Review: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

Has the Hero of Time’s style withstood the test of time?

Twilight Princess is Nintendo’s last Zelda game for the Gamecube and also the first for the Wii. Although the Wii boasts technical improvements over the Gamecube in terms of its processor and graphics hardware, in this case the Wii version is essentially a port of the Gamecube game and offers basically the same quality of visuals, albeit in widescreen. Although the two versions were released simultaneously, it will unfortunately go down in history as the very first of a long line of ‘Wii-makes’ (recycled Gamecube games re-released with Wii remote controls). That being said, Twilight Princess features some of the best looking visuals published on the Wii to date.

The look is appealing not just because of raw graphical power, though; as we already mentioned, this game looks just as good on the Gamecube. Rather, the stunning beauty on display here comes primarily from the art direction. It’s no secret that other game consoles and the PC all have greater graphical horsepower than the Wii, but we think Twilight Princess surpasses the visual appeal of even most high definition games currently available on other consoles, and that is all thanks to the artistic talent of the game’s designers. All of that practice they’ve had with the other 3D Zelda games really shows with this release.

But in terms of gameplay, this familiarity is also a handicap: much of what is great in Twilight Princess we have seen before in other Zelda games. Longtime fans will no doubt have a much easier time solving the puzzles than newcomers will, because so many concepts are borrowed from puzzles that have been used before. Boss fights, though bigger and even more epic now, are somehow a little less scary as we often merely have to remember what we did before to defeat a similar foe in a previous game. Although one could argue that this formula never gets tired (and we partly agree), even so we must ask ourselves a very hard question: does Twilight Princess really offer anything new, or is it just more of the same Zelda experience we’ve had before but with prettier graphics?

One problem is that the game seems stuck in its late ‘90’s trappings. For example, the towns available to explore are rather like visiting a ghost town, with most of the doors locked with no way to explore inside. Although there are people to talk to, there are surprisingly few for an entire kingdom, perhaps even fewer than in previous outings, and many of the people you do see will not talk to you at all. There are apparently only a few dozen people to talk to in all of Hyrule, and that’s including Gorons and Zora.

Such a small number of places and people made sense on the Nintendo 64 because of system limitations, particularly the small storage capacity of the cartridges the game was stored on, but that excuse doesn’t work for the Wii, or even the Gamecube. Other Gamecube RPGs have included a far greater cast of characters, as do games on the even lower tech Playstation 2. The absence of a large supporting cast and the atmosphere and side quests that they bring leaves Twilight Princess feeling somewhat dated compared to other current generation games. Given the fact that there is no audio for the voices, the dearth of characters in the story is all the more perplexing as it would not have taken much space to store a few extra characters with a couple of lines of dialogue apiece. It can only be laziness on the part of the developers to keep the cast so small in a story that was billed as epic.

The Gamecube’s system limitations do present one significant problem: the enemy AI on modern game consoles has improved considerably over the days of the Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube, but the AI here is just good old-fashioned Gamecube AI. This means you can stab them with your sword, watch them grow tired of you and walk away, and then you can hit them again until they are dead. If you do manage to capture their attention, defeating them is as simple as blocking their attacks and hitting them repeatedly with your sword. The only challenge comes from large numbers of them attacking at once; most individual enemies will provide you with no real challenge at all. When on horseback, you will likely just run past them most of the time as they are not worth your time. Although this is par for a Gamecube game, for a Wii game in competition with titles on the Xbox 360 and PS3 one would hope to find better AI up to speed with other similar games.

Perhaps the biggest mixed blessing is the new Wii Remote control scheme. Some of the best work that Nintendo has done with the Wii Remote can be found here: the control scheme allows for easy selection of items from an inventory wheel as well as realistic arrow-shooting and fishing. Many onlookers observing the game in a store display remark afterwards that the fishing aspect alone is exciting enough to get them to play. Unfortunately, sword fighting is still not quite ready as it is too imprecise. Unlike the system pioneered by Ocarina of Time and still used in the Gamecube version of Twilight Princess, the Wii Remote control scheme does not require you to learn specific motions for specific attacks. Rather, most gamers will hack their way through the entire game without ever really getting a grasp on which swing produces what effect on screen. Due to the ease of simply flailing the Remote wildly and still producing a positive result, the game never rewards players for bothering to learn the controls.

The other problem with the control scheme is the loss of the second analogue stick. In Wind Waker and in the Gamecube version of Twilight Princess, the dual analog sticks provide silky smooth movement and camera adjustment. This was a vast improvement over Ocarina of Time’s camera, which, though groundbreaking for its time, today feels forced and less elegant. Taking a big step backward out of necessity, the Wii controls have no dual analogue capability and so must resort to a button press to re-center the camera whenever Link changes facing, just like in Ocarina of Time. Again, Ocarina of Time’s control scheme was the best available for its time: all modern 3D games owe a lot to the control scheme it pioneered, but Link has improved on this formula since then and it is frustrating now to have to go back.

Horseback riding is one of the exciting improvements. Although it was introduced in Ocarina of Time, there was really nothing to do but ride from point A to point B. Now, you can fight and ride at the same time, and possibly the most epic boss fight of the game requires you to fight swarms of enemies as well as a big boss while on horseback. Frankly, this fight is so good that it is worth the price of admission all by itself. The rest of the time you may still fight on horseback while riding around from point A to point B, but it seems to take a lot longer to kill enemies this way than if you were to simply dismount and hack them to death. So aside from the gimmick value, for most of the game you will likely still just use your horse for getting around. Since it is definitely a welcome addition to the game, we would have liked to see even more of an emphasis placed on horseback fighting.

The dungeons are about in line with what is to be expected from a Zelda game now. Many Zelda fans complain that the dungeons and bosses here are too easy, but we think it’s more a case of familiarity. Long time players are going to have very little trouble with figuring them out but newcomers will often be left scratching their heads, wondering how they were supposed to know to use a certain item against a certain boss, oblivious to the fact that the same solution to the same boss has been present in multiple games prior to this one. However the game does not offer any varying difficulty level and so old-timers and newcomers alike will have to face the same level of challenge.

We would have liked to see a second quest with new puzzles or greater difficulty in the grand Nintendo tradition, but sadly there is no additional challenge once you have finished the game. There are plenty of mini-games, though not as many on display as in Windwaker. However, compared to the average lifespan of the typical Wii game, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is one of the most substantial and longest lasting experiences to be found on the Wii.

So there it is. We’ve said everything bad that can possibly be said about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. We’ve presented every argument we can think of to knock this giant down a peg or two in your minds. But we know you’re going to play it and love it anyway…so why are you even reading this review? Twilight Princess is one of the best games on the Wii, and one of the best games of this generation. Although it fails to improve upon its formula and appears to have missed out on most of the previous eight years of game design evolution, its still a very fun game with great atmosphere and puzzles to challenge you for hours at a time. If it has a shortcoming, it’s that previous games in the series have set the bar so high and are also available for play on the Wii. As a result, a halfhearted effort (no pun intended) just does not cut it for this series, especially after making fans wait so long for its release.

Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess provides a deep action/rpg experience with beautiful graphics and rewarding game play. Not just a great successor to earlier Zelda games, Twilight Princess offers a lot of the same experience that has warmed so many Nintendo gamers' hearts over the years, but in so doing the game succumbs to the disease of 'lazy sequelitis' and offers an experience that is less compelling than its forebears and also less relevant to the modern gaming world. Make no mistake, it's still a great game, but there was a time when a new Zelda release could be called the greatest game of its generation. Despite an incredibly long development time, Twilight Princess fails to meet those high expectations.