With the advent of the new Zelda game, “Spirit Tracks”, announced at this year’s Game Developer’s Convention, I felt it about time that I passed judgment on the last console based Zelda affair, the excellent Twilight Princess.
From the word go, this game has Zelda written all over it. You awake as a young farm boy who lives life in a quaint and quiet little village in the Kingdom of Hyrule. Enter something bad and brooding that dubs our little adventurer “The Chosen One” that causes him to start an epic adventure across the whole Kingdom of Hyrule, as well as some other random parallel universe that will surely come into play later on. If you have ever played any kind of Zelda game before then you will know what to expect.
This time around, our hero is controlled with the Wiimote and the nunchuck. Link is moved with the analogue stick and all weapons are mapped to the Wiimote. You can assign a weapon or item to B and use it whenever you wish, and seamlessly integrate these with sword slashes, assigned to a flick of the Wiimote. Whoever over at Nintendo decided that Link should be controlled in this way deserves a huge kiss and a massive raise, because it feels like the most natural control scheme ever, and I can honestly say that I cannot think of a better control scheme from any game I’ve ever played. There are points in the game where Link turns into a Wolf (won’t spoil why) but even in canine form Link is a dream to control. Even items that require aiming allow you to point the remote and aim on screen, and it works so well.
The game is ported from the Gamecube game which came out at the same time as the Wii incarnation and is literally flipped horizontally so that Links sword lies in his right hand, the same as you will be holding the Wiimote. The graphics, despite being ported from the GC are very good, and although I’ve seen the Wii do better, the attention to detail is unbelievable. Locales are expansive, varied and incredibly well designed. You will find yourself in a multitude of different environment from a gloomily misty wood all the way to the top of a blizzard-ridden mountain, all of them created and rendered to perfection. There is absolutely no pop-up, and every character from the gargantuan bosses you will fight to each blade of grass waving in the wind, each is animated exceptionally well.
Unfortunately, and strangely for a Zelda game, the story is quite dull to follow and is very slow to pick up. The pace at the beginning is very sluggish, the opening dungeon particularly has a lot of areas where it is not obvious what to do and can cause some frustration considering that the first should be the easiest. The first few dungeons also start with an enormously laboured Easter-egg style hunt for these little electric bugs that open the dungeon when you kill all of them. This type of mission feels like more of a chore than anything and is a strange addition; it feels very out of place in the Zelda universe.
As the game gets under way there are a number of questions that are raised, what is this Twilight realm, what are these creatures (some of the enemies you come across are terrifically menacing) and what do they want? These don’t really get answered until about halfway through the game and by this point, I found that I didn’t actually care anymore. The story, despite being your typical Zelda parallel universes fare, is rather lame and I found myself not enjoying it nearly as much as that of the story in Ocarina of Time. It’s not very engrossing and it feels like a mishmash of previous Zelda stories that seems as though it has not had a lot of extra thought put it into it.
That being said, the game really picks up about the time of the second dungeon, and I found myself hooked after that. The areas are huge and well themed, the puzzles satisfying (and not too frustrating) and the boss fights are truly spectacular, definitely some of the best of the whole series. Some are on a real Shadow of the Colossus type scale. You will actually be climbing up some of the bosses in some cases just to find a weak spot. These fights are tremendously exciting and very well thought out by the boffins at Ninty.
With the exception of one item (which I’ll go into in a second), the majority of the weapons you get in each dungeon are just rehashes of previous games’ weapons and mostly given silly names. Instead of a hookshot, you have a clawshot. Instead of the Hammer, you have a ball on a chain. Though completing Zelda puzzles is always going to be fun, you will find yourself doing similar things to what you’ve always done, be it breaking something that can only be broken with the ball and chain or getting somewhere that can only be reached with the clawshot. It all begins to feel very familiar after a while.
This is my main gripe with the game. Whilst Zelda is always going to be an exceptionally fun and epic adventure, Nintendo don’t seem to be doing anything to bring it to the new generation; ideas of old just seem to keep being rehashed. The only next gen thing about this game, really, is the control scheme; everything else wouldn’t seem out of place on the N64.
It’s a real shame because Twilight Princess is a beautiful and solid game; it just doesn’t really bring anything new to the fray. The tried and tested Zelda formula works very well, but for how long will it last? Will we still be getting games in this format in ten years time? Will we still want to go to a dungeon, do a few puzzles, fight a boss and repeat?
My cynicism was diluted slightly when I unlocked the “Spinner” – a Zelda weapon unlike anything I’ve seen before. Link sits atop a spinning spiked platform, which can be used to chop up enemies, as well as lock into ridges on walls to get around and complete certain puzzles. This, to me, was an example of the breath of fresh air I think the series needs. Puzzles based around the spinner felt all new and it’s rather disheartening that the rest of the game couldn’t follow up on something like this.
All pessimism aside, this really is the best Zelda game ever (yes, better than Ocarina, I said it!). If you pick it up it’ll keep you busy for absolutely ages. The fights are epic, the controls work brilliantly well and it’s hugely satisfying when completing some of the harder puzzles in the dungeons. It’s just unfortunate that it’s more of the same and it’s difficult to peg how much longer it’ll last.
Hi-Score – Perfect Controls, Epic Boss battles, Satisfying Puzzles, Detailed Environments.
Lo-Score – Game is slow to start. Some new ideas but not enough of them.
Final Score – 9 out of 10