Now that the pipeline of major Wii exclusives has really really slowed to a halt, we’ve decided to go back and review many of the critical pieces of the system’s lineup – with the rose-tinted glasses that tend to accompany that New Game Smell sufficiently gone and never to be seen again. We’re calling it “Wii in Review,” and we’ll be starting with a review I actually wrote some time ago – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
There’s no question that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was one of the most hotly-anticipated games of all time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen excitement to compare to its original E3 2004 video debut. Its creators promised sweeping vistas, grand cavalry battles with enemy hordes, and the best Zelda story fans had ever seen. Yep, 2006 was a great time to be a Zelda fan.
But did it stand up to the hype? Those who have played it each have their own answer to that question. Read on to see what I think six years later in the first of our many posthumous reviews of Wii’s biggest games.
The best place to start is at the beginning – and in Twilight Princess, that beginning trudges along at a snail’s pace. While there’s a pretty nice story that serves as a narrative backdrop for the game’s tutorial segment, with Link preparing to set off for the magical kingdom of Hyrule for the first time before monsters swoop in, from a gameplay perspective it seems as though the game takes forever to get to the point.
First you have to herd some goats, then you have to retrieve a missing basket, then you have to track down a lost cat, then you have to go fishing, then you have to get a Slingshot, and then – finally you get to pick up your sword. But wait! You only really get to hang onto that sword until you save the village children from some goblins in the forest. Then you have to surrender it so those same village children will let you pass before being forced to transform into a wolf and then you have to escape from prison and wander the sewers until you find a pathway to the tallest tower (I still don’t quite get the logic of moving so quickly between those two), get warped back to your village (why you couldn’t just do that in the first place is beyond me), steal a sword and shield, and kill some invisible bugs.
Then (and only then) you get to take over as a human and start the real adventure, which is actually pretty darn fun, with arguably the best dungeons in the series, a spectacular arsenal of weapons and tools, and some outstanding puzzles and secrets.
Therein lies the core problem with Twilight Princess: too often it’s bogged down by this kind of mundane padding. Too much filler content, not enough substance. The hoops you have to jump through to get to the core “adventure” elements seem like they just get in the way of what could have been a really groundbreaking game provided they had focused more narrowly on enhancing that core fun. The Twilight, which could have been a full-on Hell on Earth, packed with intensely threatening enemies but was instead reduced to the Land of Shadow and Fetch Quests, is the best example of this.
Don’t get me wrong – if there’s any padding I can endure, it’s Zelda padding, which if nothing else is always oozing with effort, charm, and character – but the game suffers a bit of a downgrade from “legendary” to “great” because of this.
The game’s trademark horseback combat, the ever-popular Hidden Skills, the added aquatic mobility of the Zora Armor, and the Double Clawshots all brought fantastic enhancements to the fore, but they’re balanced by strange and occasionally terrible ideas, such as Midna’s combat-killing energy attack, those pointless “follow-the-quick-time-events” jump sequences, the awkward Howling Stones, and Wolf Link in general. Alongside those are travel ideas that work and feel fine but seem shoehorned in, such as the Zora’s River Flight or the River Raft. When flight and maritime travel were used as major modes of transportation they made a more favorable impact, but here they seem like peripheral ideas that didn’t quite land.
Visually, the game is incredibly satisfying. Aonuma & Co. didn’t mess around with niche art styles, instead focusing exclusively on making the game look as good as they possibly could. There’s obviously a reason why its initial reveal drew so much attention despite being pretty rough around the edges. Twilight Princess‘s approach to visuals is the one that resonates best with fans, and proves that the best “art style” is the one that people barely even notice. It’s not as much of a benchmark for the GameCube’s capabilities as, say, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles or Metroid Prime, but it’s several solid steps above its predecessors and one of the best-looking games on its original platform. Unfortunately, by the time it finally came out, the quality of the graphics wasn’t particularly special – especially not for a next-gen platform.
Twilight Princess also sports a spectacular soundtrack, with a memorable overworld theme song, some great remixes of Zelda classics, and awesome boss music. It suffers the same problem many of its fellow 3D Zeldas face, however, and that’s a set of flat dungeon themes and an awkward “battle theme.” Overall, however, it ranks pretty favorably among its fellow Zelda games – and that’s saying something.
As one of the first Wii games, Twilight Princess makes some nice uses of the system’s motion capabilities, including a responsive and intuitive pointer aiming and menu navigation system, the use of the D-pad to change equipped items on the fly, and the ability to shake the Nunchuk to pull off a quick Spin Attack. While they weren’t perfect, these features – pointer aiming in particular – did their job in conveying the game-changing benefits of motion controls.
Some other ideas weren’t quite as polished – for example, the waggle controls for sword attacks felt a little sloppy and not quite as responsive as they ought to have been and the Nunchuk controls for Shield Bash would often fail to register. This was forgivable when motion controls were fairly new but in hindsight they got in the way when they shouldn’t have.