In the past week I've gotten about 12 hours sleep, grown a beard, and developed a nasty gut from all the late-night pizza fixes. My legs ache from a lack of exercise, and sunlight - once a welcomed friend - is now my sworn adversary. While this might sound like the aftermath of a bad break-up, it's actually the result of my eagerly anticipated and equally feared (because of the aforementioned side effects) Zelda marathon. Sixty hours in Hyrule over the course of a week is no small feat and although my social life has taken a dive, and my girlfriend has on more than one occasion called me a slob, I've finally finished Twilight Princess, and boy was it worth it.
Now, I can read all of your minds (a side effect from some drug testing I did when I was desperate for tuition money back in college), and I'm willing to bet you're all wondering whether or not Twilight Princess is the Ocarina killer many have claimed it is. Has Ocarina's throne been toppled? Well, let me put it this way: If you've been looking for a reason to invest in a Wii, look no further. Twilight Princess is unbelievably epic and well-made, but as brilliant as it is, it also suffers from some control issues and plenty of been-there-done-that gameplay that follows the Zelda formula to-a-tee.
Twilight Princess is bound to evoke a feeling of déjà vu when you first boot it up from the Wii menu. It feels eerily reminiscent to Ocarina of Time, and that feeling stays with you for the better portion of the game's epic quest. Similar to Ocarina, Link begins his adventure in his home in a small village not unlike the Kokiri's, and quickly revisits locales that Ocarina fans will immediately recognize - though re-designed and much more detailed than ever before - replete with the same background music, only slightly altered to give it that 'new' feel. The basic Zelda formula hasn't been remotely altered either (though that's not necessarily a bad thing), meaning the bulk of the game is spent locating the dungeons, acquiring new weapons, and in turn using those weapons to solve progressively more challenging puzzles. Indeed, one could argue that Twilight Princess resembles its brother almost a bit too much, but it's not until much later in the game that Link's latest adventure really takes flight on its own.
Regardless of the similarities between the two titles, Twilight Princess takes a much darker approach to the series and offers a similar experience to Metroid Prime 2's light and dark worlds. In this latest instalment, twilight is casting its shadow over the land, and naturally our pointy-eared hero becomes the key to saving Hyrule once again. The majority of your time will be spent in the land-of-the-light, but in order to unlock most new areas, Link must transform himself into wolf form and team up with his tingle-esque friend Midna to gather enough light to return portions of the land back to its original state. In beast form, Link is essentially identical to his human self, at least as far as combat is concerned. The big differences between the two come in the form of the wolf's special abilities.
By using the d-pad, you can switch between various skills to help solve the many puzzles littered throughout the land. For example, by pressing right or left on the d-pad, you can activate the wolf's senses. Here you can view (in some cases) the scents left behind by key characters, as well as areas of the map where Link can use his paws (d-pad down) to dig up items buried beneath the ground, or as is often the case, dig under fences and buildings to progress forward. When all else fails and you're still stumped on a puzzle, take a walk around until you hear Midna's chuckle in the Wiimote's speaker. As annoying as it becomes (be sure to turn your Wiimote's speaker down a notch or two - you've been warned), Midna's laughter signifies a point-of-interest for Link. By pressing up, Midna will dash to higher ground, at which point you can lock-on to her and press the 'A button' to leap to greater heights and reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
Along the way, in between twilight levels or directly thereafter, Link must traverse through a dungeon in order to progress the story, and Zelda fans certainly won't be disappointed. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum here as the dungeons are really the meat of the game and offer the same familiar brain teasing puzzles that the series is known for. The thing is, as much as you want to toss your Wiimote across the room in frustration - and trust me, you'll want to - given enough thought, even the most complex puzzles can be solved without the help of a guide. There'll be plenty of times where you're just about to give up and call it a night, and then BLAMO, you're hit with a train of common sense and the solution is laid right out for you. I must have stared at my TV in a zombie-like state for 45 minutes trying to figure out how to snag the boss key in the Forest Temple, only to realize how ludicrously simple the puzzle actually was. Needless to say, I felt like a fool afterwards.
Widescreen mode and progressive scan aside, there is one other reason why you might want to seriously consider picking up the Wii version over the GameCube game: the exceptional controls. The Wiimote is absolutely fantastic, intuitive, and more precise than an analogue stick could ever be. Hitting targets with your hero bow becomes second nature in due time, and while the Wiimote isn't slash for slash accurate, a simple shake of the stick results in a flurry of sword strikes. Even more manipulation of the Wiimote nunchuck combo comes when Link is taught additional techniques, such as how to stun enemies with his shield. Jab the nunchuk forward and Link does the same with his shield, especially useful for returning projectiles and stopping enemies dead in their tracks. On the flip side, as accurate and brilliant as the control system is, it's not fault free. Where as in Ocarina (and I'm assuming in the upcoming GameCube version of TP as well), Link unsheathed his sword and immediately slashed about, in Twilight Princess there's a significant delay between when you shake the Wiimote and when Link equips his weapon, and this often results in a lost heart as you rush into a heavily populated area ready to strike, only to have to wait for the Wiimote to recognize the gesture and let the animation run its course. Picking up objects can also be equally as frustrating since Link will often roll rather than grab the object in question, though that's no fault of the Wiimote.
Horse riding plays a much more significant role than in previous titles as well, as you'll not only find yourself exploring Hyrule's immense plains on Epona, but will also be engaging enemies in combat as well. Using the Wiimote, Link can now swing his sword wildly in all directions - a handy feature that's implemented well and becomes pivotal in more than a few story-specific sequences. One in particular that comes to mind has Link jousting with a Goblin atop an endless and incredibly narrow stone bridge. You both start off at an end of the bridge and then race towards each other at breakneck speeds. You must strike at just the right moment otherwise Link will get knocked off his horse and plummet to the depths below. And that's but one of many examples I could lay out for you.
Twilight Princess is an exceptional looking game, but as a GameCube port re-tooled for the Wii it also suffers from a number of blemishes due to the Cube's dated hardware; expect to see plenty of blurry textures and lo-res scenery. At times, the game can look downright ugly, though its superb art direction more than makes up for its visual shortcomings. And if you've managed to snag a component cable to give the game that sexy 480p shine, consider yourself lucky. The difference between composite and component is unparalleled and does wonders to get rid of the muddy washed out look that the composite cables promote.
When all is said and done, Twilight Princess is a brilliant, near flawless addition to the series and an easy contender for game-of-the-year, though it'll be pitted against some steep competition. While it's easy to get caught up in the fact that the Wii simply isn't as powerful as the 360 or PlayStation 3, games like Twilight Princess are prime examples of why having all the processing power in the world doesn't necessarily make a better game. Link's latest can proudly step atop the pedestal as one of the best launch games ever made and easily the most epic Zelda adventure yet.