This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series, as well as a whole decade since Twilight Princess’s original release on the GameCube and Wii. What better way to celebrate than to remaster one of the series’ best for a new generation? Tantalus Media has managed to make a great game even better in the definitive package of Twilight Princess HD on Wii U.
What starts off as a cumbersome opening gradually unfolds into an enthralling adventure. Once you step into the Twilight Realm as Wolf Link, the tone is immediately set for the rest of the game. Link embarks on his quest to save Hyrule from being engulfed by darkness. The narrative themes explored are the series’ most mature yet, making for some truly tense moments in one of Zelda’s most compelling tales.
Despite Twilight Princess’s dark setting, its characters are able to shine brightly. The entire cast is packed full of personality. With protagonist Link, he’s the innocent and lovable farm-boy-turned-courageous hero. Meanwhile, Zant is a powerful and genuinely frightening antagonist who perfectly reinforces the game’s dark themes. Then we have Midna, a creature from the Twilight and the link between realms who accompanies the player on their adventure. From bossy acquaintance to cherished friend, the bond that grows between her and Link is a satisfying one to follow. The character development presented here is phenomenal throughout, making Midna the most charming and likable partner the series has seen yet.
In terms of game design, Twilight Princess sticks to the same formula we’ve seen from past titles, but manages to completely refine it, shaping it into what could possibly be the perfect realization of a 3D Zelda game. With some of the best dungeon design the series has to offer, buckets of variety in gameplay, and a vast open world to contain it all, Twilight Princess blows Ocarina of Time right out of the water. That’s without even considering Wolf Link, the Twilight Realm, and abundance of side content — all of which does wonders in pacing out the 30-40 hour story while adding magnificently to the rich game world.
The areas you’d come to expect from a Hyrule adventure, such as fields, volcanic mountains and the infamous Water Temple, make themselves right at home here. While it follows the same Ocarina of Time template, the familiarity of environments isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Above all else, it was the presentation style and huge scale which revolutionized this entry; it was so refreshing to see a Zelda game strive for realism and ambitious world design back on Nintendo hardware ten years ago.
However, it doesn’t exactly fare well in 2016.
The lack of voice acting alone makes it difficult to stack up against any modern RPG able to offer an incomparable cinematic experience. Despite this, it’s easy to appreciate what Twilight Princess managed to achieve for its time, and makes us all the more curious to see where Nintendo could take the series in the future.
Coming back to the present, what exactly does this remaster offer? Most notably is the addition of Hero Mode, a difficulty level which doubles damage received from enemies while offering up no hearts to the player. What’s also interesting to see is that this mode features the inverted layout from the Wii version, while the standard difficulty is that of the original left-handed Link. Eager Zelda fans looking for a challenge will be pleased to know that the advanced difficulty is available from the very beginning — a smart move considering returning players will be after something fresh, and this new mode is the biggest addition Twilight Princess HD has to offer.
While there aren’t exactly a wealth of new features added, to call this a lazy port would be ignorant. As well as getting the game to run at a smooth native 1080p, developer Tantalus has lovingly updated textures, tweaked lighting and improved shadow definition — the most notable visual enhancement being the character models, which have been polished up to show us every fine detail, down to the last hair.
Unfortunately, model geometry has been left untouched. While it’s hardly a problem with the character designs, it does mean that some objects in the terrain will stick out like sore thumbs. In contrast to the more visually pleasing areas, there will be hideous-looking trees dotted around or even equally sloppy mountains surrounding it. Safe to say, it doesn’t always hold up well for a 2016 game. If you’re able to look past this, you’ll still find that this remaster is overall very rich and crisp in the graphics department.
With great visual enhancements also come sacrifices, and Twilight Princess HD has one shortcoming worth mentioning. While the GameCube and Wii offerings managed to hold a consistent 30fps throughout, the Wii U version’s frame rate occasionally dips below 30, presumably due to its higher resolution. While it’s disappointing to see, the drops aren’t anything dramatic and, for the most part, are unnoticeable. Unless you’ve got a keen eye for issues, it’s unlikely to affect your experience.
Aside from the scrubbed up visuals, work has also gone into GamePad integration. While sporting Off-TV play, the second screen also offers useful features for a more immersive experience including an inventory system, mini-map and shortcuts to Wolf mode. The divisive motion controls from the Wii version have been abolished, and in their place you’ll find optional gyro controls for aiming, which work well for the most part. Should you not be a fan of the bulky GamePad, there is also support for the Pro Controller which provides a more traditional input method.
To wrap up the new features, let’s look at the amiibo functionality. The new Wolf Link figure grants access to a brand-new area: Cave of Shadows. Acting as a challenge arena rather than a full-fledged dungeon, defeating enemies will net you some nice rewards — from a small amount of rupees to a larger wallet. The Zelda figures available as part of the Super Smash Bros. series are also compatible; tap the Link or Zelda figure once a day to reload a supply of arrows or hearts, respectively. More interestingly, tapping a Ganondorf will increase enemy damage. Doubling that up with Hero Mode for a winning combination will please even the most hardcore Zelda player. Not all gimmicks are bad, after all.
With any remaster, the million dollar question on everyone’s mind is, simply, “Is it worth it?” After weighing all the factors — changes, improvements, disappointments — it’s ultimately up to you to decide. If you’ve never experienced Twilight Princess, the HD release comes wholeheartedly recommended. If you’ve played the game before, you’ve likely already made up your mind. It’s all down to whether or not you feel there’s enough additions to justify a revisit ten years on at full price.
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is a satisfactory remaster. Tantalus Media has taken one of the greatest games of all-time, added the right amount of polish and created a marginally improved and attractive package. Whether it’s the remake we needed is questionable. Personally, I feel Skyward Sword would’ve benefited far greater from high-definition visuals. All the same, Twilight Princess is a fantastic title and a one-of-a-kind in the Zelda series. If you haven’t played it already, this definitive version offers the perfect opportunity to experience the grand adventure.