Will the Hero Rise...or Fall?
Ever since Ocarina of Time, all the 3D console Zeldas have used the same exact same control scheme. Twilight Princess also includes this same combat system, but loses one button to equip an item from your inventory in favor of a help button where you can contact with Midna, both in human and wolf form.
This leads to one of the new gameplay aspects in Zelda. When Link crosses into the realm of Twilight, he transforms into a divine beast. The wolf. As a wolf, you have certain different skills that your human form can't do. The most important part that the wolf plays is in its' Sense ability. Using this Sense, you can follow the scent of various people and creatures, ranging from the smelly Reekfish to lost children. You follow these secents to progress through the story and reach your main objective. You also have the lesser Dig ability. You can dig through the ground to gain access to new areas, find bugs, or receive hearts and rupees.
The major problem with the entire wolf aspect is that it is at first overused and then later underused. A lot of your time through the first third of the game is being in your wolf form and killing bugs to restore light to the twilight infected areas. To those new to the series and even veterans, this gets old...fast. You'll go through the hunt just wanting to return to your normal self. At a certain point in the game, you gain the ability to transform to a wolf and back to normal at will, as long as no one can see you. You would think this would lead to some expertly designed puzzles that utilize you transforming back and forth into wolf in a dungeon. This is not the case. For the rest of the game, you will mostly remain in your human form and wish your alter ego was used more. This kills one of the newest things that Twilight Princess has to offer. Items are what make Zelda special, and Twilight Princess is chock full of them. While some remain unchanged, such as the Bow and Empty Bottles, a lot of items have received a much need renovation in their design. Some examples include the Boomerang and Iron Boots. The Boomerang has kept its multiple targeting system from the Wind Waker, but has now added a gale of wind that blows with your boomerang, which can pick up items in its path and bring them to you...or your enemies. The Iron Boots, which make you so heavy you can walk through wind and underwater, can now allow you to attach to walls through magnetic fields.
It also wouldn't be a Zelda game if there weren't any new items in that universe. One such example is an item called the Spinner. With this item, Link can traverse over quicksand quickly and attach to railings in walls, riding along them swiftly. There are other numerous items with great new premises, but they are never fully taken advantage of. You'll have these awesome weapons that are collecting dust in your inventory and you'll never use them again. And if you do, it will be once or twice later on. Along with these new item disapointments, the new temples and dungeons are a huge disapointment. Don't get me wrong, the dungeons are very well designed, but they are all easy. I never got stuck and they all use Zelda cliches. Even with the new items, it does not increase the diffuculty of these dungeons. The bosses are also a huge disapointment. None of them provide a challenge, save for possibly the final boss based on your total heart collection and excerpience with hidden skills.
Visually, Twilight Princess is the cream of the crop on Gamecube, save for Resident Evil 4 and The Wind Waker. While Hyrule Field isn't exactly the most technically impressive environment out there, the character models and Twilight Realm more than make up for this. The biggest treat of the character models is in their facial expressions which are so realistic and beautiful, more so than that of Wind Waker. The Twilight Realm has this oversaturated beauty and brillance that make use of Cell Shading in some of its enemies, creating a sort of destroyed beauty in effect. The Wolf Link animators also deserve a huge pat on the back. Wolf Link takes animation in Zelda to new heights and you may find yourself in awe at first.
In terms of sound, Zelda is stuck in the past. Nintendo didn't give this game the full orchestral treatment this game rightfully deserves. Sure some tunes and melody did get the treatment, but MIDI takes up a chunk of the game for the most part. Also, voice acting needs to be adressed. With these beautiful new facial expressions and cinematics, voice acting would have been a huge plus. There is even perfect lip synching for each character in these scenes, but they remain silent in their motions, which is truly disheartening.
So in the end, the main adventure lasted me to almost the 30 hour mark, but if you add in all the extras like Pieces of Heart, Poe Soul and Golden Bug Collecting, and fishing, you can expect that number to grow into the 50-70 hour mark. Don't get me wrong, Twilight Princess is a great game but with this installment, it is clear that Zelda needs to evolve and tackle these issues in the next big console experience.