The Legend of Zelda has always taken long breaks between main installments, but it's hard to think of another time in history when the series' fate has been so up in the air.
If you're a Zelda fan, delays shouldn't be a foreign concept. We've all been through this before, and Zelda Wii U will eventually materialize in some form—even if Nintendo's upcoming NX system gets a piece of it as well. This highly conservative approach turns each Zelda console release into a true event, rather than an annual crapshoot shuffled between different development studios, but it also brings some downsides. In the gaming industry, five years is practically an era, and it's possible for someone who loved Skyward Sword in 2011 to have moved on from The Legend of Zelda entirely. Even with a few 3DS games to fill the void, it sometimes feels as if this Nintendo series has been clinging to relevance throughout the '10s.
With the Wii U sequel barely over the horizon, it shouldn't be surprising to see Nintendo stoking Zelda interest on both console and portable fronts with two revamped rereleases. This spring will see Twilight Princess HD (due March 4) heading to the Wii U, as well as an upgraded 3DS port of 2014's Hyrule Warriors (due March 25). Viewed through a cynical lens, these releases can be interpreted as Nintendo treading water; with Zelda Wii U and a new console in development, time is the resource they need most right now. But in a much more practical sense, Twilight Princess HD and Hyrule Warriors Legends may exist simply to remind us The Legend of Zelda is a thing we still love. (Oh yeah, and to make lots and lots of money.)
Given that most of us undoubtedly played 2006's Twilight Princess on a fuzzy CRT TV, its HD version definitely stands out as the highlight of the two upcoming Zeldas I played at a recent, hands-on session. The revamped graphics, touched up by Australian developer Tantalus Media, presents Twilight Princess as if it had originally released for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 rather than its original hardware. Twilight's more realistic approach hasn't aged quite as well as The Wind Waker's cartoony aesthetic, but it's still a fine looking game—even if its environments feel a little sparse compared to the current-gen standard of filling every corner with clutter. Having gone back to look at some screenshots of the GameCube and Wii versions, Twilight Princess definitely presents the game as you remember it, but not how it actually looked.
The visual overhaul and GamePad implementation (for inventory management) come as pretty expected upgrades, but Twilight Princess HD also features a few tweaks to the original. For one, the original GameCube version is now the official format, with the mirrored Wii version offered as "Hero Mode" in which enemies inflict double damage. (If you didn't know, the Wii release of Twilight Princess essentially "flipped" the image so Link would be a motion-control-friendly righty.) To go along with these changes, the undercooked WiiMote support has been removed entirely, meaning those who originally played the Wii version will just have to imagine the intense joint and shoulder pain this time around.
Twilight Princess HD brings a few changes to the game itself that won't make for an entirely different experience, but should help with some of its more notable issues. Seeing as hitting your limit for cash came extremely easy in the original, the largest wallet now holds 2000 rupees, and the contents of some chests have been changed to Miiverse stamps to help make Hyrule's currency just a little more valuable. A new item called the "Ghost Lantern" has also been included to assist with one of the more annoying side quests in Twilight Princess that tasks Link with finding a finite number of ghosts littered throughout the overworld. Unfortunately, Link could only find them at night, and the original TP offered no way to shift time outside of waiting. This Ghost Lantern helps Link find said ghosts, and even lets him capture them during the day—making this previously irritating quest actually pretty reasonable.
This being a new Wii U game, of course we have a new figure that unlocks exclusive content. Twilight Princess HD will launch alongside a Midna riding Wolf Link Amiibo (included in the collector's edition), which also opens the Cave of Shadows: a 40-floor dungeon which can only be traversed in wolf form. Other Zelda-related Amiibo offer some functionality as well: Tapping Link to the GamePad gives you more arrows, while using Zelda gives you more hearts—though these bonuses are limited to specific play sessions so they can't be abused.
Since we just saw the Wii U version in 2014, Hyrule Warriors' 3DS port can't help but be the less interesting of this spring's two Zelda games. Still, it's still a pretty remarkable technical achievement: While the character models take an obvious hit in terms of complexity, Hyrule Warriors Legends keeps the battlefield chaos of the console musou games intact. And owners of the New 3DS will actually receive a slightly tweaked experience, with the added power of this improved portable allowing for more enemies on the screen at once. (Though slight changes in difficulty mean you won't necessarily be playing a more difficult game if you use a New 3DS.)
Ultimately, though, Hyrule Warriors is a musou game, and no matter how it's themed, these experiences usually amount to the most known of quantities. With an embarrassing amount of time logged into Dragon Quest Heroes, I easily slipped into the combos of the various new characters appearing in Legends, including the infamous Linkle. As with Dragon Quest musou, there's a little more care put into Hyrule Warriors Legends than you'd find in, say, a Gundam variant, but you either like this kind of repetitive experience or you don't. For me, they're the perfect solution for the most First World of problems: deciding on a game to play when you're tired and have too many games to play.
Even though this Spring's Zelda rereleases amount to things we've seen before, after the disappointing Tri Force Heroes, I'm eager to fall back in love with the series again. Twilight Princess has its issues, of course—I'm not looking forward to pushing my way through that extended intro—but the prospect of an epic console Zelda has become so rare and precious that I'm willing to be a little more forgiving this time around. While Zelda Wii U's "2016" release date still seems a little unlikely, March will at least provide a few opportunities to remember why we even cared in the first place.