This has been the generation of The Legend of Zelda remasters, with two Nintendo 64 titles on 3DS and one GameCube HD release. Following The Wind Waker HD we now have GameCube / Wii title The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, which has the tricky task of kicking off the 30th Anniversary of the franchise. It's also been, we think it's fair to say, a relatively divisive entry, greeted with hysterical excitement when revealed at E3 2004 but then prompting mixed opinions in the years following its release.
Upon firing up Twilight Princess HD for the first time it's clear that Tantalus Media can be added to the list of skilled partners that can do a solid job of taking Nintendo's source material and enhancing it. The visual gulf doesn't feel quite as notable as the shift from N64 to 3DS with Grezzo's portable titles, as the original versions on GameCube and Wii were an accomplishment already; the darker, 'realistic' art style was skilfully implemented on last-gen hardware. What Tantalus has achieved, however, is a crisp and clear presentation that is well suited to modern displays, with broader character designs sharpened and some improvements on textures.
The overall impression to eyes accustomed to modern gaming is mixed, though. In some moments there's real visual beauty, as strong design combines with improved lighting and environment textures to create a handsome recreation of Hyrule. It's not all good, though; while the main cast of characters look reasonable on a modern HD TV, some of the enemy designs are immediately jarring, with designs that are distinctly unattractive and jagged - bosses, though, do generally look great. As the game is a decade old the overall effect is reasonable, though, and like Wind Waker HD the general impression is of work that not's simply the minimal upscale, but nevertheless is only a little above that standard.
So the game looks fine on a decent-sized modern TV, and certainly qualifies as an acceptable HD remaster based on our time with it so far. More importantly, perhaps, it plays rather well. Performance and framerate are buttery smooth - perhaps more so than Wind Waker HD, which would occasionally dip - and the implementation of controls is excellent. This writer's a player that has only completed the Wii version in the past - the waggle was fun in the early days, but on a second playthrough years later the motion controls felt uncomfortable and sloppy. Playing with tight conventional controls is a revelation, at least for those that didn't get the original on GameCube.
With this title putting such a focus on learning special combat moves - which become vital against specific enemies - and running around as a Wolf, these solid controls are very welcome. There's a smooth transition from walking to running that's matched by the sensitivity of the analogue stick - not always a given in games, to be fair - and the GamePad is well utilised. It largely learns lessons from its 3DS and Wii U forebears; the controller's screen can show a map or be used to manage inventory on the fly, while the shoulder buttons and face buttons are all utilised smartly. The on screen HUD is an improvement over the originals, too.
Just like its predecessors, too, aiming with the bow can be done with the stick, gyroscope or a mix of both for extra precision; aiming can be either first- or third-person, depending on your fancy. You can also use the Wii U Pro Controller if you want a slightly more traditional approach, with menu based inventory management and no optional gyrocope controls. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls of the Wii version are not included, which isn't a loss as such but is worth bearing in mind.
It's not all perfect in terms of controls, however. The decade-old technology that drives the game's engine, notably with movement and animation, does occasionally show signs of rust. Wolf Link and particularly riding Epona can be unnecessarily fiddly at times, with this failing to deliver a smoother sense of movement with these characters. For example some high-speed scenes with Epona can be frustrating when approaching a wall or jump at a slightly wrong angle brings the steed to a juddering halt; it's no surprise that when Eiji Aonuma showcased the new Wii U entry in December 2014 this was a point he addressed. It's a minor complaint, but a little more attention and work on that area would have added to an improved feel in some key sequences.
Having racked up over a dozen hours so far we are developing an appreciation, however, for the pleasures of playing this title on Wii U. On top of its renewed visual sharpness and generally pleasurable controls, it's a reminder of how accomplished and detailed a game this is. Running around Castle Town reminded us of how busy and bustling a setting it can be, while the cast is surprisingly diverse. The storytelling, after a fairly dull first hour, picks up nicely and gradually gains momentum. There's a very real sense of dread in the arrival of the Twilight, and experiencing this version certainly has us contemplating a membership of the Twilight Princess Appreciation Society.
There are some lovely new touches, too, some of which we think will be liked on a near-Universal level. For example, some treasure chests hold Miiverse stamps that each represent letters of the Hylian alphabet. It'll be possible, then, to collect the entire alphabet and share Miiverse messages in the Hylian language. Not only can we imagine the Miiverse community being full of tips on where to find all the letters, but it simply seems like a lovely touch.
The Hero mode, meanwhile, does more than simply ramp up the difficulty and deprive you of the ability to find hearts. It flips the game. So the 'Normal' mode has the left handed Link and GameCube layout of the world, while the Hero mode has a right handed Link and the Wii layout. It's a small thing, but shows an acute awareness of the game's history on the part of both Nintendo and Tantalus Media.
It should also be noted that, outside of tackling that Hero mode, veterans of the originals will notice that some elements have been made a little easier. For example the Tears of Light sections - in which you collect glowing orbs as Wolf Link - have been scaled back so that you find 12 rather than 16 collectibles. You can also carry more Rupees right from the start, with the overall economy being a little more generous; it's easier to make major purchases early on, such as the Hylian Shield. We've been fine with this so far, though some purists may find it objectionable.
As for amiibo, meanwhile, our approach with the preview has been simple - we've largely ignored them. For starters we do not have a Wolf Link figure yet, so couldn't test out the new challenge area, though a neat extra the game told us of is that you can also assign save data to the figure, then use it to quickload your profile.
We already know what other figures do, yet we've mostly left our amiibo on the shelf so far. The point is simple. Nothing is lost if you don't use amiibo, and the actual game doesn't push them aggressively. Short of a logo in the pause area and a couple of one-time messages after the opening, you can easily play through the game blissfully unaware of amiibo impeding on a Legend of Zelda adventure. If you do want to use the Smash Bros. range for buffs, meanwhile, they're limited to one scan per day, rather like in Hyrule Warriors. So if you're low on arrows, for example, you head to the collection screen, quickly scan your Link amiibo and get a one time re-fill for that day. After all of the angry reactions online when amiibo usage emerged, the cold facts are that it's unnecessary to feel that way. If you want to ignore amiibo for the 'classic' experience, nothing is stopping you.
We're enjoying the classic experience, too. Having worked through a few dungeons and a fair amount of plot we're getting swept up once again, and are also enjoying the moments of cinematic flair. Occasionally there are scripted moments and battles that ramp up the tension, and we'd forgotten how effective they can be.
Based on our time with the game so far it delivers just what we'd expect - the same experience with some small, but welcome, improvements. Just like Wind Waker HD, it's shaping up to be a definitive version of the adventure.