The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD review impressions
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD would be a fantastic 30-hour game. It has some of the best stages in a series known for brilliant level design, an overworld teeming with secrets, and a distinctive art style that, love it or hate it, is Zelda weirdness at its finest.
It also suffers from a lack of judicious editing, resulting in a brilliant 30-hour experience stuck in a 40-50-hour game.
If you've never played a 3D Zelda game before, this may actually be a good place to start. Twilight Princess begins with a too-long tutorial, introducing blue-eyed Link, a youth from a small village that, of course, ends up being the chosen one who needs to save the world from the forces of Twilight. He turns into a wolf sometimes, and he has a really rad companion in the sassy Midna, a sort of supernatural snarker who controls magic and comes from the shadow realm.
After the tutorial, I had to complete my first fetch-quest with wolf-link - a literal bug hunt to find 12 somethings to make a light god happy. Then, I was off to the races in the first real stage of the game - a Forest temple teeming with helpful (and bare-assed) monkeys, puzzles, fearsome enemies and all the trappings of a great Zelda dungeon.
And then, before I could get to the next dungeon, I had to complete another fetch quest, rescue the creepy-looking children of the village, herd a bunch of monsters, joust another monster, learn to Sumo wrestle, get a special pair of boots from a man who either has tusks or a mustache (a tusk-stache? I stole that from someone in a livesteam) and finally, finally traverse death mountain and enter the Goron Mines.
See the issue here? Twilight Princess simply has too much filler in between its (excellent) dungeons. Padding is Twilight Princess' biggest issue, alongside its eagerness to show off cool motion controls that were considered state of the art in 2006. Twilight Princess HD is a prettied-up version of a ten-year-old game, a Wii launch title (and one of the final major releases for the Gamecube) that was saddled with the responsibility of teaching players how to use Nintendo's new Wii remote for traditional 3D gameplay.
It bears the burden of this legacy, along with a few other unflattering mid 2000s design decisions (like sumo wrestling and jousting sections that feel like janky quicktime events).
It's frustrating, particularly because Nintendo's last two remasters of 3D Zelda games - 2013's Wind Waker HD and last year's Majora's Mask 3D - made small but crucial changes, trimming the fat and alleviating pain points. Majora's Mask 3D revamped the save system and the quest system. Wind Waker HD introduced a "swift sail" that made traversal faster and cut down huge chunks of the game's laggiest bits (the Triforce hunt).
If only Nintendo had taken the same knife to Twilight Princess, a game that pads its length far, far more egregiously than Wind Waker ever came close to.
If you're willing to wade through that padding, then Twilight Princess HD is by far the best way to play a game that offers some of the series' very best moments.
The Zelda games are fun, for me, because at their best they blend a sense of constant progression with exploration, environmental puzzle solving and combat that favors enemy variety and spacial awareness over exacting combinations. You are constantly moving from task to task in a way that feels fun and rewards you for exploration. When you solve a puzzle - even a simple one - you feel clever, and move on to the next. The best Zelda dungeons are like a masterclass in intelligent level design for achieving that hallowed 'flow state'.
There are fresh surprises around every corner, and the structures often twist upon themselves in clever ways - think of the literal twisting hallways of Ocarina of Time's Forest Temple, or the clockwork puzzles of Majora's Mask's Great Bay Temple. Dungeons give you new abilities, let you play with them, then test them in various interesting ways. Wind Waker's Forbidden Woods challenges you to use the wind (and the Deku Leaf) to traverse massive rooms full of deadly plants.
Some dungeons (and some Zelda titles) are better than others, but on the whole, they are the reason to play these games, and they are fantastic.
If you ask any Zelda fan what their favorite dungeons of all time are, chances are you'll hear several from Twilight Princess. The City in the Sky, with its satisfying double-hookshot traversal. The Snowpeak Ruins, a spooky, snowed-in mansion with a big, goofy Yeti making soup in the kitchen. They may mention the Arbiter's Grounds, a huge sandy temple with the Spinner, and you may even hear a nod to the Forest Temple, or Goron Mines, early dungeons that respectively let you play with monkeys and walk around lava-flowing rooms upside down. Dungeon design in Twilight Princess is a cut above even the usual high standard for the series.
Twilight Princess is also much more pleasant to play, now that a traditional control scheme has been applied. I struggled mightily with the motion controls in the 2006 release, so being able to play with a twin stick setup has been a godsend. I enjoyed having the Wii U tablet - seeing my map on the smaller screen and dragging and dropping inventory items was snappy and fun, and actually enhanced the experience.
There are a few new additions - including Amiibo support - but sturdy control options are really the reason to jump back into Twilight Princess' world.
And what a strange world to get lost in! Twilight Princess looks weird and kind of wonderful. Many-nippled birds called Oocoocoo's hang out in dungeons (and live in the City in the Sky). Gorons have... rock nipples. Monkeys have prominent rear ends. The human characters all look a little... off, especially this little fellow:
The entire design of the "light world" where you play as human Link has a bizarre, uncomfortable, toy-like golden sheen to it.
Conversely, the twilight realm (where you play as wolf-link) has some of the coolest, weirdest creature designs in any Zelda title. There's a neon-on-black aesthetic, weird flowing monsters, even a sort of chunky pixel rain that flows in the background. This is a bizarre, beautiful game, all the more memorable for its striking choices.
Twilight Princess is a great game, badly in need of an editor. I may be frustrated with Nintendo's lack of cutting on this, the game that most needed a little time under the knife, but honestly, I've been overjoyed at the chance to experience these dungeons again, without the wrist-shattering Wii-remote waving.