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Legend of Zelda (Post-E3 2005)

Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1 Player Game | Genre: Action/RPG

Release Date: 11/19/06

Zelda was a very important game for Nintendo at E3 2005. Frankly, if you took it out of the equation, GameCube's line-up would appear weak this year. So it was important that Zelda rise above the hoopla over new the systems and impress everyone at the show. Thankfully, it seems to have done just that. Many publications and E3 attendees are calling it Game of the Show or at least one of the best games at the show.

Nintendo's presentation of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess at E3 was fantastic. It was presented in a closed off area of Nintendo's booth. This meant that people had to wait 1-3 hours in line to see it, but it was for the better. Attendees would be able to play the E3 demo free from the constant noise and changing lights of the E3 show floor. The Zelda mini-booth was one of the coolest I've seen in my four years at E3. Nintendo created a virtual Hyrule. Two large rooms were separated by a dark tunnel. In the first room large support columns were covered with foam tree bark and the walls were similarly decorated to make attendees feel like they've stepped into a dark forest of Hyrule. In one corner of the room, an image of a pond was projected onto the floor, complete with animated fish and a wooden bridge. If you stepped in the pond, the image changed in real time. Footsteps caused splashes, fish would swim out of the way, and the planks of the bridge would sink into the water. Oh yeah, and you could also play the Zelda demo in the first room! It's funny, but I spent two or three minutes playing with the virtual pond before I picked up a controller. Two demo levels were available in the first room, and two different levels were available in the second. In the dark tunnel between the two rooms, a giant Stalfos (skeleton knight) puppet was imprisoned in a cell. The six or seven foot tall puppet would glare and those walking by and bang on the cell bars with his sword, as if trying to escape. It even scared some passer-bys. The second room was a slightly brighter forest. Occasionally, a wolf puppet would appear on a ledge above the demo units and pace back and forth, peering down at attendees. Topping it off with a free shirt, I have to say that the Zelda mini-booth was one of the coolest and most memorable displays at E3.

So I bet you're reading this article to find out about the game though. The first demo was Toaru Village, the hometown common to all Zelda games. As you'd expect, it's here where the adventure will begin. In the village the player will learn about Link's friends and neighbors and learn the gameplay basics by playing a few mini-games. Twilight Princess is supposedly set decades after The Ocarina of Time, but before The Wind Waker. Link is just a simple wrangler or farmhand. Eventually Link will set out to the big town for a festival, and along the way, something will happen that draws him into another epic adventure. For now though, the player has to be content wrangling goats into a barn. That's first thing to do in the demo. It introduces the mechanics of riding Epona, Link's trusty horse. She controls just the same as she did on the Nintendo 64. By using the 'A' Button to "whoop" Epona, Link can make her run faster and faster, but overdoing it will cause Epona to slow down and regain her energy. If Epona runs fast enough, she can jump fences and other objects.

After corralling all the goats into the barn, Link is free to roam the rest of the village. There are several activities to do. A small stream runs through the village, and Link can actually traverse it in a canoe. No doubt the river runs throughout the land of Hyrule. As usual, everyone has a problem and wants Link to solve it. What would video games be without all of these dependant people in distress? Link will be able to practice sword techniques, search for money, and more. Though much of the game looks quite serious, a few events in Toaru Village show that humor and silliness are still part of Zelda. Link can talk to a character staring at a bee hive high up on a cliff wall. Apparently, the bees in Hyrule aren't content with making honey. They make rupees! The woman throws a rock at the bee hive and the bees chase her until she is forced to jump into the stream. Link is a bit smarter. The player can pick up a piece of horse grass which Link can blow through to call animals such as Epona, or in this case, a hawk. The player can then direct the hawk to knock down the bee hive and Link can collect the rupees that fall out. The game mechanics are all familiar to anyone who's played Zelda on the Nintendo 64 or The Wind Waker. After exploring the village, Link follows some friends to a secluded pond. Suddenly, two large, monstrous soldiers burst through a gate riding giant boars. They knock Link unconscious and kidnap his friends. When Link awakens, he walks into the follows into the forest and is shocked to see a mysterious shadow swallowing the path. Before he can figure out what to do, he is pulled into the darkness. There ends the first demo.

The second demo is my favorite because it's the only one that shows off totally new gameplay for Zelda. It's a boss battle on horseback. The demo opens with Link catching up to his friend's kidnapper. The kidnapper, still on his huge boar, is holding his friend. The chase takes place in a large open field. As Link begins to chase the kidnapper, several other riders chase after him. By simply pressing 'B' and tilting the Control Stick, the player can make Link swipe his sword at targets near his horse. At first I chased after the generic enemies, but I soon realized that they would keep spawning infinitely. The goal is to chase the kidnapper and hit him with your sword. Only kill the generic enemies when they get in the way. If you're not careful, they can knock Link off of his horse. The kidnapper is faster than the generic enemies, so you have to whoop Epona with the proper timing to catch up. This sequence felt great. I'm not sure if there were borders, but it seemed as if I could ride in any direction for miles. Obstacles and rivers slowed Epona down, and enemies were constantly on Link's back and at his sides. It felt like you really had to concentrate on what you were doing in order to catch the boss enemy. Once you hit the boss enough times, he'll run off to a narrow bridge, and Link will follow. Here, you basically play a game of chicken. As Epona and the giant boar race head on, you have to dodge to the side and slice the kidnapper with Link's sword. If you dodge too far, you'll run right off the bridge. After just two successful hits, the enemy is knocked off of his boar far down below the bridge. Unfortunately, the boar, with Link's friend still on it, runs off somewhere else. Link and Epona strike a glorious pose in front of the sunset and so ends the second demo.

The third demo lets you explore what seems to be the first dungeon. It has a Deku forest theme and most of the mechanics shown are very familiar. The first new item Link acquires is the Gale Boomerang. It can function just like the boomerang in previous games, allowing Link to attack from afar and retrieve items at a distance. However, if the item button is held down, a magical power builds up in the boomerang and it creates a small whirlwind when thrown. This can be used to solve certain puzzles. The whirlwind rips up tiles and piles of leaves, and it can turn special wheels and have other effects that you'd expect wind to have. The full game will have other items familiar to Zelda veterans, but they too will have new features to give classic items fresh abilities. The targeting system has changed a little. It allows the player to select the order in which the boomerang travels to multiple targets. This way, you can make the Gale Boomerang pick up a bomb and then carry it to an enemy, for example. Throughout this dungeon, Link will free monkeys that have been locked in cages. These monkeys will assist Link in accessing further areas of the dungeon. By hanging from vines, they are able to throw Link across chasms that he couldn't cross before. As we are beginning to see, animals play an important role in this new Zelda game.

The dungeon has several enemies that put up some good fights. You'll discover that the mechanics are similar to previous games, but there are a few cool additions. Link now has a parry move in addition to the special attacks that he could perform in the Wind Waker. When enemy is lying on the ground, almost defeated, Link can finish them off with a strong downward thrust of his sword. It's pretty gruesome. There are large spiders and creep lizard soldiers to keep him busy. The enemy design is a lot darker than any previous game. Even the Deku Babas (carnivorous plants) are much nastier than they were before. In fact, the whole game seems to have a much darker tone then we've previously seen in the Zelda series.

The last demo is a boss battle of the dungeon. It's a large plant like creature with three Venus Fly Trap-like heads. There is no way to attack the monster directly because it's protected by a large poisonous pond that Link cannot enter. The plant boss spits this poison at Link and strikes him with its two smaller heads. After the battle starts, one of the helpful monkeys swings on a vine carrying a bomb. By using the power of the Gale Boomerang, Link can use a whirlwind to carry a these bombs into the boss's mouth. Once injured, the boss falls on the ground near Link, revealing its inner eye. Time to stab away! The boss is actually pretty easy to beat once you figure out what how to send the bomb into its mouth. It's not long before the creature is dead and dried up; the last demo has been completed.

The most exciting new game mechanic shown in the trailer was not part of the E3 demo. Link will transform into a wolf. In wolf form, he'll have new abilities. He'll be able to communicate with other animals, bite things, and he'll fight differently. The trailer shows wolf Link attacking three enemies at once by targeting them in circular area and then it looks like he'll automatically charge each enemy in that area in quick succession. From what we know so far, the player cannot make Link transform into a wolf whenever he pleases. Much of the story revolves around a strange curse spreading over Hyrule. Some dark magic, called the Twilight, is slowly spreading through the land and twisting whatever it envelops. Apparently, people cannot exist as humans if they pass into the Twilight. So if Link steps into it, he transforms into a wolf. The trailer shows a catlike creature riding wolf Link. The character's name is Midna, but not much else is known about her. It seems like her long red and green hair can be used to attack enemies and possibly manipulate other objects.

There's still much about the game that we don't know. It's obvious that animals will play an important role. In one trailer, Link is seen being followed by dogs and picking up a cat. Of course we know that Link can transform into a wolf, giving him entirely new abilities. Link can also command a hawk in Toaru Village, implying that he'll be able to command other animals as well. Link will spend a lot more time on horse back than he did in The Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask. So Nintendo promises that he'll be able to do more with Epona than just run and swing his sword. He'll be able to use other items while riding Epona, but we'll just have to wait and see how big of a role this plays in the full game.

Though not many new mechanics were shown in the E3 demo, from the trailers and what the game designers have been saying to the press, it looks like Twilight Princess will introduce many new elements to the Zelda gameplay. Expect new items, creative boss fights, and lots of interaction with animals. One thing that had me excited is the music. Much of the soundtrack will be fully orchestrated according to Zelda producers. So far it sounds great. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will likely be the most epic game on GameCube, and there's already a lot of buzz around it. One thing I don't fall in line with is the adoration over the graphics. Twilight Princess definitely looks good, but I guess I've been spoiled by other GameCube games that seem to pull off more impressive stuff. Twilight Princess has some great draw distance and particle effects, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of really impressive texture effects or lighting, at least compared to GameCube's other top games. I guess I'm just jaded. Regardless, Twilight Princess already looks like it will be my favorite game of the year, and it's sure to make some waves when it finally releases. Here's hoping that Nintendo does a good job marketing this one in the US. I really think it can eclipse excitement over everything else this holiday season, including some other big name sequels and the launch of Xbox 360.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 05/26/05
ESRB Details: Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence

Screenshots for Legend of Zelda (Post-E3 2005)

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