Wii Zelda: Unfortunate Reality

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Twilight Princess will be, without a doubt, the last Zelda game as you know it in its present form."

In September of last year, Shigeru Miyamoto provided the above quote during a Japanese radio interview. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess had been in development for years at this point, and occasional rumors suggesting that the title would be moved to the then-titled Revolution were categorically shot down by all Nintendo personnel. It's fair to say that any plans to create a Wii version of the game were in their infancy at the time, if they had in fact been put in motion at all.

Miyamoto's words were the latest in a company-wide assertion that Twilight Princess would be a spectacular last hurrah for the traditional 3D Zelda formula first pioneered by Ocarina of Time. "Best Zelda ever" was and is the rallying cry used by developers and executives alike. It was billed as one last refinement of the gameplay stylings that have been the series standard for the last eight years, fleshed out with more dungeons, more sidequests, a larger world, and a more epic quest than ever before. With the Wii on the horizon, the expectation was that the new control possibilities would spearhead a new direction for the Zelda series, much like the 3D graphics capabilities of the Nintendo 64 drove the mechanics found in Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess was to give ravenous GameCube owners the definitive evolution of the 3D Zelda formula before the inevitable paradigm shift brought on by the next generation.

...but that didn't happen. E3 2006 came and went, and the world was shown the newest build of Twilight Princess... for the Wii. The Wii version was touted as being identical to the GameCube version in every way, except for a widescreen option and a radically altered control scheme. The motion-sensing capability of the Wii controller had been mapped to various functions in the game, such as pointing the Remote to aim a bow, shaking the Nunchuck to perform a spin attack or parry move, and emulating a fishing rod with a combination of the two controller pieces. It was interesting, to say the least. After the novelty factor wore off, however, certain people found themselves quite disturbed by the whole situation.

I'm one of those people. I've got a couple of issues with the fact that Twilight Princess is being ported to the Wii, though I will grudgingly acknowledge that they are both unavoidable.

First, it's just not very well done. Mapping items to the d-pad on the Remote is cumbersome, due to the d-pad's distance from the player's thumb. The jerking of the controller to make Link do his spin attack is a neat idea, but in practice it seems almost game-breaking. In the previous 3D Zeldas you could whip out a spin attack at any time by quickly rotating the control stick while you attacked, but that was a move that many individuals had trouble learning to do. Being able to initiate it easily and at any time, though, could take a lot of the challenge out of swordfights. It also seems almost more difficult to aim your bow with the Remote than with the analog stick.

Those complaints may seem a bit piddling, but they're significant for a franchise known for having nearly flawless control. One issue that's not easily glossed over, however, is the lack of free camera control. The Wind Waker introduced the ability to control the game camera freely with the GameCube's c-stick, making the limited camera control from Ocarina of Time seem almost archaic. The Wii version of Twilight Princess, however, seems to completely lack this functionality. Perhaps it will be implemented in the future somehow, but it was sorely absent from the latest E3 build. It's a clear step backwards, and a feature that only seems to be absent due to a lack of an easy way to include it with the new controller.

Most of these issues, unfortunately, are unavoidable. They stem from the fact that Twilight Princess is a GameCube game, and its functionality is being shoehorned onto a controller that it wasn't designed around. This is my second issue; I don't believe Twilight Princess should be on the Wii in the first place.

Behold my reasoning... with bullets!

  • Bad for the game: Twilight Princess is a GameCube game, plain and simple. It was developed around a solid traditional foundation, with traditional and cleanly defined control options. The Wii controller is simply unable to completely emulate the functionality that the game was designed around. Even if it could emulate all of the functionality, it's not really adding anything to the game. All it's doing is tacking on more convoluted ways of doing things you could already do with the GameCube controller.
  • Bad for the Wii: Again, Twilight Princess is a GameCube game. Gamers might be more forgiving of the fact that the Wii version has GameCube graphics if not for the fact that it has GameCube gameplay as well. The Wii seems to be rife with these kinds of games at the moment -- games that only use the motion-sensing capability of the controller to emulate actions that you could do with a regular controller. When you change the controller without changing the game, you do a piss-poor job of proving the point of your hardware. The Wii is supposed to offer new possibilities, not repackage the past with a shiny new bow.

Fishing is a prime example of the above points -- all you do is perform the exact same actions found in Ocarina of Time. Flicking the controller is a digital cue for Link to cast the lure, and moving around the remote just replaces flicking of the analog stick. Sure, your physical actions are more representative of what's happening on the screen, but the game has no idea that it's happening. As far as it's concerned, you're just pushing a button and flicking an analog stick. There's absolutely no enhancement in the kind of control you have over Link's actions.

The ideal Wii Zelda would be built around the system's new control options from the start, and I suspect that's still the plan for a potential post-Twilight-Princess game. Revisit the quote at the beginning of this editorial, and you may feel the same. Since releasing a GameCube game with Wii control mapped over it is far from ideal, though, why is it happening?

Unfortunately, it was probably a business decision. Twilight Princess isn't on the Wii because it will make it a better game, it's because it will make it a better selling game. While certain current-generation consoles are still selling strong -- the PS2 comes to mind -- the GameCube is effectively six feet under. Nintendo is thriving happily on their Nintendo DS sales, but their console business is completely dead at the moment. Releasing a game of Twilight Princess' stature during such a lull probably wouldn't be the most financially sound of decisions.

...but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Barring the widescreen functionality found in the Wii version (which doesn't mean much to me and my 4:3 TV), I believe the GameCube version of the game will be the definitive version. It'll lack the forced and decidedly sloppy motion sensing control, have all of the button functionality that the game was designed around, and won't sacrifice a thing in graphics or features. I have to at least give Nintendo credit for releasing the GameCube version at all, since it'll allow me to enjoy the game while pretending the Wii version doesn't even exist.

In a perfect world, the Wii version would provide the option to hook up a GameCube controller and play the game using its original control scheme. I'd imagine we would have had such a thing confirmed by now if it were happening, though.

I really hate to be so down on the whole situation -- I just cringe at the thought of a game that was shaping up to be among the best ever released being compromised so late in the game. I'm also definitely looking forward to the first TRUE Zelda to be released on the Wii -- one built around the motion-sensing functionality from the ground up.