I’d be lying if I said that the original Twilight Princess, released back in 2006 for the GameCube and Wii, didn’t leave a mark on me. As an impressionable grade schooler rarely seen without a well-worn copy of The Hobbit, the idea of a dark fantasy epic appealed to me, and the fact that magazines like Nintendo Power had hailed it as “the game we had waited our whole lives to play” sold me even further. And, indeed, my first experience with a Zelda title was a memorable one. But, years have gone by, I’ve grown older (though arguably not much wiser), and many Zelda games have come and gone since I last played Twilight Princess. With my initial experience with the Zelda franchise in mind, I went into Twilight Princess HD wondering: will this HD remaster do justice to my memories? The answer turned out to be a resounding yes, and though some of its flaws have been exacerbated over time, Nintendo has done an excellent job of remastering this adventure for a new generation. Twilight Princess HD is a leaner, meaner, and greener take on the GameCube and Wii original, but the beast within howls just the same.
The story begins as it often does, with a kingdom in peril and in need of a tunic-wearing hero to save it. Twilight Princess’ particular incarnation of Link begins as a simple farmhand in the village of Ordon, but when monsters attack and kidnap the village children, he gives chase and finds himself pulled into the black curtain of Twilight that is enveloping the realm. After mysteriously transforming into a wolf and passing out, Link awakens in a ravaged Hyrule castle, where he meets an impish creature called Midna who appears to be a denizen of the Twilight. Midna guides Link to a distraught Princess Zelda, who informs him that the evil king Zant has invaded the kingdom and is responsible for the darkness that has befallen it. It therefore falls to Link to rise up and save Hyrule from Zant and the mysterious (or not-so-much) entity that guides his hand.
The basic narrative may not be much to write home about, but Twilight Princess still excels in a couple of areas, the first being atmosphere. Nintendo went out of their way to give the game a darker tone than its predecessors, and while it’s debatable how successful they are, a few instances really come through. The Twilight sections, for example, are moody and oppressive, where every sound makes an audible echo and the lighting and music come together to lend a truly otherworldly feeling. The numerous callbacks to Ocarina of Time serve as both nostalgic references and to give Hyrule a real sense of history and place that hasn’t been replicated in the series since. In general, there is a greater attention to detail in Twilight Princess’ worldbuilding than there has been in other entries, and it’s something I hope the Zelda series will take note of going forward.
Secondly, Twilight Princess excels in characterization. In addition to a lively bunch of NPCs and a melancholic Princess Zelda, the new characters are among the most fully realized in the series. Midna, the now-requisite partner character, begins the game as a cackling, mischievous individual who is solely out to fulfill her own ends, but over time becomes more empathetic to the plight of Hyrule and resolves to aid Link in his quest. She is opposed by Zant, the usurper king of the Twilight Realm, who is among the more fascinating Zelda villains. While Zant begins the game as a stoic, cold menace looming in the distance, by the middle of the game he’s an active and terrifying threat, and towards the end the cracks in his façade reveal the madness lurking within. Beneath his flimsy exterior of power and control lies a petulant, spoiled child, lashing out against perceived wrongs. Jim Sterling compared Zant’s characterization to that of Kylo Ren in the most recent Star Wars film, and I agree with him. Zant and Midna elevate Twilight Princess’ somewhat humdrum narrative of “find the magic things and save the world” to something more compelling.
But enough about the story—ten years later, how has the gameplay held up? Twilight Princess adheres closest to Ocarina’s template than perhaps any other 3D Zelda. There’s no time-management shenanigans, no sailing, and no 1:1 motion control gimmickry on display. What new ideas Twilight Princess does bring to the table are often relegated to isolated sections and are rarely required elsewhere outside of one or two specific instances. The biggest addition is Wolf Link, the lupine form Link takes while traversing the Twilight. Wolf Link’s enhanced senses allow him to follow scents and chase after invisible enemies, and he can also dig to uncover hidden areas and treasure. While initially you only control Wolf Link during these segments, you eventually gain the ability to transform at will and this leads to some great puzzles that require the player to make the most of Link’s human and wolf abilities. Speaking of puzzles, Twilight Princess does feature some great dungeon design, with standouts such as Arbiter’s Grounds and Snowpeak Ruins being among the best in the series. It’s unfortunate, then, that some of the items that play so prominently in dungeon puzzles (such as the Spinner, which allows Link to grind on rails and reach otherwise inaccessible areas) generally don’t see much use outside of their designated dungeon.
Link’s combat abilities have also been enhanced, with the inclusion of seven hidden skills that can be found by interacting with Howling Stones while in wolf form, then by tracking down the golden wolf that appears on the map afterward. While I generally think the Wind Waker combat system is more… elegant, for lack of a better word, the Hidden Skills are a lot of fun to use, although once again, only 2-3 of them are ever really required in the grand scheme of things. It’s a shame, as some of the close-combat encounters with the notoriously difficult Darknuts or the final battle of the game could have been even more enjoyable if all seven Hidden Skills could be potentially utilized. Once again, this is something I hope that future Zelda titles expand upon—Skyward Sword experimented with a renewed focus on sword combat via Wii Remote, but an improved version of Twilight Princess’ Hidden Skills would be ideal. Link can also battle on horseback, which is exhilarating and makes for some of the game’s best moments. Overall, despite the amount of underutilized ideas, Twilight Princess is still a remarkably solid Zelda game.
Control-wise, the player has the option of choosing between the Wii U Gamepad and Pro Controller. Sadly, there’s no Wii Remote option for those who prefer the Wii version, but there are some optional motion controls, such as the ability to aim the bow by tilting the gamepad. Overall, Twilight Princess controls really well, although if I had one major gripe, it would be that item management and equipment is completely relegated to the Gamepad’s touchscreen without a thumbstick option, which I don’t remember being an issue in Wind Waker HD. It’s a minor gripe and can be solved by simply using a Pro Controller, but those with only the Gamepad should bear this in mind.
As for what’s new in this HD remaster, well, textures and lighting have seen a significant bump. It’s not quite as impressive as the fabulous Wind Waker HD, nor has the base game aged quite as gracefully, but Twilight Princess still has never looked better. The game generally adheres to a more subdued color palette, which stands in sharp contrast to the orange-and-red glow of the Twilight sections, but colors pop a bit more, making the world appear more lush and vibrant despite a few jagged textures. There are some moments of genuine artistry found throughout Twilight Princess, and the HD remaster brings them to life. Character models are a mixed bag, as it seems more attention was given to some than others—Link, Midna, and major NPCs look great, whereas others, like the various Ordon villagers, betray their GameCube/Wii origins. The soundtrack has also received a minute touch-up to sound clearer, although songs remain synthesized MIDIs, which is a little disappointing as Twilight Princess could have really benefited from an orchestral score. Nevertheless, the music in the game is really quite good, and contains innumerable callbacks to classic Zelda tunes.
There isn’t much in the way of new content in Twilight Princess HD, for better or for worse. Players looking for a challenge can select Hero Mode from the outset, which flips the world to resemble the Wii version and causes enemies to deal double damage without the benefit of dropping hearts. Players can find Miiverse stamps scattered throughout the world, which serve to gussy up your Miiverse posts, although personally I found their inclusion to be more intrusive than anything else. Amiibo support has also been added. Using the Link or Toon Link Amiibo will fully replenish Link’s arrows, Zelda or Sheik will fully replenish hearts, and Ganondorf will, hilariously, cause enemies to deal double damage, which incidentally stacks with Hero Mode for quadruple damage taken. The Wolf Link Amiibo, packaged with retail copies of the game, unlocks a new area called the Cave of Shadows, which is essentially just a Cave of Ordeals-esque series of challenge rooms for Wolf Link. Those expecting a new dungeon will be disappointed, but it’s a fun extra nonetheless, and data on the Wolf Link Amiibo will apparently carry over to the upcoming Zelda U title. Nintendo also added a Ghost Lantern, which makes tracking down all 60 of those pesky Poes a little less time-consuming.
“Less time-consuming” could perhaps be the best description of Twilight Princess HD. The original game suffered from some glacial pacing in the early stages, and to remedy this, a number of animations have been sped up across the board. Vine-climbing, enemy death and recovery animations, Epona’s galloping, and others are faster—you’ll no longer see those pesky messages explaining how many Rupees you’ve collected past the first instance, and the Tears of Light segments (easily the most contentious portion of the original) have had the number of collectables reduced from sixteen to twelve per area. These enhancements may not seem to amount to much at first glance, but they quickly add up over time. The only caveat I would like to mention is that swimming appears to have been slowed down, bafflingly, and the Lakebed Temple and its boss fight suffers as a result. It may be easier to control now, but like the change to Majora’s Mask 3D’s swimming, one wonders if it was truly necessary.
In the end, Twilight Princess is easily the definitive version of a Zelda classic. It may not be the prettiest or the most epic Zelda, but it’s still a remarkable adventure, and playing it again in glorious high definition reminded me of why I regard it as one of my favorite titles. If you own a Wii U and somehow missed it the first time, or are just chomping at the bit for more information on Zelda U, you would be well advised to give this one a try.