Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tell me something...Do you ever feel a strange sadness as night falls?

Here it is! The main event! The game that had me salivating since I saw it announced for the GameCube in a crappy video game magazine in the Summer of 2004. Sure, the quick announcement (only about a year after its previous installment) was probably more in response to all of the backlash about Wind Waker's more "kid-like" graphics than to prime people for this game's release, but it was still something.

I'm talking, of course, about the game that was widely considered "Game of the Year" for 2006: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. It's the latest installment in my absolute favorite video game series, and it's been showered with praise by almost every reviewer on the Internet. As such, I'm not going to write such a glowing review. (Note now that if you're still intending to play the game and haven't, there will be SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS in this review).

It's a wonderful game. Probably among my favorite Zelda games. But if you're the kind of person that reads reviews of Zelda games, chances are that you already know that. You've either played the game or seen enough online to know that there's something special about this sequel. So I'm going to get to the brass tacks of it. What does this game bring to the Zelda series that makes it so new and refreshing? And, more importantly, how does it work on the Wii?

The most fun thing about Zelda games for me is to see the Items innovention. That is to say, to see the changes they've made to our old-timey Zelda favorites and the new additions they've added.

For the first time in Link's 3D endeavors, he's given a fishing rod. You can fish anywhere there's water in the game, utilizing different lures to catch different fish. It comes in handy twice during the story, but unless you're an obsessive "Must-Finish-One-Hundred-Percent-of-Gamer," you probably won't find yourself fishing all that much. Later in the game, you'll find your way to a fishing hole where you can win fabulous prizes.

Also a fresh 3D addition--and much more useful--is the lantern. Instead of having to find Deku Sticks to transport fire from torch to torch, you can simply carry it with you in your ever-expansive pockets. In addition to its usefulness in numerous Dungeon puzzles, the lantern is key in picking up Pieces of Heart and rupees. Also, puzzles seem to be a bit harder now that you have the lantern. In the previous games, you would walk into a room and know it was a fire puzzle because of the handy torches at your disposal. Now, you have to figure it out on your own. Hard dungeon puzzles are good.

The Gale Boomerang is a new twist on an old favorite, sort of like Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper except not shitty. It has all the features of your previous boomerangs--it can lock onto five objects at once. However, as indicated by the name, it also controls the power of the wind (usually a feature of your magic power). You can manipulate wind-operated drawbridges among other things. Outside of the first dungeon, the gale boomerang becomes sort of pointless, and I would have liked to see its wind-power utilized for some other, fun puzzles.

Ah, the trusty iron boots. You know them. You love them. You're irritated by them when you forget to take them off after you leave the water. Well, good news! They're fun as hell in this game. In addition to their usual practical uses of sinking in the water and walking into the wind, they are now connected to magnetic rock, allowing you to walk on the walls and ceilings of certain environments. Just like the Gale Boomerang, this function really only works for one dungeon, but it made the dungeon one of my favorite levels in the game.

There are a few bomb upgrades, although nothing thrilling. You can throw them underwater now, which is kind of nice. The bombchus are expensive, and I made it the whole way through the game without using them. I'm sure you could use them for some Pieces of Heart, but to be honest I was hoping for at least one irritating Bombchu mini-game. You can combine bombs with your arrows, which will do in a pinch. However, except for two puzzles in one dungeon, the power of arrows alone will suffice.

The Hawkeye is this game's version of Wind Waker's telescope. It's given a more practical use as a scope for your "Sniper Bow," although the accuracy of the Wii remote renders the scope almost pointless. You don't need it to complete the game, but it's fun to look across the expanse of Hyrule Field at any rate.

Here's a fun one: the Spinner. It's very difficult to explain, but think of a razorblade skateboard. Looking back at that previous sentence, there's no way this should work in a game like Zelda. Still, it's a handy tool for getting to places you hadn't previously been able to go. There's one dungeon room that proves infinitely frustrating, but for the most part it's a fun addition if a little offbeat.

Another fun, new one: the ol' ball and chain. It doesn't serve a whole lot of purpose, and there's not a whole lot of point to destroying things with a giant...oh, who am I kidding? Smashy smashy!

The most fun thing is the Double Clawshot (nee Hookshot). Link takes a clawshot in both arms, allowing for a number of more challenging and entertaining aerial puzzles. You don't get to fly along like Tarzan or anything, but you do get to traverse lots of areas in which floors are not exactly a factor.

Those are really all the new items. There's no ocarina (or baton), and your musical instrument becomes your a wolf.

Yeah, you play as a wolf for approximately half of the game. It's a completely different set of controls. You can't use any of the above-mentioned fun items, but you can tear at the jugular of enemies, dig for treasure, and smell things. Fun! The wolf attack is weak, but its speed is far greater than Link's landspeed (unless he's on a horse). So there are advantages to being a wolf if you're in a hurry to get somewhere. It's all kind of irrelevant, though, as you'll mostly have to be the wolf when you are the wolf. You are aided by a mysterious creature called Midna who will give you the ability to reach unreachable places. The wolf thing was my greatest point of hesitation about the game, and I'm happy to say that it works beautifully.

Midna is a fun character. A twisted little wretch that likes to ride on Wolf Link's back (and tag along with Normal Link as a shadow). Midna serves as the "Fairy" role, giving you hints and providing useful services throughout the game.

Zant is the other major newbie, and the game's main villain. The first time you see him open his mouth, try to tell me that you aren't repulsed. It gets kind of silly towards the end, but Zant was a character that really "scared" me--not in the sense that I was curled in the fetal position, but he certainly exudes more intimidation than the now-standard Ganondorf villain.

There are tons and tons of other, more minor innovations in this game, but the ones that struck me are all listed above. Discover them for yourself, will ya? Or at any rate, read a less lazy review.

The game was originally designed for the GameCube, and it was only ported to the Wii as an afterthought. So how does it work with the Wii remote?

Marginally well. The swordplay is a little awkward. You flick your wrist to slice, and it takes about a second for Link to actually slice. A button is more immediate. Still, it takes only a minute or two to adjust, at which point you'll be cutting up like an old pro.

The real fun of the Wiimote comes in the form of the aimed weapons--the slingshot, the boomerang, and the clawshots. My biggest problem with the previous 3D Zelda adventures was the aiming of ranged weapons. With control sticks, it was extremely awkward, and I would always end up without arrows when I needed them most. Now it's simple. Point, aim, pull the trigger. It makes the game more fun/challenging as opposed to infuriating/challenging. I can't even imagine some of the more complicated Double Clawshot puzzles with a standard controller.

So it works. I'd be interested to see the next game in the series, which will presumably be built from the ground up with the Wiimote in line. Swordplay would probably be a lot smoother and player-controlled.

I can't say it enough: play this game. If Wii Sports hadn't already taken care of it, Twilight Princess would have justified the Nintendo Wii purchase for me. Even if you're relegated to GameCube status (there's also a version for that console), go out and buy/rent the game. I beat it in a little less than forty hours, and I have a feeling that I barely have begun to scratch the surface of the new Hyrule.

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