The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD hasn’t had the easiest ride in terms of popularity despite it’s original critical reception and hype. If you were to read some of the harsh comments online from series fans then it would be difficult to see how a simple trailer for the game made a room of suited up journalists hoot as Link showed up on screen during E3 in 2004… followed by a tooled up Miyamoto at the height of his praise, swinging a sword and shield in a fantastic display of showmanship.
Twilight Princess originally released on the Gamecube and Wii in a rare case of cross platform releasing for Nintendo, providing both a challenge for the aging older hardware and providing a promising platform for the Wii’s motion controlled focus. To some, this was the continuation of the style that Ocarina of Time brought to the table, presenting a darker and more adult adventure in terms of textures and themes. Others felt that the lupine gameplay of wolf Link bogged down the experience with a weird mix of gimmickry and unfamiliarity.
Personally I was in the former category. My favourites of the Zelda franchise have always been in the epic open world 3D games. I adored Majoras Mask and its darker, more melancholy approach, I always felt that this type of atmosphere added a lot to the proceedings and provided some of Nintendo’s bolder approaches as opposed to the usual happy go lucky games. I originally played Twilight Princess on the Wii, and as a launch title it nailed exactly what I hoped for with a motion control focussed experience, and provided one of the finest character driven stories in the Zelda franchise to date, thanks in no small part to the impish charm of Midna, the mysterious and freakish Zant, and, of course, the big bad Ganon.
One of my biggest criticisms for Twilight Princess at the original release, and now with the HD release, is the feeling that it came at a time where people were beginning to feel that the Zelda franchise was becoming formulaic. While most of the titles filled this criteria with the standard overworld–mini item–dungeon–big item formula, Twilight Princess came at the time that this hit saturation point, further cemented by the unfortunate lack of usage with certain items outside of their home dungeons in terms of puzzle potential. The biggest example of this being the spinning top weapon which only really sees usage in the dungeon it is found in with few, if no, interactions in the overworld or other dungeons, which is criminal considering how damn fun it is to use.
What Twilight Princess HD has over the previous games is an excellent sense of style. The twilit regions of Hyrule have a peculiar darkly lit hue to them, and when that light falls the soundtrack and world shifts around it. This both feels digital and organic with enemies roaring like distorted trumpets as they drop into the overworld via stylistically pixelated black holes; and the overall sense of danger that is felt despite the twilight enemies being little more than slithering machinations based on their light world counterparts. In HD this style shines even brighter. It certainly takes your mind off the blurriness of a Wii on an HDTV, but also provides clarity in the more subtle aspects of the gameworld, bringing more lighting to darker moments and generally being clearer.
Control-wise everything has been carefully ported over from the Gamecube version of the game. Famously the two previous versions of Twilight Princess had a big difference and that was in the way that the world was laid out, due to the Wii’s controller being mostly accepted in the right hand, Nintendo had to compensate for this by making Link right handed also so that players felt more in tune with their hero’s actions. Rather than flip the character alone they decided to flip the entire game. This may give the players a slightly jarring experience when first jumping into the HD rerelease from the Wii version, however it is easy enough to pick up again and get used to. As for Gamecube owners, they will feel right at home. The controls feel tighter than ever and Link is a joy to control once again, with the series tested Z targeting and the item hotlinks on the remaining face buttons.
An added benefit to all of this is the Wii U gamepad which is mostly underutilised by other titles on the console, but feels right at home with Zelda. On the fly you are able to adjust your inventory, and swapping out your weapons and items becomes second nature instead of having to pause every time you wanted to change anything. This particularly makes water based areas easy to work with as switching between the Zora tunic and Iron boots was a chore in previous 3D Zelda games. It keeps you in the action and adds validity to the whole screen on a pad deal that Nintendo has been struggling to justify since first announcing it. The gryoscope controls also provide some extra utility to aiming, allowing you use movement to fine tune your shots, however I wouldn’t rely on it entirely on its own during a heated shootout as any undue erratic movements could ruin a fight quite easily.
One of the most important aspects to me in a Zelda title has to be its soundtrack. Nintendo may have made a bit of a misstep when Twilight Princess was first conceived when they decided to leave out the potential of a fully orchestrated score by instead giving an orchestral styled midi tone. Personally, I find the soundtrack to be one of the series strongest with the grand sweeps of the Hyrule field theme to the melancholic Midna’s Lament providing some excellent backdrops that feel both epic and thoughtful in their execution. It may be the HD release sheen talking however, I feel like the sounds are more blended in this version and it still feels that this music is being played on a keyboard rather than on real instruments in a grand hall, which can remove some of that all important impact.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD drums home the old Nintendo style while also bringing a classic back to relevance. This Zelda may not be a poster child compared to the more celebrated Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past in the eyes of fans, but Twilight Princess still holds up as one of the finest games in the franchise. If you never played this game before, or want to play it again without the Wii’s patented eye strain-o-vision, then Twilight Princess HD should definitely be on your want list.