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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) review

"The bottom of the Zelda bucket isn't too deep after all."

My memories of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are mixed. On one hand, I remember camping out in front of Best Buy on what might have been one of the coldest winter nights ever seen in Gainesville, Florida, waiting to purchase a Wii and bring home that launch day copy of the newest, most mature installment in the Zelda series to date. I remember going back to my dorm room and taking shifts with my roommate and friends playing the game, doing my best not to look at the screen when someone squealed in delight. I remember running towards Castle Town and squealing too – I was so excited to see the areas I remembered from Ocarina of Time portrayed on Nintendo’s newest hardware.

On the other hand, I remember the frustration of attempting to catch two fish for a cat in the somewhat obtuse beginning of the game. I remember thinking: "How does this controller work? This isn't magic. This is annoying." I remember the fetch quests between dungeons that became increasingly long and tedious. I remember a world that seemed vast but was suspiciously empty. Over the decade since the release of Twilight Princess, these less pleasant memories overtook the fond ones, until finally I was left calling it my least favorite 3D Zelda game.

The truth of its appeal to me, it turns out, lies somewhere in the middle and includes some wrinkles that I didn't anticipate. Twilight Princess is worth revisiting not only for its strengths, which are numerous, but also to learn what the series needs to improve upon in future iterations.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) image

My memory served me right; the introduction to this game is painfully slow. There’s about a two-hour window in which players have no weapons and complete virtually no puzzles – just a series of fetch quests that slowly unlock the gates which let you leave Ordon Village. And without the excitement of jumping into a new Zelda adventure that I had in my first playthrough, I found myself infuriated by this portion of the game as I revisited those early moments. Apparently the process was trimmed down (you only need to catch one fish now), but after playing the newer A Link Between Worlds, which lets the player get straight into the action, this plodding introduction was disappointing to say the least.

But then I got to the first dungeon of the game – a forest-themed dungeon, of course, as is the tradition – and I was won over by the clever dungeon design. Having recently replayed almost all the three-dimensional Zelda titles, I was surprised that I was enjoying this dungeon more than I had enjoyed many of its counterparts. The puzzles locked together in a way that dropped me into the blissful loop of progress that makes puzzle-based games so enjoyable. And the first boss fight was clever and engaging.

Then the dungeon was over, and I had to go through the same routine I performed before the previous dungeon: fetch quest, find collectibles as Wolf Link, another fetch quest, then a dungeon. This is an unfortunate break in momentum, and one that carries on through the entirety of the game. At one point, I completed a series of fetch quests and turned off my Wii U without saving the game. It took me a few hours to work up the courage to go back and redo that portion of the game, and it was infuriating the entire time.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) image

In the game's early portion, fetch quests made me hate Wolf Link, the transformation your character is forced into outside of the early dungeons. Wolf Link seemed to me to only be a vehicle for collect-a-thons and boring combat. His move set is limited, and his utility is even more limited still. Thankfully, later in the game, when players are free to transform between Link's forms with a touchscreen press, Wolf Link is used in more thoughtful ways. But the portions of the game in which I was tasked to find however many Tears of Light in order to proceed to the fun parts were exasperating.

The only less-than-cynical explanation I can come up with for these collectible quests is that they were intended to allow the player to familiarize themselves with the game world. And in fact, they do accomplish this goal. I knew every nook and cranny of the vast Hyrule landscape by the time the game concluded. Its winding geography was seared into my brain. And this is a valuable and rare skill for modern gamers. We often rely heavily on maps to navigate. Having a cerebral lay of the land is an incredible accomplishment. But I was left unsure whether the cost of slogging through hours of less-than-stellar gameplay was worth it.

Fortunately, fetch quests taper off a bit towards the end, or maybe I just got used to them, and I opened myself up to this game. Once I did, I found that enjoyed my experience a great deal. Much of this has to do not only with the clever dungeons, but the engaging world-building. While the version of this game that resided in my memory consisted of a bland browns and empty spaces, I found the characters to be delightful and the populated areas to be lively.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) image

A lot of the characters have a Studio Ghibli quality to their design and personality. The Gorons’ fascination with your character’s Sumo wrestling ability is endearing, and the strange bird-human hybrid Ooccas are delightfully weird. Midna, your character’s cute but brooding companion through the journey, is much less annoying than Ocarina of Time’s Navi and at least as interesting as Wind Waker’s King of Red Lions.

This world and these characters reminded me of why almost every Zelda game is special, even those that are as flawed as this one. I genuinely enjoy seeking out Hyrule’s inhabitants because they are truly interesting, thoughtful characters, even the ones who are ancillary to the game’s main plot. This is something many developers ignore in their vast world-building enterprises.

And it doesn’t hurt that this world looks vastly better in this HD remake. While no one will mistake this for a current-gen game as far as its graphical quality goes, the upgrade to HD makes the game pleasant to look at and allows the least amount of distractions possible from the charming art design. My only gripe is that the wide open areas now look especially blank and bland, which makes sense considering they were modeled in the GameCube era. Addition of some fauna and flora would have made Hyrule Field look a little more alive.

Nintendo added some other useful flourishes in this remake. The touchscreen on the Wii U controller can be used for off-screen play and, more usefully, for inventory management. I have grown attached to the use of a touchscreen for inventory management in Zelda games since the 3DS remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, as it reduces the amount of times the player needs to pause the game to switch items.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) image

Also, the game retains the GameCube version’s controls instead of the Wii’s, which was a fantastic call. Using button presses instead of arm movements is a much more precise control mechanism and makes the combat much more entertaining. In fact, I would say that this game has some of the best controls in the series, even though I did get my horse (named Matches, after my cat) stuck on walls an unbelievable number of times.

I still mostly stand by my memory of this game. Twilight Princess definitely ranks toward the bottom of the 3D Zelda bucket. Its bloat causes too many breaks in momentum, and highlight some of the work Nintendo needs to do in rethinking the series for its next iteration. But the bottom of the Zelda bucket isn't too deep after all. The highs in Twilight Princess are so sky-high (literally) that if you’re a fan of this series at all, this game is well worth revisiting in its best iteration.

santellifa's avatar
Freelance review by Francisco Santelli (March 29, 2016)

Francisco Santelli is an avid gamer, overworked high school teacher, and aspiring rockstar. He is often accompanied at the keyboard by his cat, Matches.

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