I’m pretty sure I’ve played all the Zelda games. At least all the console ones, as I’m not much of a handheld gamer. After I bought a Wii, I picked up Wind Waker (having never owned a Gamecube) and was thoroughly impressed. So how did the first proper Zelda game for Wii turn out? Read on.
There’s been a lot of criticism that the graphics in Twilight Princess fail to meet Wii expectations because it was originally being developed for Gamecube. This is entirely true, and the Gamecube roots show in many graphical areas. You’ll have to get used to blurry textures while playing through Twilight Princess, but then again you can’t expect too much graphical prowess from the Wii when compared to its current-gen competition. I think that instead you have to look at the graphics from an art design standpoint. Actually, even from that perspective they’re still bland and uninteresting. People have been clamoring for a “dark, mature” Zelda game for years and this seems to be that game. My concern is that Zelda doesn’t really seem to be the kind of franchise that lends itself well to that style. Sure, it’s worked for other franchises (Twisted Metal for one), but I just don’t feel like it fits here. It could just be because I came into Twilight Princess from Wind Waker, and that game was (visually) a vibrant, incredibly artistic thing to behold. One thing that did stand out to me was the facial animation system. It’s not quite the achievement in facial animation that Half-Life 2 is, but it is really nice. Our silent hero, Link, seems like much more of a real character thanks to the emotions he is able to express through facial animation. I haven’t played the game with Component video cables, but I’m sure they can help smooth out the rough edges that do appear from time to time.
There are some ups and downs to sound in Twilight Princess. Many reviewing sites have criticized the fact that there is no orchestral score and I somewhat agree. The music does a good job of recreating classic Zelda themes and building the emotion of the scenes, but it just feels…dated without the perk of real instruments. The lack of voiceovers was a slight annoyance; I think the story would have been a lot more effective if they had a cast of talented voice actors (except for Link, of course). The sound effects are tough to rate. Everything that comes out of your TV speakers sounds fine, but the Wiimote speaker in this game turned out to be a disappointment. It’s nice that you get to hear the bow string tightening in your actual hand or your sword being pulled out of its sheath, but for some reason the quality of the sound coming out of the Wiimote speaker was just terrible. It frequently crackled or sometimes cut out. There were times when it wouldn’t play at all. This was a big disappointment to me, especially after Wii Sports did such a great job with the Wiimote speaker.
Now on to the gameplay. Have you played Ocarina of Time? Of course you have; everyone has. So, that considered, you have technically played Twilight Princess. This brings me to something I’d like to discuss about the Zelda series in general before going on to talk about Twilight Princess-specific gameplay. Nintendo was in a rut for a while, in that they found a formula that worked for Zelda and never deviated from it. I’m talking about the twelve-or-so dungeon routine, usually cut in half by Link finding the Master Sword. After Ocarina of Time, Nintendo seemed to get a little braver and deviated from said formula. The result was Majora’s Mask and (to a lesser extent) Wind Waker. Neither are among the greatest games of all time, as Ocarina of Time could be considered, but both are great entries into the series because they tried to do things a little bit differently. I feel that with Twilight Princess, Nintendo may have fallen back into the old rut. The game’s pacing is nearly identical to Ocarina of Time, as is the world map (though I can let the map slide). You start out in a forest village, get an errand to the big city, things go wrong and you end up working through however-many dungeons (of course acquiring the Master Sword somewhere in the middle). This isn’t to say that Twilight Princess isn’t a good game; I’m just trying to express why it could have been a better game. Nintendo did try to innovate a bit with the wolf-form segments and the twilight world mechanics. Sadly, these are the most tedious and unnecessary parts of the game, and playing as Link’s wolf-form seems to have ended up less grand than what Nintendo might have imagined it to be.
All right, but how good does the gameplay in Twilight Princess actually feel? The Wiimote controls your sword and is swung to do various stabs and slices. The Nunchuck attachment is used to do your spin attack, lock on to targets, and move Link around (using the joystick). When firing projectiles like the bow, it goes into a Resident Evil 4-ish over the shoulder view, where you can aim your weapon with the Wiimote and fire with the B trigger. As far as motion sensing is concerned, I had no problems…except for one: “why?” Why use the motion sensing to swing the sword? The game doesn’t respond to your movements exactly in a 1:1, so you’re really just flailing wildly to swing your sword. Flicking your wrist and hearing the sound of the sword being unsheathed is satisfying, but I would have preferred to just press a button to attack with the sword. All you’re actually doing here is swinging the Wiimote to activate a canned attack animation. There is literally no reason whatsoever to not just map that to a button instead. I think that this shortcoming might be another effect of Twilight Princess’ move from Gamecube to Wii. They likely had the sword attack mapped to the button, then decided during the switch that they have to get the motion gimmick in somehow.
However, I have no problems with the bow motion sensing, as it actually serves a mechanical purpose. Some people have said the Nunchuck’s motion sensing is a little unreliable, but I had no problems distinguishing its functions. You can eventually push it forward to do a shield bash, and then you shake it side to side to do your spin attack. I rarely mixed the two up, and the responsiveness was satisfactory. The game does have an enjoyable pseudo-progression system for Link’s sword-fighting abilities. All of the new moves he can learn are useful and stringing them together can create some cool looking fights. Mounted combat works well and is something that should be flushed out more in future Zelda titles.
The boss fights are fun enough and surprisingly visually impressive. As you’d expect, you have to use whatever item you found in the corresponding dungeon to weaken or stun the boss, then damage it with your sword. One of the very few times that the game visually impressed me was when you have to fight a dragon on top of some tall tower in the pouring rain. A few of the dungeon items are quite a bit of fun to use, such as the dual hookshots.
Nintendo pretty much played it by the book here. Other than the Wii controls, the game is Ocarina of Time with a fresh coat of paint and some mundane wolf-form segments. Twilight Princess is a tired game, playing upon concepts that are nearly a decade old. Everything about Twilight Princess feels outdated. The gameplay is just a shoehorned motion sensing gimmick, the music is electronic and therefore somewhat jarring, the graphics are a console generation behind what they should be, and the overall design document seems to have been lifted from every previous Zelda game. You can still have fun with Twilight Princess, just don’t expect anything wild or radically innovative (motion sensing is not innovation when you don’t use it to do anything new), and you’ll likely enjoy the game for what it is. Or you’ll get bored halfway through.