You might have noticed we planned to have Zelda impressions yesterday. Well, due to the sheer amount of people at the show, it made it hard to get enough play time in to write an accurate enough update. Today though, is a different story.
The first thing most people will notice, or have by now, is the cel-shaded graphics. While not what everyone expected after the initial images shown at SpaceWorld, the game actually looks much better once you see it running. Sure, it's cartoony, but it works. The animation is also very well done.
Gameplay is very similar to that of the Nintendo 64 titles, including the lock-on effect that oddly became very popular after Ocarina of Time's release. While locked on, Link can move around an enemy while still facing him, jump, dodge, and do a leaping attack.
Items are again assigned to the main controller buttons (X and Y), except it seems you can only have two equipped, in addition to your sword, which is the A button. B is context-sensitive, and allows you to lift objects, talk to people, and many other things. The L button is to lock on, as explained earlier. The R button is used to crouch, a feature not seen the series since Zelda II. In some of the demo areas, it's also used for your shield, so it may be possible to assign an item to that as well. The C stick controls the camera, and Z lets you look around in first-person mode. Z also lets you get hints about your situation, when an icon flashes on the screen, similar to the ever-annoying Navi in Ocarina of Time.
As I mentioned earlier, you can also sometimes pick up weapons from defeated enemies. So far, we've seen a wooden club and a large curved sword. In addition to being used as weapons, they can also be used to solve puzzles. The club can be used to light torches (once you set it on fire from another torch), and the sword can break certain objects that Link's normal sword can't.
Battles are handled as they were in Ocarina of Time, as mentioned earlier. When enemies are defeated, they leave behind a flashing sphere that cycles through a few colors. When you break it, it drops an item depending on what color it was when you attacked it. For example, red gives you a heart, green a Rupee, and so on.
There's also a lot of smaller details. When your sword hits a wooden object, splinters will fly off. You can cut down bushes with your sword, as before, and also chop down small trees, and break pots. In the cave, you can also burn the ropes holding up a bridge with a burning stick. Although, since there's nothing but lava below you, you probably don't want to do that.
One of the demo areas is billed as a 'Stealth Stage', as you have to sneak into a fortress without being seen by spotlights or Moblins. In addition to simple sneaking, you can also pick up and hide in a barrel, to avoid being caught. If you manage to get seen, you're thrown into an easily-escapable jail cell, and then you're off to sneaking in again. At one point there's a rope to jump to. Once holding on to it, you can swing it in the direction you want to go, and then jump off to get to the other side. You can press against walls to walk across narrow ledges. It seems at times like a cuter version of Metal Gear Solid, with swords.
One last thing worth noting is the Game Boy Advance item seen in the inventory. The description of the item mentions you can transfer data to or from a GBA. As such, the game will probably interface somehow with the upcoming A Link to the Past on GBA, if not a brand-new handheld Zelda game.
While many gameplay elements are familiar, there's a humor element not really seen in the other games. With the cel-shaded look, you feel as if you're playing a cartoon. Defeated enemies explode into puffs of smoke. When doing a spin attack, Link yells and spins out of control. Afterwords, he stops and takes a few deep breaths. It all sounds corny, and not really Zelda-like, but if you have an open mind, it works really well. Nintendo and Miyamoto both said that players needed to play the game before passing judgement, and they were right. It may not look like it, but this is a true Zelda game: Good gameplay, puzzles, side quests, lots of items to find, and of course innovative ideas. All these make for a very enjoyable game, and one everyone should be looking forward to come February.
There's also Metroid Prime, which I'd really like to talk about, but we don't cover that. Zelda is good. Buy Zelda.