Review: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Posted 01 Mar 2016 at 14:00 by Jonathan Stanley
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is a strange choice to kick off the Zelda 30th anniversary year. Initially adored after its (HD-less) reveal for the GameCube at E3 2004, its delayed release and then switch from GameCube swan song to also being a Wii launch title in 2006 has, for many, seen it become a forgotten gem in the Zelda series. Couple that with the entire world turning out, in hindsight, to love Wind Waker's art style (Nintendo must be exasperated about what their fans want) and this game often gets overlooked in best game polls in favour of the pioneering Ocarina of Time, the darker Majora's Mask and the still beautiful original Wind Waker. So ten years on has time been kind to Twilight Princess, or should it have stayed in the shadows?
The first thing to note about this game, which was originally made by Nintendo themselves in 2006 but has been handed to Australian developer Tantalus for HD duties, is that the core gameplay and experience remain the same. This is a ten year old game you'll be playing. It's fortunate then that since the first 3D outing for the series with 1998's seminal Ocarina of Time, the engine for these games is as robust and as relevant today as it ever was. The Z-targeting to lock on to enemies, the automatic jumping and the dynamic camera still work just as effectively as they have done through all of the Zelda series. This engine has stood the test of time, although it does breed something of an over familiarity with the way the game 'should' be played.
It is something I first really noticed playing this on the Wii back in 2006. If you've played enough of these 3D Zeldas (and I've played all the previously mentioned ones as well as 2011's Skyward Sword) you instinctively know what you should be looking for, and how you'll be able to work out the games many puzzles. With Ocarina of Time being my first Zelda game, let alone 3D Zelda game, this feeling has bled through into all the games since. However I originally felt, and still do, that Twilight Princess leans heavily on Ocarina of Time the most, using similar locations, tribes and often the same puzzles as well. I need to find four poes who have extinguished the light at the start of a temple which blocks my way through, you say? I'm sure I did that in the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time...
Listen to me, a jaded, cynical gamer at the ripe old age of 30. The truth is, if this is your first Zelda title, you are in for an absolute treat. Even if it isn't, this is still a great game filled with cinematic moments, an as previously mentioned strong game play foundation, story depth and side quests to rack up at least fifty hours worth of game play if you want to see it all.
The story does attempt to divert away from a complete rehash of past games and is for the most part successful. After initial training in Ordon village, the game starts to open up once the village children, including the brilliantly dead pan Malo, are kidnapped. Link is then sucked into the twilight realm which has engulfed Hyrule and transforms into a Wolf. It's at this point that Twilight Princess's greatest contribution to the Zelda series is revealed, in the shape of, well, the Twilight Princess herself; Midna. Smart and sassy, she provides an excellent foil for Link in his adventures; being more endearing than the "hey, LISTEN!" hair pulling of Navi in Ocarina of Time, and the lifeless delivery of Fi in Skyward Sword. She strikes the perfect balance between withering, emotional and funny and is easily the best companion Link has had in a main line game.
Zant is an enigmatic yet charismatic villain while the story takes a darker route as the game progresses, particularly an infamous scene before the Water Temple involving multiple Links that no doubt caused multiple nightmares in the process. There never feels like any filler here, unlike towards the end of Skyward Sword which felt prolonged to the extent of agony for almost unnecessary reasons. However, it doesn't quite hit the heights of Majora's Mask's contained yet incredibly emotional journey. Impending doom and ground hog day will do that to you. Regardless, what's offered here is an engaging and interesting tale which will keep you coming back until the final sword slash has struck it's enemy.
So what have Tantalus, the studio behind the Wii U versions of Mass Effect 3, Deus Ex Human Revolution and, uum, Funky Barn, been up to then if the story and the core of the game remains the same? Well, they've added a few tweaks and slight changes to the way the game operates in terms of quests, Amiibo support, and there is a whole new dungeon as well, the cave of ordeals. Sadly the N-Europe review copy was a digital version that didn't include a Wolf Link Amiibo, which you need to unlock this new area, so I was unable to trial this.
However the headline act of this remake is the HD tacked on to the end of the title. It's Twilight Princess visually souped up for a new generation, and on the whole it doesn't disappoint. At the start certainly I found myself thinking "wow!" as I watched the cutscenes which got the storyline going and pottered around Ordon Village meeting the faces who would be by my side on this epic journey.
The thing is though, when I first played Wind Waker HD I very much shrugged my shoulders. Sure it looked great, but it wasn't that different from the original, was it? It was a testament to that game that even without the HD upgrade it would still be considered a beautiful game in this day and age. It must grind Nintendo's gears that the game many derided on its reveal, and some still refuse to play because of its toon art style, is now heralded as a visual masterpiece; whereas the game everyone really wanted to see, the realistic looking Zelda, aged badly.
It's with this in mind that you can't help but be impressed with the HD upgrade to the game, it does look a lot better than Twilight Princess originally ever did (and so it should) and it certainly looks better in motion than some of Nintendo's questionable videos for this release as part of the marketing campaign. If you felt underwhelmed by them, you owe it to yourself to try the game out and see that its actually scrubbed up quite nicely. One of the most obvious techniques is the lighting on the characters, which certainly in the opening segments gives a wonderful sun-kissed feel and makes everyone much more interesting, all while running at a confirmed 1080p.
Saying that, there are a few gripes. While for the most part the upgrade does look lovely, it's not been a complete overhaul. Grass is still just a flat green surface. Some walls/surroundings look a bit dated, and in fact at one point I rode Epona through one section making a mental note of "this looks like it could have been from an N64 game." So while for the most part the visual spit and polish is a success, there are still a few areas which, due to time constraints or perhaps just negligence, feel somewhat under cooked.
Amiibo support has been added as well, becoming available after you finish the first dungeon. As well as the new Wolf Link Amiibo previously mentioned, all of the Zelda series released so far have a part to play, although their impact is somewhat trivial and is limited to a once per day use. Zelda and Sheikah will restore hearts, Link and Toon Link will restock your arrow quiver, while perhaps the best use is Gannondorf making enemies do double the damage, or four times as much if you have hero mode activated already.
Collecting tears of light has been reduced from sixteen to twelve each time you have to do it, and rupee collection is made easier with bigger wallet sizes, and also with less irritating explanations every time you collect them from a treasure chest. And scattered throughout the dungeons and over world are now Hyrule Alphabet stamps, which act as the Miiverse stamps in this title, allowing you to craft secret messages for other to decipher, or simply a picture of Midna looking happy, and share them on to the games Miiverse thread.
The controls have now all been reverted to the standard buttons on either the GamePad or Pro Controller, keeping it in line with the GameCube version with no support for the Wii Remote that the original Wii version used. I guess no one would buy it if they realised they could pick up the Wii version and play it on the Wii U for half the price...Still this button mapping works well, and negates any of the issues Twilight Princess, and subsequently Skyward Sword, had when the aiming of the remotes became distinctly out of line with what you were trying to do. It does retain a hallmark of the way the original handled if you're playing with the GamePad however, with gyroscopic controls being used when aiming the boomerang or arrows, and also looking around in first person mode.
Playing with the GamePad also has the benefit of showing you the map and your item inventory as well, much like Wind Waker HD did before it. Once switching from Link to Wolf Link becomes available there is a handy button on the touch screen that lets you do it swiftly and unobtrusively too. For me the TV screen was still a little too cluttered for my liking, but it was pleasing to see the usage from Wind Waker implemented and advanced upon.
So Tantalus has done a good job in implementing Wii U specific and graphical upgrades, but there are a few areas where the game isn't quite as tight as it should be. There are occasions when Epona is absolutely awful to handle, despite claims that her handling has been improved for this version. Even within Ordon Village, at one point I found myself unable to get out from behind a gate because she wouldn't stop rearing up every time I tried to turn her around. On the bridge battles as well, when you need to spin back around and charge at your foe post haste I found her clicking her heels and scuffing the ground while I literally shouted at the TV for her to move. There was an element of "meh" when Eiji Anouma revealed that for the new Zelda Wii U title the way Epona naturally moved through the land was something they were working on. After playing through this again, it will be a welcome addition to the series.
Switching from TV to off-TV play is really simple, with a quick press of the '-' button moving it instantly. However I did find when playing in this mode that the game was prone to some severe slowdown. Even in one of the first trials within Faron Woods I only counted four enemies and Link on screen and still the game was really chugging. I didn't notice anything like this when playing on full screen, but it's still disappointing that a flagship game misuses one of its consoles best USPs.
Some previously mentioned graphical let downs aside, the other big gripe with this game, which is definitely a hang over from the original, is its lack of soul and atmosphere. Hyrule Castle Town is absolutely bursting with characters; kids running around, market sellers, interesting looking people chin-wagging away between themselves...but the amount of them you can actually talk to is minimal. It feels like unless they have a purpose in the story or sub quest, then you don't get to talk to or listen to what's going with these inhabitants. By comparison Ocarina of Time's town market physically had less characters in it, yet because you could natter away to everyone it felt more vibrant and alive.
Hyrule Field is also still as sparse as before, becoming something of a chore to traverse. I can see why it's more expansive than previous games. It lends itself to a much grander scale and of course with Epona to charge around with almost straight away and epic battles with moblins riding boars to contest, as well as the four legs of Wolf Link, it wants to encourage you to soak up the scenery. But it ain't half boring and once the option to warp from location-to-location becomes available I found myself doing that as much as possible. Again, it's an easy comparison but in Ocarina of Time I enjoyed traversing Hyrule on steed or foot because it just felt alive and brimming with atmosphere.
Having said that the music department have done their very best effort to make up for that lack of atmosphere with some wonderful pieces to compliment each area of the game. The bombast of Hyrule Field, the delicacy of Lake Hylia and the slow pan pipes of Kakariko Village are truly wonderful and evocative scores that make each area unique. Yes some of them are re treads of familiar songs in previous games, however Twilight Princess does get a pass in the sound department in this respect as you've never heard the Zelda music like this before. And of course it has one of the very best tunes in the entire series with the 'Malo Mart' shop theme which will have you tapping your toes and be stuck in your head for weeks, if not years to come.
The dungeons are also a joy to play through as well, bringing a varied style while still retaining that "this is a Zelda dungeon" feel I mentioned before. Snowpeake Ruins in particular is a stand out, it's setting of run down mansion on top of snowy mountains at least giving it an interesting and unusual locale, even if what's inside is somewhat familiar. Throw in a snow boarding slalom to get to it, and in one two minute sequence you've got probably the best snowboarding simulation game since 1080 Avalanche on the GameCube...
So Tantalus has done a good job with what they've been given, again proving themselves adept at handling big game ports to the Wii U. That said, the unenviable task they have been given is to bring a ten year old game to the Wii U with minimal room for any major over hauling of the series. Which is fine, as at its core this is still a brilliant game, however much like the Greek god the Australian studio are named after, its status as a truly brilliant game is just tantalisingly out of reach, no matter how hard it stretches.
Compared to others in the Zelda series this doesn't feel as original or as outstanding. However in the pantheon of games in general, it's still a colossal achievement and does nothing to tarnish the Zelda image. An epic story line, an engaging game mechanic and a lovely HD touch up makes this a good title in the Wii U's library. And as enjoyable as it has been to revisit, its aging template has been a positive in one way. It's left me positively champing at the bit to play what promises to be a fresh, exciting and most importantly new Zelda game on Wii U later this year. If Twilight Princess is the balloons and banners, then Zelda Wii U will most definitely be the cake and presents of the 30th Anniversary celebrations.
N-Europe Final Verdict
An impressive HD treatment for an oft-forgotten Zelda title that kicks off the 30th anniversary in style. Recommended for anyone that hasn't played it, or simply wants to relive a classic.
Solid, tried and tested game engine
Great musical score
Lovely HD upgrade
Been there, done that feel to dungeons and puzzles
Slow down on GamePad
Real lack of atmosphere