Zelda: All Grown Up

Zelda: All Grown Up

Few series in gaming evoke as much nostalgia and emotion as The Legend of Zelda. A courageous young hero in a green tunic and cap, a beautiful and enigmatic princess wise beyond her years, a dark force seeking to claim ultimate power of the goddesses - the series has spanned generations of gamers as it has generations of consoles. The first Zelda game to be a console launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has quite a reputation to live up to. Does this latest installment in the chronicles of Hyrule measure up to its predecessors?

Uh, yes.

imageLink starts out as a young pointy-eared man who lives in his quiet, peaceful village, happily herding. Of course, that changes within an hour or so (what did you expect?) and Link is thrust onto the stage of history to battle (quite literally) a tide of darkness spreading over Hyrule. From there on, it's almost what you'd expect from a Zelda title - not going to name specifics, but you can probably bet that there's going to be the Master Sword, the golden power of the Triforce, and lots and lots of nifty dungeons and puzzles.

Story


Unlike most of the previous games in the series, Twilight Princess is surprisingly story-driven. Link is realized as a character in his own right for the first time, rather than merely a vessel for the player. From his playful interactions with the children and people of his village, to his relationship with the impish shadow-being Midna, to his encounters with the Princess of Hyrule, Link feels much more real than he has in any prior installment. The story, too, is more than the standard "get Master Sword, beat up Ganon, make sweet love to Zelda" fare of the series, and it features some interesting twists in an already-compelling narrative.

Make no mistake, this is a much darker game than previous entries in the series, and it occasionally deals with serious issues that other games just skirted over or simply didn't bring up. This is definitely a more "adult" Zelda than anything that's come before.

Presentation


While Twilight Princess would easily be one of the most gorgeous games in the previous console generation, pushing the Gamecube's hardware to its limits, it doesn't hold a candle to what we've seen on the 360 and PS3. This may be due to the fact that it spent most of its development as a Gamecube title or the Wii's inherent lack of power (or both), but there are some shoddy textures that would have been considered low-res on the 'cube, and many lines are incredibly jaggy. While the music is well-composed for the most part (featuring some great remixes of past LoZ songs) it maintains the same MIDI quality it had on the N64, and one wonders why the developers didn't take advantage of the increased space available on Wii disks.

Though technically the graphics aren't quite up to the high standards set by games like Gears of War, Twilight Princess is absolutely phenomenal from an artistic standpoint, particularly in the eponymous twilight world. The world of the game is significantly larger than any world we've seen in a Zelda thus far, and in many ways feels inspired by games like Shadow of the Colossus. While you have the standard locations like the Lost Woods, Lake Hylia, Death Mountain and Hyrule Castle/Field, there's plenty more to see in this adventure. While in the Twilight, everything is sepia-toned and slightly blurry, and the lighting is just absolutely gorgeous. The art brilliance really does make up for the technical flaws, but to not mention them would be an oversight.

But that's not why we play Zelda, is it?

Gameplay


imageIt's surprising how natural the Wii controls feel in a Zelda game. A flick of the wrist attacks, while the B trigger is mapped to your primary item (you can set three additional items to the D-Pad and swap them in and out on the fly). While the Wiimote functionality is clearly an addition, it does work very well.

One of the most discussed features of Twilight Princess is Link's wolf alter-ego. While you'll control Wolf-Link for predetermined segments in the beginning, you later get the ability to change forms on the fly, and later dungeons/fights/puzzles require you to do just that. While the wolf is slightly faster and has heightened animal senses allowing him to see spirits and track scents, he also can't use the impressive array of items and weaponry Link has available to him. The wolf segments in the beginning aren't very fun and mainly have a "hurry up so we can be Link again" feel to them; but after you get the ability to change at any point, it feels much less tedious.

Link comes equipped with his standard gear: Boomerang, Bow, Slingshot, Hookshot (Clawshot in this one), his trusty sword/shield ... there are some new items that are very fun to use, though, so if you're despairing about having seen it all, despair not!

I mentioned earlier that the world is the biggest one yet. The dungeons follow suit - not only are there quite a few of them (a welcome change after Wind Waker), but they're all gigantic and very well done. The puzzles never get so hard that you can't figure out what to do, but some manage to be tricky while still staying simple (I've found myself cursing my stupidity after finally figuring out that the key to the puzzle was right in front of me). You'll generally get a spankin' new item in the dungeon, which will then be the key to defeating the dungeon's boss; nothing new there. While neither the boss fights nor the mini-boss fights are particularly hard, they're epic in scope and feel more challenging (or exhausting) than they really are.

Some may criticize Twilight Princess for not changing the standards and traditions of the Zelda series more, a la Resident Evil 4. That never quite bothered me, and I feel that Link's latest adventure strikes an excellent blend between traditional and new - there's just something about walking out into a completely unfamiliar Kakariko Village and hearing the first few strains of the familiar theme before the music changes that makes me smile.

The story does start off slow, and the presence of an older Link with a more mature art style (in addition to several other factors) may make the game feel like a simple retelling of Ocarina of Time at first. However, around the third dungeon it starts to noticeably pick up and take its own course, and it really just keeps on getting better from there. It's good for the first hour, great for the next five, and for the rest of the game it's Twilight Princess. Despite the technical dings, it's easily the best entry in the Zelda series to date, by far the best Wii launch title, and definitely in the running for Game of the Year.

The Legend of Zelda has all grown up, and what a beautiful thing it is.

Permalink

You know, I agree there is a lot of good in the game to talk about. The presentation and story has grown up considerably, using the range weapons no longer puts you into first person mode, and Z-targeting has been changed so that you can hold 'Z' and continue to lock on to new targets automatically after killing the first. These are some of the many nice features of Twilight Princess. The thing is, there are many things that are simply counter-intuitive.

One thing that I really didn't like at all was the way the controller was set up. There are numerous blunders in the control scheme.

For starters I would like to say that I'm very happy with my Wii, and I think the controller will be a great new way to play games. That being said, I also feel that Twilight Princess managed to capture quality in only one aspect of the controller: pointing. There precision of the aiming in Zelda is far beyond any Zelda before. Unfortunately, that is the extent of the positive influence of the Wiimote. Beyond precision and speed aiming feels clumsy. The reason for this is because the controls are awkward. In order to turn the screen left and right you have to use the analog stick on the nunchuck, to go up and down you must drag the on-screen reticule to the top and bottom respectively. It would have made more sense, and allowed for more freedom of movement, if the controls while aiming a bow were more akin to other Wii shooting games: allow free walking/strafing with the analog stick, and allow for turning and aiming with the pointer.

There is another, even more problematic issue with aiming: you can't access the pause screens while aiming. I don't know why, you just can't do it. It doesn't make any sense to me.

The control weirdness doesn't stop there. The button mapping changes depending on what situation you are in. If you are aiming then you press 'A' to back out, on pause screens press 'B' to back out. If you are aiming you may also shake your Wiimote to break out your sword and bring you back to the regular view. This feature has caused problems for me on numerous occasions when trying to hit quick moving enemies with the bow. What I have come to figure is that the Wiimote simply does not have the button capacity that the Game Cube and N64 had. You would think with a D-pad ready and waiting that there would be more than enough buttons, especially since this used as 4 buttons in this game, and not as a D-pad at all. Well, that's all well and good, but the D-pad is used to switch between weapons mapped to the rear 'B' button. Again, in odd fashion, this functionality changes depending on what items are assigned to the D-pad. Items like the Iron Boots simply become active when you press their D-pad direction; others are sent to the 'B' button and then have to be activated for use by a push of the rear Wiimote trigger. Why can't my bow just pop up when I call for it? It becomes visible on the character model, so why can't it just put me into shooting view and call up my reticule too? It brings a sluggish feeling when playing this game. It is an action game with some quick enemies that are best taken care of before they get a chance to start their onslaught; the controls need to be a single button push.

Now for even MORE on the use of the 'B' button. In the past three Zelda games the player would assign one item to each of about three buttons. They were those buttons until you decided to change them to other buttons. There was a certain reliability and assurance in this system that pressing left-'C' would bring up your bow, or right-'C' might bring up your hookshot. When playing Wii you have to be a lot more careful with your assignments. If you assign all three D-pad slots as well as your 'B' slot you have four items about ready to use. The problem arises when you swap out the 'B' slot with one of your other items. Now your previously assigned buttons have changed. You can literally change the position of every single assigned button by using this process, and it makes managing your active items needlessly difficult. Again, why can't a press of the proper D-pad direction just bring up the item I want to use?

Finally moving on from item use (even though I can really say more about if I were so inclined).

There is one skill in the game that is used by motion sensing of the nunchuck. At the same time, however, another move is assigned to motion sensing by the nunchuck. One is a skill you gain during game play, and so I won't give it away, but the other is the standard spin attack. Just about every time I try to use the other skill I spin instead. It can be amazingly frustrating when trying to fight certain enemies that are best countered with the special skill. Not only do you miss the opportunity to use the skill but it also spins you around, shield and all, making you vulnerable to attacks.

One last control gripe is Navi. Why the heck doesn't the fairy do ANYTHING? It doesn't help you choose a 'Z' Target, it doesn't move the camera, it doesn't do anything. It is essentially eye-candy and a little indicator to let you know where your cursor will be when you go into shooting mode. Every other use goes out the window by poor implementation or various other selection/camera constraints. I think that Navi could have been used much more effectively.

Although it seems like I dislike this Zelda very much, I don't. I love this game. I'm about 40 hours into it with only a few left to go. The controls are poor but the story-telling and direction is the best it has ever been. The cinematics are wonderful and really help you feel the characters and the mood more. The story is quite a bit more grown up, and that is what makes this game so great.

The bottom line is that this game is fantastic, but heavily flawed. I firmly believe that if a game with a style similar to this one in place of Wind Waker this title would be considered a very average Zelda at best. The fact that this game brings the player back to the style as Ocarina, and then pushes it even further, is what will really drive fans to love it. The story is big, the world is big, and the characters feel alive. Ocarina, in my opinion, makes this game look like a bad port. Where Ocarina was an example of controller mastery, Twilight Princess is an example of direction mastery. The game is a blast to play, and its fun to be a part of; but it's too darn frustrating to take the place of a game that, for the time, was more complete than anything else I have ever played.

Although I have not had an opportunity to try this game for the Cube, I would advise most fans without a Wii to reconsider getting one just for the purpose of playing this game. The visual style and great cut scenes are the reason to play this game, not the new controller. This is not the title to prove the worth of this system (that's what Metroid is for ;-) ).

Blaxton:
There is one skill in the game that is used by motion sensing of the nunchuck. At the same time, however, another move is assigned to motion sensing by the nunchuck. One is a skill you gain during game play, and so I won't give it away, but the other is the standard spin attack. Just about every time I try to use the other skill I spin instead. It can be amazingly frustrating when trying to fight certain enemies that are best countered with the special skill. Not only do you miss the opportunity to use the skill but it also spins you around, shield and all, making you vulnerable to attacks.

Funny, I had the opposite problem. I'd always end up doing the other attack when trying to spin.

Blaxton:
Although I have not had an opportunity to try this game for the Cube, I would advise most fans without a Wii to reconsider getting one just for the purpose of playing this game. The visual style and great cut scenes are the reason to play this game, not the new controller. This is not the title to prove the worth of this system (that's what Metroid is for ;-) ).

I've heard a few people say they prefer the control scheme on the cube version, but thats not the only factor involved in deciding which one to purchase. The wii version is the only one that supports widescreen which, for me, made it the only version I was ever going to purchase and turned it into a wii system seller for me.

Sure the control scheme can be annoying at times, and I have no doubt that once I've finished zelda I'll likely end up playing wii sports and virtual consoles games for several months before I find something new worth buying, but avoiding having to add black bars to the side of my widescreen tv really IS that important in my mind.

 

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