The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess
(Nintendo; GameCube, Wii)
GAMER Every Christmas as a child, I'd dream not about sugarplums but about Nintendo. I mentioned it to Santa at the mall, but alas, there was never one under the tree. So I made friends and used them for their consoles. Sadly, none of them were into The Legend of Zelda, so I did not grow up following the series like many of my generation. Twilight Princess is the first game I've played in the series and for us Zelda initiates, it's not a bad place to start.
You begin as an elf named Link who lives in a tree house in a quiet village in the land of Hyrule. The peace is destroyed when the children are kidnapped first by monkeys and then by something far more sinister.
Twilight Princess manages to engage the player pretty quickly. Link himself has the personality of a houseplant. But once you are drawn into the twilight world, which happens quickly, you meet your comrade: Midna, a creepily cute snaggletoothed imp. In the twilight world you become a wolf, and like an unruly child, Midna wants to ride on your back. Thankfully, he pulls his own weight with special attacks. The plot progression is well-timed so players feel like they are controlling the story without losing track of the final goal, to liberate Hyrule.
Hyrule is a fairly open world. You can roam much of a large map that opens up further over time. You can fish and hunt bugs, though there are really only two types of rewards for exploring and collecting: money and heart containers. The predictability and general meagerness of the rewards take the fun out of collecting and exploring, and interactions with the world itself are pretty much limited to throwing things. That's not to say this isn't rewarding in itself: once the tutorial was over, I started hurling pumpkins at nearby children. Oh yes, I was supposed to be helping the shopkeeper find her cat so she'd sell me a slingshot, which brings me to the thing that distinguishes this and, I've heard, the Zelda series from other role-playing games: the puzzles.
Most involve figuring out how to reach a goal by combining your limited tools with surrounding objects. Many battles require more thought than reflex: one sequence requires you to kill three demons the caveat being that if one is left standing, it will resurrect its companions. Neither the puzzles nor battles are terribly difficult, but they are integrated perfectly.
Twilight Princess's game play is well paced and very fun, and next to that, sound and graphics are pretty much just icing on the cake. I played the Wii version, and it's no secret that its graphics aren't as sharp or detailed as those on the PS3 or Xbox 360. However, stylistically the game is beautiful. The soundtrack is unobtrusive.
In short, Twilight Princess is the most fun I've had on the Wii so far. There has been a severe lack of fun puzzles in gaming since the adventure game genre died out about a decade ago. Zelda fills this void with brainteasers that are challenging but not hard. (Kea Johnston)