It's been a long ride for Zelda fans. After the long droughts without news, the delay, the porting to the Wii for the sake of "tacking on" controls, as well as a new realization of just how loose the term "Coming Soon" is, the boy in green has finally landed. Now the only question that remains is whether or not the roller coaster ride was worth it and if the game could possibly live up to all the hype.
If someone were to get on your case for comparing Twilight Princess to the legendary Ocarina of Time, feel free to slap them silly. It is perfectly fair to compare the two, in large part because the game does most of the work for you. In a scenario that is familiar enough, our hero Link starts out in a small village on the outskirts of Hyrule kingdom. While preparing to set off for Hyrule with a gift for the royal family, a series of odd and dramatic events results in Link finding himself on a mission of far greater importance. Soon the player will start seeing areas and temples that are familiar sounding, and sights and sounds that will bring a whiff of nostalgia to any Ocarina of Time veteran. But worry not, while many of the locales have similar names to those in previous games, that is about where the similarities end. True, Twilight Princess throws several bones and fan service moments to players, and also walks the line between nostalgic and recycled once or twice, but never does it fail to be its own game.
After finding himself sucked into the mysterious Twilight Realm which has covered Hyrule, and being transformed into a wolf for undiscovered reasons, Link meets up with Midna, a creepy and rather demanding inhabitant of this new world. While I can't say any more of what happens due to spoilers, suffice it to say that Twilight Princess easily has the best story of any Zelda game to date. With twists and turns that will keep even the most hardcore Zelda fans guessing to the end, you may find yourself not wanting to put the controller down not only because it is a blast to play, but also because you just can't stand not knowing what happens next.
If Twilight Princess were a book I could best describe it as a "page turner". And in actuality this isn't terribly far from the truth. Nintendo has again chosen to not have any voiceover work in Zelda. Instead, all dialogue and story narration must be read on-screen. While myself and countless others couldn't see Link being anything other than a heroic mute, and the game itself even makes a tease of this fact at one point, it is time for his supporting cast to speak up. Nintendo has done a fantastic job creating the world of Hyrule and all of its interesting inhabitants, but after a while it can all start to feel a bit hollow and the game can start to lose some of its immersiveness. Also disappointing in the audio department is the lack of orchestrated music to help push the story along. While the MIDI-based music sounds alright, it is a shame to see such a fantastic adventure blemished due to a cheaper form of presentation.
While there is a bit to be desired in what you hear during Link's latest adventure, rarely will you be disappointed in what you see. Even being the GameCube port that it is, Twilight Princess has some great looking visuals. Obviously Link and the rest of the inhabitants of Hyrule feature far more detail than ever before, and this goes for more than just polygon count. Despite the fact that he may not speak a word, Link is given a lot of character and emotion via his ever changing facial expressions. And this goes for all characters. Even with the total lack of spoken dialogue, never before has the Zelda universe felt so alive and compelling.
Of course, the actual world of Hyrule looks great too. Both the overworld as well as dungeons are elaborately designed and are easily the biggest Link has ever been tasked to explore. Water in particular is fantastic looking, as well as the lighting effects both in and out of the Twilight Realm. Still, this is a port of a last-gen title and the Wii is capable of far more than what is on display here.
So why put this game on the Wii in the first place? So Nintendo could show off their new controller. And when posed with the question of whether or not they succeeded in mapping the Zelda controls to the Wii remote and nunchuk, the answer is "almost". Instead of using button presses to control Link's sword and items, you now just swing the Wii remote as if you were swinging the blade yourself. No, the movements do not translate one-to-one. And this is the biggest problem with the system. While there are admittedly battles in which you are completely immersed and actually feel like Link himself, other times you feel like you are doing nothing more than putting forth extra effort to simulate a button press. Still, the good times outweigh the annoying and the new sword controls are a net-gain in terms of fun. No, you don't need to freak out and swing your arms all over the place. Small gestures work just fine. Also, no, you won't get tired. Multiple 14 hour sessions of nothing but Zelda and not once did my arms begin to ache.
But if I were to show someone why the Wii controls are superior, I would pull out Link's bow and arrow. After merely going through the slingshot tutorial 15 minutes into the game it is painfully clear just how awesome aiming is with the Wii remote. And after a little practice you will be busing out headshots left and right and be more immersed in a Zelda game than ever before. Simply put, this new method annihilates aiming with a control stick and once you experience it you won't even want to look back.
In addition to the new controls, Twilight Princess also shakes up the classic Zelda gameplay style by throwing in the new wolf mechanic. Although Link becomes trapped in this form whenever he enters the Twilight Realm early in the game and must fight to return to his human form, he eventually gains the ability to transform at will and this mechanic is utilized in puzzles and challenges throughout the rest of the game. Along with increased speed and a cool energy field ability that stuns enemies, wolf-Link can also use his "sense" ability to find hidden items and trails or see trapped spirits. Perhaps most importantly, through the use of Midna riding on his back, Link can eventually warp all across Hyrule at will. And as big as it is, this feature feels like a godsend.
One thing that has been a big mystery to those anticipating the launch of this latest Zelda is exactly how hard it would be. This concern stemming from the oft-criticized Wind Waker difficulty and how many who played it have no idea what the "game over" screen even looks like. While I was disappointed to see that Nintendo chose not to give Twilight Princess selectable/unlockable difficultly levels, the game is definitely harder than both Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time. You will be tested. Not only is the game longer and more complex with almost 10 dungeons and at least 40 hours of play time for most, but the dungeons themselves can be quite the brain-teasers. Many enemies also hit harder and it is also a bit more difficult to find hearts, and to a greater extent fairies, to replenish your health. The only real problem is that dungeon bosses are far too easy. In fact, this is my biggest disappointment in the whole game. Bosses are consistently awesome looking and will make your jaw drop. Unfortunately, the also consistently lack challenge with the exception of a couple and, as much as I hate to say it, tend to be complete pushovers.
So now the time comes to ask: Does Twilight Princess trump Ocarina of Time, a game many consider to be the best video game ever? In this writer's opinion: absolutely. As a game, Twilight Princess is deeper, longer, better looking, and the combat controls, especially for aiming, blow the legendary title away. So does this make it one of the best games ever? Only time will tell. Ocarina of Time was great not only because it was one of the crowning moments of the N64 and topped anything else out at the time, but also because it was a visionary game that helped shape the action-adventure genre. But for the time being, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess should be near to or at the top of nearly every gamer's Christmas list this year. Actually, with the exception of stores being sold out, I don't know how anyone could still not be experiencing this awesome title as well as one of the best launch games ever.