This is the reason I traded in my 360.
Last summer, as some of my readers may attest, I made the bold decision to scrap my Xbox 360 (of which I had owned for such a brief time – Microsoft hadn’t enough time to brick my system) – all in favor of the Wii. At the time, I had an epiphany, the nexus of this thought directive running straight back to my childhood. While I appreciate the wonders the 360 can produce, I realized that something was missing in these new high tech wonderments. So many titles looked like a billion dollars but under their shiny veneer, they lacked a soul.
I’ve been gaming for close to three full decades now. It’s an interest, a hobby, a passion. And, thankfully, it’s no longer child’s play as my generation (the NES Generation) scoured the charred remains of the Neolithic Atari Age and brought forth a fiery phoenix that would continue to burn bright through successive generations. Video games are a multi-billion dollar business largely because my generation refused to store them in the attic when our voices cracked. Now at the age of 34, I’m still nicely situated in that increasingly expanding prime demographic.
So it’s with a fond eye towards my childhood that my heart retains a sweet spot for all things Nintendo. Mario. Metroid. Zelda. That’s my holy trinity.
All this lengthy prologue brings me to the main event – reviewing the very game that pried my beloved 360 from these warm, vital hands.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is by all accounts the logical extension of what most believe to be the greatest Zelda game ever released, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (N64 – 1998). The landscape looks the same. The first few dungeons share common themes (Forest Temple? Check! Desert Temple? Check! Water Temple? You get the idea.) Fortunately, once the player navigates through those initial areas the world really opens up, some new and compelling locales emerge, and the game takes on a life of its own.
For the longest time, my biggest gripe with the Zelda series is that through all of the successive releases, the continuity and one through-line narrative thread could be described as tenuous at best. Strip away the varying side quests and ancillary puppets of evil (the initial Big Bad is always revealed to be in the employ of perennial villain, Ganondorf) and you have the same damn game. Link fights Ganon to free Zelda. With a world as richly designed as this, the opportunity existed for Nintendo (and series creator Shigeru Miyamoto) to lay claim to a first – a fully interactive fantasy entertainment on par with literature – their Lord of the Rings. With Twilight Princess, they’re not quite there yet but are getting close.
It’s interesting that with the many parallels shared between Ocarina and Princess, The Wind Waker is the one title that truly acts as an extension to the story begun in Ocarina. Where that game featured a vast water world to explore by boat (a big change from the traditional Hyrule field featured in all prior Zelda games) it was revealed later in the game that the Hyrule you saved in Ocarina eventually succumbed to evil and lay dormant miles below the ocean surface. For all its innocent veneer – Waker possessed some mature shadings beneath the surface.
So while Twilight may appear to be a logical extension of Ocarina, for all intents and purposes, this is simply another reboot. The manual makes mention that this game takes place 100 years after the events in Ocarina but with the exception of some return visits to familiar locales, this is as stand alone as they come. Which I guess – in the long run – makes some kind of business sense. Anyone can pick up and play this title and not have to possess 20 years worth of background knowledge to enjoy it.
Princess begins with Link living the good life in the small farming village of Ordon. After a series of attacks on his village, Link is coaxed from the town limits to rescue some imperiled children. He begins to investigate a series of disappearances which leads him to the titular Twilight Realm, a negative image of his own world. From there, Link stumbles upon a conspiracy to squelch the light of the real world and let twilight reign. Oh… and Princess Zelda needs saving.
Twilight Princess gets right all of the elements the series is famous for – dungeon crawling, boss battles and exploration. This game features a staggering 9 dungeons (although truth be told, one of those (the last area) is light on puzzle solving). Some of these are truly inventive as the early staples of forest, desert and ice give way to more exotic locales – including a city in the sky which sprawls in all directions and ties many of its puzzles around wind speed and direction giving the brain ample opportunity to stretch.
It also offers up a stellar stable of big bad Boss Monsters – those tricky set-pieces that lie at the heart of each dungeon. While the boss battles are heavy on flash and light on challenge, they are none-the-less thrilling little segments of gaming. I may have been spoiled by the PS2 release, Shadow of the Colossus, which played like Zelda stripped of its side-quests and focused squarely on new and innovative boss battles. That game was lean and mean and raised the bar for these climactic conflicts to unseen levels so its impressive that Twilight Princess manages to edge close to Colossus’ level of design.
A new Zelda game (and most first party Nintendo releases) is the closest to a sure thing one can find. Nintendo has built itself up as a top-notch developer whose titles are labored works of art. Each entertainment is polished to perfection with nary a frame stutter or lengthy load time to be found. Twilight Princess is no different and is really a finely crafted piece of software.
Still Link’s shining armor does sport a few blemishes. For starters, the game (as is the case with the last few installments and most games these days) is much too easy. While you’ll end up dying more frequently than you did in The Wind Waker, there’s no real consequence as most deaths simply return you to the entrance of the room you died in. Gone are the days where a quick death would deliver you a swift exit to the Overworld, and the long trek back over that beaten path. Sure this eliminates the frustration that can set in but it also alleviates some of that wonderful nerve-wracking tension that gives the best player pause when deciding whether to forge ahead or retreat for another drink from the ‘Fairy Fountain’.
In addition, the lengthy adventure features one too many fetch quests. Sure these side-quests are optional (collect 60 bugs and return them to the creepy little girl in Castle Town) but for the obsessive compulsive gamer whose gotta’ catch ‘em all – the risk/reward system seems out of whack. You’ll spend countless hours hunting down the bugs or elusive ghosts and your only reward is a handful of cash or a bigger wallet to hold it. The problem is most of the items you need on the quest are either found in your dungeon crawling or sprinkled in abundance throughout the land, giving you very little reason to need currency. The game would have benefited from a better barter system. I think the developers realized the flaw somewhere late in development as there are far too many instances where certain NPCs request massive donations of Rupies to provide you with a new item or plot point. It seems arbitrary and tacked on and is one of the few examples of antiquated game design that unfortunately lives on in even the most engaging titles.
Minor quibbles aside, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a stellar entertainment. These adventures come along far too infrequently and thus each is a treasure in its own right. I found Twilight Princess straddles two worlds, with some of its game design holding on to the hallmarks of the past while its narrative pushes in new and exciting directions. While this may not be the greatest Zelda game ever created, it is one of the finest adventures out there and is well worth getting lost in.
This is the reason I bought a Wii.