The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – Review

As with my Ocarina of Time review, this was originally posted on Dooyoo. Reposting it here because I’m still on a big Zelda kick. 

Darknut-twilightThe last few years have seen the Zelda franchise splinter in two directions. The “offspring” of Wind Waker are thriving on the DS, while games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword represent the “main” series; the franchise flagships, and find themselves firmly plonked on Nintendo’s home console. Twilight Princess is something of a bridging game, the last major title to see release on the Gamecube and one of the launch titles for the Wii; it kickstarted Nintendo’s new found success and no doubt brought in a lot of fans early on. In many respects it is typical of the series, offering a familiar combination of dungeon exploring, puzzle solving and adventuring, however it also takes time to really try out new things. It makes a few missteps along the way but Twilight Princess is, at times, a surprisingly original entry; though not perfect.

Things get off to a good start with Twilight Princess standing alone, requiring no back story or catchup intros. You begin as a young goatherd in a small village, your first hour or so will be spent here simply meeting characters you’ll come to know and helping out with the small problems that crop up in day to day life. It’s a slow yet rewarding opening that introduces you to the main features of the game, particularly the control scheme, without piling on too much challenge early on. Different tasks in the village will see you fish, climb, call birds from the skies and even scare a monkey, before the adventure really kicks off. It will be a slow beginning for those eager to get right to the dungeons, but it really worked for me. Soon however, the Kingdom of Hyrule is attacked and a shadowy twilight falls over the world. You are transformed by the dark powers into a rather friendly looking wolf and with the help of Midna, a spirit from the Twilight, you must go on a quest to return to your human form.

This however is just how the story begins and before you reach the end you’ll have had some surprisingly varied experiences. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that you will return to human form soon enough, though a short spell as a canine is never far away as you must repeatedly venture into twilight blighted lands. This dual world, dual character setup works surprisingly well and riffs a lot on themes established way back in A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo. It creates a second perspective on every area and each new land must be cleansed before you can really progress through it. The ultimate effect of this is that the player is uniquely connected to the threat that consumes the land, entering Twilight not only changes your body but releases more challenging puzzles and monsters, a very real effect the player must confront.

You will also have access to the series’ remarkable arsenal of boomerangs, bombs and other bric-a-brac. These are collected as your work your way through the game’s numerous dungeons and usually serve as the key to their completion. Weapons in Zelda titles rarely serve no purpose, instead the designers use the addition of new skills to craft progressively more fiendish puzzles. It’s a good system but unfortunately it is becoming very familiar territory by now, often I felt a little disappointed when I could think of a couple of good solutions to a puzzle only to find that I was only allowed to use one specific weapon to proceed when five or so others would have done the job.

It’s a little hard to sum up my feelings for Twilight Princess because I find myself wondering on what standards to judge it. As an entry in the overall series, it is one of the most successful. The balance of dungeons to over world exploration is probably the best the series has achieved and it’s fair to say that I was never frustrated with the rate of progress. I also particularly liked the story and the characters. There were a lot of times when I felt more connected to this world than in a lot of other games I’ve played, a feeling I credit to that well paced introduction. And yet, certain aspects of Twilight Princess left me surprisingly hollow.

I have written before of the enjoyment I had with The Wind Waker on the Gamecube, despite the criticism it received I felt the art style to be beautiful and the overall story to be nearly perfect. While Twilight Princess is probably a better title when compared to The Wind Waker, I’m not sure it moves the series forward in any meaningful way. Part of the game’s problem is that for all its original ideas, it tries too hard to be Ocarina of Time. The tone of the game, the return to a dual world approach and even the nice, gentle opening are so clearly taken from the N64 hit that often I felt as though it were a simple remake. While this seems to have been a hit with the series fans, I want to see the series try new things, Twilight Princess seems like too little, too late. While Ocarina on the Nintendo 64 was a revolutionary game, arriving at just the right time to impress all the right people, Twilight Princess isn’t. Rather, it is a small step in a long line of small steps that just happens the travel the furthest so far.

Graphically, while Twilight Princess is a reasonably attractive game, most of that comes from its well defined visual style. It’s very clearly a Gamecube title that has had Wii functionality hammered on (though successfully.) While character models are all fairly impressive, scenery features a lot of very simple design choices and some depressingly muddy textures. The game was ready for release about a year before the Wii hit the shelves and so it doesn’t even attempt to exploit the Wii’s extra power and merely settles for what it has. Furthermore, it is games such as these, with vast surroundings and foliage that really show the Wii’s shortcomings when it comes to resolution. A bump of a few pixels would have really cleaned things up and it’s such a shame that for all the fun I had playing Twilight Princess, I kept wishing I were playing it on a different console.

In the end, it’s very hard to fault Twilight Princess when taken on its own merits and I had no qualms about giving it the full five stars. Taken as part of a series however, I couldn’t help being a little let down. It really doesn’t break the mould and it was a shame to see the Wind Waker backlash have such an influence. I could help feeling that Twilight Princess wasn’t just designed with adults in mind but was done so to the exclusion of younger players, something I would have never wanted to see. In the end I found it surprising that despite the many good things I had to say about Twilight Princess, I enjoyed Phantom Hourglass a lot more.

However, if you are a Wii owner you can’t do much better than this. It’s a first rate title that offers a lot for adults and older children, there’s nothing I’d class as being seriously unsuitable for a young child in here but there are a few scary moments and it can be very challenging. It’s available at most game shops stocking Wii games and will probably still set you back around £15.