Gamasutra's Jason Dobson was one of just a few select media invited to preview Nintendo's key Wii launch title Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess at the company's HQ in Seattle.
After multiple hours of play, how does the company's vital launch standout stack up? Here are Jason's full impressions:
"Since it was first unveiled at the Nintendo pre-E3 press event in 2004 alongside an earth-shattering trailer and Shigeru Miyamoto's pixie-like frame brandishing a sword and shield, it's perhaps no understatement that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has been one of the most anticipated video game titles of the current (and as it later turned out, upcoming) console generation. The game looked to take elements from the timeless series and use them to build upon perhaps the most critically acclaimed iteration to carry the Zelda name, The Ocarina of Time.
A year later, the game again played out its role as the centerpiece of the former annual event, summoning lines of enthusiasts, press, and other attendees. The lucky few waited for hours just to play the game for a few fleeting minutes. However, delays left many anxious, and the announcement of the game being developed for the upcoming GameCube successor – and in the process leaving that console's version somewhat of a second thought, also concerned some.
With Twilight Princess set to be released on November 19 alongside the Wii's North American launch, I and a few select other members of press were invited to descend upon Redmond, Washington to visit Nintendo of America headquarters, and spend more time with the game than perhaps anyone else outside of Nintendo representatives themselves.
So we came. We sat. And we played. And we played. A lot. It was refreshing to be able to play the game in a relaxed atmosphere for several uninterrupted hours over the course of two days, an experience that made the manic hustle of trade shows seem almost toxic by comparison.
After a short demonstration of the game on nearly finished Wii hardware, we were taken into a nearby demonstration room to continue our relationship with an adolescent elf named Link.
First, just to get the inevitable out of the way – not unlike ripping off a band-aid – the game looks like a GameCube game. I know some of you have come to terms with this, and some of you have not. The fact is – and Nintendo will back me up here – that the game looks more or less identical on both the Wii and GameCube. The same goes for content, which is likewise mirrored between platforms.
What you get with the Wii is a right handed Link and a specialized control system. At least on paper. What you won't find in any technical documentation is that after playing the game using the Wii remote and nunchuck, the mere idea of playing it on a game pad seems almost alien. This is an odd statement to write, because visually, the Wii's controls seem to be about as far removed as possible from the way we have been playing games for decades, but there you have it.
The Wii controls work very well, at least for Zelda. I have no illusions that there will be a bevy of games, especially early on, that try to shoehorn Wii-style mechanics into titles that have no business even being on the system. We saw this with the Nintendo DS. We'll see it again here.
Introducing The Gameplay
The game begins with Link as a farm hand, performing chores, talking to villagers, swimming, and running errands. He also rides a horse, shoots a slingshot, and commands a hawk to attack a monkey. And that is all in about the first ten minutes.
In fact, in the first couple of hours he acquires and uses every move found in Ocarina of Time, from horseback riding to boomerangs and downward thrusts. Every one. And there are a number of new moves (including seven distinct fighting maneuvers which are learned as you go along at specified points from an undead knight), some of which I saw, many of which remain a mystery. Make no mistake, this is a big game.
In speaking with Nintendo, the Japanese play testers (who, remember, had not played the game before) took no less than seventy hours to complete the game, it was claimed. Seven. Zero. Note that this was a straight play through, not bug testing. Twilight Princess has some meat on her bones.
Controller Lag Subtlties?
However, despite all of the fun and joy of reuniting with Link and playing this grand adventure on an as yet unreleased console, there were some questionable elements in the game. However, I say questionable about one in particular because it truly remains an unknown factor.
At every venue within which the Wii has been displayed, a varying amount of controller lag has been evident. This has been particularly noticeable with regards to actions that require a game's motion sensing Wii remote. Zelda still exhibits this trait, and while it is noticeable and somewhat annoying, it simply remains unclear if this will be a problem in the living room.
The reason I say this is that the Wii stations we played on featured the Wii sensor bar affixed to the bottom of an HD television, and in front of a light that was likewise part of the TV's undercarriage. In addition, the Wii itself was situated right below the bar, and was encased in a kind of clear plastic, highly reflective shell.
So was this light and resulting reflection to blame for the lag that was noticed? Or is this, as they say, just the nature of the beast when it comes to the Wii. I asked a couple Nintendo representatives on this, but could not get a definite answer other than a rather ambiguous “Yes, probably” when referring to the light/reflection interference.
This lag was immediately evident after you collected 30 rupees and bought the slingshot, and began testing your aim. You assign items, such as the slingshot, to the B button, and there were times when pressing the button would simply bring up a message saying that you needed to point the Wii remote at the screen, even if you were already doing just that.
Sometimes after a second or two it would register, sometimes it would pick it up only after the remote was moved, and other times it would not read it at all, forcing the B button to be released and depressed again. Annoying, for sure, and I truly hope that this was an factor of the environment rather than an issue with the hardware. Color me cautiously optimistic in this regard.
Another issue I had with the game was in how the horse controls. I clearly am not happy with how the beast responds to my instructions, but it should also be said that your steed controls nearly identically to how she did in Ocarina of Time. So, since next to nobody had an issue with that, you can take my following words with a grain of salt. My problem is that your horse feels too much like driving a tank with legs.
It's a bit unwieldy, and I found myself having trouble lining up targets on the horse, or running into walls while trying to navigate thin passageways. This was doubly disturbing because controlling Link in wolf form while in the Twilight Realm feels perfectly natural.
While the two are different for a number of reasons, there really is no reason why the horse could not mimic the fluid nature of the wolf's controls – other than just to say the horse needs to be more difficult to handle because it's a horse. But as said, this will not be an issue for the majority of people who played through and loved Ocarina.
Cameras Want To Be Free
My final gripe is that after spending as much time as I have with the game, is that I have to say that I miss having a freely controllable camera. Granted, pressing Z and C on the nunchuck do reposition the camera behind Link and go into a first-person “free look” mode respectively, but it's just not the same. Not to me anyway.
In the first five or so hours I found more than one occasion were I would have enjoyed the ability to rotate the camera a few degrees in order to see around a corner or get a better view of what Link happened to be doing at the time.
Perhaps this is just my brain trying to compensate for something that has been ingrained in it since the days of the Nintendo 64, but I digress. That said, note that never once did I die because I couldn't see a hole or an enemy, so perhaps a freely controllable camera is overrated. I still miss it.
Nitpicks Done, Overall Grins
However, none of these are game breaking issues for me, and for most people they won't even matter, because at the end of the day, the game is still amazing. The dialog is sharp and endearing, as are the characters that populate both the lush countryside and the land of Hyrule as it lies imprisoned within the Twilight Realm.
The non-combat mechanics, such as fishing, are so relaxing and zen-like while using the Wii remote that I found myself doing them long after it was necessary. Likewise, the boomerang, while I had experienced its majesty at previous E3 events on the GameCube, has on the Wii become quite possibly my favorite weapon in all of gaming – being able to plot your course and then throw the thing at multiple targets is just plain entertaining.
I do wish Nintendo had stuck with the originally announced plans for the bow, however – at E3 it was said that using the Wii remote you would pull back, hearing the drawstring tighten in the Wii remote speaker, and then press the button to release the arrow. The bow, in actuality, controls no differently than the slingshot, just point and shoot.
The sound of the string is still there though, and the speaker is also used for a number of other in-game noises as well. It's a bit tinny, sounding not unlike a midi being played by a mobile phone, but still it – along with the Wii remote's rumble feature – do add a smidgen more to the game's overall immersive flavor.
And the game is immersive, there is no questioning that. It is every bit a killer app for Nintendo and the Wii, and deservingly so. Despite the nitpicking, this is still the best reason to own a Wii at launch, and will probably be for some time – despite a strong catalog of first and third party releases already announced.
It's fun and deep, and according to Nintendo will take players the span of time we normally attribute to a traditional role-playing epic to complete. I've tried to not spoil much here, reason being why I skirted around the story (which is entertaining in and of itself), and likewise have attempted to temper the existing fanboyism surrounding the game with a modicum of reality. In that, I hope for success."