The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I'm not saying that Link is going bald or that Zelda is putting on a few pounds, but in video game years (which can be calculated much the same as dog years) these two have been around the block a few times. The Legend of Zelda franchise started out on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, way back in the mid-'80s—when Link was a tiny cartoonish squiggle, and the monsters and foes looked like they were transplanted straight from Space Invaders. But even at that, the game was light-years ahead of anything else on the market and kick-started adventure/puzzle-solving video games.
Some 13 renditions later The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess climbs to new heights of artistic direction and detail that leaves the rest of series in the dust. On the other hand, it also turns a well-defined dark corner where dust is the least of your problems (but more on that in a minute). This Zelda story essentially employs the same basic elements as all its predecessors: The land has been taken over by a mysterious evil and the task of saving everyone has fallen to an unassuming lad named Link. With friends who help give him the knowledge, weapons and skills to face the most daunting adversaries, Link sets out to undo the powerful forces that control Princess Zelda and her kingdom.
The Sunshine Before the Storm
We play, of course, as Link, a kindhearted pointy-eared sheepherder who lives in a sun-dappled village. And as a way to learn the mechanics of the game, we start out by rescuing lost pets, helping workers with their daily chores, wrangling sheep, and learning how to fish, call an eagle and handle a slingshot. In fact, the rather lengthy opening segment is so cheery and filled with simple puzzles that you'll start to think you might as well hand it over to little Jared and let him finish it. But then the clouds gather.
Literally. Before Link sets off on his courageous journey, a dark twilight creeps across the land. And he turns into a wolf. That's when all the creepy-crawly, dark and ghostly things start coming out of the crevices. The screen darkens, the music turns ominous and the fighting becomes intense and relentless (earning the game the harshest rating ever given to a series installment—T). Link's new wolf sense reveals harmless-looking orbs of light to be the stuff of nightmares: ghoulish and grotesque creatures ready to pounce and pillage. He rips into these uglies with his teeth or, when he learns to turn human again, his trusty sword. Bow and arrows, bombs, a slingshot and a boomerang round out his arsenal, but there's, thankfully, no blood, no guts, and corpses simply puff into blackness.
Thankfully, too, the typically enjoyable and increasingly demanding puzzles don't disappear with the dwindling sunshine. As Link travels to the kingdom's provinces to help restore light to the land, he must solve elaborate dungeon and temple challenges. These logic puzzles can be real brain-twisters at times, but always seem to be head-slappingly obvious once you finally solve them. And to help you toward the next self-inflicted cuff, you slowly gain a kit bag full of tools such as magnetized boots and grapple hooks.
Another source of help is a spooky imp-like character named Midna. She's a cynical, miniature, blue individual with a devilishly playful sense of humor who meets up with Link when darkness first falls. She mysteriously trails along (riding on Link's back when he's in wolf form), but proves to be an invaluable helper and hint-giver throughout the game. And although you wonder at first if she's just manipulating Link, in the end she changes her tune—thanks in large part to an important self-sacrificing choice that Zelda makes.
T is for Twilight and ... Tarts?
Of course, Midna isn't the only new character in Twilight Princess. There are a bunch of interesting additions. But for all their fun, the new graphic realism makes some of them stand out as further justification for that new T rating. The game has a few more overtly accentuated female figures than fans may be used to. And some low-cut, cleavage-baring tops, too. One particular flirtatious tavern maid has a very, um ... full figure.
That hasn't kept scores of vocal Zelda fanatics from heralding this 21st-century incarnation as one of the genre's best. It should, however, serve as warning to parents who have nostalgic childhood memories of hooking a blocky NES to a black-and-white TV and playing that first really cool Zelda. You'll want to think twice before tossing young Derek or Donna (Jared, too) into a dank pit to battle well-defined and artistically rendered ghoulies with ichor-dripping mandibles. And you'll want to think even harder than that about Twilight's zombies and polytheism. Grim supernatural elements include possessed characters and a level called "Arbiter's Grounds" where gamers enter a pagan temple and collect souls ripped from ghostly, demonic-looking creatures.
As that oft-abused saying goes: This isn't your grandfather's Zelda—even though, by my video game calendar, Zelda and Link are old enough to actually be grandparents.