Back to Black, Wolf Style!
Of the legion of Legend of Zelda titles, Twilight Princess has been among my favorites since completing it on the Wii back in 2006. I love the duality of the weird, trippy Twilight Realm contrasted with the healthier nature-like world of Hyrule. It hosts some of the best dungeons and boss battles in the series as well as some of the best abilities for Link too. And hey, listen! Midna is hands-down the best companion ever.
Even the dialogue, which is still just text with no voice acting is Nintendo at its wittiest and funniest. That one stubborn baby, his eye rolls are legend among Zelda fans. All of this and more await those who’ve already played the epic quest on Wii or GameCube with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for Wii U. For those Wii U owners who have never played it, stop everything and buy this ASAP.
First, the somewhat disappointing news: I had long wondered (and worried) about just how “HD”-looking Twilight Princess HD would be. I had seen many comparison videos of it versus the original Wii/GC versions that didn’t impress at all. I liked that the HUD is toned down and the widescreen is great, but the details looked just as washed out as the 480i release. If you look at the image gallery below you might think “Wow, the colors really pop, look how sharp Midna’s light lines look,” but in practice this just isn’t the case.
While the characters do have more detail, like the tiny fabric designs of the villagers in Ordon, most everything has that goofy, blurry N64 look that lasted for three consoles. After playing Nintendo's latest HD iteration, were my fears justified? Visually yes, but the game is so enthralling it only takes a few minutes to get swept away and not care so much about the graphics.
Twilight Princess was released during an interesting period for entertainment. The world was enthralled by digital worlds, and the Twilight Realm certainly looks more digital than Hyrule itself. Even the way Link goes from one world to the next feels like Neo entering The Matrix as the portal is made up of digital bits. Once you’ve completed the spooky Realm areas, nature takes over. How prevalent was this analog vs. nature thing? That same year, Okami came out with players also being a wolf that must get her world back to a green Earth vibe. Twilight Princess lets players make up their mind a bit more as Midna, who’s from the Realm, is instantly lovable even as she maintains her spooky dream-like world is better than Hyrule.
Twilight Princess HD is being sold in three versions: the standard disc, the digital download, and for ten bucks more, a package that comes with an exclusive amiibo (see above) of Wolf Link with sassy Midna riding him. Using the plastic figure unlocks a new dungeon, The Cave of Shadows, which is essentially a wave-based challenge mode with 40 levels of Twilight enemies to defeat. Playing as Wolf Link is easily the most repetitive part of the game, though, and the combat is not great. However, I am a collector of amiibos, Skylanders, and Disney Infinity toys so if you love these tiny statues as much as I do, the collector’s edition is a must. But if not, then purely from a gameplay perspective, skip the premium-priced edition, although it’s only $59.99 ($10 more) which is the standard price for any triple-A current-gen title.
Other in-game changes are for the better. While in the Twilight Realm, the Tears of Light fetch quests only require you to absorb 12 Tears instead of the original 16. Likewise, a few other tasks have been trimmed too. The goofy goat-herding tutorial, though, for some odd reason still must be done twice. Once would have been enough as riding Epona is one of the clunkiest aspect of Twilight Princess. Too many scenes involving Link’s faithful steed has you navigating her in narrow areas like the opening woods section in Faron.
Later, Link must give chase going after a boar-faced creature. At the same time, you need to knock off about a half-dozen other horse-riding enemies while hitting A to keep Epona galloping quickly. Nothing in these moments really feel intuitive; trying to aim and slash your sword was way more fun than just wildly waggling the Wiimote on the Wii version. Now with the Pro controller or the Gamepad, it’s apparent how imprecise these fight sequences can be.
Speaking of controls, the Gamepad with the onscreen map is perfect. You can also toggle the motion sensor for aiming your slingshot. Riding the horse might be clunky, but moving Link, using the touchscreen to equip items, or zooming in on a location works great. In fact, controlling Link is perfect and, more to the point, very tactile. The gameplay of a Zelda game might be dated by today’s standards, but these old-school action-RPG controls are far more satisfying than most other games today.
On top of that is that haunting feeling that is so pervasive in this particular Zelda adventure. Roaming the world as Wolf Link, even though the gameplay may feel limiting here, that strange sense of otherworldliness can be spellbinding. Experiencing this game’s version of Zelda, let alone the Twilight Realm, is eerie like no other Nintendo game before or since. That weirdness bleeds into the boss battles, which aren’t really hard, but are a marvel in set piece and design.
The other big addition to the HD version is Hero Mode difficulty. Link takes double the damage, and there are no more floating hearts that spawn from tossing random pottery. When it was released a decade ago, some reviewers complained that the 40+-hour campaign was way too easy. I’ve never thought Zelda games were about Bloodborne levels of frustration, but hey, Hero Mode will force veteran players to be more cautious when entering a dungeon. If that’s your thing, go forth.
I’ve finished nearly every console Legend of Zelda game, and Link’s adventure into the Twilight Realm, his partnership with Midna, and more makes Twilight Princess my second-favorite of the series. This HD version might not be as eye candy-worthy as Wind Waker HD was, but that really is a minor quibble for such an amazing experience. Ocarina of Time is still the Citizen Kane of video games, but for pure mood and soul Twilight Princess is unparalleled.
Code provided by publisher. Wii U exclusive.