Link’s got a lot on his shoulders. Striking green tunic aside, he’s defending the hopes of Nintendo fans by starring in the Wii’s first proper adventure, while his latest outing, Twilight Princess, also needs to satisfy those who ignored the cartoony Wind Waker. At the same time, it will beget comparisons to seminal N64 Zelda Ocarina of Time – arguably the best game ever made. No pressure.
But Link is a natural born hero, and doesn’t have to try too hard. That’s something you, the player will be doing instead; waving the Wii remote about to make him slash his sword, aiming arrows and such with the pointer function, guiding him with the Nunchuk and shaking it to produce his famous spin attack.
Unfortunately, it’s not exactly motion-mimicking; however you swing, Link will invariably produce generic movements – though slicing your sword whilst running is welcome, and the Z-Trigger lock-on is as accomplished as ever. Thankfully the controls never make it tiring to play, and the lack of a controllable camera is never really missed. You won’t have to try to hard to love Twilight Princess.
Likewise, Twilight Princess never feels like it’s trying to reinvent the series. Sure, the gameworld’s size far exceeds previous Zeldas, and the overall adventure weighs in between 35 and a monstrous 60 hours, but it also stays true to Zelda conventions. This is the most well-polished, puzzle-packed, dungeon-led magnum opus we’ve ever seen – and it always feels fresh and formidably epic, despite so much comforting familiarity.
Where Twilight Princess does take strides forward is in its story. Link is still a blank, dialogue-less canvas, but his silent interactions with Hyrule’s inhabitants are buoyed by some exceptionally strong characterisation. The residents of his home, Ordon Village, are instantly endearing. His bonds with Llia, Colin and co (plus the Postman, who’s just brilliant. ‘Onward to mail!’ ahem), as well as your own affection for them, only solidify as the game progresses.
No one character, however, stands out like Midna. Link’s new pint-sized shadow companion gives hints, helps solve puzzles, and can be called upon throughout. Playfully malevolent and misleadingly miniscule, her demeanour nonetheless mask her importance to the overall plot, which sees the two striving to save Hyrule from invasion by the evil Twilight Realm, and she really comes into her own in the final third of the story, proving to be one of the best things to happen to the series in years.
Midna’s also essential to using Twilight Princess’s new hook; Link’s wolf form. Wolf Link replaces the previous time travel and weather manipulation aspects, while also presenting the game’s most moving plot aspects. When in the Twilight Realm, Link can see and hear his friends, but not talk to or interact with them, making for a more melancholy tale than previous titles.
Even when you earn the ability to switch between forms at will the twin shadow/light world aspect is rarely used as divisively as Ocarina’s time travelling, but when it does come into play, it usually mixes human and canine capabilities. You’ll shift to four legs to follow a scent trail, scale otherwise insurmountable heights (with Midna’s help), or dig your way into secreted areas, only to return to bipedal movement when you get where you’re going. Handily, it controls largely the same as human Link, and so never strays from that authentic Zelda feel.
That same feel is embedded into the game’s aesthetic qualities. It’s a Tolkien-esque look with a distinct Zelda essence, and at times can look every bit as majestic in art style and direction as the 360’s most impressive visual feats. Some muddy textures let it down slightly, and the synthesized soundtrack would have sounded much better as a full orchestral score, but the production values here are otherwise through the roof. Twilight Princess has clearly been a labour of love for Nintendo.
As it will be for all Zelda fans. Its flaws are slight; there’s a slow start, one particularly frustrating learning spike early on, and it’s not especially difficult, but there’s just so much to see and do that it’s hard not to get swallowed whole by its sheer ambition. With devious puzzles, jaw-dropping bosses, collectables galore, many a minigame, fantastic fishing, some genuinely ingenious new inventory items, and Link's ever-present steed Epona to steer across the Hylian plains, fans can feel satisfied this won’t crumble under the weight of lofty expectations.
Indeed, Twilight Princess’s defining drawback is also its biggest strength; it feels like a remixed Zelda Greatest Hits release. It’s not at all original, but positively resonates a quality only found in works from the magic mind of Shigeru Myamoto. Fronting a modern masterpiece, a timeless classic, and the game to justify purchasing a Wii, Link shoulders his burden admirably.
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