Zelda games are like buses, you wait years for them to appear and then two come along at once. If we’re being particularly pedantic it could even be three this year, if the as yet un-subtitled Legend of Zelda turns out to straddle generations, with rumours that it will land on both the Wii U and Nintendo’s mysterious NX console. It would be fitting for such a release to appear in the same year as an HD version of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which pulled the same trick nearly a decade ago when it appeared as a launch title for the original Wii as well as the outgoing Gamecube.
After the success of the HD remaster of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess was an obvious choice for the same treatment, and Nintendo brought on Tantalus Media to handle the port. Having been hailed at its release as the finest entry in the Zelda series, it’s the perfect time for both returning fans and a new generation of gamers to experience it.
At the outset, you’re offered the option of Normal Mode or Hero Mode, with the latter set-up meaning that you take double damage and no hearts appear. Those opting for it are likely to find this their most gruelling expedition into Hyrule, but one that is likely to offer some hugely rewarding and tense gameplay, particularly if you’re well-versed in Twilight Princess’ narrative, and it at least deals with any concerns that the original game didn’t offer much of a challenge.
You’ll notice immediately how much the landscape benefits from the update to high definition, with Twilight Princess’ rendition of opening location Ordon Village and the wider world of Hyrule looking sharp and attractive. One of the things that takes some getting used to against that backdrop is the character design beyond Link, with the heavily stylised villagers and other humanoid characters looking a touch out of place here, though the feeling begins to settle after a while.
Link himself looks fantastic in cutscenes and in motion, as do your enemies and Epona, though in these opening sections your equestrian partner proves decidedly unwieldy, yearning for the wide-open spaces of the Hyrulean fields. It doesn’t quite seem to have been perfected in the early stages of the game, even though Epona’s controls have apparently been much improved over the original release.
The port to the Wii U does however bring some other advantages, with a handy mini-map appearing on the Gamepad’s screen, as well as access to your collected items which allows you to curate them swiftly and easily. Of course, there’s also the hugely helpful off-screen play available as well, and Twilight Princess HD looks perfectly at home on the Gamepad, with the reworked visuals suiting the diminutive screen incredibly well.
This rendition of Link is pretty handy from the off, with the first hour teaching you horse riding, goat herding, fishing, goat catching, and eagle-handling, alongside how to use your sword and slingshot. Having made the move to Wii U, the original Wii versions controls have been completely removed, despite the fact that Wii remotes will still work quite happily with the newer console. At the same time, the game was originally designed with the Gamecube in mind, and motion controls were very rudimentary in the original release, and from a personal point of view diminished the entire package.
One likely explanation for the Wii remote’s omission is that Nintendo flipped the entire game horizontally between Gamecube and Wii, with a right handed Link to make right handed motion controls feel more natural. This HD remaster reverts to Link’s traditional left handedness, and so you’re given controls similar to the Gamecube version’s set-up, with some added motion controlled aiming via the Gamepad’s gyro. It all works just as you’d hope, and frankly the loss of the woolly Wii controls will likely upset no-one – least of all, me.
Two of my favourite memories from playing the original were the devilish Midna and your transformation into a Divine Wolf, and it’s fantastic to revisit both of them in HD. Fans will be able to pick up the amiibo that features both of these characters at release, and data stored within it will transfer across to the forthcoming Legend of Zelda in some, as yet unannounced, fashion. Though we’re yet to see one in the flesh, it’s a fantastic looking model, and it unlocks an exclusive new dungeon called Cave of Shadows, which again should serve to keep everything fresh for players who experienced the original.
One of the stand-out aspects that you’ll likely have forgotten about is the fantastically well-crafted soundtrack, that manages to emphasise a range of actions and emotions incredibly well. Composed by Toru Minegishi and Asuka Ohta there are some lovingly reworked Zelda themes alongside Twilight Princess specific tracks, all of which epitomise the series’ aural legacy.
Somewhat worrying at this stage is a surprising amount of slowdown that occurs in some of the more detail-heavy areas. Hopefully it’s something that can be adjusted and patched in time for the final release, as it certainly takes the shine off what is otherwise shaping up to be a very enjoyable return to the land of Hyrule and its counterpart, the shadowy Twilight Realm.