Zelda fans are the hardest to please. Since Ocarina of Time, we expect every subsequent sequel to be just as good, if not infinitely better (which is probably impossible). Because of this, many fans found Majora’s Mask too strange and Wind Waker too cute. But I love about this series is how every Zelda is so distinctly separate from the others. I realize I represent a small minority, though, since so many others have been pining for a true successor to Ocarina of Time for some… er… time. Well, the whining stops now. Because you finally got it.
Twilight Princess really is a more mature Ocarina of Time. It follows the same style but improves on the N64 graphics to create, quite possibly, the most realistic Zelda we’ll ever see. But as such, the game is noticeably dominated by dark greens and browns. This will come as a big disappointment to Wind Waker fans who enjoyed that game’s colorful lands. Twilight Princess still impresses, though, with very fluid animation and large, sweeping landscapes. All of this is seamlessly tied together, too; while there are a couple long fade to blacks, you won’t find a single load screen anywhere. Twilight Princess was built as a GameCube game, however, and it shows with somewhat blurry textures and sharp polygonal edges. Even then, this is one of the prettiest GameCube games ever made, and it’s already one of the best-looking games for Wii. The twilight realm alone is amazingly realized. This “alternate reality” uses a rich, soft palette to create an atmosphere akin to Ico and Shadows of the Colossus– only here it’s much more surreal and mesmerizing.
But the sound department isn’t so sweet. As is the case with most Zelda games, Twilight Princess reuses a lot of old tunes. Not that there’s anything bad about playing on familiarity. It’s odd, though, how these ancient songs don’t sound like they have improved much over time. Instead of sounding like the compelling orchestra we expect, a lot of them still reek of MIDI ancestry. And the Wii remote speaker is used way too much. Just about anything you do triggers some kind of noise out of the remote, whether you’re shooting an arrow or putting an item away or ramming into a wall. Some of it I enjoy, like when your helper character, Midna, giggles to get your attention. Most of the sound from this speaker, though, is quite loud, annoying, and scratchy. Hearing the “you found a secret” melody in such tinny fashion is almost painful.
You have probably already read, too, endless articles about the lack of voice acting. This doesn’t come as any surprise, though. And the game is probably better off for it, considering other Nintendo games like Star Fox Assault and Super Mario Sunshine have had some bad voiceovers. Still, with absolutely no spoken dialogue, Twilight Princess does feel a little empty and lifeless. And cut scenes with multiple characters get a little confusing when there’s no clear sign as to who is speaking.
All of that is secondary business, though, and you know it. Zelda has always been about genre-defining gameplay, and this one’s no slouch. Twilight Princess feels very similar to Ocarina of Time but is a lot bigger and has a lot more content. Kakariko Village, Zora’s Domain, Epona, and the Gorons all return. There are even the mandatory forest, water, and volcano dungeons. So anyone who has played Ocarina of Time (i.e. everyone) will recognize much of what this game has to offer. But Twilight Princess isn’t a remake. Dungeons are not the same, and the familiar locations, like Zora’s Domain, are three times larger. The scope of Twilight Princess is enormous. It’s almost intimidating having spent five hours in the game, looking at your map, and realizing you haven’t even left the first area yet.
On top of the usual hookshot and boomerang, many new weapons and items are available, including a powerful ball and chain. The rest, I don’t even want to spoil, because it’s really fun to discover them on your own. And with that, Twilight Princess presents some of the most creative dungeon and puzzle designs I’ve seen in the past several years. You’ll pound your couch and swear, because it’s too daunting, then smile when you discover how clever the solution turns out to be. The iron boots return, of course, but the ways they are used are some of the strangest and most brilliant anybody could have come up with.
But the Legend of Zelda isn’t just about going from dungeon to dungeon. You will frequently have to take time aside to cater to villagers’ problems before you can move on with the adventure. These mini quests aren’t as numerous as they were in, say, Majora’s Mask, but they do add a lot of diversity to the game. At one point, you need to navigate a flying monster through a canyon. Another time, you have to stave off attacks on a traveling carriage. And to do this, you actually fight from your horse. No more having to climb off Epona if you want to swing your sword. It’s not a huge addition, but it’s a nice touch that shows just how much energy went into crafting this game.