It's tough to think of any other game franchise that has been so consistently excellent, charming, stylish, coherent, intuitive and, dare we say it, "kid-friendly" as the Legend of Zelda
series. Scatch that. It's not tough, it's impossible
. The Legend of Zelda franchise is, well, legendary for all the above reasons (across its venerable, multi-system lifespan) and now for the additional aspect of its mechanical ingenuity.
Possessing nowhere near the pure visual firepower of games on the PS3 and 360 platforms (it was originally worked up as a GameCube title), Twilight Princess is every bit as eye-pleasing, in-depth and entertaining - and in some cases well beyond.
It's also the vastest Zelda game ever made, no small feat for a series known for its sprawling, detail-filled overworlds and formidable collections of dungeons, alter-worlds and secret areas. 50 to 60 hours of gameplay are well within the realm of possibility here for the truly curious, look-under-every-rock player - and that refers to active, meaningful gameplay, without the blight of needless backtracking and patches of functionless deadspace that are endemic to so many open-world fantasy titles.
As usual, players start out in an idyllic village, where our hero spends his days working on a ranch hearding goats, chatting with the local brats, and looking a lot more grow'd up, by-golly, and more realistic than he has in the past.
Anyway, as so often happens in these kinds of games, the land is overtaken by the powers of darkness (yadda yadda yadda) but in this case, the "darkness" is quite literal, as a spiritual shadowland of twilight is encroaching on the world of light - along with a host of nasty beasties (not to mention a mysterious/snarky/annoying shadow-fairy companion giving invaluable hints that you'll nevertheless occasionally find yourself wanting to throttle).
The crowning unique feature of the overall gameplay is the motion-sensitive control courtesy of the Wii remote and connected controller known as the "nunchuck." What could have been nothing more than a gimmick in fact makes the game a gesticulative joy to play - shaking the nunchuck lets our hero Link execute his classic spin-blade attack, slashing with the Wii remote results in appropriate onscreen sword-attacks, and pointing with the remote and the nunchuck's Z-lock button allows for accurate, intuitive targeting of distance weapons like a slingshot, bladed boomerang, a trained hawk, a bow, or what have you.
It all takes a little getting used to, of course - overcoming the gamer's lizard-brain, as it were, so used to the shackles of a standard (oft corded) controller - but being able to slash at a foe or literally "fish" a stream with a rod by making the sensible gesture just feels right
. Meanwhile, the Wii remote's built-in speaker provides all kinds of crisp (and often surprising, or even startling) audio cues, such as the clang of blade-steel, or the guiding giggle of a materializing fairy companion. The ultimate effect of the setup is simply superb.
Equally superb is the satisfyingly logical, intuitive, creative nature of much of the puzzle-solving, both in-dungeon and out in the proper overworld. It wouldn't be right to give spoilers away (like so many common 1-rupee coins), but if you can think of a plausible, tricky way to combine your tools at hand, objects in the environment and obstacles blocking your progress, odds are that's just
what you'll be able to do. If it's not, the game has friendly (and in many cases, overlapping) hints and tutorials to set you on the right track.
There's a lot of horseback action in Twilight Princess, too, and after you master the hurdle (again, literally) of timing jumps, you'll find the controls extremely well-implemented. As with any Zelda game, the world is chock-full of clever secrets and cute surprises (animals come in particularly useful here, and not just in the mini-challenges of goat-herding, hawk-hunting and monkey, um, swinging - nor 'only' in the exhaustive fishing challenges, which almost constitute a stand-alone quest in their own, geeky right).
And despite all the new-fangled motion-sensitive gimmickry and the newer, more 'serious' look (not to mention the fact that our hero has an new intermittent lycanthropic
thing going on here, which offers players some new combat and secret-finding techniques), Twilight Princess is firmly rooted in the long-standing audiovisual language of the Zelda series - long-beloved tones for discovered treasure, combat schemes and variants on classic musical themes give the game a welcoming sense of familiar country for those who've ventured in the Hyrulian world before; in other words, what wasn't broke, they didn't fix, thank the TriForce.
Twilight Princess is an example of that most wonderful of oxymorons, an "instant classic." It's also what our oft-jaded real world calls a "system-seller"; if you're on the fence about getting a Wii and wonder if any single title could justify the expense, ponder no more. This is the biggest, tightest Zelda to date, and worth every rupee.