Every single Zelda game leaves a distinct mark on fans, but we think we can state that, without a doubt, 2006's Twilight Princess was one of the most special entries in the whole series. Now, for both those who experienced it back then and remember it with nostalgia, and those who haven't enjoyed it yet, Nintendo is releasing a remastered version for Wii U. Having relived its 60 hours of gameplay in full HD, we have to say that we're quite satisfied.
Twilight Princess HD is, above all, a remaster built on the back of others. The restoration work follows the line previously drawn by Ocarina of Time 3D, Wind Waker HD, and Majora's Mask 3D. That is, discrete tweaks and retouches, control and accessibility improvements, and some additional extras for good measure. The main idea here is that it ends up looking and playing better by taking advantage of the modern hardware, but never making too many alterations to the visual whole or the gameplay mechanics: it has to remain the same experience that many recall, but refined and more user-friendly.
In this sense it's also natural that some fans are asking for an audiovisual revolution, or more new content features but, again, this is a remaster and not a remake. With a classic you can always do more or do things differently, but what has to be assessed here is whether the work done delivers on refining what was already there, and in that regard Twilight Princess HD is up to the task.
In fact, we'd say that, despite not looking that way at first sight, out of the four 3D Zelda games that have been remastered in the last decade, this is probably the most thorough.
In terms of controls and interface, the game successfully implements all the things learned from the three aforementioned titles (second screen, touch features, motion control, accessible menus and inventory). In terms of visuals they've done an even more comprehensive job, as the texture redrawing has been - given the technical and artistic features of the original - much more extensive than with a toon-based Wind Waker or with the Ocarina-Majora pair that jumped from Nintendo 64 to the 3DS handheld. Here you can notice the great care put into texture drawing in almost every nook and cranny of the map, something that, when added to the richer colours and improved lighting, and the absence of aliasing, makes for a pretty decent visual scene when played on the big screen. But it also lets you see how the original game was made in terms of models, animation and artistic resources.
Perhaps the most underwhelming part of the update comes in the sound department: with the graphics being updated as they are, then music and audio could really have used an overhaul of the midi libraries and, why not, the occasional orchestrated piece. As we felt and noted with Wind Waker HD, the music might be memorable but it's not improved as much as the visual update.
Zelda games are practically a sub-genre of their own, and unfortunately from this series, as time goes on, less and less significant titles are being released that offer a similar combination of combat, exploration, storytelling, interaction, fantasy and, above all, puzzles. Thus, despite the aspects that haven't aged that well, Twilight Princess still contains many, many delights for any adventurous player. Particularly, its greatest strengths are its brilliant dungeons, the inventive items for Link to use in the world, and the great cast of characters.
If you're like us and temples are the single thing you enjoy the most about a Zelda game, with Twilight Princess you're being treated to a rather succulent serving. With this entry the scenario and level designers surpassed themselves, reinventing what we had seen so far by coming up with really surprising new ideas. And while we must admit this game follows to the "T" the already obsolete dungeon playbook of "get the tool to get there, progress with that tool in puzzles, then get another tool mid-temple, then use it on the final boss", it's still a fun formula that works to this day.
The impressive second half of Arbiter's Grounds, the quirky experience at Yeto and Yeta's mansion, or the goosebumps you get entering the Temple of Time, could all be included in any "Best Zelda Dungeons" toplist. And it's in these unbelievable buildings where you get the most out of ground-breaking items such as the Spinner or the Ball & Chain... items that are then left somewhat unused in the rest of the world.
As for the characters, they at times hold the story together and at other points they enhance it, for this story is bigger and bolder (with some really dark moments) than before, but also has its ups and downs. Midna conquered fans' hearts from minute one and then re-conquered them at the end of the game with its alternative form. Zant gave us the chills. The most serious and warrior-like Zelda marked a milestone. Link perhaps looks a bit silly more than once, but the game strives for him to not lose any personality after the charm and charisma that unfolded with Wind Waker, while the Wolf Link form adds a wild and haunted touch to proceedings. There's also variety with races and new supporting characters.
These are the strengths, the things that make Twilight Princess worth playing again today, but as expected, there are several aspects that haven't aged so well or that, let's put it straight, maybe weren't perfect ten years ago.
The most obvious problem is given to you in advance by Midna when she starts yawning: this adventure is not very good at pacing. Throughout your journey there are several tiring walks, especially in the first third of the game. Nintendo was obsessed with making an Ocarina-type Zelda but large-scale, and while it impressed with the massive size of the map and the variety in terms of locations, some areas end up too soulless or even straight-up boring, while certain tasks (fetch quests, errands) are a hassle, despite Epona, the wolf, and later the teleporting. Twilight Princess does not boast Ocarina of Time's perfect pacing, so it can sometimes cause disconnection or disinterest.
On top of that the combat hasn't aged well either, resulting in monotony on more than one occasion, despite the agile and accurate motion aiming. Skyward Sword had the real 1:1 sword-fighting controls to spice up an already outdated combat system, but Twilight Princess remains too stagnant, both in terms of standard enemies and final bosses and there was also some issues with the previously innovative Z-targeting system. The horse riding still causes some annoyances as well, so it's great that they've now learned that horses don't usually run into walls by themselves (just in time for the new Legend of Zelda for Wii U).
It's natural that such a classic won't age well across the board, but when we look back and think about how much we have enjoyed the game over the last few weeks, ten years after our first adventure, it has become abundantly clear that Twilight Princess is a huge, grand adventure that manages to surprise both those who played it back in the day and new players. You don't even need to consider its origins to enjoy it fully, and that speaks volumes for both the enduring quality of the original, and the restoration work done in this HD update. That said, it also offers us a timely opportunity to examine how 3D Zelda games are put together, leaving us better informed ahead of the anticipated new entry on Wii U later this year. With that in mind, it's a must-have for Zelda fans and adventure lovers alike.