The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Review

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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Nintendo EPD, Tantalus
Publisher: Nintendo

I think there is no better argument for creators to ignore their fans than the changing perceptions of both The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. The former was initially poorly received because the latter was expected. After time and consideration, these feelings decidedly switched places. This isn’t universally true of course, but it is something I’ve generally observed over the past ten years at least. It is fitting that both games are available on the Wii U in HD as they make for an interesting contrast in the history of the Legend of Zelda series.

I know I was a little disappointed when I first saw The Wind Waker and for the same reasons as others. Though I balk at describing it as “adult”, I preferred the aesthetic of both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask and I wanted more of the same. My opinion immediately changed when I first played The Wind Waker and I do mean immediately. Even with this, I was excited at the announcement of Twilight Princess and had it pre-ordered in early 2005. It remains by far the longest pre-order I’ve had and by the time it arrived, I opted to pick up the Wii version.

I still remember the first time I finished Twilight Princess on the night before I had my graduation from University. I stayed up so late playing it that there are visible bags under my eyes in my graduation photograph (coincidentally while writing this I actually received an email from my University inquiring whether I was interested in further study). It is ten years this year since that time and a lot has changed since. Just a few years after enjoying the shoe-horned motion controls I was sick of motion controls and wondering why I didn’t save some money and just buy the GameCube release. With few exceptions, the vast majority of Wii games would have played much better with a regular gamepad and that’s probably why I’ve found the Wii U a lot more enjoyable.

The first thing I observed when playing Twilight Princess HD was just how much I had forgotten about the game. I was constantly being reminded about areas, characters and even mechanics and very little was down to playing on the original map for the first time. This shouldn’t be surprising as the last time I played it must have been no later than mid-2007. Although I had also forgotten a lot of annoying things, playing it as I did certainly made it a refreshing experience. The second thing I noticed was that the visuals have generally held up very well as well. Twilight Princess is not just a simple port; there are noticeable visual upgrades and a number of tweaks to the gameplay. To be honest, many of the tweaks I probably would not have noticed if I wasn’t told about them. The game can of course be played from the gamepad now and when playing on the big screen, the map or inventory screen is displayed on the pad. This made things make gameplay much smoother as in previous versions, this required pausing the game.

Twilight Princess is still essentially the same game in most ways though. One thing I was half hoping was that the transitions between areas of the overworld would be made seamless but the transitions remain and I won’t judge a game on my expectations. Something I did remember was the slow start to the game. This amounts to an extended tutorial and it was roughly the four hour mark before I was finally free to roam most areas of Hyrule. Outside of an exceedingly and deliberately tedious fetch-quest towards the end of the game, this is probably where the game is at its weakest. Once you’re free with Epona on the open field and especially when many of the warp points are available, the game is at its best. I was surprised at how long I spent wandering the large landscape, searching for hidden caves, items and completing side quests. Far from being a chore, I found myself wanting to get the upgrades and extra hearts.

When following the main quest I was pleasantly surprised at how unique the experience was. Despite the “grown-up” aesthetic, Twilight Princess has one of the quirkiest group of characters and strangest series of events in almost any Zelda game. This first struck me when rescuing a group of monkeys who then help you fight a possessed baboon in the first dungeon. The fact that getting to Gerudo Desert necessitated Link being fired out of a canon was another. Then there was the snowboard race against a yeti and the truly bizarre Oocca chicken people. This doesn’t come close to covering the strange characters and events in the game either.

Playing through the dungeons again had me thinking a lot about their design. My general impressing when I played it originally and still today are that the dungeons were easy and often quite short. I’d probably also say this of all the dungeons in the 3D series since Ocarina of Time. I feel that part of what makes them easy is my knowing more or less what to expect and this means that many new to the series may find them considerably more difficult. With that said, something I certainly noticed is how easy to find the keys to doors are. They are often placed in the same room where they can be used and more than once; right in the open. The dungeons also generally become progressively shorter and easier. What helps me overlook this is that they are all unique and even when not challenging, they are fun.

I’ve mentioned in more than a few articles that I value my time a lot more now and lengthy games are mostly a lot less appealing. When I originally played Twilight Princess, I had a lot more time so I generally looked for lengthy experiences. I can still remember the discussions speculating how long it would be and even complaints about it being too short after it released. Twilight Princess is mostly extended through some blatantly drawn out fetch quests and story sections and the game would be better without them. As mentioned, some have been shortened but they were still an irritant. It is a shame that the game was designed this way because it is easy enough to get lost in the world for a long time without it. The fishing side game alone could eat up many hours. The collectables and upgrades cease to be useful towards the end of the game and are only there for completionists.

The amiibo integration doesn’t deserve more than a passing mention as it is very limited and really adds nothing to the game. The Wolf Link amiibo grants access to a new dungeon played exclusively in wolf form. This is essentially the same as the ‘Cave of Ordeals’ already present. It is tedious and the payoff isn’t worth the effort or the price of the amiibo. The ability to use Link and Zelda amiibos to increase arrows and hearts was occasionally useful but not something that would be missed were it not present.

After getting through to the suitably epic and satisfying finish, I found that I felt the same about Twilight Princess as when it was released. It originally had a lot to live up to with its visual contrast with The Wind Waker, multiple delays and especially when it belatedly became a Wii launch title. I feel much of the criticism of it today brings the weight of almost impossibly high expectations. The mechanics have certainly aged as much as the visuals. The often tedious way the game is extended which bothers me much more as an adult makes me wonder why I ever cared how long a game was is also a negative. The amiibo extras also add nothing to the game overall. With all this in consideration I still loved playing Twilight Princess again as I did when I first got it almost ten years ago.

4 Stars

April, 2016

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