Secret Kode
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Zelda: Twilight Princess Is Awesome, Part 1

Link I've spent nearly a week now adventuring my way through Hyrule almost nonstop in Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Nintendo Wii and I have to agree with most everyone else who has played the game that this Zelda adventure tops the previous titles and may well be remembered as one of the best video games of all time.  This game is firing on all cylinders.  It is more than amazing.  It is awesome.  I'll be sharing my thoughts on the game as I progress through it, but be aware that my words may well contain spoilers.  I'll mark them clearly, of course.  To get things started here are a few non-spoiling thoughts:

  • The controls are very well done.  I was a little concerned about Nintendo's plans to shove Wii motions into what was, at the time, solely a GameCube game, but it works.  Swinging the remote like a sword hasn't grown old, nor has shoving the nunchuck attachment to act as a shield.  I actually feel closer to the gameworld as a result, surprisingly.
  • Aiming certain weapons and items with the Wii remote's onscreen pointer is much easier than using the control stick to aim a targeting reticule.  No more lining up tricky shots in the heat of battle.  I just have to draw, say, the bow, point where I want to shoot an arrow, and then press the B button to shoot.  I'm becoming adept at taking out enemies from great distances with this method.
  • The Wii remote's internal speaker is a bit on the tinny side in terms of sound, but I do like it.  Strike the sword against a metal gate, for example, and the remote itself clangs.  Sometimes character "dialog" turns up from the speaker, such as laughter or sobbing.  The familiar "you've found a secret" musical tone from the Zelda series comes from the remote instead of the television, however, and I think the lower sound quality takes something away from the classic cue.
  • There are callbacks to elements from just about every other Zelda game.  Without being too specific, so far I've heard an orchestrated version of the "Hyrule Castle" theme from A Link to the Past, spoken to a character who tells me that he's keeping a secret from the other townspeople and that "it's a secret to everybody", and been to a few places that are intended to be the same location from Ocarina of Time right down to the location of hidden rupees.
  • Speaking of callbacks, I've come across a few puzzles in the dungeons that call to mind similar puzzles from past Zelda games.  In most cases I recognized the setup and thought "Aha!  I know how to solve this!" only to find that the solution is totally different this time around and, in some cases, trying the solution to the original puzzle results in a penalty of some kind (loss of hearts, etc.).

And now from here on are the spoilers.  Today I'll be talking about game events up through the end of the second dungeon and I ask that if you comment you do not discuss any events from the game beyond this point. 

MidnaThe game opens very slowly, and at first I was a bit disappointed.  I wanted to be handed a sword right at the start and set free on my adventure, and instead I have to herd the goats for an hour.  Things didn't get going until Link was yanked into the Twilight Realm and turned into a wolf, which of course is the point where we're introduced to the game's standout character: Midna, a denizen of the Twilight Realm who rides along on Link's back to offer assistance or a sarcastic remark.  I love Midna; her personality, mischievous expressions, and animated gestures are perfect.  Kudos to the translation team at Treehouse for doing such a stellar job on maintaining the sarcastic and teasing tone in her dialog.  Someone get this girl a spin-off solo adventure, seriously.  She's that fun of a character and miles above Ocarina's helper character, Navi the "Hey Listen!" fairy.

The Forest Temple dungeon was one of the parts of the game on display at E3 2005 back when Twilight Princess was only for GameCube, and I spent a while working my way through the dungeon, rescuing the monkeys, and even fighting the temple boss at the event.  When I came into the dungeon this time around, however, I quickly became lost because the place had been rearranged.  The same puzzles were there for the most part, but had to be completed in a different order.  I think the boss was also changed somewhat, as I seem to remember that it had an additional head that needed slaying back at the E3 demo.  The monkeys still clap and wave their hands to get Link's attention which I think is a great touch.

The first point in the game that really had me stumped for a while came in Kakariko Village while trying to capture the insects needed to banish twilight from the area.  The bugs were all inside abandoned houses and shops, and as the wolf I was unable to simply open doors and walk right inside.  It took a bit before I realized I could burst through windows and dig under foundations.  The biggest shock of all came when I tried to light a fireplace to roust a bug.  The first time that puzzle was presented the fire scared the bug out into the open so I could attack it, but when I tried that stunt again in another house the bug caught fire and flew around the house, setting the whole place on fire!  Midna ditched me and fled to safety, and it took me a moment to remember that since I had dug my way inside, I could dig my way out.  Then, of course, the whole house exploded.  It turns out that house was actually the storage shed of the local bomb shop.  Again, nice touch.

DarbusThen came the Goron Mines, the second dungeon.  Loaded with flames and magma, I spent most of this dungeon watching Link burn to a crisp after a mistimed jump.  The highlight of the dungeon has to be the boss, Darbus, the leader of the Gorons turned into a massive walking hulk of fire by twilight magic.  The big shiny jewel in his forehead was a dead giveaway as to his weak point, so I started shooting arrows at the gem like there was no tomorrow.  There's a familiar pattern to these kinds of boss battles: attack the obvious weak point with the new weapon collected in the dungeon, then when that attack stuns the boss and knocks him over, slash at the newly revealed weak point with the sword.  After thwacking Darbus with enough arrows he covered his face and ran around the room, squealing in pain.  I kept waiting for the weak point I could slash with the sword to appear, but it never did.  He'd just regain his composure and start attacking again.  I kept firing arrows, but never did get the secondary weak point to appear.  Then after enough arrows had been fired he simply fell over in defeat.  There wasn't anything else I needed to do beyond attacking with arrows.  How about that.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article in which I share my thoughts on when the game really ramps up and how Ocarina-based puzzles aren't always what they seem to be.