A high-definition remaster of the original Gamecube and Wii version of the game, “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 neighbors have become his family. Link begins not with heroics but manual labor, helping the villagers herd goats, scavenging for rupees to buy a slingshot to fight insect infestation, and learning to fish to feed a neighbor’s cat. The game, and Link’s heroic journey, are framed by these menial tasks — simple, repetitive labors of collective living.
Taking place somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, Link’s 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 reimagines 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 come to games to for tactical complexity, this kind of minimal resistance will seem infantile. And 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 realizing it is the motion of his own hand that causes his rattle to make its peppered bust of 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 candy bar-sized 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’s motion controls were shallow gimmicks, but Nintendo is often at its best when balancing between 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.
Michael Thomsen is a writer in New York. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Slate, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, The New Inquiry, Kill Screen, Edge, and Gamasutra. Follow him on Twitter @mike_thomsen.
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