The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Retrospective

The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess Midina screenshot

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a classic case of fans not knowing what they want. Confused? Angry? Scared? Don’t be – stay with me and I’ll explain.

Let’s journey back a few years to the Spaceworld 2000 demo. To show the world what the Gamecube could do, Nintendo prepared a special tech demo that showcased the power under the machine’s hood. Nothing in the video got fans salivating quite like the clips of a realistic looking Link fighting Ganondorf in a castle. At the time, this was impressive stuff.

Fast forward a year, and Nintendo unveiled the first trailer for Wind WakerFans were angry and disappointed (their default setting, or so it seems these days). Where was their beautifully rendered adult Link? Who was this cartoonish apparition that stood in his place, with his bush baby eyes and diminutive stature? The world wondered if it would ever see a spiritual successor to the hallowed Ocarina of Time. 

Enter E3 2004, and the unveiling of Twilight Princess, AKA one of the best reactions to a video game trailer I have ever seen.

Seriously, that’s a room of professional video game journalists reduced to screaming fucking fangirls. If that isn’t a testament to the magic of Nintendo, I don’t know what is. Admittedly, it’s hard not to get excited watching that trailer, even with Twilight Princess long since having lived on my shelf. The slow build up – showing gorgeous scenery and hordes of monsters – before the unveiling of a fully grown, beautifully rendered Link charging into battle on horseback… the Spaceworld demo of Twilight Princess is arguably Nintendo’s best trailer ev-err.

What a shame then, that Twilight Princess is easily one of the weakest Zelda games.

Twilight_Princess_10Now, before you start to poop in an envelope and frantically look up my address, I should clarify: The Legend of Zelda games are like pizza- even when they aren’t at their best, they’re still pretty great, and even when they’ve been reheated they lose none of their flavor. I’m a devout Zelda apologist, so to even call Twilight Princess weak physically hurts.

Remember how I said Twilight Princess is a classic case of fans not knowing what they want? Well just consider the initial reactions to both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, and tell me which one is generally considered the better Zelda game these days.

It’s Wind Waker, if you weren’t sure.

So why is it that Twilight Princess – which on paper should have been everything we ever wanted from a Zelda game – got beat down by a game that was initially about as welcome as a fart in a submarine? I have a few theories.

My first is the game’s visual style. Now, I’m not gonna get into a whole thing about the way a games visual style should be, as I don’t think there is such a thing as a right way for a game to look. I do think that when you’re playing a game about a guy in a green dress who saves the world from a giant blue pig, realism is a straw you don’t wanna try to clutch at too tightly.

But obviously, everyone wanted a “real” looking Zelda game. And sure, the trailers for Twilight Princess were gorgeous, but then you actually spend more than five minutes in that world, and you start to get bored of the green and brown colour scheme that permeates the entire bloody game.

Don’t get me wrong, Twilight Princess is a lovely looking game – with nice moments, some truly lovely scenery in places, and expressive character designs; but after a while most of it just starts to look dull. Give me the vibrant worlds of Skyward Sword or Wind Waker any day of the week, over the muddy grey fields that comprise most of Hyrule in Twilight Princess. 

My second theory is the gameplay. Again, I feel I should say that I love Zelda, and I love this game, but it didn’t do anything new or interesting. If you try and tell me the wolf sections are anything other Twilight_Princess_12than a tedious chore, I’ll point you towards the Twilight Realm – a half-hearted version of A Link To The Past’s Dark World. Sure, the sailing of Wind Waker wasn’t for everyone – but at least it tried something new, and for some it paid off. Twilight Princess is essentially nothing more than a re-skinned Ocarina of Time. It plays things safe, and that is massively uncharacteristic for Nintendo and undoubtedly contributed in a huge way to the rut that Zelda was stuck in until A Link Between Worlds came along.

Nintendo gave us a huge world with barely any depth to it, and very little incentive to explore. There’s a dull looking cave over there? Awesome! It probably looks the same as the last dull looking cave I was in. Nintendo gave us a load of items – most of which barely had any use. What was the point? The ball and chain looked cool, but ultimately proved useless, as did the Spinner. And if you tell me you ever used the slingshot for anything other than its one and only use at the start of the game, I’m calling you out as a liar.

Twilight_Princess_06There are plenty of cool looking sword moves to collect, but only a few you’ll ever really use. There are rupees to find, but very little to spend them on (a problem with a few Zelda games to be fair). Twilight Princess is very much a shallow game. On the surface it looked like everythingI ever wanted from a Zelda game, but once I got stuck in, I found very little depth.

And now – just because I feel bad for slagging of a Zelda game at all – here are a few things I genuinely loved about Twilight Princess: the very last fight with Ganon is awesome to the power of a 1000; The music is some of the best in the series, especially the overworld theme and Midna’s Lament; Horse riding feels so much more satisfying than in Ocarina of Time, and taking out moblins on horseback is incredible. Darknut fights were fantastic fun, and a real challenge. When you do finally get to use the spinner, it’s incredible, and leads to one of the best boss battles in the entire series. And then there’s the ice temple… oh my God, the Ice Temple. Bomb arrows bring me joy.

There. Now, please forgive me. I really, really love The Legend of Zelda. But Twilight Princess was the first time in the entire series where I felt as though The Legend of Zelda didn’t love me.

Ewan Moore

Ewan Moore

Freelance videogame writer (sometimes I get paid, sometimes they owe me mafia style favors). Avid Doctor Who fan, guitar player and lover of (nearly) all things Zelda.
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  • craig

    Could not agree with this retrospective more. A great game, a poor Zelda. Like I have said time and time again, DON’T listen to the self-proclaimed ‘hardcore’, 99.9% of the time they are wrong, wrong, wrong.