzles, while the Palace of Twilight is over before it really solidifies its nontraditional identity. Anyone who has played any Zelda title before Twilight Princess will quickly pick up on the game’s rhythm. The bosses suffer the same downfall – they aren’t terribly inspired and lack much of a challenge, though there are few late in the game that act as saving graces.

The minigames are some of the best in a long while. From grappling your way around a cage and catching light orbs, to shooting jars for points as you canoe down Zora's river, to snowboarding against a yeti, players are sure to find plenty of amusement outside of the confines of the main quest. There's also the Cave of Ordeals that can be unlocked after players cross the Gerudo Desert. For those familiar with Wind Waker, it's a very similar challenge to the Savage Labyrinth - Link meets increasingly difficult enemies as he travels down through each of the cave's fifty levels.

The artistic direction of Twilight Princess is that of a very realistic and highly-detailed Hyrule coupled with somewhat exaggerated character designs. No single character bears a face as elongated as that of Salvatore from Wind Waker, but Jaggle and Doctor Borville have heads that are a bit oddly-proportioned. The enemy designs are exaggerated more so, with blue-skinned Bokoblins having a potbelly and braided white hair, and Poes appearing as miniature crystalline specters wielding scythes. Water and lighting elements are absolutely gorgeous, and the latter is worked in a myriad of ways by the game's end. The soundtrack is beautiful, even though it is not fully orchestrated. The theme of Hyrule Field at night utilizes a lot of environmental noises, Faron Woods is reliant on a few string and woodwind sounds, and Queen Rutela's theme is a haunting reimagining of the Serenade of Water.

Wind Waker carried over the musical elements established in Ocarina of Time, and is just one example of how certain elements ate retained from one Zelda game to the next. But no other Zelda has tried so hard to identify with another in the way that Twilight Princess does. It tries to echo the atmosphere of Ocarina of Time, both through its art direction and its gameplay. Thankfully, the Twilight Realm and its influence on the larger portion of the plot steer away from this, but it is an element that never completely leaves. For those who were too young to have experienced Ocarina of Time the first time around, Twilight Princess will likely have a strong resonance with them. Those who are veterans of defending Hyrule will find Twilight Princess lacking in the way of killer new features - there is little here to revolutionize either the series or the genre. I'm a huge fan of this series, and truly feel that gamers will be hard-pressed to find a better adventure game on any of this generation's consoles. As for finding a better Legend of Zelda, that's not as great of a challenge.

My rating: 9.0 (out of 10)

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