Nintendo's growing array of Zelda remakes has inspired a variety of reactions in me, all of them positive. Ocarina of Time polished off some rough edges of an undeniable formative classic. Wind Waker held up incredibly well almost entirely on its own, particularly in its previously-derided art style. Majora's Mask gave me a chance to finish a quirky side-story I had previously neglected. But now, for the first time, a Zelda remake has made the game worse for the wear. Twilight Princess HD shows the same loving care as the other remakes, but bringing it back exposes its shakier foundations.
Howling at the Moon
Admittedly, this is partly because the governing design philosophy behind Twilight Princess has felt foreign to me. The Legend of Zelda is supposed to be a rousing Hero's Journey adventure, but for a short time Nintendo had been cowed into thinking the series should be dark and melancholy. Enter Twilight Princess--practically a remake of Ocarina, but with darker themes, an edgier companion, and long stretches in which Link turns into an honest-to-Nayru werewolf. It's all pretty silly and overwrought in retrospect, and it forced Nintendo into an awkward position of actively avoiding its strengths.
That's not to say it doesn't have its share of stirring moments. The confrontation on the bridge culminating in Link's slow-motion "hero pose" on the back of his steed still hits with impact, for example, and I like some of Midna's impish mischeviousness. On the whole, though, the darker themes and limited color pallette make it feel like the series' sullen teenager phase.
Twilight Princess is also where Zelda developed some of its formulaic habits. Skyward Sword was more of a departure, and the upcoming Wii U game is said to be taking notes from A Link Between Worlds, but this adventure follows the Zelda pattern to a tee. It was criticized for some of these elements at the time, of course. You spend far too long in your idyllic home town before the adventure starts, and the wolf segments are still fairly dull fetch-quests--thankfully tempered by reducing the number of Tears of Light in some areas.
The visuals haven't aged particularly well either. It's as if we need a new term, similar to the uncanny valley, to describe graphics that aren't old-fashioned enough to look nostalgic, like Ocarina, but aren't quite modern either. The HD coat of paint isn't as much a leap as it was in Ocarina and Wind Waker. Particularly at the beginning, before receiving his equipment, Link's movement looks lumbering and stiff.
A Brighter Twilight
Despite all that, though, Nintendo did clearly put care and attention into this as an HD re-release. The visual improvements may be slighter but they are present, and more importantly, this version lets you play with a proper controller. The result is combat that feels more exact and responsive than the Wii version that demanded motion controls. As has become the series norm, the addition of a touch screen makes it a breeze to equip Link's arsenal of items. Even if I find Twilight Princess only so-so by Zelda standards, this is easily the best way to play it.
And of course, it adds functionality from Nintendo's latest success story, Amiibo. The Wolf Link amiibo unlocks a simple endurance dungeon, though be warned, it drops you in at your current level so playing in the early game means you won't have much life to work with. It also works as a quick-start, letting you bypass the game select screen by associating a save file with the amiibo itself. It's a small feature, but it's a nifty little function that more games could use.
The Test of Time
On the whole, these improvements make Twilight Princess HD the best version of the worst modern Zelda game. That said, even a mediocre Zelda game is still pretty fun. If you can get past its tonal oddities and paint-by-numbers structure, it's a good game, but not a great one. I enjoyed it as a cultural artifact, but replaying it made me appreciate that this direction for the series was temporary.
This review is based on a Wii U retail copy provided by the publisher. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD will be available in retail stores with Wolf Link Amiibo for $59.99, and on the Nintendo eShop digitally for $49.99, on March 4. The game is rated T.