Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the next A-list title to fall beneath my hammer of Summer of Adventure goodness.  Unlike the previous, Squeenix-made titles, Zelda has always been much more about the gameplay than the underlying story, so the fact that I have already experienced the core storyline involved here many, many times before is of less importance.  What matters here is how it plays.

And man, does it play well.  Wii Sports may be a fine showcase for what the Nintendo Wii can do for non-gamers and physically active playing, but I can’t think of a better example than Zelda for how the Wii’s novel functionality can be harnessed to service the needs of traditional game genres.  Initially, I was disappointed to learn that swinging the Wii-mote to effect Link’s sword attack is merely a static cue for the system — you can swing from above, from the left, from the right, and your elfin protagonist will do the same single attack as if you had only pressed a button.  I can’t fault the Zelda team too much for this, as it was apparently my mistaken belief that the Wii-mote would act as some divine, simplified motion capture device and channel my fearsome fencing tactics onto the screen.  In truth, only when you delicately aim the Wii-mote at the screen as a pointer does it actually track your precise path; in all other cases, the specific form of your movement serves only to signal the console something like, “Hey, he wants Link to attack!”

Despite this setback, Twilight Princess did a stellar job in following the gameplay style established with Ocarina of Time (and if you didn’t like that, you won’t like this much more), while adding some real diversity to play through use of the Wii remote.  I understand it was originally designed for the Gamecube, and that most or all of the game’s mechanics are faithfully grafted onto the old generation (or well, the reverse is most likely the case), but I found aiming my bow or clawshot with the pointer’s precision to be a joy, and it makes me giddy like a kid at Christmas to think about how good something like Metroid Prime will be.

Also in need of mentioning is the variety and quality of the game design itself.  The levels were all masterfully laid out, and toe very nicely the fine line of challenge but not frustration (most of the time).  If you can look past the macro view that everything in the game is just concocted to give Link nine (or so) dungeons to crawl, each with a main boss and sub-boss, and each with a new gadget to add to your repertoire, you’ll find some of the most inventive and exciting battles I have ever seen, and more ways to use a boomerang than a young boy should be allowed (wait till you see what Zelda does with it!).

On a critical note, while the “mature” visuals made for a markedly darker story, a welcome new direction for the series, it also highlighted some of the less than creative aspects to Twilight Princess.  I love the use and re-use of the classic Zelda theme songs and sound effects, but it can go too far.  The visual style cries out for dramatic voice acting something fierce, and Midna’s babytalk and Link’s overly repeated moans and gasps just dig the knife a little deeper by hinting what might have been.  I think I forgot to mention it before, but this was something Final Fantasy XII did extraordinarily well, and I think I could have enjoyed Twilight Princess‘ plot, which to their credit they did a decent job at making engaging, far more if I wasn’t constantly being reminded that in spite of the visuals, I’m still firmly in Nintendo KiddyLandâ„¢.

I think Nintendo’s strict adherence to its 1980s-established canon, at least in the case of Zelda, is starting to be more of a liability than a benefit, even down to the classic sound effects and synthy music composition.  It doesn’t seem as much so in other franchises like Mario (at least in its Super Paper incarnation), where Nintendo seems to be going in the opposite direction of Zelda — simple graphics and complete mixing-up of the series lore (Mario and Bowser joining forces, etc.).  At some point, I fear Nintendo is going to play the Link-saving-Princess-Zelda theme a little too often, and the storyline will all but completely cease to be at all compelling.

The Zelda games fall on the far outer reaches of the action RPG genre, to the point that the gameplay matters so much more than the story, Nintendo can get away with rehashing the same Triforce/Princess/Ganondorf shtick so much that even the characters in the game have legends about previous titles.  Fortunately for anyone playing Twilight Princess, both are worthwhile and galvanic, even if the puzzles can occasionally frustrate and the story feel a little played.

Score 8.5 / 10

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