canuckeh's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GameCube) review

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Why you never give the people what they claim to want

So there’s this young, scrapping lad with modest beginnings. He comes from some kind of small village, possibly located in the woods. If he doesn’t already have an affinity for green garb, he’ll be toting a bright tunic and pointed hat soon. He’s not much a person for words but he’s mighty courageous, on default of people telling him he is “the hero of destiny.” He’s going to rescue a princess that he may or may not have any prior connection to, from the semi-stereotype that is an evil Persian sorcerer with pig-like tendencies. All three of them are bound together by a trinity-figure in their hands, meant to symbolize the fantasy theme of “good must always fight against evil.” (I would argue the merit of a theme in reality, however. What “good” is always in conflict of “evil” in the real world?   Terrorism? Does Osama Bin Laden have the Triforce of Power embedded in his hand?) 
That right there is the plot of nearly every major console Legend of Zelda game released to date, give or take a few tweaks and touches. And you bet your sweet dollar signs that Twilight Princess follows this outline, along with many other beats and concepts, with upmost devotion. 

 Fighting the evil piranha plants...again
You will find a bow and arrow, a hookshot and some sack of bombs. You will visit , , and the assorted fire/water/ice-themed temples. You will look for the Big Key, a map, a compass and the special gimmick item-of-the-moment in each temple. You will ride a horse. You will draw the Master Sword out of the ground. You will defeat skeleton knights by leaving a bomb next to their remains. You will learn that you are the hero of destiny, chosen by the gods to slay Ganondorf and rescue the . 
I feel like Twilight Princess is Nintendo’s passive-aggressive response to people who nagged and complained about Wind Waker having the audacity to change the visual style. “You want your damned Adult Link-sequel? Well, Fine! Here, you whiny punks! Be careful what you wish for!” And thus, here we have the move-for-move clone of Ocarina of Time that hardcore fans probably fantasized about before realizing they could always just, you know, replay Ocarina of Time. 
Well, maybe the game isn’t entirely a cheap knock-off. There’s an alternate dimension of evil beings for Link to contend with; this is the part where Twilight Princess stops cribbing Zelda 64 and starts cloning every other Nintendo game. For the duration of these parts, Link assumes a wolf form, though the differences between being a wolf and being a human with the brain of a dog are few. Your animations look different, the wolf can follow scent trails, but otherwise the wolf idea comes off as a gimmick that changes little besides the ass of which the camera stares at during play. 
So, what else is new in Twilight Princess? Well, if you buy the Wii version, arthritis is new. The Wiimote registers flailing motions as the cue to swing your sword, but the motion sensors are too imprecise to interpret commands with accuracy. And the end result is Link flailing about, struggling to defeat the wacky-but-appropriately shielded enemies. At least one could make the argument that Wiimote shakes vaguely mimic sword swipes. In wolf-form, you’re merely shaking your remote like an old man shaking his cane at the brat kids on his front lawn to recreate the motion of…wolf spazing attacks? The cartilage in your wrist will hate you for playing this game. Oh, and if you don’t turn down the Wiimote’s volume, every second or third sound effect (be it the gem chime, the treasure chest theme or a character’s grunting) will be played on that muffled Game Boy of a speaker. I ultimately traded my Wii copy for the Gamecube version… to ironically play on my Wii. The only other minute difference between the two versions is that the ENTIRE WORLD IS HORIZONTALLY FLIPPED AROUND. It’s one of those strange differences that only those cursed enough to have played both versions of the game will be distracted by. 
Otherwise, not much has changed between this and the not-glorious Nintendo 64 era of games. Nintendo didn’t even have the courtesy to insert voice work into the game. All of the characters still speak in text boxes, accompanied by goofy grunts, sighs and yelps. I heard the “Super Mario Sunshine” argument of why so few Nintendo games have voiceover before but the dialogue here isn’t terrible. It’s just drab; I have a hard time buying into the various dramatic moments when all the spoken word appears in text box format. There was one moment where a brigade of troll-people invaded the town, threatening to trample the children. Being that all I had to do was not press A to advance the next screen of text to delay their progress, I could not believe that the poor children were in true jeopardy of the impending troll molestation. 
Before I go into my most vitriol-fueled of rants about Twilight Princess, allow me to hand over a few compliments as to not look like a complete hater. The art style, while not as effective as Wind Waker’s acid trip, is still unique in parts. Granted, the game has some of the creepiest digital children seen to date. (The shortest one, infant-like in appearance, has Satan’s eyebrows and talks like an adult. Possessed!) The characters have distinct visual personalities and the bosses look appropriately menacing. The dungeons, while surpassed in terms of suspense by other Zelda homages like 3D Dot Game Heroes and (especially) Demon’s Souls, are still the most entertaining aspects of the experience. If you’re not shoving your sword down a lizardman’s gullet, you’ll be solving a contraption puzzle that will lead to shoving your sword down a lizardman’s gullet. Even individual mechanics, like horseback riding, swineback-riding and having a midget lady-thing wolfback-ride you, are at least handled appropriately enough. So this game seems to do animals pretty well. 
 A new power-up: the Magic Doodad.
Back to pure negativity mode. You know how in games like New Super Mario Bros and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, you can boot up your system and complete many objectives between bus stops? I like that trait; the ability to make progress given little spouts of time. Twilight Princess is not that kind of game. If you are a goal-oriented person, you will hate Twilight Princess. This is a game that constantly throws one obstacle after another at the player, not in the name of challenge or evolving the story, but merely to pad out the game’s length in a manner that leaves you feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing. 
Here’s an example. You’ve just completed the . You find out that the is next. With less than fond memories of Ocarina of Time’s in your head, you ride on with a mentality of “lets get this over with.” 
-Except you can’t visit the temple yet, because the entire region is still shrouded in darkness, thus imprisoning you in the wolf form. Removing the darkness requires completing a nagging fetch quest where you first speak to some golden god figure, then hunt down and destroy 16 evil beetles. Why these evil insects have the power to enshrine an entire country in darkness, I don’t know.

-But before you can go to and get that deed done, you must first follow the scent trail of Link’s sort-of-but-not-really love interest to . It is there that you learn of the tragic-but-not-really-tragic fate of your sort-of-but-not-really love interest. Then you head back to .

-After jumping off the bridge to on account of an enemy ambush, you hope to begin the annoying bug hunt. Except you can’t access the golden god because the water level of the lake is too low. So first you’ll engage in some silly flying mini-game to gain access to the Zora’s Domain. You’ll then learn that the whole area is frozen solid on account of the forces of evil.

-Thawing this place out involves a relatively abstract solution; teleporting to the Goron area and transporting a giant burning rock to the Zora lair. This rock raises the water level and finally gives you access to the golden god.

-Which, in turn, gives you access to the nagging fetch quest. Completing this fetch quest involves redoing that flying mini-game, as well as exploring the farthest reaches of the lake, the Zora Domain and even the .

-After destroying 15 beetles, you discover the location of number 16…which is really a giant beetle dust mite boss! This dust mite boss doubles as one of the coolest looking and easiest confrontations in the entire game.

-So you’ve finally lifted the veil of darkness on . But you still can’t go to the temple because you can breathe underwater. Fortunately, the ghost of the Zora Prince’s mother will help with that IF you rescue her dying son.

-To rescue her dying son, you’ll have to do an escort mission (the most evil of mission types in video games), taking the long road from the to . Along the way, you’ll repeat a jousting boss battle from earlier in the game.

-After finishing that escort mission, you can go to the graveyard to pick up magical armour that lets you breathe underwater. “Finally!” you think. “I can go to the blasted water temple.”

-Human Link doesn’t have access to teleportation at this point in the game, so you’ll venture back to to explore the . But wait! Did you buy the waterproof bombs back when you were in ? If you didn’t, you can’t enter the . Time to head back to town!
That was almost as redundant to write out as it was to complete. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the whole process took me about 4 hours to finish. And this is not the game’s only example of artificially finding ways to pad out length in the name of just filling time. There are about 3 or 4 fetch quests to silently mock the people that fussed over the Wind Waker sailing fetch quest. You’ll make numourous back-and-forth trips across the world to talk to people a very forced-means of progressing the plot. Twilight Princess improves upon Ocarina of Time in letting the player skip cutscenes…or at least 60% of the cutscenes can be skipped. (And they’re usually the most interesting bits.) There are still annoying text sequences that I was forced to sit through. This game was made in that time period where developers were scared of a game being labeled as too short and thus a “rental-only” by game reviewers. You know, back when Blockbuster Video wasn’t going out of business. My final play time was 25 hours. I feel like 15-20 of those hours could’ve been cut out and I would’ve enjoyed my experience many times over.
I struggled for a period in trying to decide who to recommend Twilight Princess to. I can’t say “Zelda fans” because at this stage, they’ve already bought it, finished it, wrote the FAQ for it and cried “best game evah!” for it. Rather, I think the best audience for Twilight Princess is children aged 7-12. Children whom haven’t been weened on Halo or Modern Warfare and refuse to play anything less violent than an AK round to the skull. Take away the whole “Legend of Zelda” context and what you’re left is a story of a boy rescuing a princess from a dark lord, a perfect fantasy adventure concept for an innocent youth to indulge in. Preferably, this youth hasn’t played Ocarina of Time or too many other Zelda games, either, and thus they’ll probably find themselves intrigued by the whimsical fantasy universe. For anyone else, especially if you’ve been following this series on a semi-regular basis, you’re missing nothing here.
3 stars

5 Comments Refresh
Posted by hedfone

reviews a little late

Posted by CanuckEh

Oh better late than never. I'd also argue better late than "two paragraph review that suspiciously goes up the same day the game comes out", which can be a little too popular for my liking.

Posted by AngeTheDude

Cool review. I agree with a lot of the points you presented. I was confused by the random punctuation marks though.

Posted by Phoenix87

I love Zelda, but I absolutely hate Twilight Princess, especially the Wolf form. Thanks for calling this came out for what it really is.

Edited by SathingtonWaltz

Good review, though I disagree with a few of your critiques. When you are describing the tropes of the Zelda franchise, the stuff before you say "That right there is the plot of nearly every major console Legend of Zelda game released to date, give or take a few tweaks and touches.": I feel like that isn't a very valid criticism to make. You can effectively use this exact logic to any sequel or series ever made. Apply that same logic in your criticism to games like Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, Uncharted, I could go on and on. I just don't think it's fair to criticize a game for not being a completely new franchise with each sequel.

I also disagree with your statement that the game should include voice acting, I don't think that would have added anything to the experience other than possibly alienating purists. You've made plenty of great points about the game though. I liked what they were going for with the alternate Twilight Realm stuff, but I feel like the entire wolf segment of the game could have been cut and reworked into something more compelling for the concept.

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