Max's TP and PH Impressions (E3 2006)

First things first, I want to point out that E3 is not an ideal playing environment. You spend a lot of time standing in line waiting to get into the show floor at all. Second, once you’re there, more lines await. It took me an hour and a half of standing in lines even after I was on the show floor before I could get to Twilight Princess. Throughout it all, there is loud music playing, lots of people talking, crazy light shows, noise, jostling, sore legs, the whole package. And once you’re actually there, you have a mere ten minutes or so to finish the demo you’re playing, and all the while you have some attendant walking you through the demo so that you’ll finish it faster and make their job less stressful. You have no time to explore, no time to sit back and enjoy what you’re doing, no time to allow yourself to experience the game at all. You certainly can’t hear any of the music or sound effects.

I absolutely love the atmosphere of E3, and it was quite possibly the greatest single week of my life… but it is not conducive to enjoying any sort of Zelda game.

Oh, and the game was also unfinished, and playing on hardware that may or may not be in its final, polished form. With these two things in mind, on to my impressions of Twilight Princess:

There were only two different demos this year: Dungeon, and fishing. Unfortunately, I was only able to play the dungeon demo, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find fishing impressions at places like IGN, or The Hylia.

As you all know, there will be two versions of Twilight Princess released: one for the Gamecube, and one for the Wii. Both versions will release on the same day as the Wii – the exact date is not yet announced, but expect it sometime this fall. In a rather disappointing move, Nintendo only showed the Wii version, keeping the Gamecube version off the show floor. The reasons for this are three-fold, I suspect: First, the Wii version supports widescreen, which is more impressive. Second, there was not a single Gamecube in the convention center, as far as I could see. It’s ready to die, and Nintendo isn’t fighting that. Finally, I think that people might have preferred the Gamecube version – which is something Nintendo wants to avoid, so as to help sell more Wiis. I’ll get into the reasons for that in a bit.

The very first thing I noticed about the game, while I was standing in line watching the people in front of me play it, is that it is breathtakingly beautiful. We’ve all seen the trailers, the screenshots, the art, but they simply don’t do the game justice. Finally seeing it actually played, seeing it in motion on a full TV screen… this game is artistry in motion. The game’s developers really outdid themselves this time. Vibrant colors, great style for everything, everything is nicely animated and very fluid. We all knew this game looked nice, but I didn’t know it looked THIS nice. There is a definite visual improvement since last E3. Part of all this may have something to do with the fact that I was playing it on a big, widescreen plasma TV, but those can only do so much. This was the Wii version, as I said, but there is not supposed to be any visual difference beside the widescreen, so this should all apply to the Gamecube version as well.

Despite my initial misgivings, the Wii controller setup actually works well enough. You can see IGN’s detailed description of how it’s used here. I’m lazy, so I won’t bother with button by button, movement by movement description of controls. Nintendo actually avoided a stupid move for once and didn’t overdue the Wii controller’s abilities. We still swing our swords and weapons through button presses, we still move via the analogue stick on the nun-chuck controller. There are a lot of Wii-mote things here and there, though. You throw crates and anything you pick up by shaking the nun-chuck, if my memory serves. When you’re in first person mode or aiming the bow (and other items, I assume) you aim by pointing with the Wii-mote. A lot of you will have heard that Navi the fairy is only in the Wii version of the game. When I first heard it I wasn’t sure what use she would be… but I have since seen that she makes a pretty good cursor, heh. She’s basically there to show where you’re aiming the Wii-mote. I doubt her presence will have any impact on anything else, aside from maybe one scene or a few lines of dialogue.

Reading through IGN’s thing, there is a lot of stuff I missed in the demo. Apparently you will use the Navi cursor to select items, open up item screens, stuff like that. The Nintendo rep at the booth I was in was so busy hurrying me along that I didn’t even get a chance to realize I had other items in my inventory, so I missed out on the lantern, the hookshot, and the bottles completely. Very unfortunate.

Ultimately though, I must say I was unhappy with the Wii-mote functionality. All the other Wii games I played – Mario Galaxy, Project HAMMER, the Duck Hunt style game, etc. – all played great. Their controls, which relied heavily on the gyroscopic capabilities of the controller, were extremely natural and easy to pick up. Zelda’s Wii-mote moments were not.

Peer over at IGN loved it, thought the whole thing was immersive and wonderful. I think he’s crazy. Aiming with the Wii-mote was a pain, and glitchy to boot. When it worked, it was difficult for me to aim well, apparently because I had issues holding my arm steady enough to aim the bow. That’s something I can accept, because that was me being unskilled with the game, not the game being poorly designed. But there were a few points where the controller was so oversensitive that even the tiniest of movements in any direction were enough to send my pointer straight to the edge of the screen. Aiming was completely impossible. I was told that it was because I was standing too close to the system – apparently the sensitivity of the sensors depends in part on how close you are to the unit. But I wasn’t standing much any closer when I was playing Zelda then I had been when I was playing other games, such as Mario Galaxy, and those had worked perfectly.

The Wii is supposed to be able to detect how close you are to the system, and adjust accordingly – but either that feature fails miserably, they’ve given up on it, or it wasn’t in place yet. It had better be the last one, because otherwise we’re all going to have to stay a set distance away from the system, which I don’t see working out to well.

I’m willing to put that down to the game and/or console being unfinished, however.

But even aside from that glitchyness, I wasn’t too happy with any of the other Wii-mote stuff either. Throwing the crates by shaking the nun-chuck seemed imprecise, and I felt like I had LESS control then I ever did with traditional controllers.

A lot of these things – such as doing a spin attack by moving the nun-chuck controller in a circle, or doing the downward thrust by moving the nun-chuck downward, or parrying attacks by moving the nun-chuck forward when locked on – will probably get better in time and/or practice. It’s just a matter of unlearned what I’ve known for years. But I’m not sure I like that. In fact, I’m sure I don’t. But perhaps that’s just me being an old, set-in-my-ways fan… we shall have to see.

Anyways, enough with controllers and complaints, and on to the actual demo. You’ve been seeing movies, trailers, and screens of the demo ever since the Nintendo conference on Tuesday, unless you’ve been living under a rock, so you probably have some idea already.

Normally, game environments are enormously important to me, and I would probably spend several paragraphs talking about the atmosphere, design, and overall feel of the areas in the demo… but I was completely unable to even pay that aspect of it much attention, due to the situation I was in while playing it. My impression is that it was very good, but I can’t really say much more then that until I can actually sit down and enjoy the game. I wouldn’t worry though – that’s looking like its going to be one of the game’s major strengths.

Oh, and there’s something I want to mention: The demo’s puzzles. I had an obnoxious rep telling me how to get past them before I could even register the fact that I was at a puzzle, I had already seen them being solved by people in front of me in line, and, being a demo, they were easy ones… so I couldn’t really get a good feel for them. But there was a relatively nice selection of original puzzles that did more then just follow the same Zelda formulas we’ve had for years, and if it’s any indication of what the final game is going to be like, then there will probably be some points where even veteran Zelda players will be a bit stumped. This makes me very, very happy. I don’t much enjoy it when I encounter the same puzzles with the same solutions that I first say ten years ago, so I am very happy to report that there was very little of that in the demo.

Difficulty-wise, the demo was actually a bit harder then I expected. I didn’t die, but I came close to it. That was partially due to the fact that I was unfamiliar with the odd controls and I had to wrestle wit a glitchy bow, but even ignoring those factors, it was harder then early parts of the Wind Waker – not that that is saying much.

Yeah. Not much else to say, really. There were a LOT of problems, but the game’s unfinished, and the hardware itself is due for some polish as well. And we’ll all learn how to use these awkward new control schemes. Assuming we don’t just buy the Gamecube version, of course.

Regardless, it’s a new Zelda game, and I expect great things from it, even with my problems. I can’t wait.

Of course, Twilight Princess wasn’t the only Zelda game at E3, now was it? There was also a little DS game called Phantom Hourglass. And let me say right off the bat: I do not like what I saw of it. It was the most thoroughly unimpressive Zelda game I have ever seen, bar none – not even the Four Sword games.

The game looks alright, I suppose – it’s 2D, top-down perspective a la Link to the Past, but it’s done with 3D models and the like. Personally I would have preferred true 2D, but I guess I can live with this. That’s not the problem.

The first problem I noticed, and by far the worst, was the control scheme. With Twilight Princess, Nintendo added what I consider unnecessary Wii-mote functionality, but at least they exercised some restraint. With Phantom Hourglass, restraint was nowhere to be seen. The game uses the stylus and the touch screen – and nothing else.

You move by dragging the stylus around. You swing your sword by double tapping enemies and other things you can attack. Personally, I was unable to find a way to even swing your sword unless an enemy was nearby. You talk to people by tapping on them. You open doors by tapping on them. The buttons have no use whatsoever.

In the end, the game works, I suppose. The only problem that would actually cause me trouble in terms of making my way through the game was that, when you pick up a pot, it’s easy to accidentally set it down instead of throwing it like you might mean too, and vice versa. The game is still playable, I suppose, and I made it through the demos I played just fine. But it doesn’t add anything to the game either. Changing the controls to an exclusively stylus playing style contributed nothing. Everything their control setup did, you could also do with the traditional control scheme. And better.

The game feels like one big gimmicky piece of crap, one in which they are sacrificing traditional control schemes just so that they can use the stylus, even though it’s completely unnecessary and totally fails to bring anything worthwhile to the table. At least with Twilight Princess, my problems could be fixed with practice on my part and polish on the game’s part. Here though… Ick.

Nintendo has done a lot of really stupid things in the past, and they continue to do so (“Wii”?), but I am hoping that they will realize that this is a bad idea and rework the game so that it doesn’t feel like a disgusting gimmick. Otherwise this may very well be the worst Zelda game yet.

Even ignoring control issues (and the fact that you won’t be able to see half the bottom screen because your hand will always be in the way), the game wasn’t that impressive. The demo I played involved this little overworld area, which seemed to be an island, upon which I had to travel about, killing some enemies and whatnot, in order to find clues to open my way into a demo dungeon. There was a little town, and a bunch of classic, easy enemies. Nothing special whatsoever, really. The residents of the town had some of the driest, dullest, most horribly boring dialogue I have ever seen. Most Zelda NPCs don’t exactly have award-winning dialogue, especially in the 2D games that this one seems modeled after, but they usually at least compliment the atmosphere and feel of whatever area you’re in. Here though… meh. I’m probably blowing this problem out of proportion, but for some reason it sticks out for me.

I actually could hear the sound effects and music for Phantom Hourglass, and I wasn’t impressed in that area either.

Sound effects are pretty unimportant to me… the only time I even notice them is when they’re annoying. Which is too bad, really. I was very unhappy with the GBA port of LttP, because they added high pitched, child-Link voices to the LttP Link, even though they didn’t fit him at all. Phantom Hourglass seems to be suffering from the same thing. Sure, Link is supposed to be a little kid in this game, but not THAT little. Maybe they’ll let me turn it off. Or fire their voice actor.

And the music was utterly forgettable. Kinda reminded me of The Minish Cap, actually. Man, Nintendo just doesn’t make these handhelds games like they used to. Link’s Awakening was brilliant, and they’ve steadily gone down from there… but if this demo is any indication, Phantom Hourglass has them all beat in the mediocrity department.

But don’t lose all hope. I know that David (Davogones) liked the demo a heck of a lot more then I did, and some of my complaints are probably a bit exaggerated (NPC dialogue)... and I suppose it was an unfinished, unpolished game. So there is still hope.

Just… I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much, if I were you. At least the game has good art. And at least we still have Twilight Princess to look forward too.


Anime James says:

You seem to have a bias about Minish Cap. I wrote a giant rant about why I like it, but then I lost it. Looks like I need to re-write it, 'cause it'd take too long to post it now.

Anyway, I wasn't that thrilled with Phantom Hourglass or the Wii Princess, so this isn't that bad of news for me.

Hylian Fox says:

These games are unfinished, but I have as much doubts about "fully stylus driven play" as you do.

At least with TP, even if the Wii version does not turn out to be that good (heaven forbid) there will still be the Cube version that you can play on the Wii.

Killswitch says:

I love the control idea behind TP-Wii, but then again, I have yet to play it. After learning of Phantom Hourglass being played completely by stylus and touch screen, I don't think I will even bother with the game unless they give you the option to use the traditional controls or the stylus.

Melora says:

I concur. (I wanted an excuse to use that word)

I like your points on why they showed the Wii version. (And, personally, I am so glad it will be supported by widescreen because I have a widescreen TV, I was kind of worried about that if it stayed only on GameCube or was a port. I hate the empty black area on the sides of unsupported stuff *cries*- ramble ramble )

One thing I have to say, (and I don't think you weren't saying this LoS- I'm just rambling) and (if anyone reads this) keep in mind that I have no real loyalty to any one company, (I go where the good games are, always have) I have seldom, if ever, been disappointed by bad gameplay/controls on a Nintendo game. It's the one thing about them that has constantly impressed me. Not saying it hasn't, or can't, happen- I'm not a total guru, I dunno -and the new remote does give me some worries... But I doubt the bad controls I witnessed on PH will stay as they are, and that the touchy controls (I have no doubt are a current issue) for TP will remain. I really think Nintendo will hash them out, they've always done a good job of that in the past, and it's often one of the last thing, besides bugs, to get fixed before a game ships anyway. (So lets say I'm hoping they'll get hashed out wink.gif)

Some of my worries about the Wiimote? I have a really sensitive wrist, I've abused it with drawing and game playing for years; it shakes, it's stiff, and sometimes so inflamed that I have to wear a brace for a month. I'm a little worried that I'll have problems using the remote if it requires a lot of movement- BTW, I don't use my hand, wrist, arm like the majority of people, incase anyone comments on my... ramblings wink.gif Plus, I like to laydown, so I can be half asleep and use one hand when I play games, not sit up, so it might be weird. From what I hear about how things are with TP, I don't think I could play it for more than a few minutes with that kind of control, practice aside.

Dose anyone remember that when people first started playing games they would flail their arms and legs around, (at least they did on the NES) almost like they were trying to move with the characters? I do think it's really cute we're heading back in that direction though X)

Oh, in PH I took a swing near a villager. I guess you can use your sword, but... I don't know how I did it. That's probably saying something ;p The stylus really got in the way of my view, I didn't like that at all. I almost wish you touched the bottom screen with it while link moved on the top screen- much like using a wacom table to draw with. Not idea, but it would have been hella easier for me to see what I was doing. Not that I was excited to get the game or anything, so I don't really care, but I do hope they fix it. It IS Zelda after all, and I hate for there to be bad additions.

Hylian Dan says:

I'm probably going to have to try a TP demo before I decide which version to buy, assuming the demo will be displayed in stores. I'm worried about Navi getting annoying on the Wii, especially if she's just a cursor and not even a character. When I watched a video of the fishing demo, Navi would make that jingling sound whenever she was moved, and I wonder how distracting that will be.

As for PH, I'm not surprised that it seems like just another gimmick. The recent 2D Zelda games have been little more than vehicles to show off new gimmicks. Link's Awakening, aside from being the first portable Zelda, didn't try to shove "innovation" down the player's throat. LA's purpose was simply to provide an immersive adventure, which should really be the purpose of all Zelda games. But the recent 2D Zelda's, with their crappy environments and stories, have failed in that regard since the developers for them don't seem to care about the sense of adventure the games should provide; the gimmick is all that matters.

link_aidman says:

Nintendo I trust you. Besides The Minish Cap is one of my fave ZELDA games so please...!!

Psithurism says:

This confirms my worst fears for both games. sleep.gif

But I do agree that Link's Awakening is great. Best handheld game by far.

star_breaker says:

I think Link's Awakening was truly craptastic. I don't even bother playing it anymore. Ocarina of Time is, in my opinion, the best Zelda game ever, although Majora's Mask comes a close second. (The complicated time thing put me off.) If Navi is going to be just a cursor in TP I won't mind so much, because she was EXTREMELY annoying in OoT, always throwing out hints and tips that you don't need. After about thirty renditons of "Strong iron bars are blocking the door" I was ready to scream. On the other hand, Hylian Dan has a point about the jingling thing. It can be really distracting when you're trying to kill someone or something. But, Nintendo, despite having released some truly craptastic games in the past, (see above) I have faith in TP, it looks absolutley superb. I just hope these complaints about PH are fixed before the game is officialy released. Anyways, I will definitley be purchasing TP in Gamecube mode.

RedLink87 says:

This is Zelda, so I would really be annoyed if they added something as bad as the current version of PH sounds. With the Wii TP, I can live with the controls. Like you said, it'll just take some practice. Plus, if I don't like the Wii version, I can always go out and buy the GCN copy.

Edgemaster says:

Couldn't you post feedback to the Nintendostaff or somethig, touch screen control is easy enough in the games its implemented though. I you had more time, you probably would have enjoyed it more.

sweartoad says:

I can remember playing OoT - undoubtedly the best game I've ever played on Nintendo 64. I was one of those people who thrashed their arms around (XD) trying to get Link to move with me, so hopefully the Wii (mote?) won't be that hard to get used to. However, I am hoping so much that it isn't crap as I had to steal my friend's GCN in order to play WW, which means that I need to purchase the new Wii console in order to play TP. (if the 'mote sucks, I am seriously going to die XD)

On another note, I read somewhere that TP on the GCN would lack the "special attacks" that you would be able to execute using the Wiimote (just take this as a rumor however as I can't remember where I read it), such as the jumping-thrust thing that they advertised at E3. If this is true (and I seriously hope it isn't) then that means that basically all of Link's more "advanced" (I guess? I have no better word) attacks become nonexistant.

Lastly, in the Electronic Gaming issue in which they looked at TP, Miyamoto said that the reason they developed the Wii remote the way they did is because controls tend to become more and more complicated. Hopefully this means that they've done quite a bit of research into the pros and cons of the Wiimote and are still looking at it - hopefully E3 was also as much of a research ground as a chance to look at the new games.

>.> ... One last thing: when playing PH I don't want to feel like I'm playing Solitaire on my mum's palm-pilot instead of saving Hyrule (or wherever)

Person says:

I do not care about full Stylus control. If the control is a mix of Stylus+buttons control, your wrists get cramped and the control feel counterintuitive. however, the only downside I see to the PH controls is that the screen could get crowded by the Stylus. I think Stylus control is a good thing, and it probably feels more natural than stylus+buttons control.