The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD review


It’s enough to give you goosebumps, even today. There’s an endearing nuttiness to the shrill enthusiasm that met The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess’ reveal at E3 in 2004, the excitement building to a crescendo of raw hysteria by the time Shigeru Miyamoto stood proud on stage mimicking Link’s heroic pose, shield in one hand and sword in another with his smile as wide as it’s ever been. It’s a snapshot of fandom at its most intoxicating, and its most powerful; this is what happens when you give the faithful what they want.

Twilight Princess has always had its own strange place in the Zelda canon, a multi-million dollar apology to the vocal critics of its immediate predecessor on Nintendo’s GameCube. Following an understated reception for The Wind Waker, work on a direct sequel to that game was halted, its colourful vibrancy swapped out for the same gritty read of Tolkien that Peter Jackson was making fashionable with the Lord of the Rings films at the time. Here was the darker, more physical take on The Legend of Zelda that was briefly glimpsed when the GameCube was first properly unveiled in 2000; here was the spiritual successor to Ocarina of Time that people had been clamouring for.

After the heady expanse of the open sea and the invigorating lungfuls of salty air offered by Wind Waker, director Eiji Aonuma returned to familiar terra firma with Twilight Princess. Playing Twilight Princess today via Australian developer Tantalus’ handsome HD remaster for the Wii U – especially so soon after Nintendo’s own Wind Waker remaster – can be enlightening. The contrast between the two is stark; if those rolling oceans and all that wild-eyed wonder saw the series at its brightest, then Twilight Princess is Zelda at its most gloomy. It’s a world painted in Stygian tones, where the themes of corruption that have long been the mainstay of the series are now played with a more sinister edge. It’s a fairytale told with a snarl on its lips.


Link’s wallet size has also increased for this remaster – part of a general smoothing out of progression across the whole game.

You’ll find that same snarl on the lips of Wolf Link, the creature our hero morphs into once he’s pulled into the Twilight Realm, a nightmarish netherworld scored by what sounds like several angry fax machines. Duality has played a role in several Zeldas past – from Link to the Past’s dark world to Ocarina of Time’s twin eras – yet here it’s played out in Link himself, who goes from rangy adventurer with sword in his hand to lithe wolf, gamely pouncing around small mobs of faceless shadow creatures in combat.

You’ll find, too, more aggression in the greater emphasis that’s been placed on the fighting itself in Twilight Princess, the swords clashing with spite while the hit-pause of Wind Waker has been imbued with a new sense of menace. This is a Zelda that slowly expands Link’s vocabulary, layering in new moves as the game progresses and offering combat that, while never truly challenging, can still run satisfyingly deep. It’s enhanced, too, by horseback combat that fulfils a fantasy Zelda players had had ever since Epona was introduced, with scraps that run across the considerable expanse of Hyrule, swords clashing and arrows flying as horned Bulblins with furious faces tumble under rushing hooves.

You’ll also find melancholy seeping into every corner of the land. The overworld of Hyrule itself is often encased in the darkness of the Twilight Realm, yet even once liberated it’s still cast in an autumnal light. In those bruised peach skies and yellowing grass you can feel the chill of a summer dying as winter rolls in. Twilight Princess doesn’t quite have the twisted mischievousness of Majora’s Mask, another notoriously downbeat Zelda, instead offering a softer, more muted tone.

In Midna, Link’s companion throughout the game, there’s perhaps the perfect example of Twilight Princess’s sombre, adult outlook. An impish grimalkin, she’s a constant presence whose nagging, unlike that of Navi, her counterpart from Ocarina of Time, has character and charm thanks to the ambiguity with which she’s painted. Mischievous with a welcome dash of menace, she’s the heart of Twilight Princess: a sin-eater who bears the weight of the land on her shoulders yet carries it all with a spring in her step. In a series that’s busy with memorable characters, Midna still stands out as one of its finest creations.