The Most Twilight Princess Ever
If it existed in a vacuum, Twilight Princess would be one of the finest examples of what games are capable of with regards to the sense of scale and adventure. The game is kind of a classic high fantasy tale, with a princess in a tower to be saved, a great evil to be conquered, and a hero exhibiting every admirable quality imaginable, from simple origins to greatness. The world of Twilight Princess is varied enough that the environment never felt repetitive, and the dungeons, of which there are many, all oh-so-gracefully dance that line between satisfying and frustrating.
Unfortunately for it, Twilight Princess never existed in a vacuum. It seems only proper, then, that the best possible version of it is itself little more than an HD rerelease that I could feasibly make an argument as wholly unnecessary. While the dungeons are some of the best in the series, even making a vaguely enjoyably water dungeon, Twilight Princess is still fundamentally derivative of other 3D Zelda games. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; despite the lack of original ideas throughout Twilight Princess, it's still a damn good Zelda game, maybe one of the best. It should also be noted that the most imaginative thing this game does is give you another clawshot, which is both simple and one of the most fun items in the entire adventure. Damn shame that it's the absolute last item you get.
Since it's impossible to discuss Twilight Princess--something that's been done to death by this point--without bringing up what it's cribbed primarily from Ocarina of Time and other 3D Zeldas, I'm gonna discuss this HD port in comparison to the other one; Wind Waker HD. There was something pure about that Gamecube-only rerelease; the developers were quite open that they were fiddling around with how much bloom they could add to a game, and something about the cartoonish style of Wind Waker Link really popped. They saw a chance for a quick buck, and took it. That game is also the best version of Wind Waker, just like how this one is the best version out there of Twilight Princess. The big difference, though, is that in some ways Wind Waker was ready for an HD rerelease, because that's a thing we do now. Just like how the incredible Shadow of the Colossus was remade for the PS3 because it ran like absolute garbage on the PS2, Wind Waker was ripe for a rerelease on a much stronger console, something in which the heavily stylized art direction would really pop. And y'know what, it absolutely did. I distinctly remember the beginning of a roughly 6-hour marathon of WWHD with a friend of mine who grew up on the Gamecube original and him voicing his amazement at how much better it looked.
Considering Twilight Princess on the Wii was my first Zelda game, a series of which I openly enjoy (except for the vast majority of top-down 2D ones, with one notable exception that may be the best Zelda game ever made,) I expected to have a similar stunned reaction when I first popped TPHD into my Wii U and got ready to return to one of the first video game landscapes I really felt myself get sucked into. To the game's credit, it looked exactly how I remembered it to my nostalgic, rose-tinted glasses. At the same time, it looked the exact same. I've since seen comparisons that make it clear just how much has been improved, and it may be because of the different art direction, but this HD remaster of Twilight Princess just doesn't feel as deserved, or worthwhile, as the one for Wind Waker. You could (and people have) shown me screenshots of of TPHD without the UI and I honestly thought it was from the original release. It doesn't help that you can count the polygons on your arm when you go into first-person perspective.
Not to mention the Wii U can totally play Wii games, or Nintendo could decide to put out Gamecube games on the Virtual Console. While there are some improvements, like the Gamepad inventory system or gyroscopic controls, it's still questionable why, exactly, Nintendo put out this remaster (other than the obvious "money, dear boy.") To keep up the comparison with WWHD, however, there is one big notable change on par with simplifying the Triforce Hunt in WWHD. People who played the original Twilgiht Princess know that, early on, you need to collect 14 or 16 or too goddamn many balls of light from bugs. In TPHD, you only hunt down 12. It's a little change that makes the entire experience just flow better. Though I've said it's the best version of Twilight Princess, and I maintain that, it isn't without its difficulties. Maybe it's pure nostalgia, but I don't remember fiddling with the camera as much as I did with the original release, or even on WWHD. Somewhere along the line, you messed up if the player's forced to develop a sort of Monster Hunter Claw to look around the environment. Not to mention the one instance in which the Wii's motion controls actually felt natural, aiming the bow and clawshot, were lost in the transition to Nintendo's newest and soon-to-be-retired console. Being able to aim and strafe at the same time was such a good feeling that I was tricked into thinking motion controls were the future, despite most of the Wii game requiring your to flail your wrist back and forth to survive. That isn't to say the gyro controls are bad, but it's a loss of nuance that never comes easily.
How have I not talked about the amiibo yet? Like a cuckoo, TPHD works with the eventual release of a new Zelda game to get more amiibo into your life. If you're like me and bought maybe one or two amiibo that, like rabbits or more accurately cancer, suddenly started multiplying, you bought the Special Edition that comes with a Wolf Link amiibo. Perhaps the greatest failure of this actually fairly well detailed hunk of plastic is that it doesn't work with the weirdly cathartic Hyrule Warriors. I was glad to find out they recently added a Wolf Link costume to Super Mario Maker, because then it meant that I didn't buy an amiibo for just one game again. Like I said, they grow like a cancer.
It's a hefty little NFC figure, and kind of neat for being one of the small handful of Nintendo's toy line that features more than one character. I don't know what it'll inevitably unlock in Zelda Wii U/NX, but judging by what it unlocked in TPHD, it won't be anything much. Tapping the amiibo to the Gamepad while in the in-game menu will take you to the Cave of Shadows, allegedly an extra dungeon added specifically for this HD remaster of One Of The Greatest Adventures In Hyrule!© In true Twilight Princess fashion, however, it's something you've seen before. The Cave of Shadows is essentially a Wolf Form-Only, slightly truncated version of the Cave of Ordeals. It's a marathon of tiny rooms and enemies that will either be frustratingly overwhelming or go down quickly. That said, those moments when you can strategize and be neither mobbed by enemies nor take candy from a baby just make you feel good. The Cave of Shadows is split into three sections, each one ending with either a big rupee (that your wallet is probably big enough for now! Finally! Only took them too many games to get there) or a ridiculously oversized 9,999 wallet expansion if you reach the end. You can, if you want, save however many hearts you have at the moment and start your progress over. This actually isn't a stupid move, since you can't heal at all and fairies won't revive you. Ultimately, the Cave of Shadows isn't deep enough to make me feel like I would be missing out, and has enough to it where I don't feel like I'm wasting my time. There are other amiibo that work with TPHD, but they either break the game or make enemies deal even more damage; nothing to write home about.
Someone with a storied and, at times, infamous history with Twilight Princess recently said something along the lines of, despite how it failed to really evolve the Zelda formula, it's still a really solid game; how, if you look at it as "one of those", it's still pretty good. This HD rerelease is very much in that vein--not necessarily anything new or outstanding, but what it does it does really well. Some of the dungeons are the best in the series, and while it suffers from the same problem as almost every 3D Zelda game in that the treasure you get from dungeons often go unused for the rest of the game, those items that you do reuse are a whole bunch of fun to toy around with. Ultimately, Twilight Princess would be goddamn mindblowing... if it was in a vacuum. Since it fundamentally isn't, though, we get something that's just really great. For someone like me that's already sold on the Zelda formula and series, TPHD is the best version of one of the best of the series. It has problems, yes, but those flaws are, for me, so miniscule in comparison to what this game does correctly, the feeling of adventure it captures so well. It's not a great rerelease, but the game at the core still hits on nearly every note of what I consider to be a good game.
I can't say enough for how the dungeons in this entry are some of the best the series has produced; I'd often, in other Zeldas, find myself backtracking out of a misguided desire to open every single chest because what if there was a heart piece I missed? only to find that the single chest left was just bombs or something else I didn't need. For Twilight Princess, the dungeons are designed in such a way that you know exactly where the branches for some extra treasure begin, or when a chest's been tantalizingly placed out of your reach until you get that dungeon's item. The bosses have never been the main pull of a Zelda game, but they're in top form here, to the point where the small handful near the end that are more like conventional 3D bosses stand out as the weaker ones.
TPHD feels the most dated when on horseback, because horse technology has vastly improved between 2006 and now (you can make a horse poop on your face, video games are incredible,) but aside from some vaguely frustrating parts at the beginning, you won't ever really find yourself on horseback in an enclosed space. There's often no reason for you to be riding your pony outside of the vast and open Hyrule Field. It may be an odd addition, but zipping along in the Wolf Form after you use one of the portals scattered throughout the world is faster than going along on your horse, even near the end of the game when you get the largely useless Horse Call.
It's absolutely true that Twilight Princess doesn't present anything new, but TPHD more than any other makes clear what it does well. Cutscenes and dialogue rarely, if ever, drag to the vein-bursting length of Skyward Sword's tutorial, or that one stupid owl. In fact, the lack of original ideas is the biggest problem with any version of Twilight Princess. Depend on where your values in games lie, TPHD will either be a "pretty good game" or a "really good game." For me, it's the latter.