Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
19th Nov 2006 | 00:01
Well there's your score right there - 10 out of 10. But we all knew Nintendo's biggest Zelda yet would snatch the top marks, but is it really the greatest Zelda game ever?
As always the answer to that question comes down to personal taste, but if it's just a question of 'does it stand toe-to-toe with Ocarina of Time' then the answer is a definite yes; as Nintendo have long promised, Twilight Princess holds no punches, offering a truly gigantic Zelda experience with some superbly-designed dungeons, gorgeous environments and finally a story worth writing home about.
It goes without saying that upon booting-up any Zelda game you're embarking on a particularly special gaming romp, but we could tell that this really was the premium of Link's adventures when - like Ocarina of Time - we managed to spend five minutes staring at Twilight Princess's majestic title screen, before clicking through to the game entry screen a letting that well-known fairy fountain music wash over our heads and sweep us away to a land of pure gaming ecstasy.
As we are well aware of the fondness surrounding the series, we'll do our best to avoid any spoilers in this review - be assured that in the words that follow, the story will remain largely unspoilt but the obvious gameplay features demoed in early E3 trailers will be discussed in brief.
The story tells the tale of a new struggle in Hyrule with the coming of the all-consuming Twilight Realm, which has engulfed Hyrule in bloom-shaded darkness. When Link travels to this bizarre realm the twilight transforms him, via some Majora-esque cut-scenes, into a blue-eyed wolf who, with the help of a new friend, has a set of all-new abilities.
We'd love to go into detail why playing as a Wolf is so enjoyable and downright cool - but as promised we're doing our best to avoid spoilers. Combat mechanics are totally against the Zelda convention, yet aren't wild enough not to feel at home with the series. Travelling and adventuring brings some equally-unique features, but we'll leave that for you to discover.
Of course the real meat of Zelda is its dungeons and Twilight Princess doesn't disappoint, with a massive dungeon count surpassing any Zelda game before. Thankfully they're not lacking in quality either; the usual variety of dungeon themes are in there, and will strike as familiar to seasoned Zelda fans.
Yet, far from feeling stale, all of those familiar themes greatly benefit from Twilight's gorgeous art direction and enhanced realism, creating rich atmospheres superior to any previous Zelda quest.
Puzzles occasionally drift close to clichéd series conventions, but there's plenty of surprises and twists in store. Some weapons in particular are used very cleverly to turn traditional Zelda puzzles on their heads, and the boss encounters are simply the most impressive we've ever seen - even mini-bosses make Wind Waker's bad guys look like angry Animal Crossing neighbours.
Thankfully the quality doesn't drop in later challenges either, which is something that marred the otherwise sound Wind Waker. Gamers looking for a challenge will be please to hear that one of Twilight's dungeons in particular rivals even the mighty Ocarina of Time's Water Temple in terms of difficulty - our telly would be well and truly smashed if it wasn't for those handy Wii Remote wrist straps.
One of the most striking things about Twilight Princess over previous 3D Zelda games is the sheer scope and scale of its version of Hyrule. Sure, Wind Waker had its vast ocean but it was a largely empty and uninteresting blue void. Twilight's world is easily the best version of Hyrule yet; not only compelling in a design sense but also in terms of artistic flair as well; quite simply it's gorgeous.
Hyrule field, as an example, is comprised of several areas that together make up a land mass roughly five times the size of the Ocarina of Time equivalent - and it's not just empty space either; there's geographical features like streams and hills, structures and creatures to investigate, not to mention the variety in environments and enemies that spurs a vibe and feel not too far from the 2D entries.
But Nintendo has wisely opted not to give towns and villages the same super-size treatment; Twilight Princess's opening village is a satisfying blend of Ocarina's finely-structured locales and Majora's Mask's dynamic and bustling town. The traditional buildings are there, as well as plenty more to push forward the story and charm of the town, as well as a cast of new characters - while not quite as dynamic - that are just as charming as in the second N64 Zelda's clockwork cities.
And for as much as we like to be reminded that the Wii is technically lacking compared to Sony and Microsoft's next-gen colossi, Twilight Princess really is a visual treat. The art direction is wonderful, with some unique and intriguing character designs, and a truly impressive facial animation system adds more charm to the voice-less Zelda locales than ever before.
Link's hair blows in the wind and the water isn't half bad either. On the GameCube, this is the best looking last-gen title bar none. On the technically superior Wii, it could probably look better, but Twilight is still a joy to look at, regardless.
And on the subject of Nintendo's handled purple wonder, we're sure that you know that Twilight Princess is, at its heart, a GameCube title, now sporting fancy new controls thanks to the Wii's Remote.
It's been the topic of many a debate, but we have no doubt that swinging Link's sword with the motion-sensing Wii Remote is far more compelling than mashing the A button on the GameCube controller - even if the on-screen results are essentially the same.
A horizontal slice on the Wii remote translates to Link's sword, as does a vertical swing, and twirl of the Nunchuk executes the much-loved spin attack. When you get down to it there's not really much thought needed behind sword combat on the Wii - in the end flailing the Remote like a mentalist is all that's needed to win a fight - but as previously mentioned, it's more fun than mashing a button.
Meanwhile aiming arrows and ranged weapons on the Wii really is the one true reason to pick up Nintendo's new console; it's far more intuitive to point and shoot using the Remote, and you're also able to switch between targets quickly and easily with a simple flick of the wrist. This is an undeniable improvement over the traditional GameCube controller.
We're not so convinced however about the Wii version's new cursor system; unless disabled a fairy is on the screen at all times, acting as the Remote's pointer icon and used to select menu items in the inventory, pick shop items and equip weapons on the pause menu.
Its addition is intended for enhanced convenience but we found it to be a distraction and, at first, were searching for an option to disable the cursor during gameplay and only have it appear in menus. But this isn't possible - you can either turn it off altogether, or have it on the screen all the time. It's a small annoyance, but one we quickly learned to live with.
Fishing however - which you can now partake in at almost any lake and river in Hyrule - is the real triumph of the Wii edition. Holding the A button and casting out with a swing of the Wii Remote, the Wii controller's on-board speaker winds and clicks with the movement of your line, all making for a hands-on experience like never before.
Tugging and waving at the Wii Remote gives your lure a realistic nudge - again, giving the illusion that the Remote is in fact attached to a hooked-worm in your telly. After a fish bites the struggle begins - reeling in your catch is a multi-task of motions, using the Nunchuk to reel in your line and the Remote to pull the rod upwards - just as if you had a big fishing rod nestled in your mitts.
The mix of rumble, on-board controller noises and tugging gestures gives the strange illusion that you're tugging against some kind of opposing force (even though you're obviously not), and makes landing your catch all the more satisfying. We can see a lot of our Christmas holiday this year being spent reeling a Wii Remote in front of the telly.
And we haven't even touched on the best parts of Twilight Princess; areas we're reluctant to mention in this review in order to keep you spoiler-free. It's the biggest Zelda game ever without a doubt and the extra year of development has clearly done it a world of good.
This isn't the game to show off the Wii's unique functionality; after all Twilight is at essentially a GameCube game. But if you're looking for a killer app to go alongside your new console, this is certainly it.
The greatest Zelda game ever? Yes. Be excited.