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

I have come to play!

It's been the generation of remakes for The Legend of Zelda. The main entries from the N64 and GameCube have now all been given the remaster treatment, though many will think of this title as a Wii game. A decade on from its original waggle-heavy release, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD gives a second chance to one of the most talked about and debated entries in the series to date. A well written storyline and a lengthy adventure await Wii U owners, and once again Nintendo and its partners - Tantalus Media, on this occasion - have breathed new life into a key release while remaining faithful to the source material.

What's interesting about Twilight Princess, and its dual identity as a late arrival on GameCube and launch title on Wii, is that most will know the game from its waggle-heavy incarnation. In 2006, when motion controls were an exciting idea that truly captured the zeitgeist, swishing a Remote around - with minimal accuracy - had an immersive feel. Time wasn't necessarily kind to that control scheme, however, especially when MotionPlus arrived and showed how rudimentary the sword wielding was - the pointer aiming, to be fair, aged gracefully.

Considering we're looking at an adventure that - in our case - hits about 35 hours, it's a blessed relief to use well refined, reliable controls here on the Wii U. This title follows the template laid down by remaster predecessors on both 3DS and Wii U, utilising the GamePad touch screen for item management on the fly in addition to a readily available map. The bulky controller also mimics its predecessors with excellent gyroscope aiming, which is ideal for tightening a shot's aim in tandem with the left stick. Switching to the Wii U Pro Controller brings a more traditional feel, meanwhile, with a pause screen when managing weapons and items; it's equally comfortable, overall, with the ergonomic pad design compensating for the loss of the GamePad's bells and whistles. It's easy to take for granted, but the controls are carefully thought out, allowing all of a player's focus to be directed to on-screen events rather than grappling with a Remote.

Prior to going back to the Wii original we were trying to recollect how it even worked, considering the limited physical input options in the last gen control scheme. Every button on the controller is put to work here, with unique movesets for both human and wolf Link. Not only are you targeting and using items on the shoulder buttons, but all four face buttons are put to work - most valuably, the right analogue stick provides the expected smooth camera control. Physical controls suit the relatively intricate combat far better, too - you learn a number of special moves from a mysterious figure (we'll let you figure out who he is for yourselves) and each are needed to exploit the weaknesses of specific enemies. Weak minions can be swatted aside with rapid taps of the B button, sure, but that isn't a strategy that'll hold in later challenges.

Overall, the sensible controls make the game feel easier (in the standard difficulty, at least), and certainly less fiddly than a decade ago. It's not all bang on the money, however - Epona can still be a little awkward to manoeuvre, rather like a real horse in fairness, but it should surprise no-one that this was touted as an area of improvement for the next home console game when it was presented way back in December 2014. Wolf Link also has his moments of awkwardness, though in both of these cases the complaints are very minor; it's also part of the reality when working with animations and mechanics a decade old.

Beyond the excellent (and diverse) controls Twilight Princess, for all of its structural ambition a decade ago - which we'll come to - still maintains a core simplicity that beats at the heart of almost all Legend of Zelda titles. You can distract yourself with side quests and collectathons if you please, but the foundation of the experience is in a structured story, which even at 30+ hours maintains its momentum. Perhaps more-so than its Wii successor, Skyward Sword, this is an entry in the series that ensures plenty of variety as you work through the narrative.

Structurally the world of Hyrule follows the usual template, but it's the scale that stands out. Among the usual fields, volcanic mountains, ice-covered lands, mystical temples and more, this game works hard to find variety in dungeon design and gameplay. There are moments where you snowboard down a mountain, walk upside down with magnetic boots or battle with fierce winds and lengthy hookshot mazes. There are hidden areas in which collectibles require combat or puzzles before giving up their reward, and the usual distractions - like fishing - are included and can easily suck away a lot of your time.

It's a large, interesting world, and the core cast of characters also deserves credit. Link forms unique bonds with various protagonists, with subtle cutscenes and dialogue bringing these relationships to life. The stand-out bond is with Midna, who is far more than an incessant busy-body in the style of Navi from Ocarina of Time. Midna's character evolves nicely with the plot, with intentions and behaviour that follow a pleasing arc - the friendship with Link, which is sometimes expressed with a mere nod or smile towards each other, is one of the best partnerships the series has seen. Beyond those lead characters, there's charm and variety to Hyrule's citizens, some with memorable subplots and tales to share; Zant, for example, is a delightfully quirky villain.

The storyline itself is certainly a highlight, with our appreciation for it renewed when revisiting this remaster. Themes of loyalty, friendship, power and greed make their usual appearance, and what's striking is the cinematic flair that Eiji Aonuma and his team demonstrated. We're pretty sure there were some fans of The Lord of the Rings original trilogy movies in the development team, as some sequences bear an uncanny resemblance to key moments from those films. Throw in some nods to Westerns and the Zelda franchises' own sense of drama, and you're left with a game full of heart.

Of course, the tough question with any HD remaster is whether it's worth spending a full retail price on the experience. For those that haven't played Twilight Princess before the answer is a simple yes. The audience that has played it beforehand, though, has various features and upgrades to help inform the decision.

In terms of visuals, the 1080p and 30fps lock are both excellent, though it's a pity the Wii U doesn't have enough grunt to achieve 60 frames. Tantalus has done excellent work in improving textures, and once we snapped out of our 'mind's eye' perspective of how this looked on Wii we appreciated the scale of the improvement. Improved lighting is also a factor, and there are moments where Twilight Princess HD is truly beautiful. On the flipside a relatively small number of enemy character models - such as moblins - are rather ugly by modern standards, so there are occasions where the improvements are let down by the source artistic design. It's also worth noting that we have the same old midi soundtrack here, as per previous re-releases, which doesn't stack up too well against Nintendo's modern day live band and orchestral efforts.

Beyond that we have off-TV play on the GamePad and, of course, the implementation of amiibo. The Wolf Link amiibo unlocks the Cave of Shadows, a challenge area of which a similar equivalent existed in the originals; in this case you clear levels filled with enemies to earn small rewards (mainly Rupees) and eventually a larger wallet. It also offers the ability to 'save' hearts to replenish in-game, though it feels somewhat inconsequential as the standard difficulty isn't overly taxing. Finally, you can quick load your save game with a tap of the figure, though in truth that's merely a gimmick.

You can also use the Zelda franchise Smash Bros. amiibo once a day to reload hearts, arrows or - with Ganondorf - crank up the damage caused by enemies. If you want a major challenge you can play Hero mode right off the bat and scan a Ganondorf amiibo. In a neat touch, too, the normal difficulty setting has a left-handed Link and the GameCube layout, while Hero mode is a right-handed Link and the mirrored layout from the Wii game. Tweaks have been made to the game's balancing, too - currency and wallet expansions are a little easier to pick up, and the Tears of Light collection sections as Wolf Link have been mercifully scaled back. Add to this Hylian Alphabet Miiverse stamps that you can find in treasure chests, and you have some neat extras that cater to dedicated fans.

The Hero mode's availability from the start is a smart decision, giving a notable challenge for those that desire it from the beginning. As for the amiibo implementation, it's easily ignored; thankfully the game doesn't push it heavily, mentioning the features once after the prologue and simply leaving an amiibo area in the main menu. If you find the idea of amiibo in a Legend of Zelda game distasteful then fear not - you miss very little by ignoring them entirely.

As for whether this does enough to justify a full price purchase for those that have already enjoyed the game, that is - of course - a subjective matter. We will say that the notable improvements in the sharp visuals, the excellent controls and other extras add up to deliver a definitive version of Twilight Princess.

Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is an excellent addition to the Wii U library. We do acknowledge that it's a series entry that has its critics, with them often citing a lack of revolution from the Ocarina of Time template, in particular. Those that feel that way have little incentive to revisit it on Wii U, but this writer certainly feels that it stands on its own as an accomplished game - opinions, when it comes to a series as immersive and demanding as The Legend of Zelda, are everything.

Beyond that, what we have here is an attractive remaster with some nice additions, encompassing improved controls, visuals and enjoyable extras for fans. It's a deep, involving 30+ hour adventure, which draws the player in with plenty of honesty and soul; we're certainly glad this one has come to light.