When game consoles transitioned from offering primarily 2D games to polygonal 3D games about 10 years ago, all of the tricks and gameplay ideas that developers had been relying on for years flew right out the window. During this time, Nintendo quickly found its footing and released masterful takes on its old franchises that retained the fun and feeling of the older games while properly updating them in exciting and impressive new ways. 1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a prime example of this. It featured a more realistic take on the series' fantasy world than ever before, while implementing innovative new controls and offering a good sense of freedom without making the player feel lost. It's one of the greatest games of all time, so it's hard to fault Nintendo for revisiting that same formula. And that's precisely what the latest game in the series, Twilight Princess, does. For the most part, that's a very good thing, because Twilight Princess is a lengthy adventure packed with many well-designed puzzles and some interesting characters. But once you get over the rush of excitement from a big, new Zelda game having finally arrived, it's hard not to feel a tinge of disappointment--there's a very noticeable lack of evolution here, which makes aspects of the game seem more dated than classic. Even so, there isn't much out there that compares to Twilight Princess, except for the Zelda games that have come before it.
Like most other Zelda games, Twilight Princess is a retelling of the same basic tale, though this one is not without its twists. There's a princess named Zelda, a land called Hyrule, and a world that's on the verge of destruction if you don't do something to save it. In this installment, there's a darkness creeping across the land, locking it in the eternal dusk of the twilight realm. You play as Link, a humble, pointy-eared boy who lives in a far-off village and herds goats for a living, yet he ends up getting involved in the conflict. The twilight that's infected the land is an alternate reality of sorts, serving as the game's equivalent of A Link to the Past's dark, alternate world, or in some cases, serving the same purposes as the adult Link/child Link differences in Ocarina. The difference here is that when you're in the twilight, you're transformed into a blue-eyed wolf.
Early on in the game, you meet up with one of the shadow dwellers, an impish little creature named Midna. Midna rides around on your back while you're in wolf form and serves the same purposes as Navi in Ocarina, providing you with the occasional hint. Link's beast form behaves roughly the same as the human form, as far as combat is concerned, but you can't use items. You can, however, access otherwise unreachable areas by following set jump paths that Midna will lead you through. The wolf can also dig and go into a heightened-sense mode that shows off scent trails and other hidden objects. For the first portion of the game, you'll be forced back and forth between forms, but you eventually earn the ability to switch back and forth at will, and some of the game's later puzzles will require you to do just that. You can also ride around on horseback, if you like, but by the time you get to a point when you have large distances to cover, you'll also have the ability to warp around, limiting the horse's usefulness to a couple of combat-oriented sequences.
Many of the early parts of the game take place outside in the game's overworld and in various outdoor areas as you try to clear the darkness from the land. But along the way, you'll also enter various temples and dungeons to collect new items, solve a wide variety of puzzles, and fight bosses. While most of the game's story sequences take place above ground, these temples are the core of the entire game, and they're very well done, even if they cover a lot of the same ground that you may have seen in past Zelda installments. You start out with a forest temple, make your way to a mine under Death Mountain for your fire temple, scratch your head and try to figure out the inner workings of moving water around in the water temple, and so on. That's not to say they're all taken from old blueprints, though, and some of the later temples take you to somewhat more interesting locales, like a sky temple that demands that you make precise use of your grappling hookshot.
For the most part, the puzzles are great and rooted in logic. So if you stare at the map long enough and figure out what each lever-pull does, deducing what's going on in the water temple isn't impossible. And once you get movement-enhancing items like the hookshot, you'll be carefully looking at each wall and ceiling, hoping to see a grapple-friendly target that will move you along. You'll push blocks, you'll move cannonballs from room to room in hopes of finding a cannon and clearing a path, you'll fire arrows at targets that cause blocks to move--it's all pretty standard if you've been keeping up with the Zelda series, but the formula still works quite well. However, with the way the puzzles are designed, it's certainly possible for just about any of them to trip you up and cause you to spend an hour or so just wandering around, staring at everything and trying to figure out what to do next. However, none of the puzzles are especially fiendish, which means that you might catch yourself feeling a little foolish when you finally realize that the solution was staring you in the face the entire time. But really, figuring these puzzles out is where the majority of the fun and sense of reward comes from as you play, because most of it's designed extremely well.
It's good that Twilight Princess' world and puzzle design can carry it, because the combat and boss fights aren't very deep at all. Most enemies just require you to swing your sword at them, which is done by shaking the Wii Remote or shaking the Nunchuk for a spin attack. You can lock onto enemies with the Z trigger and strafe around them, hop back and forth, leap in for a jumping attack, or jump back and out of the way--the same basic moves as past installments. But normally you can just keep on shaking the Wii Remote like a maniac and come out on top against most enemies. There's no finesse to the way the Wii Remote is used, and at times you'll wish that you could just hit a button to swing the sword instead of dealing with all the motion-sensing nonsense. This is especially true in the rare cases that require you to time your sword swings properly, as well as once you start learning a few extra moves, like the shield bash, which is done by shoving the Nunchuk controller forward. Most of the time, performing this move resulted in a spin attack. The combat controls using the Wii Remote may feel somewhat different from past games, but it doesn't draw you into the experience any more than using a standard controller would, and at worst, it's imprecise.