Still riding the quest: The Legend of Zelda is remastered in high-def
A remake of a 10-year-old game in a 30-year-old series still manages to enthral and fascinate even jaded gamers
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Video games are excellent at occupying our time, but it’s rare for them to keep us company. They are designed to feed our obsession, swallowing hundreds of hours in minute-long increments in an effort to reach some unreachable point of mastery.
It’s rare for a game to feel like a comfort one can dip into for a few moments of companionship. And the best games are able to offer that comforting companionship without needing to be played repeatedly.
When I started the Wii U game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD it had been almost 10 years since I’d last played it, but I’d never really stopped thinking about it. It reappeared like a familiar face, creased with age but also timeless, its beauty easier to see without the facade of hype and novelty.
A high-definition remaster of the original Gamecube and Wii versions, Twilight Princess HD embraces the idea of companionship from the beginning. The elven hero Link is an orphan living in a hollowed-out tree just outside a small forest village. He has no blood relatives, but his neighbours have become his family. Link begins not with heroics but manual labour, helping the villagers herd goats, scavenging for rupees to buy a slingshot to fight insect infestation, and learning to fish to feed a neighbour’s cat. The game, and Link’s heroic journey, are framed by these menial tasks – simple, repetitive labours of collective living.
Taking place somewhere between Link’s adolescence and adulthood, his struggle to accept the rite of working for the betterment of another is accompanied by a pulp metaphor about transformation – losing one self for another. He magically discovers the ability to transform into a wolf after stumbling on an alternate dimension called the Twilight Realm.
Trouble in the Twilight Realm has ripped through the Hyrule, incapacitating the land’s three guardian spirits and leaving Princess Zelda locked in an amber-encased tower surrounded by globular shadow monsters marked with glowing red and turquoise glyphs. Riding on Link’s back is a yellow-eyed imp named Midna, an outcast from the Twilight Realm. Midna needs Link’s help to reassemble a Twilight tripartite artifact that was used to corrupt Hyrule’s spirit guardians.
The idea of turning into a beast, ridden by an untrustworthy imp woman who is primarily interested in insulting your experience and competence re-imagines male pubescent anxiety as a mythological epic.
The structures of duality and dependence run through the game. Midna depends on Link to restore her place in the Twilight Realm. He depends on her to return to human form. The various villages of Hyrule depend on them both to revive their patron spirit, which in turn requires Link to explore a puzzle-filled dungeon and acquire a tool that seems to be the key to unlocking every blocked path.
Like previous Zelda games, Twilight Princess takes the form of an open world, but trying to put this freedom into practice is often pointless. The spoils amount to only a few extra rupees or collectible stamp items which have no in-game function. The landscape feels barren when you step away from the main narrative line, with some opportunity to absorb some incremental bits of history from peeking around corners or attempting to climb mountaintops. The open world structure effectively works to draw players back to the main narrative path, encouraging them to trust the guiding hand of the designers.
The game is never difficult. All of its puzzles and combat sequences feel like being handed a Rubik’s cube two twists away from being solved. For play purists, who play games for their tactical complexity, this minimal resistance will seem infantile. It is, but it’s an approach to design that makes every act seem both revolutionary and easily attainable, like a toddler discovering he can stand for the first time or realising it is the motion of his own hand that causes his rattle to make a sound.
One of the most regrettable aspects of Twilight Princess HD is its omission of the original’s motion controls, which had players swinging the Wii remote as if it were a sword while using its pointer function to make pinpoint shots with the bow and arrow and hookshot. The original game’s motion controls were shallow gimmicks, but Nintendo is often at its best when balancing cheap technical trickery and the genuine delights that can come from them. The hollow trickery of swinging a remote instead of just pressing a button opens up new contemplative space for players to think about what is happening on the screen and in their own hands.
When I first played Twilight in 2006, I loved Link’s journey – leaving home and coming back, while defining himself more thoroughly through the experience. Returning to it all these years later, I found Twilight Princess to be even better than when it was first released. It felt like coming home to one’s childhood bedroom, revealing the impermanence of “home” while affirming the life-giving importance of having such shelters to return to from time to time.
The Washington Post