Twilight Princess is an awkward game. At a Legend of Zelda reunion party it would be the one sitting awkwardly at the back looking moody and wearing a bit too much black eyeliner.
Initially released on both GameCube and Wii a decade ago, Twilight Princess has been resurrected again in HD form to prop up the ailing Wii U. In case you hadn’t heard, Nintendo’s most recent console is done for, so the company is preoccupied with creating its successor: the enigmatic NX. Time for a hasty facelift of an old favourite?
Fear not, Twilight Princess HD feels like the like the definitive edition of Zelda’s most underappreciated incarnation. As with Wind Waker HD, Nintendo has done more than just slap some extra prettiness on an old title, and it’s tweaked certain elements to create an even better game.
‘If you go down to the woods today…’
Twilight Princess is the closest Nintendo will ever get to making a Tim Burton movie. In the idyllic village of Ordon your friendly neighbourhood hero, Link, finds himself thrown into an adventure to save Hyrule. How? With the aid of a mysterious shadow-dwelling creature named Midna, of course.
Thanks to this strange imp you can turn yourself into a wolf, allowing Link to exploit his new lupine senses and ability to talk to other animals. Trouble is, most humans will run screaming from you, which is fair enough. You’re a big scary wolf with a blue earring after all.
Although this is the Legend of Zelda, and Link is the protagonist, Twilight Princess really belongs to Midna. Her ulterior motives and disdain for Link’s ignorance make her one of the series’ best companions. Adding to this air of malevolence is the game’s wonderfully creepy villain: Zant. A sinister combination of ostentatious helmet and enormous sleeves, he was doing temper tantrums long before Kylo Ren made them cool.
So far, so sullen then, and if you weren’t a fan of Twilight Princess’ muted art style then this remaster isn’t going to change your mind. However, the HD update helps it enormously with upgraded textures, sharper lines and added details. What previously looked a bit muddy and indistinct looks subtle and adds depth, bringing the darker colour palette into its own.
Alas, the original game’s issue of large brown spaces is still present. I was hoping Nintendo would take this as a chance to do something more interesting with the duller areas of Hyrule, but instead they still sit there like an old coffee stain.
If you’re playing on the GamePad, areas with lots of mist can also cause the game to chug along at a noticeably slow pace. For the most part, this a beautifully mournful and slightly worn version of Link’s homeworld with a number of recurring areas from Ocarina of Time scattered about.
Tears, Ghosts and bugs
Sitting just after that bona fide classic in Zelda’s timeline, Twilight Princess HD affords you some new tools for hopping around Hyrule. Now, added icons signal where you can call your horse from, and where time trials and mini games take place. The ability to turn off the portals on the map also make viewing it a whole lot easier.
These tweaks to streamline Twilight Princess HD from its original incarnation really make a difference when it comes to collectables. Simply put, there are fewer of them to gather up. Especially when it comes to finding things called “tears of light”, which rid sections of Hyrule from darkness. Where previously this methodical searching could drag, it now breezes by at a much improved pace.
Combat has been similarly improved if you first experienced Twilight Princess on the Wii. While the mechanics themselves haven’t changed, it’s a joy to play the game with a pad rather than waggling the Wiimote about half-heartedly. Particularly when playing as a wolf, there’s more precision and a greater sense of impact when slaying your foes.
Fighting the game’s bosses is still an anti-climax, though. A lot of them involve some great ideas, but they’re nowhere near long or challenging enough. Blinding one bumbling boss (the catchily titled; Twilit Igniter: Fyrus) then tripping him over using his own shackles is a great feeling to begin with, but do the same thing two more times and he’s defeated.
If it only takes two minutes and a few well-timed arrows and sword slashes to slay a monstrous beast, then it’s probably not that terrifying in the first place. Thankfully, playing Twilight Princess HD on Hero Mode helps to rectify this feeling.
I need a Hero... (mode)
Yep, the wizened difficulty mode from Wind Waker HD and Skyward Sword is back again to combat one of Twilight Princess’ greatest criticisms: it’s too easy. Without it, even unfamiliar players will rarely find themselves in situations of peril, happily going through with little challenge.
Among other things, Hero Mode inflicts double damage on you and the only way to get the health back is by swigging a potion. No longer can Link rely on smashing his way through various wooden and pottery receptacles or desperately slicing grass in order to find a heart to mend his wounds. This need for potions also rectifies another issue in the main game: rupees.
The game’s in-world currency become entirely obsolete, as you very quickly find yourself with a vast wealth. Hero Mode’s reliance on healing potions as your only way of gaining health means you finally have something to actually spend your not-very-hard earned fortune on.
Dungeons, temples, bosses and more dungeons
Despite these changes, Twilight Princess retains what makes it one of the very best Zeldas: its dungeons. Sure, they’re in the classic ‘unlock an area, do a dungeon, get an item, defeat a boss’ format, but Nintendo does its best to play with your expectations. Items aren’t always just a way unblocking previously impossible paths, they change the entire feel of a dungeon. For example, the “spinner” (a kind of skateboard-meets-drill) transforms a slow-paced temple that’s sinking in sand into a rollercoaster.
As well as these classic dungeons, an additional Cave of Shadows is available to anyone who buys Twilight Princess HD with Nintendo’s striking Wolf Link Amiibo. Although this temple wasn’t available to review, it sounds as if it’s shaping up to be an endless horde-type challenge, where you fight off floors of beasties while having limited access to health pickups. A nice addition then, but nothing that’s essential.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Verdict
Even though Twilight Princess HD is haunted by the shadow of Nintendo’s NX, it still ranks as a Wii U essential. Its graphical makeover brings a new clarity to Hyrule’s most mournful incarnation, while the addition of Hero mode means Zelda devotees won’t breeze through their hardened surroundings. Darting from one cleverly designed temple to the next is no longer a temptation.
More so than ever before, this is a game that you’ll want to explore. With some welcome mapping tweaks, the absence of motion controlled combat and the ever-mischievous Midna at your side, Twilight Princess HD is well worth the readmission fee.