GO GENTLY INTO THE TWILIGHT
Nintendo has been on a Zelda remastering binge recently. Starting with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, nearly every 3D Zelda game has been remastered on either the Wii U or the 3DS. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is the latest remaster, but unlike the previous re-releases, there wasn’t a large demand for this game. Despite its initial critical acclaim, this game isn’t as fondly remembered as other iterations in the franchise. Complaints with the game are numerous but they all seem to be related with Twilight Princess lacking something to make it stand out from the other games in the series. However, with a new coat of paint, and the best aspects of both of its previous releases, this HD remaster shows that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has aged better than expected and is well worth revisiting.
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment Planning and Development, Tantalus Media
Platforms: Wii U [reviewed]
Release Date: 2016-03-04
I originally bought Twilight Princess for the Wii a few months after the console’s launch. I’ve tried to play it several times throughout the years but I was never able to get past the entrance to the first dungeon before I would lose interest. This changed last fall when I finally sat down and invested 50 hours into finishing the original Wii version, during which this HD version was announced. As a result, I remember a lot about the original Wii version. That experience on top of my 30+ hour playthrough have understandably colored this review.
The story in Twilight Princess starts you off as Link, or whatever you decided to name him, living in the small village located in the Ordonian Province of Hyrule. Your quiet farm life is interrupted when evil forces from a different realm known as Twilight attack Link and kidnap the local village children. Link is pulled through a newly appeared veil of Twilight, where he transforms into a wolf-like beast and is imprisoned. After being unconscious for some time, he is freed by Midna, a mysterious Twilight being, and is led to Princess Zelda, who explains that Hyrule is being taken over by Zant, the king of the Twilight. Link must now save Hyrule from the Twilight invasion by releasing the light spirits to disperse the veil of Twilight and by finding the means to defeat Zant.
The plot is darker and more serious in tone than in most previous games in the franchise, giving the game a strong epic feeling. Zant is more sinister than previous villains in the franchise, and there’s a mystery to what’s happening that creates an uneasy feeling. The game does have lighthearted moments but they aren’t as prevalent. For every optimistic character like Telma, there’s the sad tale of Prince Ralis or the off-putting Agitha. This does make for some compelling and memorable characters. Midna is the best guide character the series has ever had. Her growth as the game progresses as well as her emotive design make her the most interesting character in the game. Even smaller characters like Colin are also well fleshed out, investing you in the world you’re trying to save.
It’s a shame that with all these characters, Twilight Princess doesn’t have any voice acting. What little there is here is mostly grunts and exclamations, aside from Midna’s intelligible sounds, which would’ve been great if fully voiced. It would have helped mitigate the formulaic plot progression as this title follows the Zelda pattern to a tee. You go on a big adventure that spans all of Hyrule and recover two sets of various artifacts of great power, just like every other Zelda game since A Link To The Past. I can appreciate the darker tone and attempts at coloring the world with memorable characters, but the plot itself isn’t anything you haven’t seen before in a fantasy game. This is especially true if you’ve played a Zelda game before as the story will offer you nothing new at all.
The same can be said about the gameplay but in that case, it’s not necessarily a negative thing. Twilight Princess plays much like previous 3D Zelda games, specifically Ocarina of Time, meaning you will be running freely across Hyrule, solving puzzles, fighting enemies, finding hidden areas and items, and conquering dungeons. The game isn’t open world per se as you have to unlock sections of the world before you can access them and much of the world is locked away in the beginning. However, once you do, you are free to explore without restrictions, making the gameplay outside the story relatively non-linear.
Unlike previous games, you will spend your time in Twilight Princess as two forms of Link. Human Link is your standard version of the character, albeit older than normal, and his second form is a quadrupedal beast known as Wolf Link. Human Link has access to his signature sword and shield, as well as the various useful items you find throughout your adventure. He is the form you will use for most of the game, as well as all of the dungeons. Wolf Link is the form you will primarily use in the beginning of the game. He moves quicker, can track scent trails, can reach high and far areas with precise jumping with some help from Midna, and dig to find items or hidden pathways.
Unfortunately, this form is not very interesting. His combat prowess consists of a lunge attack that you will mostly use, a bite attack that’s worthless, a spin attack that you will almost never use, and an area of effect lunge attack that you have to use to defeat some enemies. Wolf Link’s combat never evolves past the beginning of the game, making combat with him fairly boring. His scent, precise jumping, and digging abilities are mostly situational, meaning you’ll only really use him when you have to because the story says so or you need to access some place you can’t with Human Link, which isn’t often outside of optional hidden areas or side quests. Even his ability to run faster is replaced with the ability to ride Link’s horse, Epona. Ultimately, Wolf Link feels like a gimmick for the game that wasn’t fully realized.
Luckily, Human Link is the primary form of the game and he is much more versatile to control. Link’s combat is more varied and agile than in previous games. He can slash, jump at, evade, crowd control, and break the defenses of enemies thanks to a bigger move set. He can even attack with his sword and bow while riding Epona for exhilarating horse combat. Add enemy types that tend to be more aggressive and require different types of approaches to fight, and combat is widely an engaging affair. You can even expand your moveset by locating Howling Stones with Wolf Link, which will unlock up to seven training sessions with Shade, a previous Hero who passes down his combat techniques to Link.
Controlling Link in general feels good but it isn’t as responsive as other games. Sword attacks tend to occur a half second or so after the button press and Link takes a slight moment to start moving. This feels like a deliberate choice as Link feels weighted as a result. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the game controls this way; it’s just different. That being said, there are times when you’ll be fidgeting Link around to pick up something or open a door. That probably wouldn’t happen if the animations were a bit more loose. It should be noted that you use buttons like the GameCube version to attack unlike the Wii version but the motion controlled aiming used for the bow and arrow in the Wii version is still an option thanks to the Wii U gamepad’s accelerometer.
The meat of Twilight Princess lies in the games’ nine dungeons. Many of the dungeons have setting-inspired themes, such as volcano, underwater, and ruins, and these tend to affect the manner of environmental puzzles you will solve inside. These include manipulating water flow, controlling ancient statues, and even sticking onto magnetic walls and ceilings. The dungeons in Twilight Princess are good, offering interesting mechanics and puzzles to solve. Only the Lakebed Temple struck me as being annoying with the amount of busy work and copy and paste rooms it has. However, nothing here ever compelled me as being memorable or better than enjoyably competent.
The boss fights however are much more enjoyable. At the end of each dungeon is a boss fight and most of them are really fun. Most of the fights require you to use a mechanic used in the dungeon to attack the boss and this can make for some creative battles. You may need to use your Gale Boomerang to fly a bomb over to the enemy or smash through the boss’ defences with your Ball and Chain before being able to attack with your sword. Fyrus from the Goron Mines, Stallord from the Arbiter’s Grounds, and the fight with Zant stick out as being really memorable, but all except for Morpheel in the Lakebed Temple are fun battles.
Most of the puzzles and boss fights you encounter in dungeons will be centered on the one major item you find within. Zelda games are known for their variety of items but the items in this game are a mixed bag. Series staples like the Gale Boomerang, and Clawshot are as great as ever and other well known items like the Iron Boots, Bombs and Hero’s Bow are improved from before and are more useful as a result. However, new items like the Dominion Rod, and the Spinner are purely situational and others like the Slingshot and Bomblings are worthless. There’s also items like the Double Clawshot and Ball and Chain that are a bit unwieldy to be as useful as they could be.
Situational or not, the items in Twilight Princess are useful when exploring Hyrule. Unlike the vacant lot that was Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, Hyrule in Twilight Princess feels alive and brimming with life thanks to the abundance of enemies in Hyrule Field, and optional things to do. There’s Poe Souls to hunt down as Wolf Link, Heart Pieces to collect for more health, golden bugs to collect for a bigger wallet (which I highly recommend since you will fill up your wallet quickly in this game), the aforementioned howling stones to find for more combat techniques, hidden grottos and caves to explore, Miiverse stamps to collect (new to this HD version) and numerous mini-games to participate in for upgrades and more. Getting around Hyrule is as easy as riding Epona or warping there via Midna’s portal ability. All of this makes completing sidequests very enjoyable and can extend the 30 hour or so playtime to over 50. As a result, this is my favorite overworld map in any 3D Zelda game.
It’s a shame then that the game takes its sweet time getting to the overworld. Once Twilight Princess gets going, it’s a lot of fun and very freeing, but the first couple of hours of the game are very linear, constrictive, and as a result, boring. It’s the main reason I had trouble getting into the game all those years ago. I would recommend playing a bit more after the first dungeon before deciding whether the game is for you or not as it heavily improves after the initial beginning area. Another thing to be aware of is the difficulty. Twilight Princess is a very easy game. I never died once during my playthrough and only used a bottle potion once! I think challenge isn’t the primary focus of the game so much as it is solving puzzles and exploring but those looking for challenge might want to look elsewhere.
However, new to HD version is Hero Mode, which is a harder version of the game thanks to a lack of heart pickups and Link taking double damage. This mode is also inverted Wii version. A side note: as someone who originally played the Wii version, this was the first time I played the standard GameCube layout of the game. During the first hour or two, I had some difficulty adjusting from what I remembered on the Wii. However, after that initial calibration, I had no problem playing the game like I did on the Wii.
Other gameplay changes in this HD version include the inventory menu and full map displaying on the Wii U gamepad tablet screen, off-TV play with the gamepad, a shortcut option to switch between Human and Wolf Link, fewer Tears of Light to collect, bigger wallet sizes, a new Ghost Lantern item to help with locating Poes, more map markers for side objectives, sped up animations, and Amiibo support. I don’t own any Amiibos and bought Twilight Princess HD digitally so I wasn’t able to test these features but I know the Wolf Link Amiibo unlocks an optional dungeon, the Zelda Amiibo restores health, the Link and Toon Link Amiibos restore arrows, and the Ganondorf Amiibo doubles damage to Link. Using the Ganondorf Amiibo while playing Hero mode will quadruple damage to Link.
The biggest change to this version of Twilight Princess is the remastered visuals. The graphics feature 1080p resolution, new textures, some reworked models, brighter lighting effects, and less bloom effects. The game is often seen as not having aged as well as the previous game in the franchise, Wind Waker. While Wind Waker HD is a better looking game thanks to its bright art style, Twilight Princess HD is no slouch. In fact, the moody, desolate yet realistic art style of Twilight Princess is downright beautiful in HD and makes me feel that the aesthetic vision of the original game is only now being realized. Greens and purples are striking, the tech-inspired Twilight world is hauntingly stunning, and the clearer fidelity of the visuals reveals a shocking amount of detail in the world. It’s not anything impressive from a technical perspective but the improvements made serve to highlight just how great the original art design was.
The soundtrack remains unchanged from the original game and remains as strong as it was back then. Songs run the gamut of simple folk ditties, eerie atmospheric tracks, epic symphonic pieces, and jarring electronic compositions. I would have liked to have seen a re-recording of the soundtrack, this time recorded with a full symphony, but what’s here is strong on its own. Sound effects have great fidelity, with pots crisply shattering, sword slashes connecting with shattering chinking sounds, and Twilight enemies making inorganic hums. The sound design in general is very different from most Nintendo games, which I welcome and enjoy.
The Verdict: 8.0 out of 10
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is a better game than the popular consensus says. The story is distinct despite adhering to the Zelda formula, the combat is engaging and varied, the boss fights are fun and epic, the overworld is engrossing with its varied and enjoyable objectives, and its presentation is beautiful and sublime. Twilight Princess HD feels like a better re-release than Wind Waker HD as it had more to gain from a second chance. I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough of the original Wii version back last fall but I enjoyed the Wii U version even more despite only a four month gap between each playthrough. If you own the Wii U, you should get Twilight Princess HD as it’s the definitive version of this game.
Review copy bought by the reviewer. For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Esteban Cuevas is an Associate Editor for Middle of Nowhere Gaming and has been in his Wolf form since not shaving back in November. You can follow him on Twitter, check out his other work on WordPress, and check out his streams on Twitch.