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Zelda may be getting old

Globe and Mail Update

I wasn't feeling it.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has had the term "highly anticipated" attached to it for what seems like decades now. It was originally slated to appear on Nintendo's GameCube console last year, but was pushed and delayed until it finally showed up last week as a launch title for the company's new machine, the Wii. The Zelda series it continues is storied, running almost 20 years and spanning 12 games. Creator Shigeru Miyamoto famously based his dungeon-exploring fairy tale on caves he visited during his childhood, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, served as inspiration for the princess at the centre of the game because he thought her name sounded "pleasant."

But an hour into actually playing Twilight Princess, I had a crisis of sorts: I was controlling Link, the elfin hero, and to get him a slingshot I had to round up goats on a horse named Epona, retrieve a stolen cradle from a hopping monkey and catch a fish for the shopkeeper's cat. And I thought, what the heck am I doing?

These doubts showed up again about six hours in as the story, which always begins in a rural, serene setting before Link is called away to save the princess, started to heat up. There was a dark region controlled by shadowy forces and Link was turned into a wolf and a little girl named Midna was riding on his back and telling him -- and me -- what to do every step of the way.

I was running through the same cavern for the sixth time, by now simply ignoring the monsters because beating them up had become boring, and I thought, what the heck am I doing?

This is what past generations must have called adulthood: the moment you stop caring about whether Link saves Zelda, when the promise of innovative puzzles at the 20-hour mark can no longer sustain you through 15 hours of not having to think much.

Now don't get me wrong, this is still an epic, potentially involving game. It has a beautiful art style all its own and, like its forebears, it combines fantasy storytelling, exploration and character enhancement seamlessly. Set it next to 99.9 per cent of video games and it shines, and anyone who hasn't exhaustively played previous Zelda adventures will find a lot to love here, especially the young people it is principally aimed at. In fact, it is entirely possible that I represent a minority of one in being put off by it.

But the one element that kept me going was the chance to use the Wii's new control system for a sustained period in a traditional game. And it did shake things up -- literally -- for a while. One piece of the controller looks like a typical remote except it has a trigger on the bottom and there is an attachment Nintendo calls a nunchuk that has an analog joystick and two more buttons underneath. You move Link or Epona or that wolf with the analog stick, which is conventional enough, but if you want to use your sword or bite something, you can shake both pieces and your character will respond. Aiming the slingshot or bow is done by pointing the remote at the screen, and casting your line with the fishing rod looks much the same as it does in real life. (But do up the strap: There is already a picture making the rounds online of a screen with a remote-sized crack.)

It works and feels great, and I now believe this control scheme represents a new way to operate in a three-dimensional space that could go beyond games -- think Tom Cruise searching through digital files in Minority Report. I found myself playing with the cursor, which looks like a butterfly, on the Twilight Princess menu screen, turning it around with even the gentlest movement of my wrist -- and suddenly I didn't want to return to the game.

So help me out: Is it just me or has Link finally got old?

scolbourne@globeandmail.com

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