- Developer/Publisher: Tantalus-Nintendo EPD/Nintendo
- Platform: Nintendo WiiU
- Review copy provided by the publisher.
I first played The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess at an awkward local festival that was held in a field, where Nintendo’s tour truck would annually pull up and delight the children who have been dragged along to what was essentially a large-scale yard sale. I distinctly remember approaching that Nintendo booth early in the day, eager to play the then-Gamecube-exclusive Twilight Princess. I played it multiple times throughout the day, made every discovery possible in the small opening village of Ordon, and came away more excited than ever before. It’s been more than eleven years since that event, and I still remember each and every secret Ordon village is hiding. So, you’d think with such strong nostalgic ties, Twilight Princess would be one of the games I adore most in the franchise, right? Well…
Truth be told, I think The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a pretty fantastic game, and the HD makeover has breathed new life into what is often thought of as Hyrule’s most drab outing. The realistic look and feel meant that everything officially had to be a shade of brown or green, and the bland environments haven’t changed much – but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a beautiful game. Where it matters most, textures pop with life and look more detailed than ever before. Walls covered with vines have smaller details, such as leaves or flowers, Midna herself and her iconic headdress is pixel-sharp, and Link himself looks more detailed and modern than any Link we’ve seen before now.
When the smaller details look this good, it’s a real shame that I must moan about the bigger picture. Hyrule Field is more boring in Twilight Princess than any other Zelda game, by far. Long expanses of absolutely nothing stretch on into the distance, with the field only acting as a way to make the world feel more real. It worked in 2006, but now the low-geometry, intensely bland open areas are not doing this game any favors. It was certainly impressive ten years ago, but now unfortunately this is one aspect of Twilight Princess that feels like it has really aged, and aged badly.
Which is a shame, because like most Zelda games almost everything else feels timeless. Combat is still smooth and effective, Hyrule Castle is imposing, Hyrule Market is bustling with life, Lake Hylia looks gorgeous… It’s hard to judge Twilight Princess HD because when the age shows, it’s hard to stop noticing, but when it fades into the background, it remains a whimsical and magical Zelda experience.
When it comes to dungeon design, it just might be the best Zelda game. Players rarely forget the baboon collecting in the first dungeon, the ingredient-collecting for a pair of Yeti, or the water temple which isn’t actually a bad water temple. All of these are unique, even within the Zelda sphere, and each adds another reason to fall in love with the game.
And just when you’re falling in love, you end up doing something like horseback swordfighting, which just doesn’t seem to work. It felt revolutionary at the time, but now it feels so mundane and so very ineffective. Epona doesn’t control well at all, feeling somehow only marginally better than Epona from Ocarina of Time, a game 8 years its senior. And Ocarina of Time didn’t have horseback swordfighting – but if it did, it’d probably feel like this. Not good.
Another thing that Twilight Princess HD absolutely nails, however, is the characterization. Ilia, Link, Colin, Malo, Telma, these are characters I can instantly name, because they weren’t just NPCs that helped you to the next dungeon or the next item, they felt like actual characters with their own sets of issues and dramas. But then, almost as if to contradict the impressive effort put into the unique cast, the titular Princess Zelda has to be one of the most dull and uninspired characters. Sure, she’s determined, strong, unyielding and will willingly sacrifice herself for the good of her people and her country. Unfortunately the few lines she has do nothing to give you an impression of a powerful princess, instead she’s locked in a tower like a stereotype from the dark ages – a far cry from the dominating and intimidating first appearance of Zant.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is a Zelda game like no other, for better and for worse. It was an experimental game made at a time where Nintendo felt the need to prove that they weren’t just a childish company making childish games, but instead were capable of making true epics. But the epics had already been made, and Twilight Princess just ended up pandering to an audience that already loved the series anyway.