If you want to get technical, we've been waiting for this game since 2000, when Nintendo teased the world with video of an "adult" Link and Gannondorf squaring off in a life-or-death duel. Since that time, we've seen spin offs and cel-shaded cartoon visions of Zelda, but nothing rivaling the intensity of Ocarina of Time. Well, Princess has absolutely, without a doubt, been worth the wait. It's the culmination of everything Zelda, perfected and tweaked so there's practically nothing to bring the experience down.
From the first run through the little village of Ordon to the first glimpse of Gannondorf to the brain-bashing dungeons, Twilight Princess offers a more imaginative and better constructed game than any other this season. Right from the start you're given Epona, Link's trusty steed from Ocarina. Then you're led into a search and rescue mission. Soon after that, the whole world is turned upside down by grotesque creatures and an invading darkness that plagues the countryside. Before it's all done, you'll have ventured all over the world and beyond, from lakebeds to mountaintops and everywhere in between.
It's a safe bet that you know how the series is set up, so all you really need to know is that Princess delivers everything you want - all the weapons you want to see, dungeons that will humble even the best players and constant nods to SNES and N64 classics, A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. This newest Zelda knows its roots, but what exactly makes it better than its predecessors?
Even the most basic internet search will tell you Ocarina and Link to the Past are among the greatest, most revered games of all time. Princess surpasses them because it does everything they do, plus one. While Ocarina gave us the Z-targeting system, a more mature take on the series and a four-legged friend to traverse the wilderness, Princess bumps them all up a notch. The targeting system keeps combat fast, but a series of new moves gives Link multiple ways of tackling enemies. Stealth kills, headshots and one-hit finishers make Link a more ferocious adventurer than he's ever been before.
The cinematic draw Ocarina wrapped us up in is also bested here. Elaborate cutscenes and beautiful designs bring Princess's world to life, showing more care and thought in one minute than most adventure games accomplish in their entire quest.
You do get a horse, but after transforming into a wolf and gaining magical cat-in-the-hat sidekick Midna's ability to warp all over the map, you won't even need the thing. It's quite clear that the developers wanted players to scour the country of Hyrule, but at their own pace. You can quickly travel the massive, open world with a simple warp, but should you choose to hoof it, you've got a breathtaking realm to explore. Secret caves, hidden items, plentiful minigames... just walking from place to place is an adventure.
Princess further exceeds its ancestors by offering more variation than any other Zelda. A quaint look at farm life kicks it all off, then you're battling monsters on horseback and escorting a flaming carriage back into the safety of Kakariko Village. Before you know it, a giant, faceless bird has your lupine form in its claws and you have to fly it through a narrow, water-filled cavern. Then there's the fishing hole, possibly the most tranquil bit of fishing we've seen in any game, ever. You will be heartbroken that no place quite that beautiful exists in the real world.
For all the heaping praise that can be said, there are still a few, minute things that tug at our nerves. The fundamental gameplay hasn't changed at all, so from that viewpoint Nintendo had eight years to change something and it didn't. Link still has to be squarely lined up with ladders and doors to interact with them, a necessity that often makes him feel clunky and robotic. And still no jumping? Okami plays just like Zelda and its canine protagonist can jump to no end. What's the deal?
One of our issues with 2003's Wind Waker resurfaces here too. At times, the game feels like the same story told by a different person. You still find the same items in roughly the same type of place, use them against the first boss you see and then practically never again. Nonsensical puzzles also crop up occasionally, usually involving tiles or pushing blocks. If Midna can teleport and the world is in danger, why doesn't she just, you know, teleport the blocks where they need to be? True, Zelda is all about puzzles, but here's hoping block-and-tile showstoppers stop interfering with heroes chosen by the gods.
Savvy gamers will know that Princess was initially a GameCube game, and was only announced this year for Wii. Early hands-on reports suggested that the gesture-based controls were horrid (ours included) and that the GameCube version would be the one to get. Not quite.
Item selection and freehand aiming have been improved since those early days, and within a few moments of gameplay you'll be ready to save the world. But, that doesn't mean they're perfect. Having to keep one hand relatively free to point at the screen for certain things is a slight nuisance, and on the whole, the game doesn't benefit from swinging the remote like a sword. A regular controller would have sufficed.
Even with a handful of complaints, it's impossible to give Twilight Princess anything but our highest recommendation. As the best game in a series that routinely puts out game-of-the-year caliber stuff, this is one journey you simply must play. It may not be a catchall game for Wii like Wii Sports or even Excite Truck, but longtime gamers and lifelong Nintendo fans can proudly stand in line, awaiting one of the most stirring, rewarding gaming experiences in history.