In hindsight I’d like to pretend I was above all the complaining and whinging, but I wasn’t. I was very much part of the whinging and complaining.
When Nintendo first revealed Wind Waker I was whinging and complaining. Big time.
I was whinging and complaining whilst I was playing Wind Waker. Whilst playing one of the most beautiful video games ever made. A game bursting with imagination. A pure labour of love.
I was playing Wind Waker and saying things like, “I hate sailing,” “I hate these dungeons”.
And the worst: “this art style is for babies”.
I played Wind Waker with a scowl on my face and a neckbeard in my heart. It was a different time.
Recently we made fun of that time a Zelda trailer made grown men cry. For me personally, that was close to the bone.
Because I know.
I wasn’t in the crowd when Nintendo revealed Twilight Princess for the first time. I wasn’t even writing about video games in a professional capacity. But had I been? Knowing my own personal investment in the Zelda series. Knowing what Ocarina of Time had meant to me at one point in my life, I might have watched Miyamoto reveal Twilight Princess and I might have cried. Engulfed in a warped state of fandom, tears would have been a possibility for me at that point in my life.
That’s a little tough to admit, but it’s true.
Again: it was a different time.
Later, when Twilight Princess was released, I convinced myself I loved it.
I got used to the Wiimote and its clumsy, inconsistent detection. I convinced myself it felt natural. I baulked initially at the camera and my inability to control it but pretended it was worth it for the addition of motion controls. I cringed at Link’s clunky (even for 2006) running animations, but told myself visuals weren’t important. No, this is the Zelda I wanted, this is the Zelda I begged for. I would love this game no matter what.
I got angry at an 8.8 review score.
Dear God. What was wrong with me?
Fast forward. 2016. Last weekend I tried to replay Twilight Princess in its current HD incarnation. It was not as I remembered.
Today stripped of the hype, Twilight Princess feels like a physical testament to the follies of pandering to a vocal minorities; a game built by committee. In a weird sense, it almost feels like fan fiction.
Its art style is flat. Its controls, unwieldy. Its camera makes it near-impossible to play with any real pleasure in the sense of control. Its opening section mostly focuses on a confusing quest that involves using a hawk to find a baisonette to get a fishing rod. A fishing rod used to catch a fish that feeds a cat so that cat can return to its owner who runs a shop that sells the item you need to leave your village and actually embark on your quest.
Just writing those sentences is painful. Playing through it is worse.
Point being: Twilight Princess is obtuse. It’s strange. It makes no sense and, in 2016, it’s a very difficult video game to play, let alone enjoy in any real way outside of pure nostalgia.
More importantly, in a historical context, Twilight Princess is the first Zelda game that actively took a step backwards. It was so intent on mimicking Ocarina of Time both tonally and mechanically that it abandoned almost every forward step that Wind Waker made. Playing both HD remakes side-by-side today, it seems inconceivable that Twilight Princess was released after Wind Waker.
Wind Waker pushed at the seams, pushed at our expectations of what a Zelda game could be. In some ways in failed, but in others succeeded spectacularly. Nintendo, in an attempt to cater to its fanbase tossed out the baby with the bathwater. The end result, Twilight Princess: a video game that was already dated when it was released in 2006. Today, in 2016 it feels like an antique.
I’ve got no-one to blame but myself. Twilight Princess is what I wanted.
Playing Twilight Princess now, in 2016, is a painful experience. It’s a time capsule. A teenage diary. A stark reminder that, in 2006, I was a bad person with terrible ideas about what video games should or couldn’t be. A reminder that I was resistant to change. A reminder that I was capable of genuine anger when something I loved didn’t cater to my own specific tastes. A reminder that I wasn’t really capable of looking outside my own fandom.
Twilight Princess is (and was) a product of its time. And Wind Waker, in hindsight, feels timeless.