The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Wii U Review: The Long, Twilight Struggle

Twilight Princess is back after a decade, but its motion controls aren't. Does it hold up?

Review by Kat Bailey, .

Few games have needed an HD update more than The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The now decade-old entry has long been cursed with being shoehorned on to the Wii as a launch title, leaving most people to remember its gimmicky motion controls and not much else. It was due another look.

As one of Twilight Princess's biggest boosters over the years, I've been waiting for the day it would have a chance to be vindicated. And with that day now here, I can say that Twilight Princess is resoundingly... decent. It has its moments of brilliance, but it's weighed down by a glut of padding and overshadowed by the more successful Ocarina of Time. Its chief problem, ultimately, is pacing - an issue shared by Skyward Sword, its even more ponderous successor.

This is not a new complaint. Twilight Princess has taken plenty of criticism for its slow opening over the years; and having now played it again for the first time in years, I have to say that I agree. Twilight Princess moves sleepily through its opening hours as Link wrangles goats on the back of Epona, fishes, and rescues wayward villagers before finally kicking into gear with the introduction of the Twilight Realm - a shadowy world that has taken over Hyrule. In the Twilight Realm, Link is transformed into a wolf, his only assistance coming via the mischievous creature Midna, who offers hints on how to escape while riding on his back. Much of the first half of the game is built around recovering Hyrule from the Twilight Realm while unraveling both its true nature and that of its ruler. Midna, it should be mentioned, is a real delight. Twilight Princess is really her story, and that evil grin of hers contrasts nicely with Link's more straightforward heroism. Beyond that, having her around is a big improvement over Navi's constant cries of, "Hey! Listen!"

From a visual standpoint, the Twilight Realm is both a strength and a weakness in HD. Its necessary bleakness stands in stark contrast to Wind Waker's sunny skies and blue seas, which means it doesn't pop as much in high-definition as its more stylized predecessor. Granted, it's not as if Nintendo went all Gears of War with Twilight Princess. The Twilight Realm's shadowy monsters bring to mind Princess Mononoke, and Midna herself wouldn't be out of place in a Ghibli film. Not surprisingly, Twilight Princess has its clearest sense of identity when Link becomes a wolf.

The Wolf Link Amiibo unlocks the Cave of Shadows, where you battle 40 waves of enemies as Wolf Link.

On the other hand, some of Twilight Princess's weakest sections take place in the Twilight Realm. To open up Hyrule in the early going, Wolf Link has to uncover luminous insects scattered through each area, many of which are hidden in hard-to-reach locations. There are some decent traversal puzzles to be found here, and the atmosphere is undeniably spooky; but by the third round, I was ready to be done with the bug hunting. Thankfully, Twilight Princess eventually dispenses with this structure, which feels a lot like padding.

Once Link gets the Master Sword, Twilight Princess starts to cook a bit, with the result being some of the best dungeons in the series. The Snowpeak Ruins proves a delightful surprise in more ways than one, and the Arbiter's Grounds is similarly excellent, though its item is all but useless outside of the dungeon - a common criticism of the series. Interestingly, one of my favorite dungeons is the Goron Mines, which comes in the early part of the game. I had totally forgotten that you spend a good deal of your time traversing the walls and the ceiling in that dungeon, which made it a pleasant surprise.

Comparisons to Ocarina of Time are inevitable. Like its better-known predecessor, Twilight Princess is set in Hyrule, and familiar locations like Kakariko Village and Lake Hylia pop up early and often. Twilight Princess also traces Ocarina of Time's Forest Temple - Fire Temple - Water Temple path, giving it a little bit of a "been there, done that" feeling early on. Outside of the Twilight Realm, the main difference between the two is that Twilight Princess strives to be bigger and, for the lack of a better phrase, more epic. The combat in Twilight Princess is more elaborate, featuring up to seven unlockable hidden abilities, and it leans more heavily on big cinematic setpieces. I get a bit of a Lord of the Rings vibe from some of its horseback chase; and for the most part, it works. It feels cool, even if the impact of such scenes has been reduced by Twilight Princess's older graphics.

Taken together, its apparent that Twilight Princess was designed in response to the criticism that Wind Waker was too short. Just getting into a dungeon frequently requires you to undertake multiple subquests, with plenty of exploration in between. At its best, it feels like the epic it set out to be, with moments like the battle with King Bulbin on the bridge being some of the best in the series. At its worst, it feels like Nintendo larded in dungeons like the underwhelming Temple of Time to keep people from complaining about the length. It's an admittedly difficult balance to strike, but it ends up doing real harm to Twilight Princess's pacing.

Because of this, I have mixed feelings about Twilight Princess. It's made me appreciate how tightly designed and balanced Ocarina of Time really is; it's made me appreciate Wind Waker's clear sense of identity, and it's made me appreciate Majora's Mask's willingness to play with the franchise's structure. Twilight Princess has scale going for it, as well as some really excellent dungeons, but it feels disjointed and too reliant on the foundation set by Ocarina of Time. In the end, I'm forced to conclude that it's one of the weaker Zelda games, which is not the feeling I had going in. I guess it's kind of the anti-Wind Waker HD in that regard.

Having said that, I'm still glad this HD version exists. It's not a complete overhaul like Wind Waker HD, but Nintendo has done their customarily excellent job with this remaster, with the characters in particular seeing clear improvement. The environments are a little more hit and miss - lots of drab wall and ground textures - but areas like the Ordon Woods still look lush and beautiful. In general, Twilight Princess still looks good, and its helped by the addition of new high-definition textures.

The new content is a bit more sparse, being mostly limited to Amiibo exclusives. The most notable addition comes via Wolf Link, who opens up the Cave of Shadows - a wave-based gauntlet similar to the Cave of Ordeals. From a gameplay perspective, however, the Ganon Amiibo may actually be more interesting, as it actually doubles the damage Link takes - perfect for challenge streams on Twitch. Beyond that, most of the changes are limited to tweaks like requiring you to only collect 12 Tears of Light instead of the original 16 (thank god), and Link's wallet being bigger.

More important than the visuals or the extras, though, is availability. With the Gamecube version of Twilight Princess being comparatively rare, it's long been difficult to find a version of the game that isn't saddled by motion controls and a right-handed Link. It's the tiniest bit disappointing that the Wii Remote isn't even an option in this version - the only motion controls involve using the Wii U Gamepad to aim your bow and arrow - but at the end of the day, I'm not all that sad that they're gone. In my mind, Twilight Princess will always be the Gamecube's swan song rather than the Wii's debut.

A decade on from its original release, Twilight Princess has undeniably lost some of its original appeal, which was defined in part by its being a bigger, prettier Ocarina of Time. Nevertheless, its elaborate dungeons have held up just fine over the years, and it's an undeniable pleasure to explore. This high-definition re-release may not do much for its reputation in the long run, but it's worth revisiting nonetheless.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: The controls are fine, but there have been points where I simply can't get the camera to where I want it to go. It's not a huge issue, but it's popped up here and there throughout the game.
  • Sound: Zelda's customarily excellent soundtrack nicely balances the epic and the atmospheric. The characters don't have any voiced lines, but I can still hear Midna in my head.
  • Visuals: Flat overworld textures betray Twilight Princess's origins, but it still looks very good in high-definition. Just being able to play it in high-definition is a big improvement.

It's great to finally have a high-definition port of Twilight Princess - it needed one more than most. Its strong dungeon design holds up well enough, but its meandering pace is unlikely to win over its detractors. Still, if you missed it the first time, give it a look. If nothing else, Midna is still a delight.

4 /5

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD Wii U Review: The Long, Twilight Struggle Kat Bailey Twilight Princess is back after a decade, but its motion controls aren't. Does it hold up? 2016-03-01T14:00:00-05:00 4 5

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Comments 20

  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #1 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    I just can't agree with it being said it's one of the weaker 3D Zeldas when it has the best collection of dungeons in the series. Just can't.

    The pacing complaint is one I find more interesting since I replayed the game last year and found myself engaged from the very beginning. I never felt like I was bored or meandering while playing it. For all the complaints about the Twilight Realm, I particularly like how the Twilight Realm stuff ends with the fight in Lake Hylia against that giant light beetle. After traversing through a frozen Lake Hylia, flying to the mountain top on the back of a dragon, and transporting a molten rock to save the Zoras who nearly froze to death after losing their Queen and Prince, to finally end the Twilight's grip on Hyrule with a battle using all the wolf mechanics in a place that was perhaps the most scarred and the most battered out of all the places in Hyrule, it was awesome.

    I don't know how anyone can find it boring. But, you know, opinions and Zelda. It's always contentious. :PEdited March 2016 by Kuni-Nino
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  • Avatar for TheeAP #2 TheeAP A year ago
    I'm looking forward to playing Twilight Princess again because this time, I will beat it. I originally played this on GameCube and stalled out TWICE in the final dungeon. I just ran out of steam both play throughs and have always felt bad about that. It's like the game was just an hour too long for me or something.
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  • Avatar for amightysquall958 #3 amightysquall958 A year ago
    I've always been perplexed when people ding TP for being too similar to OoT yet ignore the fact that the latter is 3D LttP. I think TP doesn't get enough credit for what it does unique; I mean, people have been critical that Link's verb set has been more or less stagnant since LttP (there's always a bow, always a hookshot, etc.), yet they don't acknowledge that the wolf form in TP introduces an entirely different mode of play. Plus, I liked the idea of Link learning complex sword techniques, although it ended up boiling down to "Back Slice (roll) to win" borrowed from Windwaker with the occasional Helm Splitter needed.

    I also think the slow start fleshes out Link's place in the world, where as all the other games gloss over it. Is it essential to the monomyth? Maybe not for this franchise, but I liked it nonetheless.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #4 Mooglepies A year ago
    I replayed the Gamecube version a few years ago. Mixed feelings, because there's a lot I like (love) about it but at the same time there's also a lot of it I really thought was a serious mis-step. They brought a lot of that baggage with them into Skyward Sword, which for me explained a great deal about that game as well.

    As it stands I won't be indulging in this remaster - but if you somehow didn't manage to play the game at all yet I'd recommend it on the basis that it's a mainline Zelda, with all of the good and bad that goes along with that.
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  • @Kuni-Nino And yet, all the setpieces you just described aren't about the bug collecting. The entire trek from Lake Hylia to Zora's Domain - which is very impressive - happens before meeting Lanayru and starting that region's bug hunt, and the boss fight happens only once you've captured all the initially mapped tears of light.

    That said, I'm not among those who disliked the bug collecting (or the Silent Realm sections from Skyward Sword) and I liked the Temple of Time's gimmick well enough - it's all the off-dungeon stuff that follows it that has awful pacing and which, combined with the longest opening hour ever, gives this game its bad reputation.

    (For the record, I too replayed this on the Gamecube last summer. I enjoyed it, but recognize that it exacerbates the endemic flaws of the series - and the City in the Sky is still too long).Edited March 2016 by franciscovillarrealh
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #6 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    @franciscovillarrealh Even the other bug collecting segments had really cool moments like when you snuck into house and the characters acted like you were a ghost. The initial setup at the start is so full of intrigue for me that all the narrative beats ended up working. I remember doing them really quickly too so I never felt like I was bogged down either.

    I don't know. I've always believed that if I'm going to invest 30 plus hours in a game, I don't mind a beginning that is set on introducing you the world and its characters. Something like Persona 4 goes like two hours in the beginning without a single battle and I loved that too. TP does enough in its opening hours to keep you engaged and the opening set of dungeons is leagues better than anything you find in Wind Waker, Majora's Mask, and Ocarina of Time. Kat is like the only person to mention the Goron Mines while everyone else is talking about Snowpeak or Arbiter's Grounds. Seriously, all the dungeons are excellent -- clever in design and themes.

    City in the Sky is awesome btw. Surprisingly, my favorite part is the music! So eerie.
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  • Avatar for Hoolo #7 Hoolo A year ago
    Bummed that the review score is not an 8.8

    Aaanyway, I'm looking forward to playing this. It'll be my first time playing the game and I'm going in without too many expectations about what it will be. Obviously there's the Zelda staple of dungeons and dungeon items, but other than that I'll let the game surprise me. Did the same thing with Wind Waker HD (which I got only last month, along with a Wii U) and I had a grand old time. Actually played it without a walkthrough for the most part, except for some items I missed, which was a very refreshing way to play. Going to handle TP HD the same way probably, but not right at launch.

    Gotta replay The Minish Cap first. That game seriously needs more love.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #8 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    @Hoolo Minish Cap is really great. I haven't played it in awhile but I think it's probably the best portable Zelda game. I just had great time with it and I completed the whole game which is something I rarely do with Zelda games. I beat the main story and do some sidequests but I never go out of my way to find everything. With Minish Cap, I did just that.
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  • @Kuni-Nino My issue with City in the Sky is exclusively about its length - it took me about two hours to complete it last time, and that's already knowing what to do. If they had somehow shortened it a bit while keeping most of the beats, it would be as brilliant a gem as the others and maybe made up for all the fetch quests that lead to it.

    Dungeons, I believe, is the one area where the 3D Zeldas keep getting better.

    Lengthy intros are something I may or may not like depending on the game. I was ok with P3's but thought P4's could have placed its first battle an hour earlier. I got bored by the Roxas prologue in Kingdom Hearts 2, yet enjoy the opening act of Suikoden V, which is twice as long. TP's opening may be nearly as long as Skyward Sword's, but between including both a chain of deals and scrounging for cash the slow way, plus the fact that the game's best character doesn't show up until once the opening's done, it comes out the poorer.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #10 ShadowTheSecond A year ago
    If nothing else, I'm looking forward to playing Twilight Princess with "standard" controls instead of motion based ones. At the time of launch I didn't see a great reason to not just stick with the Wii version, being on a brand new system and whatnot at the time.
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  • Avatar for BlazeHedgehog #11 BlazeHedgehog A year ago
    Honestly, I never understood why people only say the opening of Twilight Princess is slow. The whole game felt slow to me. Going from the Time Temple to the Sky Temple takes, like, three or four hours with all of the subquesting they make you do, and it's exacerbated by the game explicitly telling you to go to the Sky Temple and then making you wait so long to finally get there.

    Twilight Princess has a slow beginning, a slow middle, and an awful ending. I don't even dare try Skyward Sword because of how much I don't like Twilight Princess.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #12 Godots17thCup A year ago
    Twilight Princess probably doesn't crack my top 5 favorite Zelda entries, but the things I loved about it always stick with me. It has my favorite set of dungeons in the entire series, some of my favorite boss fights, Midna and a really cool set of items, many of which haven't reappeared since.

    Like just about any Zelda game, there were certainly things I thought could've been done better - the overworld either needed more things to do in it or to be scaled down a bit (probably both), the Twilight Realm and Wolf Link sections could be surprisingly dull to play in and as, and many of those previously mentioned really cool items are rarely used outside of the dungeons you found them in - but man, if that stuff doesn't seem to bother me whenever Midna's chewing up scenery or I'm in one of those dungeons.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #13 DrCorndog A year ago
    I can't justify spending $50 on this when my Wii copy is still sitting on the shelf. But man, I wish I could. This game has some fine dungeons, and I'd love to try them on Hero Mode.
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  • Avatar for Thad #14 Thad A year ago
    Looks like the sword's in Link's left hand, so I take it the sun no longer rises in the west? (I never did understand why flipping Link's model meant they had to flip the entire world.)

    I quit playing around the third mandatory fishing minigame.
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  • I don't know if I'm being out of line for asking this, but I'm very curious about Jeremy's current thoughts on Twilight Princess, considering his glowing review for the Wii version back in the day:

    As for myself, I played it on the Gamecube and loved it, especially the dungeons, art design, characters, story and set pieces. Most of the usual complaints about this game didn't bother me at all, not even the slow beginning. It's my second favorite Zelda, after A Link to the Past, with Wind Waker a close third.Edited 2 times. Last edited March 2016 by guillermojiménez88
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  • Avatar for docexe #16 docexe A year ago
    I did find the opening hours of Twilight Princess slow on the second playthrough, but not on the first one. During the first playthrough I actually thought that the intro of the game contributed to its world building and to establish Link’s place in the world. It helped to give an idea of how his everyday life transpired before it was altered by the incidents taking place in the game, and gave some sense of priority to rescuing Ilya and the village kids later on.

    I also liked the Twilight Realm sections, as the dark atmosphere, the mechanical differences between Wolf Link and normal Link, and some of the set pieces found on them actually made them interesting to explore. I also never really found the pacing of the overall game troubling or the sidequests boring, even if admittedly Twilight Princess has a lot of fetch quests.

    If anything, the major criticism I have of Twilight Princess is with the world of the game. While it has a massive scale and some beautiful areas, it also feels sparse and empty at times. I felt that they could have added more in the way of secrets to find and puzzles to solve in several areas of the overworld. Also, a couple of additional minigames in the towns would have felt welcome.

    Another criticism I have is that the game takes many cues from past Zelda games (and not only from Ocarina), to the point that it actually feels predictable at times. It doesn’t help that its most novel and inventive ideas are used very sparingly, for example, what was mentioned in the review about the Goron mines: a dungeon where you can walk on walls and ceilings. For that matter, Kat mentioned that a common criticism of the Zelda series is that some items tend to be only useful in the dungeons you find them, but honestly, I think Twilight Princess is the only 3D Zelda game where that problem is particularly acute. That is a real shame considering some items like the Spinner and the Double Clawshot had potential that felt untapped.

    Still, while it isn’t exactly my favorite Zelda game, I still enjoyed it a lot and it does have some memorable moments. As mentioned in the review, it has some of the best dungeons in the series, with the Arbiter Grounds, the Snowpeak Ruins and the City in the Sky being particularly memorable. It also has some really impressive set-pieces (the battle with the King Bubblin in the bridge, flying to the Zora domain in the Twilight realm, protecting the carriage with the Zora prince, the Western homage in the hidden village, etc.). Some of the minibosses and boss battles are also quite impressive, with some like Stallord, Argorok and the final boss being among my favorite of the series.

    The storyline also feels appropriately epic and Midna is quite a delightful character, she is simply the best companion in the entire franchise and a great foil to Link. Talking about that, I think the game has a very strong cast on the whole. While Midna is easily my favorite character, I also liked many others: Rusl and his group, Colin, industrious Malo, Telma, Agitha, the mysterious Hero Shade, the Yeti couple, among others.

    It’s probably not the best Zelda game, but I still think it’s a solid entry in the franchise. I’m looking forward to playing the HD port, especially the Hero mode. It will be fun to revisit the game with the added challenge.
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  • Avatar for seanmitchell #17 seanmitchell A year ago
    @Kuni-Nino I agree. Some of the best dungeons. And I had the opposite reaction to wind waker HD. I loved the game when it came out, but after replaying it i realized i only like 2 of the dungeons and the rest kind of suck.and theres not enough of them either
    And i don't think the games pacing issues were really a problem on a first play through. At the time of the games release I wanted to spend as much time in the games worlds possibleEdited March 2016 by seanmitchell
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #18 DiscordInc A year ago
    I really wish I didn't playthrough the Gamecube version shortly before this was announced. Even I started it while I was unemployed and had plenty of time to kill it kept dragging. The dungeons are still really good though. Maybe once some time has passed I'll give it another go.
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  • Avatar for TrustyPanda #19 TrustyPanda A year ago
    I don't hate Twilight Princess, but I got to around 40 hours in and gave up back on the Wii. I tried to finish it years later and couldn't be bothered - there's just so much busy work. It's the only 3D Zelda game I just can't get into as much as I tried.

    Replaying Ocarina and Majora on the 3DS cemented in my mind how great those games, and though I haven't played Wind Waker in years I always really liked that game (despite the awful Tri-force hunt). But those games felt like they were about something while Twilight Princess lacks an identity. It may be epic in scale but the world feels small and lifeless all the same. I didn't feel like I was discovering anything, it was more just hitting familiar Zelda beats but in a darker world.

    And that opening... I mean I get you have to show a character's beginnings to have impact, but hours and hours of filler isn't good enough. That said Midna is and remains the best companion in a Zelda game.
    @BlazeHedgehog For what it's worth, like I said above I'm not a fan of Twilight Princess but I enjoyed Skyward Sword. Don't get me wrong it's flawed, it's slow (so slow to start) and it holds your hand way too much... but it was still a good game (better than Twilight Princess for sure) and had some truly memorable moments (the desert ocean for one) with some smart uses of the Motion Plus controller. Just be prepared for the worst Zelda sidekick ever - Fi.
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  • Avatar for seanmitchell #20 seanmitchell A year ago
    @NiceGuyNeon yeah skyward sword i really did enjoy the dungeons in many respects. great art design too.
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