Game Check

GAME CHECK

December 21, 2006|By [TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES]

Zelda: Twilight Princess

Nintendo

[GameCube] Rated T

Well, GameCube owners, we hope you had fun. We hope you enjoyed your system and feel like you got the most out of it. We certainly did. But the party is pretty much over now, save for one more big blowout.

In the weeks since its release, the Nintendo Wii has roared into the marketplace like a space shuttle leaving the launch pad. Nintendo said that through the end of November, 600,000 gamers had ponied up for the new system.

Sales reports from industry research group NPD put the figure a little lower: 476,000 units. But that's still 2 1/2 times the 197,000 PlayStation 3s that NPD says Sony sold in November. Interestingly, NPD says the month's top-selling console was the year-old Xbox 360, which moved 511,000 units. Even more interesting: Nintendo's handheld DS was the top system in America, selling 918,000 units in November. Overall, gamers spent $1.7 billion on their habit last month.

Nintendo says it will ship 4 million Wiis globally by year's end. Sony is promising 2 million PS3s, but industry insiders doubt it can deliver that number. Microsoft, meanwhile, says its global shipments will reach 10 million by the end of this month.

So, where does that leave the 21 million-plus gamers who have a GameCube? All together at one amazing last party. Welcome to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

The game is already available for the Wii, of course, and Nintendo says it's already sold more than 400,000 copies in America -- 87 percent of gamers who bought the Wii in November also bought a copy of Zelda.

But Twilight Princess was originally slated to come out a year ago for the GameCube. When the decision was made to premiere it as a Wii launch title, the GC version went back to the lab for another year of tweaking.

It's here now. And, man, was it ever worth the wait. Four years in the making, Twilight Princess is a breathtaking adventure that's easily the best in the Zelda series.

We'll resist the urge to compare the Wii and GC versions.

Stylistically, Twilight Princess has more in common with 1998's legendary Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 than with 2003's The Wind Waker for the GC. It's also taken a darker turn than any other game in the series.

Not that there's excess blood or gore -- no more of that than ever before. The darkness is more atmospheric. This Hyrule is less black-and-white, more gray.

The Link of Twilight Princess is a young man, a la the latter half of Ocarina and other earlier adventures, instead of a child. At the outset, he's a ranch hand living in Ordon Village. Asked by the blacksmith to deliver a sword to Hyrule Castle, he's attacked, then pulled through a mysterious portal into the Twilight Realm, where he's turned into a wolf and slapped in prison. An imp named Midna helps him escape his cell, and the two soon encounter another prisoner: Princess Zelda.

Zelda explains that they're all captives of the Twili, a banished race that wants to merge their Twilight Realm and Hyrule into a single dark kingdom. The secret to stopping the Twili lies in a legendary weapon, the Fused Shadow.

And you pretty much know what you have to do from there.

There are new weapons, new moves and new game components, of course -- most notably Link's ability to transform into a wolf. It sounds a bit hokey in print, but in practice, it's amazing stuff. In wolf form, Link can communicate with animals, and his senses are heightened. There are drawbacks: He can't open doors or use any items (that opposable-thumb thing).

Twilight Princess features plenty of familiar stuff for Zelda fans. You'll see enemies you recognize and again deal with beings like the Gorons and Zora, but it all comes off as homage, not recycling.

Like every return visit to Hyrule, it's a grand, brand-new adventure. And, fitting for video gaming's grandest series, this installment is the grandest yet.

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