The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
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For a long time, as far as I was concerned, "Zelda" was just the noise that people made when they sneezed with a pair of pliers clamped around their nose*. I'd only ever played Link's Awakening a bit on a friend's Gameboy, and even then I only got to complete it in about 2000 when I discovered emulation. But one of the games that we got with Whitney's brother's Gamecube was Twilight Princess, and we completed it just before I fell chronically ill.

It's one of those titles that have a mild case of the (seemingly rather popular now) layout that starts you off in one game and then throws you into a completely different one shortly afterwards. Granted, nobody who actually knew the premise of the game would be caught out by this, but coming at it with very little knowledge whatsoever, it was a very large surprise to be ripped out of the usual mundane start quests of making a cup of tea and going out to get a bag of flour for villagers, suddenly turned into a wolf and thrown into a dungeon in another dimension, and aided in your escape by a little imp-thing called Midna who then follows you throughout the rest of the game.

The presentation of the twilight sections - which you have to switch in and out of from the normal world a few times near the start of the game - is oddly Tron-like, with very blocky edges and circuit board-like lines over everything, and inhabited by unnatural creatures like giant birds with their heads sort of inverted into flower shapes. When anything emerges into the world it's built up from a shower of twitching black squares. The whole thing is really made to look like an unnatural "rip" in the game.

Only having played this one and a prequel that I would guess was from about 1996, though my sense of time is a bit skewed these days (actually, on checking, it was 1993 - help), it was interesting to see how the elements of the game I remembered had survived while being transplanted into a more complex three dimensional environment. The general idea is still much the same - you have an overworld with various little quests, and are propelled through various actual "levels" now and again to retrieve various items for the main storyline. And those levels still have the same mood as before - there are various clearly distinct rooms with individual puzzles of various levels of obtuseness in each one, although they're obviously no longer limited to one top-down screen - and you gradually hack and puzzle your way through, collecting items to give yourself new abilities, keys to open locked doors, and so on. Each one has a mid-boss and real-boss, which are often very creative in getting you to use the ability that you've just picked up in that dungeon.

Most of the actual plot is a bit of an obvious excuse to poke you through the dungeons, gathering the three pieces of the Crown or the Mirror and so on, but there was one part of it that I thought was especially well done. The cut-scene begins right at the start of this video, but I think you only need to watch from about 2:30 to understand what's going on. Up until this point, Midna hasn't really been a friend or an enemy - she guides you a bit when you're first turned into a wolf, and you do need her help, but she's also taking advantage of you for herself. But after a while of being talked smugly down to, you sort of grow a bit attached to her, and to suddenly show this oddly cute-in-ugliness creature screaming as she's absorbed by the light... I honestly jumped back a bit. After that cut-scene, you're sent back into the game with her clinging weakly to your back, all the colour drained out of her - it really feels very urgent that you have to save her. That was a real turning point for me. At the end of the game she reverts to her normal uncursed form, which isn't an improvement if you ask me.

If I had to pick out something I really didn't like about the game, I'd have to bring up the absolutely tragic shortage of wallet space. Most game characters can carry around half a B&Q catalogue in their trousers, and Link has no trouble hauling around a massive number of ability-granting tools, but is let down by the miniscule amount of money he can carry around. You start off with a limit of 300 rupees, and you can expand this to 600 and then to 1000 by traipsing around the country collecting glowing insects for an unsettlingly demented girl in the castle town, but your capacity is never enough - you always seem to be near the limit, so much that you tend to start ignoring any dropped money out of habit. The way that something as simple as bottles are such rare items is irritating as well from a logical standpoint, though you would admittedly be able to carry far too much potion around if there were more than four of them in the entire game.

Unfortunately, the message that I took away after finishing this game was that I'm now rubbish at games. Frequently, we would come up against barriers to progress and I would try everything that I could think of to get past, then Whitney - my trusted guide - would eventually read up on how to get past the latest locked door or obstacle from GameFAQs, and the solution always turned out to be something distressingly obvious like rolling against the precarious-looking pillar with a boulder on it, or using the wind boomerang on the great big fan-like object overhead. Who said that modern games are all too easy - they've just evolved gradually over time to compensate for my deteriorating brain.

* Not tested by experiment