The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Review

By Blair Nokes on March 7, 2016

The Legend of Zelda is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. Debuting on the original NES and Famicom system back in 1986, The Legend of Zelda captured the hearts and imaginations of gamers across the world with its grand sense of adventure across an 8-bit Hyrule as the young hero Link in his quest to save Princess Zelda and stop the evil Ganon. Since its initial inception, the series has flourished, along with the considerable lore surrounding Hyrule, Hylia as a whole, the goddesses surrounding the world, and even alternate timelines thanks to the time traveling in the timeless classic, Ocarina of Time. Interestingly enough, the original Legend of Zelda actually takes place towards the end of one of the three plausible timelines. The sometimes confusing timeline finally saw a coherent point of origin with 2011's release of Skyward Sword for the Wii, serving as the series' prophetic origin, showing that the descendants of the goddess Hylia, the chosen Hero, and the Demon Lord Demise would forever be entwined. Back when the Nintendo Wii launched in 2006, fans were greeted with an all new Legend of Zelda title as a launch title for the console. Twilight Princess was met with equal parts of adoration and criticisms. The main positives for the game were that the series' aesthetic returned to a more "realistic" art style, after the polarizing, but exceptional release of the cel-shaded Wind Waker for the Gamecube.

One of the most popular criticisms were the issues with the motion controls, and not being as accurate as they ought to be. This was even more apparent with the later release of Skyward Sword, utilizing the then-new Wii Motion Plus, offering a 1:1 ratio of motion accuracy. Those who still kept their Gamecubes intact were given a port of Twilight Princess a month after the Wii's release, offering tighter controls on a more traditional controller setup. One of the most interesting tidbits was that Twilight Princess was actually originally developed for the Gamecube, as it was announced back in 2003, but chose to reserve its release for the Wii as a launch title. As a result, some nifty changes were made to save development time, such as the complete mirror of the game's world, so that players would see a right-handed Link, and not be confused with his traditional left hand, while using the Wiimote in the right. Since then, the rumour mills have been turning on a possible rerelease of Twilight Princess, mainly due to the 3DS remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, and the Wii U remake of Wind Waker. Towards the end of 2015, Nintendo announced the release of Twilight Princess HD for the Nintendo Wii U. From all initial announcements, it seemed that the game would be naturally adopting the Gamecube version, for a smoother transition of a traditional control scheme, and would also have the original layout rather than the mirrored mapping on the Wii. In its first decade since it originally released, let's see how Twilight Princess still stands as a game, and how the changes to the Wii U port provide a benefit or detriment to the overall experience.

The story for Twilight Princess takes places during the Hero of Time's timeline during events of Ocarina of Time, using the branch in time where Link was sent back to relive the childhood that was taken from him during his seven years of waiting in the Sacred Realm. There are a lot of theories as to what happened after this, as this would include his trip into the doomed alternate reality of Termina in the events of Majora's Mask. One of the most popular theories is that afterwards, our young Link settled down with Malon, the little farm girl that introduces Link to Epona during the Ocarina of Time. The fact that our Link in Twilight Princess resides in a more country, farm-like setting in the village of Ordon would add to the validity of such a theory. Our silent protagonist begins the journey doing day-to-day tasks, herding goats, conversing with the townspeople and helping out in tiny sidequests. These were all meant to pass the time, until we were to deliver a special parcel to the Kingdom of Hyrule. Naturally things go awry, and we slowly see the land of Hyrule being swallowed by the realm of Twilight. Link encounters a wall of Twilight, gets pulled into it by a Shadow Beast, transforms into a wolf and is imprisoned. It is there in captivity where he is introduced to the mysterious imp-like creature known as Midna, who serves as your main partner. She leads Link up a winding staircase in what appears to be a tower in Hyrule Castle where he is confronted by none other than Princess Zelda, who brings Link up to speed with the events that have transpired. Zelda explains that Zant, King of the Twilight, has stolen three of the four Light Spirits and has conquered Hyrule. Not too long after, Link discovers that he is a descendant of the ancient Hero of Time "“ the very same that saved the land of Hyrule in Ocarina of Time, and Termina in Majora's Mask!

Falling in the same bloodline ultimately means that Link is tasked with the hardships of restoring the world to its original form, freeing the remaining Light Spirits, and obtaining mysterious items Midna seeks out in the process. Without revealing anything else outside of the brief opening act, the remainder of the story encompasses an incredible journey, taking the player all across Hyrule, traversing familiar albeit largely changed terrain that fans may have explored in previous Zelda entries. The narrative itself is well told, with loads of side characters to genuinely care about; Midna being a very prominent example. She offers assistance naturally without disrupting the pace and flow of the game, aides in your combat while in wolf form, and becomes a companion you become fond of very early on. The structure is precisely what The Legend of Zelda is known for: recovering three items from three dungeons, obtaining the Master Sword, obtaining x number of pieces of something to then send the Hero into the final showdown. It's a tried and true formula, and despite treading familiar water from game to game, Nintendo still manages to create some vastly unique experiences with each instalment. A lot of criticisms with the game circled around its dark themes and tones. In the grander context of the overall timeline, its makes sense. This is the aftermath of what appears to have been a chaotic war that divided the factions of Hyrule. Having us start off with the innocence of being a farm boy, only to swiftly carry the burden of saving the world really showcases the transformation of our protagonist into who he is destined to be. The Wii U version maintains the fidelity of the game's narrative without changing too much of the core game. Sensible changes were made, like speeding up some of the cutscenes that originally dragged on, but the design goals were to preserve the feeling of the original game.

The controls of Twilight Princess were very polarizing when it originally came out on the Wii. Many praised the attempt at offering a motion control scheme for the Wii, however some had issues with the overall responsiveness of the motion controlling, as combat could devolve into simple gestures, which is a shame as the actual combat mechanics are possibly some of the deepest in any Zelda game. You learn and acquire a total of seven hidden combat moves from an enigmatic entity known as The Hero's Shade, who also has the ability to transform into a wolf. As many have previously guesstimated from several convincing factors, and with the actual confirmation in the Hyrule Historia, the Hero's Shade is sadly the ghostly remainders of the Hero of Time, lamenting that he was never remembered as a hero, and who regretted not passing down his skills to the next generation. This would coincide with the timeline, as this Hero was sent back to relive his childhood, ultimately cutting this timeline off from ever having removed the Master Sword, and saving the world by defeating Ganondorf. We also notice that he is missing his right eye, so this has opened up several unanswered questions as to what battle caused his missing eye, and what events led to his transformation into a wolf.

The combat in the Wii U port is very similar to the Gamecube version; the controls feel right at home offering far more precision in executing the combat inputs, and having a full 360-degree camera allows the player to really take in the environment. There is also the option of using the Wii U gamepad's internal gyroscopes for motion controls, which offer more fine tuning for things like arrows and slingshots. Another positive to note is that the game can be played using the Wii U Pro Controller, and it also can be played completely off screen via the gamepad. The Wii U gamepad functionality works exactly as you would expect: the maps are displayed in great detail, and the inventory is completely accessible via touch inputs, allowing you to swap items and weapons on the fly. Players can also switch between Hero and wolf form with the press of a button now, when you get to that point in the game. Another positive change is that the underwater controls have been improved for the Wii U port. Unfortunately, not everything is as finely tuned with the controls. While riding Epona, I've encountered some peculiar latency issues and input delay; Epona gets confused when it's nearing a wall, resulting in a more unpleasant ride. Amiibos have also been incorporated into the gameplay; both the Link and Toon Link Amiibos allow players to full replenish their arrows. Sheik and Zelda will refill all of Link's health, and Ganondorf will cause Link to take twice as much damage. Some may view the majority of these as cheats to the game, so Nintendo has balanced this by allowing you to use these features once per day. Every early adopter copy of Twilight Princess HD comes bundled with a Wolf Link/Midna Amiibo figure that unlocks an exclusive dungeon called the Cave of Shadows. There are 38 floors in total, and they increase in difficulty as you go on, and the interesting twist is that it fully uses the wolf form for all floors. The final reward is the Colossal Wallet, allowing Link to carry 9,999 Rupees. At this point there doesn't seem to be any indication in releasing the Cave of Shadows digitally for those who purchased Twilight Princess digitally, so until confirmed, it remains as a physical reward.

Like every other Zelda title, each dungeon relies on a series of puzzles, environment manipulation, and will tend to utilize a weapon or item that you recently discovered. The dungeon designs as a whole deserve a nod and special attention, as they are some of the better crafted, and cleverer dungeons of the franchise. Snowpeak Ruins, Temple Of Time, City in the Sky, and the Palace of Twilight are some of my most memorable, but all have their own unique look and feel. The item inventory in Twilight Princess also receives a considerable overhaul from the entries before it, offering double clawshot, the Hawkeye to turn your bow into a sniper rifle, and water bombs for underwater explosions. Expect loads of minigames to increase the capacities for various items along the way. There are also some expected sidequests, like collecting all twelve species of insects for the bug-crazed Agitha, collecting 60 poes for Jovani, and as mentioned before, reaching the seven howling stones for further combat upgrades.

Twilight Princess HD's port was handled by the team at Tantalus, an Australian team known for various ports and the Wii U launch title Funky Barn. I will set the record straight now and note that this does not look as much of a difference as Wind Waker looked as that jumped two generations. That being said, they still did an admirable job in the port. The game as a whole looks like a lot more attention was given to the anti-aliasing of the characters and environments so the look far more smooth than the Wii or Gamecube versions. The textures received a nice boost in detail, some of the stone ground textures in Castle Town really show this off, and Zant's character model shows some really impressive detail. The game tried to aim to maintain a steady 30 frames per second, however I've noticed many instances of dips well into the low 20s in heavily dense areas such as Faron woods with the poison gas, or where there are lots of enemies on screen. Hopefully this can be addressed as it is a little jarring from what is otherwise a smooth experience. The score for the game is a mixture of haunting themes and can resonate with earlier tones and themes from other entries, adding to the feeling of a haunted or desperate land engulfed in Twilight, and also evoking a sense of nostalgia as you are still in Hyrule.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Twilight Princess HD is a commendable port. Not without its faults, but it still maintains to be an exceptional journey as far as Legend of Zelda games go. It tells a really strong story from start to finish, has characters that are as quirky and as memorable as past Zelda titles, and when it's all over, you truly feel like you have accomplished a journey. That's part of why The Legend of Zelda is near-and-dear to so many around the world; its games have a lasting impression, and spark endless conversations about hidden easter eggs, the encompassing lore, and where future instalments ought to focus on. Some minor control issues and some infrequent but very noticeable framerate dips stop this particular port from being perfect, but Wii U owners, Legend of Zelda fans, and even those who may have missed the Wii version and were curious about the experience, Twilight Princess HD comes very highly recommended.

Traditional controls on the Wii U Gamepad and Pro Controller offer more precise combat.
Some of the most intelligent and well crafted dungeons in any Zelda title.
The game itself is still an incredible journey, and will demand 100+ hours to get everything it has in store.
Some framerate dips into the low 20s during hectic scenes or frames with dense fog/smoke.
Epona did not feel as smooth a ride as I’d like. Hopefully a future patch or update can fix this.
Some may view the Amiibos as a cheat, or a crutch. Thankfully they have a very fixed timeframe for usage. Hopefully digital buyers will receive the Cave of Shadows in some alternate way, or that the Wolf Link Amiibo be sold separately after launch.
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