Release Date: March 4, 2016Platform: Wii UDeveloper: Nintendo EPD, TantalusPublisher: NintendoGenre: Action-adventure
Given Nintendo’s success with The Wind Waker HD on Wii U, not to mention The Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask on 3DS, it only made sense for the Big N to set its sights on remastering The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess next and reintroduce it to a new generation of heroes. Link’s epic battle with the twilight is still one of the series’ most robust and intricately imagined adventures, and it still manages to stand the test of time ten years later, now with enhanced visuals and a few new bells and whistles thrown in for good measure. And if anything, stepping back into the twilight is a good way to pass the time while we wait for The Legend of Zelda Wii U, whose mysterious existence has now become something of a legend in its own right.
Twilight Princess features one of the darker and more expansive storylines in the Zelda universe, with the once-idyllic Hyrule transformed by twilight and crawling with nightmarish creatures, and these somber themes of light and escaping the darkness are reflected in the bold and realistically grounded visuals. A grown Link leads a cast of peculiar friends and sinister foes, as our green-clad hero embarks across this embattled version of Hyrule with hazy yellow skies and twinkling particles of darkness swirling around. The shadowy Midna serves as an iconic, if enigmatic, companion to Link, and Zant stands tall and fearsome as a new and memorable antagonist (his helmet has always given me the creeps for some reason).
I forgot how slow the opening hours of the game can be before the true story takes shape, with goat herding games and other chores to be done around town, but once Link is changed into a wolf for the first time and enters the twilight, the pace pummels along with steady footing. The dungeons in Twilight Princess are extremely top-notch and of the highest Zelda caliber, and the massive array of items and equipment to find opens up the dungeon architecture to exciting new depths, such as the Clawshot, the Ball and Chain, and Ooccoo (yes, even after ten years this thing is still as uncomfortably horrifying as you remember it). Outside of the dungeons, the overworld and slew of side quests are massive in scope, and the twilight-affected areas you’ll scour for Tears of Light as Wolf Link are spiritual dungeons in their own right.
Wolf Link offers a fierce twist to the core mechanics of traditional Zelda gameplay, and switching back and forth between Link and his wolf form in the later hours of the game opens up a new breadth of possibilities in exploration. Unable to wield weapons or use items, Wolf Link relies on deadly jumping and biting attacks to best the wide range of shadow creatures in combat, and his fighting style is both visceral and brisk to pull off. Maneuvering around the environments involves burrowing under fences or using Midna’s help to leap up tall structures. You can also use your wolf senses to unearth hidden treasures or other secrets buried underground.
Although the game’s original resolution has been upgraded here on the Wii U, I couldn’t help but feel that Twilight Princess HD lacks a certain oomph that I saw the first time playing Wind Waker HD. The visuals look well enough overall, but certain areas definitely show the game’s age, despite the more detailed textures in places. Thankfully, the gameplay has not aged one bit, and the GamePad integration works marvelously well, offering a handheld map screen and a quicker means of swapping out inventory items. Combined with the minor but effective control tweaks that enhance Link’s movements throughout, it will be hard to imagine future Zelda games without these visual tools sitting in the palm of your hand.
The other new additions to Twilight Princess HD don’t offer the biggest repurchase incentive for returning players who already own the game on GameCube or Wii, but there’s still just enough here to keep things interesting and modernize the experience for newcomers. First there is Hero Mode, a second difficulty that’s available from the start which mirrors all areas, finds Link taking double damage, and removes health-replenishing hearts. You’ll also come across the occasional Miiverse stamp hidden in treasure chests that previously contained rupees. Lastly, if you have the Wolf Link amiibo, you’ll gain access to an exclusive optional dungeon, similar to the Cave of Ordeals in the main game, which includes dozens of combat-focused floors to conquer as Wolf Link.
But despite these somewhat lackluster extras and a visual upgrades that leave a bit to be desired, Twilight Princess HD nevertheless succeeds in breathing new life into this essential Legend of Zelda game and placing it back under the spotlight in 2016. With a dark story and foreboding environments, excellent dungeons and item usage, and thrilling Wolf Link sections that redefine Zelda gameplay in a challenging new light, Twilight Princess HD cements this adventure’s place in gaming legend.
Joe Jasko is a staff writer.