I think by now it’s common knowledge that I’m a fairly new fan to the Legend of Zelda series. I began with Ocarina of Time early last year, and quickly followed that up with my favourite so far, Majora’s Mask. The staple Wind Waker followed that, but since I’ve rarely felt the need to dive into any more adventures with Link. It could be because of the way all the games feel and play so similarly, which was no different when I started with one of the more contentious titles in the series, Twilight Princess.
Equally praised for its brilliance by some and failures by others, Twilight Princess is most commonly know for being the Zelda game that launched with the Wii. Like most other Zelda games that have suddenly risen to prominence over the past couple of years, it was a remake – being adapted from the GameCube version that preceded it just a few years before. Twilight Princess, depending on who you ask, either soars past the excellence of Ocarina of Time or falls flatter than Skyward Sword.
Playing it for the first time now, I can certainly say that it isn’t my favourite adventure with Link and Co., but it does some particularly brilliant things with its now more than established formula.
Those changes begin with the “title feature” of Twilight Princess – a game changing mechanic that keeps all the Legend of Zelda titles from actually being the same game over and over again. Majora’s Mask had the brilliant three-day groundhog day cycle. Ocarina of Time has, well, an Ocarina. And Twilight Princess has probably my favourite of the lot – Wolf Link. Not too far into the game Hyrule and most of its surrounding lands are invaded by the Twilight, with the King of the dark magic attempting to do what all binary evil rulers want to do – overthrow Princess Zelda.
It’s not long before Link is unwittingly plunged right into the centre of this conflict, with the Twilight nabbing a few of his friends and turning him into a scowling, although undeniably adorable wolf fit with all his distinguishing features. Not long afterwards you’re introduced to Midna – Twilight’s version of Navi whose personality and quirkiness propels her right up the list of memorable Legend of Zelda characters.
Alone, Wolf Link isn’t too different from his more human form. The same attacks and blocks apply, sans the traditional sword and shield being available. Wolf Link is, however, available to hone his sense and sniff out points of interest, digging at certain points to reveal treasures, secret paths and more. Combined with Midna though, things get far more exciting. Midna infuses her Twilight magic with Link’s most basic abilities, making certain attacks more powerful, navigation more free-flowing.
This lends itself to enemy design too, with Twilight Princess actually being one of the better implementations of the Z-Axis targeting system that has been a standard for years. Combat feels more precise and weighty in Twilight, and the varied enemies keep you on your toes most of the time. Certain Twilight creatures will rally their fallen comrades if you don’t take them down all at once, while others will rush you furiously without pause. Having Midna to help while in Wolf form makes combat more exhilarating here, but when you’re traveling solo quick, decisive strikes of the sword are required to stay alive.
Aside from this, Twilight Princess falls squarely into the same rhythm that most other titles in the series do. Throughout its long, long running time, you’ll solve puzzles in elementally themed temples, fight bosses with weird and different weakness, acquire new weapons and tools to help you backtrack and progress in equal measure and slowly restore the light to Hyrule in the process. It’s as by the numbers as you can get with a Zelda title, which makes it slightly formulaic but just as engaging as the rest.
Although I had to admit to myself that some of the dungeons didn’t really stress me intellectually as, say, the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess still has its fair share of loops and purposely obtuse puzzles, but it never feels like they’re designed to the quality as some of the series’ best. Considering Zelda is known for its exquisite puzzle design, though, this means that Twilight still stands head and shoulders above most other titles of the same skin, but pales in comparison to past attempts.
But being a HD remaster, the real differences that drive Twilight Princess’ existence on the Wii U are mostly visual (discounting an Amiibo exclusive dungeon and some other throwaway functionality with the otherwise beautiful toys). Twilight Princess wasn’t the most eye catching game back on the Wii, but the bump up to HD has its benefits. Large areas, such as the Town Square for example, look far more lively and full thanks to better lighting and shadows all round. Textures are sharper and character models have been slightly spruced up to match their effect.
It’s still easy to tell Twilight Princess is an old game, but it’s also easy to see the many positive differences it brings to the table. It’s just a shame that its art style – a more gritty, real take on Hyrule – doesn’t age as well as the more colourful takes the series has managed to put out in the past. Wind Waker, for example, has an aesthetic that time itself can’t touch, with the oppressive browns and dark shading of Twilight sometimes mixing together to form drab, dull environments you have to spend far too long navigating through.
It matches the gloomy and rather adult theming of the tale, and I must admit that it stood out in that regard. I enjoyed (and still am enjoying) Twilight Princess far more than I expected to at this point. I somewhat assumed fatigue would set in at this stage, but it’s a testament to the otherwise brilliant design that a Zelda game so immediately familiar still manages to grab and never let go. Wolf Link as a mechanic is spectacular, even if the surrounding puzzles don’t quite live up to the highs of previous attempts. Twilight Princess HD is a great game to revisit, or otherwise journey through for the first time still.
Last Updated: March 1, 2016