Nintendo's Link, the heroic elf from the company's beloved Legend of Zelda franchise, shares a common thread with Ian Fleming's James Bond. Both characters attract the ladies, save the world from terrifying threats and star in the same recycled adventures. Like Hollywood and its Bond movies, Zelda's developers add a few tweaks to make each videogame distinct, but despite these changes, all of the series' Links share similar characteristics. Link lives in the same village, rescues the same princess and takes advice from the same sidekick, whether it be fairy, talking boat, or in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess' case, a mischievous spirit named Midna. Yet despite the game's semi predictable plot, familiar looking characters and childish dialogue, there exists the magic that makes the franchise so endearing.
Link's familiar transformation from boy to world saviour again serves as the framework of the Zelda series and while Nintendo earns no points for falling back on this overused foundation, the game's developers earn high marks for many things, chief among them character animation. Unlike in previous Zeldas, the characters in Twilight princess exhibit genuine emotions that add power to the game's wonderfully directed cut scenes. Mouths drop open, smile and frown. Eyebrows raise and furrow. Hands gesture. The excellent use of body language separates this game from its predecessors. Most importantly, it adds priceless depth to the characters and the darkness that plagues their existence. Even as the sun shines on the land of Hyrule, character faces serve as a constant reminder of the evil terrorizing their minds.
Link combats this menace with a wide variety of weapons including a sword, slingshot, boomerang and a very effective bow, among other toys. Players still maneuver Link with an analog stick, but when fighting enemies, they actually swing and aim the remote. Haphazard slashes cause him to slice up his foes and pinpoint precision aiming allows him to strike targets hundreds of feet away. Nothing beats firing an arrow into the heart of some foul abomination, especially when the remote vibrates with each release of the bowstring.
The mechanics work so well that the mere thought of going back to a standard controller seems asinine. Link doesn't understand the difference between a horizontal and a vertical slash, but the spot on combat keeps this from becoming a nuisance. Furthermore, the remote's speaker emits all sorts of cool yet tinny sounds, from a tune that plays whenever new items are discovered to the withdrawal of the sword. All of this combines to form an intense and extremely exciting battle experience, one that remains interesting throughout, thanks to Link's alter ego.
During the course of his adventure, Link transforms into a wolf and from that point on struggles to maintain two very distinct lifestyles. He also must deal with Midna, a mischievous spirit that badgers and offers him advice. Cute, very amusing and masterfully designed, Midna is the best character to come from Nintendo since Wario. Not only does she provide much needed comic relief, but her dark appearance hides her true intentions, leaving players second-guessing throughout the game's 70-plus hour adventure.
The wolf sequences break up the monotony of the standard dungeon crawling portions of the game, the same puzzle solving boss key finding excursions that make up almost every Zelda adventure. The controls remain the same, except instead of attacking with his sword, Link lunges and bites. These moments also display Twilight Princess at its visual best, as Nintendo elected to use bloom lighting to give the game a spooky glow that covers up the jagged edges that unfortunately plague the rest of the adventure.
Two features make the wolf sequences shine, the most important being the curious dynamic that exists between Link and nature. As Link, he interacts with fellow elves, carrying spirited conversations and assisting them with chores, all the while animals roam about, unconcerned with their masters' lives. However, as soon as he transforms into a wolf, his friends (unaware of who he is) run away from him, and in some cases attempt to kill him. Meanwhile, he gains the ability to speak to the animals and get their opinions of the goings on surrounding them. In some cases, they offer advice on how to complete a quest or flatter him with compliments. Of course, as soon as he becomes an elf again, the animals want nothing to do with him.
The second feature, the ability to howl and affect events through howling, greatly enhances the game by adding harmonious melodies that offset the violence. Similar to using the baton to create music in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, players must follow and mimic a tune, or in this case, a howl, to unlock a series of events. The wolf's howl is spread across three distinct pitches (high, medium, low), and using the analog stick, players move a cursor up and down to recreate patterns. Fun, peaceful, and incredibly cool, the howling keeps things varied.
Twilight Princess contains several entertaining features including horseback riding, sumo wrestling and fishing. However, the dungeons, while polished, well designed and generally fun, follow the same crusty design used to create the dungeons in The Wind Waker (enter dungeon, solve puzzles, defeat mid boss, acquire special item, use item to unlock the giant boss key, defeat boss, rinse and repeat.) Fans will eat this stuff up because they always do and newcomers that have never played a Zelda will delight in the many puzzles and pitfalls. However, Nintendo's tried and true formula feels worn out, despite the varied scenery and monsters.
The same goes for the audio. The synthesized soundtrack (while catchy) feels too 1998 to be cool and the lack of voice acting and cheesy dialogue wrecks havoc on the character development. With all of the work put into body language and facial expressions, Nintendo should have added that extra something by hiring voice actors. Instead, well-animated characters choke to death on lines upon lines of scrolling text.
Zelda's graphics provide another flaw. While the game looked outstanding a couple of years ago, its jagged edges, blurry ground textures and horrific looking trees keep it from being a visual showpiece for the Wii, especially running in standard definition. Of course, Twilight Princess started out as a GameCube-only adventure. Had it been built from the ground up to take advantage of whatever processing muscle the Wii possesses, it may have been more aesthetically pleasing.
Still Twilight Princess stands out as one of Nintendo's more attractive games, thanks to its fabulous draw distances, breath-taking imagery, life-like animations, imaginative character designs and dramatic action sequences. Like the main character on Ugly Betty, its personality outshines its physical appearance, making it a soon to be beloved classic that everyone should play. On the flip side, an old school Ricky Lake-style makeover would do wonders.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Game Guide