It seems that we always save our best memories in HD. What they call the "nostalgia goggles" can (and usually does) confuse us when recalling some special experience, and that is especially the case with audio-visual media, and even more so with video games.
A couple of years ago we were on the receiving end of a lesson on this very subject. It is customary for us to replay one or two Zeldas every year, almost a tradition, and in this particular instance it was the turn of Twilight Princess. Let's be blunt: the visual finish of the original punched my goggles clean off. I was unable to play it for more than five hours. My eyes were already accustomed to sharp images on a big screen, and what didn't bother us in 2006 on a TV almost as deep as it was wide, in this most current of console generations made for an almost insurmountable mountain.
With a little perspective it is easy to acknowledge some of our gripes with this game, and it does have that major flaw that's so common in the 3D branch of the series (i.e. those slow opening hours), but it certainly is a very, very special game, and one we remember very fondly. And while the mechanics and ideas hold up well in this adventure (those dungeons and items, Midna, Yeto and Yeta), visually it is probably the Zelda that has aged the worst.
The artistic intention is there, the dark tone and atmospheric charm are unique in the series, but after betting on so many elements and details, with such a low resolution, the original can't be played as comfortably as either of the less advanced Nintendo 64 classics and its cartoon predecessor, Wind Waker. It's practically a paradox and definitely a shame, but our eyes literally hurt and the pixelated mess was virtually unplayable on a modern display.
Luckily, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the game and the 30th birthday of the franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD now comes to Wii U in an attempt to eliminate these problems and render this masterpiece fully playable again. And judging by our impressions of the first ten hours, we have to celebrate that this remaster, and it is much better than we expected.
At first, to be honest, it seemed like a lazy port, quick and easy filler with the new Zelda delayed, but Tantalus' work goes far beyond a lazy port. Playing Twilight Princess on Wii U does not just mean a more beautiful and cleaner experience, but it's also more comfortable and user friendly.
The remastered graphics improve various aspects that may not be noticed in the trailers (you should check out our attached exclusive screenshots and gameplay). Textures are redrawn in high resolution, so carefully you will see symbols that you missed out on back in the day, and now you can enjoy previously less important elements such as the clothing worn by the characters, or even the odd random surface underfoot or wall you walk past. It enhances the original in terms of artistic quality. The studio has also tweaked the lighting and the colour palette, so that while it's largely less dark (and a few characters will make fans raise an eyebrow), it is also much richer and overall better balanced. The exaggerated bloom effect that once concealed roughness has been reduced. There's been no work on geometry, as the game retains its original polygonal elements, but running around in a full HD 30 frames-per-second Hyrule feels surprisingly fresh and exhilarating.
Again, it's not just a matter of beauty. It's also about better gameplay, more enjoyment. Do you remember the "baby's cradle made of finely woven tree bark" that was stolen from Uli in the Ordon village? Well, from afar the crib is almost impossible to see in the Wii / Gamecube version in order to target the hawk, while in the HD update everything is much clearer and makes more sense.
All the changes and tweaks have been useful thus far. We were shocked that there was no Wii Remote and Nunchuk control option for those who want to play like they did on the Wii, but soon enough we found the answer, and it doesn't have to do with mirroring the game world in order to make Link right-handed. What they have done is to keep the original Gamecube scheme, thus maintaining the free camera and removing the Wii Remote shaking for the sword and the annoying fairy as on-screen pointer. For those who prefer the accurate motion controls and aiming in first-person, they can tilt the Wii U GamePad, which offers precision and is much more comfortable and natural. It is a success because it offers the best of both worlds.
Also, when it comes to the controls we noticed it was more responsive when riding Epona, and perhaps there was even improvements when controlling Wolf Link, but the game still suffers from excessive sensitivity in terms of contextual commands: you will, again, hit your head on doors and be frustrated when Link doesn't pick up a bomb unless it's right next to his foot.
The studio has also worked on the interface and menus. Screen icons are discreet and elegant, touch options facilitate inventory management, and the general redesign makes for a modern and very nice GUI.
Among the extras we have also found a new collectible Hylian Alphabet typeface consisting of text characters that can be used as stamps on Miiverse posts. Nothing ground breaking, but something extra if you want to complete the game and brag about your accomplishments on Nintendo's social network. And then there is the use of Zelda Amiibos if you need items (Link, Toon Link, Sheik, and Zelda are used to replenish items, Ganondorf makes the game more difficult), or the Wolf Link Amiibo which we'll try later and that's mysteriously linked to the new Zelda game coming to Wii U later this year.
But more than the extras, what matters are all those visual and interactive upgrades that bring the experience up-to-date and that, for now, seems to nail it.
Apart from being top class filler for the Wii U's catalog (in the countdown to the new Zelda for Wii U this year and as a perfect partner to Wind Waker HD), Twilight Princess HD's dual mission is to get those who played the original to replay this with a smile on their faces, and to capture those who were interested but never got to try it the first time around. We will continue playing for the 50-60 hours that it takes to see the whole thing and will check whether it delivers across the board, or whether they could have done more in certain areas. After ten years away, might it remain as one of the best adventure games of all time? We're certainly looking forward to finding out.