- Reviewed on: Wii
- Also available for: GameCube
- The Good: Stays fresh and fun throughout a 40-plus hour quest; delivers innovative game play while simultaneously being packed with franchise nostalgia; excellent environment and character designs
- The Bad: Unique controls result in a long learning curve; the graphics make it look more like a really pretty GameCube game than a true next generation title
- The Verdict: The Wii breaks out of the gate with one of the best games available this holiday season
The first and likely most challenging test for the newly launched Wii is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Serious players will use it to judge whether Nintendo's new console, with its comparatively low-resolution graphics and gimmicky interface, can deliver a compelling experience in a traditional game.
And the stakes are all the higher given that this test is being conducted with one of Nintendo's most loved and acclaimed franchises. Should Twilight Princess fail, it will not only be a condemnation of the Wii as a viable platform, but also denigrate the reputation of one of the Japanese game giant's most valuable brands.
But it doesn't fail. In fact, despite the Wii's less than spectacular graphical prowess and a greater than average learning curve imposed by the Wii's gyroscopic remote and nunchuk controls, Twilight Princess actually excels. From its thoughtful puzzles and unique combat to its lovable characters and involving story, this is exactly the sort of game Nintendo needed to distinguish itself from the competition and prove that fun, innovative game play can mean more than all the eye candy in the world.
Why can't that damned princess just stay saved?
Our hero is Link, a young man who, until now, has lived a simple life in a small village. But he's destined to save the world. His peaceful life is abruptly interrupted one day when he's told he is the last hope to save Princess Zelda and her faltering kingdom of Hyrule.
Franchise fans will note that I've just described pretty much every Zelda game ever made. But Nintendo always manages to alter detailssecondary characters, Link's abilities, locations visitedjust enough to turn what by all rights ought to be a tired plot into something daisy fresh.
The greatest change to the story this go around is the encroaching never-ending twilight that threatens to cover all the land. The darkness alters not only the world, but also Link himself, turning our protagonist into a wolf with the ability to speak to animals and sense the presence of otherwise unseen entities.
Other notable new elements in this installment include a little female creature of the darkness who hangs out with Link throughout his quest to provide guidance and clues to resolving game dilemmas, and a surprisingly sharp witI laughed out loud when Link went up against a simian with giant red buttocks and used the flat side of his sword to spank the monkey's cheeks an even deeper hue.
Variety is the spice of Hyrule
It will take most players well over 40 hours to finish Twilight Princess' epic quest (potentially much longer if the devilishly addictive fishing mini-game hooks you), but I can't imagine anyone becoming bored along the way.
Players are continually provided new abilities, moves, items, and weapons, and this ever increasing repertoire of skills and gear is persistently put to use in creative, unexpected ways to deal with the game's steady stream of unique challenges. A boomerang, for example, can be used not only as a weapon, but also as a means of kicking up a gust of wind to jumpstart a weather vane, or as a way to retrieve an otherwise unreachable object.
While most of the game's puzzles rely on the player figuring out inventive ways to use Link's abilities and weapons, some conundrums are more focused on the player's ability to reason out a logical solution, as in a watery temple that sees Link controlling H2O levels in various chambers in order to pass through them.
Indeed, Twilight Princess is a study in inspired and varied game design, and elegant evidence that Nintendo is still ruler of the roost when it comes to developing engaging and imaginative game scenarios.
Teaching an old gamer new tricks
I thoroughly approve of Twilight Princess' implementation of the Wii's motion sensitive remote and nunchuk control system to swing swords, aim projectiles, and cast fishing lines.
However, I have to admit that, early on, there were times that Twilight Princess made me feel as though I was a video game rookie.
I caught myself repeatedly glancing down at the controller to verify where buttons with unfamiliar nameslike minus, plus, 1, and 2were located. I also went through some patting-my-head-while-rubbing-my-tummy style disorientation as I struggled to remember in the heat of battle that I needed to move the nunchuk in my left hand back and forth for a spinning attack and shake the remote in my right to perform a sword swipe, not vice versa.
But in the end the effort of getting accustomed to the controls was well worth the time spent. There were situations that made me feel as though I was actually inside the game.
I want my 480p
Twilight Princess' presentation is difficult to criticize. It's no secret that the Wii can't match the stunning graphics of the PlayStation3 or Xbox 360, which means it's best to compare Wii games to Wii games. The problem is that I haven't had the opportunity to spend much time with many other Wii titles.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Wii's component cable, which will deliver game graphics at 480p (as opposed to the standard definition signal sent through the composite cable that the console ships with), isn't yet available, which means I didn't get to see the game in all its enhanced-definition glory. Ergo, I'll keep my comments about muddy textures and low-def character models to myself for the time being.
But I will say this: the game's art is terrific. Hyrule is a beautiful land, even more so when covered in perpetual twilight. And character design is downright brilliantthe delectably weird bird with a human head that warps Link out of dungeons is something I won't soon forget.
Twilight Princess passes the test
If, as posited at the beginning of this review, Twilight Princess is a test, then it has passed with honours. The characters and story are engaging, the art design is above par, and the controls drew me into the game in a very unusualand mostly pleasantway.
But the real story, as is usually the case in Zelda games, is Twilight Princess' varied and ingenious game design. It's simply an extraordinarily compelling and entertaining experiencethe kind of game you want never to end.
Thanks, Nintendo. We'll take a dozen or so more like this per year for the next half decade.