Friday, August 9, 2013

Video Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo Wii)

Wow, it's been a while since my last post! This game (and its predecessors) are partially to blame for that. The other part is immense dissatisfaction with how my writing has been turning out, so the way I go about all of that is getting an overhaul, but that's another post for another day. Today we'll be taking a look at the Wii edition of 2006's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the first in the "Right-Handed Link Saga" of Zelda games.

It wouldn't be fair of me to lead you all to assuming that this is my first attempt at the game--I've started Twilight Princess six or seven times since its release, and not one of those times did I play any further than Link's first trip to the Twilight Realm. When I booted it up this time, I was not at all surprised to find that the game really did disappoint, but I was determined to see it through in the hopes that it would get better. Mainly, though, I just want to try to use as much of the stuff that I spent money on as I can.

The first six hours of this game are awful, and so are the last four or five. Really, truly, awful in every sense of the word. Movement is extremely stiff. Coming right off of Ocarina of Time, I felt very limited in where and how I could move around. Link is very bottom heavy, and every action feels extremely bogged down and slow. While you do adjust to this movement by the second dungeon, it's very clear that the reason it feels so limited is because of how rigidly Link is locked to a movement grid. This becomes apparent with a movement glitch that you don't see very often in AAA titles, but which plague most Flash or fan games: continued movement. Link will sometimes continue running in a straight path when you want him to turn, and this can cause a lot of problems. Normally it's harmless, but more than a few times he took dives into chasms and ran full-force into an enemy's sword. It's a shame this wasn't ironed out, and it seriously hurts the experience.

Other forms of movement have also become more tedious (I know I've tried not to compare sequels and prequels in my past reviews, but I'm finding that to be inadequate. Not to mention that these errors exist wth or without comparison, and I feel it's relevant to mention when I franchise takes a turn in the wrong direction) between games. Link's aquatic movements are now severely limited. He no longer possesses the ability to dive, but merely to swim across the surface. I guess this is more like Zelda entries which predate the Ocarina games, but I can't help but observe that those things were changed for a reason. One of the more obnoxious aspects of the previous 3D games was the slow rate at which Link scaled walls, but here it's absolutely terrible. In an attempt at "realism", Link's ability to climb vines and ropes has been reduced almost to nothing. It takes about fifteen seconds per movement, and that's just not any fun at all.

Twilight Princess is seriously ruined by its attempted realism and darkness. I mean, it was a worthy attempt, and it's something the franchise is definitely capable of pulling off, but some aspects of reality (such as vine-climbing speeds) do not translate into a fun gaming experience. This is true of movements, a lot of which are very awkward-looking in order to achieve that supposed realism. Link tumbles with his legs off to the side instead of the more direct somersaults of past games, and I guess it's too look more real or whatever, but in actuality he'd fall on his ass. It's an extremely painful-looking animation. It seems that for most animations, they had no idea what to do with Link's limbs and simply let them hang or stick out at bizarre angles.

Animations aren't the only aesthetic this game got wrong. Bloom and other light/particle effects are absolutely everywhere, and absolutely over done. The game is astoundingly difficult to look at, and throughout all forty hours of it I found my eyes way over-stimulated to the point of intense headaches. This is not an issue TP is alone in suffering, as I've noticed a trend of having very busy scenery and games for a while now. More is not always merrier, and all of this visual clutter does not do Twilight Princess (or any game) any favors. I also found that this resulted in some very blurry and indistinguishable game objects, and I had a hard time distinguishing things until they were right up in my face. Even up close things seem to be blurry and out of focus, and it's very distracting and quickly becomes tiring.

This is illustrated to an absurd degree in the Twilight Realm, where everything is feathered to give it an ethereal quality. While I understand what the designers were attempting to do, I don't think it was to any benefit of the game. The Twilight Realm sections are hands down the worst portions of the game simply because of how bloody difficult it is to look at, and they alone might be enough to deter me from any future runs.

I know, I'm doing an awful lot of complaining. Well, this game leaves an awful lot to complain about. Regardless, I'm almost done railing on it, and there is some praise on the way. Just hang onto your knickers, 'cause here we go!

Bosses are large in scale and scope, which is exactly what we've come to expect from the franchise. Unfortunately, they're pitifully easy. Most Zelda titles feature bosses which are wildly too difficult, some have found that perfect balance (despite a few exceptions, Morpha). The bosses of Twilight Princess are usually pretty cool, with some neat ideas. A lot of them are even really memorable, which is rare in games these days. Unfortunately, they're just too damn easy. Actually, that's not too unfortunate in some cases, because a few of these battles are really monotonous. That's not the whole, but it is true of more than a couple. Generally, though, you will never come at risk of failure against them, and there isn't anything Zelda about a boss unless you just barely get out of there with your life bleeping in your ears.

A lot of really cool ideas went into the items and gameplay, but most of these abilities have very limited use. Most of the quest items are used only a couple times, which is a huge shame, because they're a lot of fun. One notable addition is the spinner, which is basically a spiked top that allows Link to ride along rails carved into walls. Unfortunately, the rails exist in all of three places, which is a serious disappointment. Sumo wrestling is a skill Link learns early in the game which serves no purpose beyond its intended use. There isn't even any kind of sumo minigame afterwards, which kind of sucks. I hate mechanics which serve their single purpose and are then promptly dropped. Sure, there are a few other instances where unique mechanics are only used once (flying the giant bird), but all of those actions can be repeated. Sumo is just dropped from the game completely.

I do, however, have to take a moment and commend Nintendo's innovating the classic iron boots item. In the past, these have served only one real purpose: allowing Link to walk under water. That's all well and good, and it really does open up a whole lot opportunities in those games, but Twilight Princess really put the items to incredible use. Not only they can be used to make Link heavier as in past titles, but they can now be magnetically charged and allow him to hang from certain types of ceilings and walls as well as pulling him through magnetic currents. I definitely had a good time with the item, and though they became less important as the game went on, the fact that Nintendo went out of their way to try and keep them relevant beyond their initial use and invent entirely new ways to explore their capabilities is a really superb and serves as an example of how developers should go about game design, particularly when handling elements from prior iterations.

In an attempt at appealing to a Western audience, Nintendo decided to make Hyrule absolutely fucking huge. It's really not big when compared with the likes of other sandbox type games, but this Hyrule is much larger than in previous games... and that really takes away from the experience. Unlike the majority of larger games, Zelda is very slow-moving in general, and Twilight Princess goes the extra mile to make that apparent. Many have complained about the tediousness of Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, but here it's simply absurd. It took me about forty hours to complete the game, and I'm pretty sure twenty of them were spent racing from point A to point B. Even with Epona (who is just as finicky as always, I might add) it can take close to six minutes to go from one end of the map to another, and you'll be doing this an awful lot. It doesn't help that there isn't much to look at or anything distinct about the field, and I found myself getting lost fairly often. It is also incredibly easy to miss elements which you can interact with, such as bombable walls or rocks, because of how washed-out and fuzzy the games visuals are. Clarity is crippled further when riding your horse, as Nintendo thought it would be a great idea to add some horrendous motion blur in an attempt to simulate speed.

Oh, speaking of visuals (and before I forget again), Nintendo had a serious hard-on for pixels during the early days of the Wii. It made some sense with Super Paper Mario because of how stylized that is as a game (although I thought it was really lazy looking, honestly. I'll have to get back to it soon). Twilight magic is often represented as numerous black and purple pixels, which simply do not have any business in a Zelda game. They seriously break the setting, and there is no reason for them to be that way. I'm sure they didn't want to do the generic fog-like dark magic, but that's exactly the kind of generic thing they were dealing with when they decided to make Twilight Princess be The Legend of Zelda: Kingdom Hearts.

On that note (and again, before I forget), the plot and idea behind the game is ridiculously generic. Even for Nintendo, this stuff is overdone. I actually don't have anything wrong with the majority of these concepts, but the fact that TP (and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) were cashing in on the edgy light-and-shadows fad is just all too apparent. I really feel like Nintendo was trying to make a Kingdom Hearts game, and the consistency of the world is just as convoluted.

Controls are hit and miss (not "or"). As I mentioned earlier, Link has a habit of not turning when you want him to. The sensitivity of the motion controls is also really poor, and I found our hero either doing nothing or performing the wrong move on a number of occasions, and this frequently led to a swift end. This is even more noticeable when attempting to perform a particular move with the nunchuck, as its sensitivity is even worse. I really don't understand why the Wii version comes with forced controls (and the total world reversal, which was unnecessary. I don't think the motion controls would have been any more awkward with a left-handed Link). There's no reason for it, particularly not when GameCube controls were already made for this particular game. It wouldn't have been hard at all for them to allow players to switch between control types to suit their needs.

Also, I have a huge issue with the way equipment is mapped and used. In the previous entries, you could assign an item to any of three directional keys and use that item by pressing the corresponding key. Twilight Princess works in almost the same way, allowing you to assign tools to four buttons instead of three. However, there is one major difference: three of those buttons are hot swap buttons while the other one is the "active item" button, and the only one that does anything. By pressing the arrow keys, that item is switched with the active item. This makes no fucking sense. Why would they not allow you to assign the tools to the keys and then press the keys to use those tools? The series is already known for doing that, and I wouldn't have wasted so much damn lantern oil due to a lame ass control set up. Not to mention that it greatly slows down the actions and can lead to some messy situations when you forget which item is currently "active". There is no need for this, and it hurts the game dramatically.

Minor gripe I couldn't fit in the narrative flow: the navigational maps are huge and really distracting, but also really helpful. This should probably be worked on for future games.

There is a lot that I more than just don't like about Twilight Princess--there's a lot that I hate. I didn't even get into the Ganondorf battle which works back-asswards as far as end game battles are concerned. It starts off awesome, but as the Gerudo Thief gets up round after round it just becomes very tedious, and each round's gimmick is more boring and lame than the last. While at first you're tasked with combating his demonic magic and destructive hell beast transformation, you soon find the momentum dropping to a halt as you're transported into Hyrule Field and must... chase Ganon around on horses...

Don't get me wrong, an endgame horse-battle with Ganondorf sounds amazing on words, but the execution is just boring and lame. Not to mention that Epona is absolute ass to control.

Despite all the rage this game put me through, and the headaches, and the bloom, I couldn't help but go back to it time and time again. Sometimes it was the dutiful drudge of a man on a mission, but usually I was pretty excited to jam the power button and get flying. The design team seems to have gotten a better handle on their particles by the second dungeon, and the middle portion of the game (minus the Twilight Realm parts) generally looks stunning. The world is gigantic, which is usually a hindrance, but sometimes it really does illustrate the epic scope of the quest Link has embarked upon. Areas like Death Mountain and the Gerudo Desert are simply a treat to figure out and navigate, while Lake Hylia is pretty terrible through and through.

Dungeons are massive, and they'll take quite some time to get through if you aren't familiar with them. That's not an issue, though, because they're usually a lot of fun. In general, they're far more linear than in Ocarina and Majora's Mask, and that might turn off some veterans, but I found the lot of them to be cleverly designed with some pretty cool puzzles throughout. Combat is deep, although not as satisfying as the melodic duels of Wind Waker. Each enemy seems to be a puzzle in itself, with a number of them designed solely to test your mastery of advanced techniques.

The early portions of the game see Link visiting areas twice: first in the Twilight Realm and then again in the Light Realm. While I don't like the Twilight Realm, I do like the way it treats each visit to a new overworld location as a dungeon in itself. I thought this was a neat way to introduced players to the new regions, and it's also just a really neat idea. And it isn't just sticking enemies into the overworld, because that's been around the whole time, but directed and specific goals which must be met. I think some people didn't like this, but I really enjoyed it and would not mind seeing the idea approached again in the future.

I do have to say, though, that the first twelve hours are far too linear and claustrophobic. You pretty much can't do anything the game doesn't want you to, and that really takes away from core concepts of The Legend of Zelda. Sure, the rest of the franchises features areas which are closed off until you obtain a certain item (usually bombs, although the hookshot is a common tool as well), but they rarely feature magical barriers which lock you into a tiny area for several hours. Despite this, the game really opens up once you break through this early entrapment. There are dozens of neat side quests to go through, and a lot of little details to the characterization of the world and its people (not visual details, which I complained about an overabundance of). While at first the game's obsession with edginess might put you off, but before long you'll discover some good old Zelda charm. Wacky NPCs in the same vein as Tingle, eccentric shop owners, and even a town full of last cats!

The addition of Link's wolf form presents a lot of cool ideas, but like most things in the game, they're rarely used beyond their introduction. You learn that Wolf Link can speak to animals and see ghosts, but these abilities are used very rarely. More disappointing, Wolf Link never has to encounter Epona. She's stolen shortly after the game begins, and I was really looking forward to actually interacting with her as a character. I mean, you can speak to her after her rescue, but all she ever says is: "Hurry up, Link! Change back and let's go!" And that's just...

YOU COULD HAVE PERSONIFIED EPONA AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME!

In general, Twilight Princess is one of those foods you'll only really grab at a buffet because it's free and you haven't had it in a while and maybe you'll like it better this time, but you wouldn't order it up if you were just looking at a single serving or something purchased specifically. Not only is it polarizing for the fan base, but it's polarizing in itself. I love this game, I love a lot of things about it, part of me wants to jump back in and give it another spin... but at the same time, I think it's awful. Terrible, really.

However, even with it's flaws, the goodness is even to pull it into "okay" and leaning towards "more than just okay". It definitely passes into "good" territory, and at times takes that leap into "great", but it never manages to stay there. As a whole, the game is simply good, and it's getting away with a seven out of ten.


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