Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Review)

Twilight Princess HD Logo

This review was originally published on ZeldaChronicles (formerly known as ZeldaEurope) and got translated for this blog in 2021 by the same author.

Ocarina of Time 3D, The Wind Waker HD, Majora's Mask 3D... For five year Nintendo has been busy with giving the various 3D Zelda titles a fresh paint in the form of remakes and remasters. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is the newest episode of these efforts, released on the Wii U earlier this month, where now it's time to have a more detailed look at it.

For Zelda fans who own a Wii U the real highlight will be the upcoming new The Legend of Zelda game, which should finally be released this year. The wait was long and there were already good reasons to buy a Wii U back in 2013 with The Wind Waker HD and a Limited Edition of the console. The new Zelda, which was also promised back then, isn't here yet, but to shorten the waiting time a little bit more there's now an HD remaster of the other big Zelda classic from the GameCube era: Twilight Princess.

Since Nintendo got their hands full with the new Zelda, they've hired the Australian studio Tantalus to take care of this HD re-release. This team is known for porting a variety of games to a variety of platforms, where they have extensive experience in this field of work. But this is the first time that a studio outside of Japan has worked on an official Zelda title, which was done under the supervision and direction of Tomomi Sano, who also has coordinated with GREZZO when they were making Ocarina of Time 3D and Majora's Mask 3D for the Nintendo 3DS.

The original Twilight Princess got released over nine years ago, at the end of 2006, for both the Nintendo GameCube and the Wii, as one of the launch titles for the latter. The Wii version can actually still be played on the Wii U and cheaply so, because it's part of the "Nintendo Selects" budget series. And naturally, this raises the question whether the HD remaster is worth the full price or not, for owners of the original or new players alike.

As usual, the review will primarily focus on the qualities of the remaster. How are the graphics? How does it play compared to the GameCube and Wii? What has been improved? What new features are there? For this review the game was completed 100% in Normal Mode and some more time was spent in Hero Mode as well. But let's first talk about the original game a little bit...


A Legend of Light and Shadow

Twilight Princess is the most successful Zelda game next to Ocarina of Time, where this certainly isn't just because it was one of the Wii's launch titles. When the game got first revealed at E3 2004, the reactions to the trailer where overwhelmingly positive. After the comic-like episode of The Wind Waker, the realistic look appealed more to the masses and everyone who likes Zelda to be as dark and mature as possible.

Bigger, better, and more epic was the name of the game, where its development was all about surpassing Ocarina of Time. And for some fans it certainly did, where this Zelda title knows how to win you over with Midna's story, the polished dungeons and its rustic items. Others may have critized the high linearity, the tedious sections, the somewhat empty overworld, and the lack of utilization of said rustic items.

What makes the game stand out in the series is the wolf transformation, where Link bites his way through enemies, uses his senses, or digs into hidden caves. However, it never reached the same level as the transformations in Majora's Mask, which is why the game essentially forces you into the wolf form several times, where you have to collect a series of items before turning back into a Hylian again.

Midna looking at Wolf Link who got defeated by Shadow Beasts

The horse did get some more attention in Twilight Princess as well, where now you finally could swing the sword during horse battles and ride over the far fields of Hyrule. It looks like horses will be important in the new The Legend of Zelda for the Wii U as well, where Twilight Princess HD might be Nintendo's way of offering a foretaste for what's to come.


Graphics & Sound

When the Wii U got introduced in 2011, there was a tech demo that showed how Twilight Princess could look like in HD on the new console. In this demo Link fought Armogohma inside the Temple of Time with impressive real time lighting effects. And if they were to make the game actually look as impressive, it would have meant a lot of effort – efforts that neither Nintendo, nor Tantalus were willing to take.

Twilight Princess HD is a simple "remaster", similar to The Wind Waker HD. And they've probably used the same technology to port the title over, because like in the previous remaster you still get the same drops in the frame rate, especially if you're playing on the GamePad. In certain areas, like the swamp in Faron Woods, the game feels as if it ran in slow motion at times.

This shouldn't be happening on a much more powerful console like the Wii U, because nothing much has changed since the GameCube graphically. Sure, there are more polygons here and there, but Tantalus's main task was essentially making an HD texture pack. And while many of these new textures are very pretty and detailed, the game still is on the technological level of 2002, where it doesn't even offer any bump mapping or displacement mapping to add more depth to the textures. It's a shame.

Well, to be fair, The Wind Waker HD has seen even less effort, where they had re-used existing assets in HD, but in this case the timeless appeal of its cel shaded visuals made the transition into HD simply natural. In addition, Nintendo used a variety of lighting techniques to add a fresh, new look to the game, where Twilight Princess HD doesn't have something similar and clearly shows the age of the original.

Link on Epona near Kakariko Gorge with 20 blue hearts

Actually, some visual effects even got reduced or removed entirely, like the bloom all around Hyrule or the heat effect inside the Goron Mines. On the one had it makes the game look sharper and clearer – especially the rides over Hyrule Field offer a clear look at the landscapes of this game, making you want more. On the other hand it also all looks paler and less vibrant in comparison, while there are also some flaws, like incorrectly cast shadows.

The crucial difference to the previous remasters and remakes of Zelda titles is, however, that it doesn't have the same sense of rediscovery. Ocarina of Time 3D, Majora's Mask 3D and also The Wind Waker HD let you visually re-experience these games in a new way, with new looks and added details. It simply felt fresh and that's what's missing in Twilight Princess HD. It looks sharper and comes now in a higher resolution, but that's about it. New details are only found in the textures and the rest is the same game as it used to be.

The same goes for the acoustics, where music and sounds simply got reused. The quality has been improved, but you won't find re-orchestrated pieces or alike.

 

Controls & Interface

Since Twilight Princess HD is based upon The Wind Waker HD, you would expect it to play similarly well. You can either use the Wii U GamePad or the Pro Controller, where the GamePad lets you swap items and view maps on the fly whenever you're playing in combination with a TV. However, for some reason not everything works as nicely as it did in The Wind Waker HD.

item selection screen showing all the items

For example, when you play with the GamePad and pause the game, you still have to use the touchscreen to swap items. You can't do it the traditional way via the analog stick or D-pad, which is quite inconvenient and can keep your touchscreen smeared with fingerprints, unless you're using either gloves or a stylus all the time. The analog stick simply does nothing when the game is paused, which feels very wrong and weird, and the only way to use it for changing items, like you do in any other Zelda game, is by playing with the Pro Controller.

Now, if you want to do that, you have to restart the game and choose your controller at the start. So, it's also not possible to change the controller while playing any longer, even though this swap worked fine in The Wind Waker HD.

Some options are missing as well, which curiously includes separate camera controls for the first and third person views, where it's not longer possible to set up everything how it worked on the GameCube. Either everything is inverted or nothing. And stuff like this can nag you for the entirety of the game, simply because you're used to different controls from other Zelda titles.

Speaking of, if you're a fan of the original Wii controls, then you will be out of luck here, because those are not available in the Wii U version. The controls are mainly based on the GameCube version, but also offer the necessary precision for aiming with the bow and similar items via the gyrosensor. However, it's still not as fast as on the Wii, where you could hit enemies by using the pointer while walking or riding around. It's not possible to aim and move at the same time this time (unlike The Wind Waker HD again), which can be quite the disadvantage when approaching enemy archers.

The Wii controls also offered other finesses, like performing a Spin Attack by shaking the Nunchuk. This quick spin method isn't possible any longer and with all of this in mind, it would have been nice to have Wii controls available as a separate option.

The supposedly improved controls while swimming or riding don't really shine either. There is a new camera option for swimming and you're slightly faster, but that's about it and it all feels quite similar to the original, where the under water movement already was quite good.

Riding, however, feels like it got worse, because Epona handles somewhat stiffer, where she is even more prone to get stuck in obstacles or walls. And as already mentioned, you can't steer your horse while aiming any longer, where Epona loves to ride into walls in those narrow passages between the fields. This can be quite frustrating on the Wii U, especially during the mission where you have to escort a carriage. And this doesn't look great when Nintendo apparently claims to have perfected horses for the next Zelda game on Wii U... You certainly wouldn't have guessed that after Twilight Princess HD.

There are some other small improvements here and there, like the ability to turn into a wolf and back via a button on the top right corner of the touchscreen. That's quite useful when you're playing with a TV and the GamePad, but for all other options it would have been besser to assign this to the D-pad instead. And the climbing speed has been increased, which is a good change considering how awfully slow it was in the original...


Additions & Improvements

In The Wind Waker HD Nintendo managed to achieve great effects with little changes, like the removal of some of the Triforce Charts or the addition of the Swift Sail. Twilight Princes HD tries to go for something similar, but not to the same effects, since the issues are more fundamental and would have required more extensive changes.

A controversial part of the game always has been the hunt for the Tears of Light, where you had to find a number of Shadow Insects within the Twilight covered provinces of Hyrule. In all three main provinces this number got reduced from 16 to 12, probably in order to accommodate the people who didn't like all this searching. But this doesn't really change much, because if you didn't enjoy hunting the Shadow Insects, you most certainly won't like it any better now. Those who did like the Twilight Realms will miss some nice hiding spots in Kakariko. Otherwise only some groups of insects have been reduced, where overall there isn't much of a difference in the other provinces.

And that's about it in terms of streamlining things. A big point of criticism always has been the long tutorial phase at the start of the game, which only got shortened at one part. Now you only need to catch one fish for the cat, instead of two. But you still have to herd goats twice, show the children how to use weapons and go through the same forest area a total of three times.

At least the situation around Rupees has been improved significantly. For starters, the game doesn't explain the values of all the Rupees that aren't green to you again in every single play session. (We can only hope that Skyward Sword will get such a remaster as well, where they fix the same issue with its treasures and insects.)

In addition, the volume of the different wallets has been increased to 500, 1000 and 2000 Rupees respectively, so you won't get to the maximum amount as easily, while there is also now a "Colossal Wallet" for amiibo collectors, which can take up to 9999 Rupees. Even if you hit these limits, the game won't make you put Rupees back into treasure chests any longer, which was a curious quirk of Twilight Princess. Ideally, there should have been a choice of what to do, but this change is still great, because you won't be leaving chests behind involuntarily any longer. 

The main usage for all the Rupees always has been acquiring and using the Magic Armor, where there were simply too many Rupees to find. And to compensate this a bit, Nintendo has brought Miiverse Stamps into the game as a new collectible. The Wind Waker HD already has gained a lot from Miiverse, where the Tingle Bottles added a new element to the Great Sea and offered a great connection to the Miiverse itself. Twilight Princess HD doesn't have such a clever collection, but you now can find Miiverse Stamps almost everywhere, which then can be used to decorate your drawn posts.

Link getting the Hylian Letter A stamp from a treasure chest inside the Forest Temple

And even if you don't use Miiverse actively, it's actually quite fun to collect all of the stamps, because this adds a lot more variety to the many treasure chests. There are 50 Miiverse Stamps in total, with more than half representing the alphabet in a Hylian font, which can even be used as a reference to translate signs using the same glyphs. The rest are primarily the main characters with different facial expressions, as well as some other things. 

Now, the new stamps are mostly hidden inside treasure chests that previously only contained Rupees in Twilight Princess on the GameCube or Wii. There was an overabundance of these chests, where it's a delight to find something unique inside many of them now. This will also give a variety of hidden locations in the game a newfound importance if you want to collect everything. In fact, there used to be a bunch of cleverly hidden chests within the game world, which many people might have never found, simply because they weren't missing anything other than some Rupees., but now they have a real incentive for the player to look for them. But you can also find the Miiverse Stamps in new chests or as rewards from the other collectibles.

Speaking of, one of these collectibles were the 60 Poe Souls, where probably not many Zelda fans will speak enthusiastically of them, because it was a tedious task, which lacked good rewards and the necessary overview. At least the latter has been improved significantly, where now each province on the map has a counter for the Poe Souls.

To narrow it down even further you can also use the new Ghost Lantern, which will shine whenever there is another Poe left in the current area. However, this item could have been a lot more useful and let the Poes appear during the day or so. If the sun rises and the ghosts disappears, you will still have to wait until it gets night again, where this is an issues that didn't get solved in all of this.

Another addition to Twilight Princess HD is the Hero Mode, which can be chosen right from the start and traditionally makes the game so that you take double damage and can't find any hearts. It's a simple and established concept, which has been used in a variety of Zelda titles ever since Skyward Sword and will make everyone happy who found Twilight Princess to be too easy. But similar to The Wind Waker HD, this only makes the beginning of the game really harder, where later on this feels negligible, once you have enough Heart Containers and some bottles. To really increase the difficulty of a Zelda game, you need tougher enemies and modified puzzles, much like in Master Quest.

Speaking of, the Hero Mode in Twilight Princess actually has been mirrored, like Master Quest in Ocarina of Time 3D. The game has been mirrored before with its Wii version, where in the Normal Mode the game world looks like on the GameCube and in Hero Mode it looks like on the Wii. It's nice that both versions have been preserved this way, though ideally it would have been a game option separate from Hero Mode.

If you want the game to be harder, but play the unmirrored version at the same time, then your only choice is the using the Ganondorf amiibo, which brings us to the last topic...


amiibo

Unless you count Hyrule Warriors, this is actually the first Zelda title to support amiibo in any form. You can use the five Zelda characters from the Super Smash Bros. series, as well as the new Wolf Link amiibo, which was made for Twilight Princess HD and even came bundled with the game in its Limited Edition. But it's available separately as well.

Don't expect much from the familiar Zelda figures, however. These basically work like cheats, where Link and Toon Link let you refill your arrows once per day, while Zelda and Sheik fully heal you, also once per day. And it's not like you really need any of that...

Only the aforementioned Ganondorf amiibo should be interesting for the Zelda fans. If you scan it, then your hearts turn blue and you take double damage. It's the only way to make the game harder in the original GameCube world. And in the mirrored Hero Mode this amiibo will cause quadruple damage for an excellent challenge.

This effects lasts until you get defeated or the leave the game. And you really can get used to the blue hearts, so that using this amiibo becomes a small ritual every time you return to Twilight Princess HD. It also fits the character quite well, where this amiibo essentially "curses" you and helps out the bad guys instead of you. So, this feels like a very fitting and good usage of the amiibo.

Still... none of this changes that past Zelda games had realized such an optional challenge via an item, like the Cursed Ring in Oracle of Ages & Seasons. Now you have to buy and use a figurine, which might not be easy to come by and also is much less convenient than a simple ingame item or option.

It doesn't even compare to the Wolf Link amiibo, however, which is the most important one and quite versatile. The first usage is linking it to a save file, where scanning the amiibo on the title screen lets you directly jump back into the game. This saves you some steps, but isn't overly spectacular and also not its main usage.

Wolf Link obtaining the Colossal Wallet for 9,999 Rupees

Scanning the amiibo inside the collection menu will save and suspend the main game, so you can enter the Cave of Shadows. This new dungeon isn't a place that you can find in the actual game world of Twilight Princess. Instead it can only be entered by scanning the Wolf Link amiibo, which feels weird at first. The Cave of Shadows is very similar to the Cave of Ordeals, but with the main difference that you can only enter it as Wolf Link and all the challenges were designed for the wolf.

Early on there are only six floors, which are visually identical to the Cave of Ordeals and quite easy. While progressing through the game you will be able to take on 20 floors and at the end of the game 40, where the main reward awaits. The later rooms get visually more distinct with new graphics and they also get a lot more challenging. The Cave of Shadows also makes use of other elements, which weren't present in the Cave of Ordeals, like lava pits or special walls that hide additional enemies and open up once you get close to them.

As Wolf Link you're limited to four different attack and while Midna's targeting attack is the answer to everything early on, it will later on lead you into some traps, where you have to play more methodically. And without the usual tricks that made your life easier inside the Cave of Ordeals, this can get very challenging. Some of the enemy choices and combinations are quite diabolical, where it sometimes feels like pure luck if you don't get hit. The Armos are a great example for this. You can't block as a wolf, so it's easy to get punished when they start rampaging after the last hit. Or you might get frozen by Gibdos, so that Bulblin archers use your lack of mobility to decorate you with fire arrows.

Even with some practice it's not so easy to finish the Cave of Shadows without healing yourself, which is why the Wolf Link amiibo offers a limited healing functionality. Once you've reached the (provisional) end of the dungeon, it saves onto the amiibo how many hearts you had left. On your next run you then get the same number of hearts refilled when you scan it. Twenty is the maximum and once you've reached that score you cannot overwrite it any longer. It also shows you other statistics, like how much damage you took in total and how long it took you to get to the end, but those are not of interest for the amiibo, only the hearts are.

Still, in Hero Mode this might not be enough, which is why the Cave of Shadows is also the place where you might want to scan the amiibo of Zelda and Sheik to fully heal yourself. You can't use any bottles, so the amiibo are the only way to heal yourself inside the dungeon, where at the same time this has the foul aftertaste of "pay to win".

Overall you have to say that the Wolf Link amiibo has a very extensive and worthwhile usage, where it offers a thoughtful challenge. So, if there's one amiibo you want to have, it's probably this one. But you also have to say that bonus contents, like the Cave of Shadows, should primarily be there to make the remaster more interesting for everyone who has already played the original game, instead of selling amiibo. Majora's Mask 3D for example had two additional fishing ponds as an excellent addition, which added multiple hours to the game an didn't require you to purchase any new amiibo. So, while the amiibo of Wolf Link and Ganondorf offer some appealing features, this whole development is rather concerning...


Conclusion

Nintendo advertises Twilight Princess HD as the "definitive version" of the game and it certainly is the best version so far. The efforts that went into this remaster are quite moderate, however, where they probably should have done more on all fronts to justify the much higher pricing compared to the Wii version. It's especially a shame that part of the new features are locked behind an amiibo paywall, but at least the added Miiverse stamp collection is really nice.

It would also be great if Nintendo were to update the game and fix some of the issues concerning the options and controls. Curiously, none of this was problem in The Wind Waker HD, where this remaster now feels like a step back.


The Good:
  • Clean HD visuals in 1080p
  • Collectible Miiverse Stamps
  • No more annoying Rupee problems
  • Better overview for the Poe Souls
  • New Challenges thanks to Hero Mode and Cave of Shadows

 

The Bad:
  • Only the textures were improved
  • No stable frame rate
  • Some deficiencies in options and controls
  • No Wii controls supported
  • The only major addition got locked behind amiibo

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