I'm skipping information on characters and story to avoid spoilers. Spoiler: I love the characters and the ending gave me goosebumps and made me feel sad to leave this world behind.
Controversy. If there's one thing video games, especially Zelda games, create, it's controversy. Whether I like or dislike a specific title, there are tons of people on the internet ready to publicly humiliate me for my opinion. There's a reason I bring this up: I both hate and love Twilight Princess. I hate the Wii implementation of the game. The pointer controls were okay but waggle sword fighting was awful. The mirrored world also felt a bit odd and that was before I played the GameCube version. Now that I've played the GameCube game, I love Twilight Princess. In fact, it is my favorite Zelda game of all time.
My history in Hyrule
Like many gamers, the Zelda series is my Nintendo franchise. While others love and excitedly wait for every Mario or Pokemon title, Zelda has been the main reason I purchase Nintendo consoles. My first Zelda game was A Link to the Past which was bundled with my Super NES. Everything about that game is bliss; I clearly remember how amazing it was to guide Link through the rain in those glorious 16-bits. At the dawn of the 32-bit era, I bought a PlayStation. It died upon completion of FFVII and, since Ocarina of Time was on the way, I purchased a Nintendo 64. As good as OoT is, I never felt that it lived up to ALttP. It was just a bit less fun to me, though still an amazing title.
My favorite Zelda games: A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Minish Cap and Twilight Princess. These are the titles I revisit frequently. I haven't played much of Majora's Mask, which I will remedy soon. Wind Waker misses the list due to the momentum stopping Triforce fishing expeditions. If not for that, WW would be one of my favorites. I love that art style.
But we're here to talk about Twilight Princess, so let's get to it!
Why Twilight Princess became my favorite
I'm an old school sort of gamer. I love me some pixels and, by and large, don't like polygons. Some games benefit from polygons, specifically racing games and mech/Gundam titles. If you had asked me two weeks ago if Zelda is better in 2D or 3D, my response would have been 2D followed by a sarcastic "duh" sound. Twilight Princess changed my mind.
Sure, TP is not the first Zelda to be rendered in polygons but I would argue that it is the first true 3D Zelda. I say that because many of the puzzle solutions were found above your head or below the ground and the player is forced to think and analyze the full 3D space. The player is trained to do this starting with the first dungeon and it remains relevant throughout the duration of the game.
Another aspect of Twilight Princess I adore is the sheer joy of the boss battles. Are the boss battles difficult? Not really but they are damned entertaining. The fight with the Stallord is one of the most exhilarating boss battles in video games. The bosses in the Lakebed Temple and the City in the Sky were also quite amazing. Both are heavily influenced by Shadow of the Colossus and that's a good thing. Even the mini-bosses are amazing and dripping with personality. I love that the Dark Nuts lose their shit and throw a bastard sword at you.
I'm glad that the Zelda team has looked at other games and taken inspiration from them and, in some cases, made improvements to great ideas. Link's wolf form is clearly inspired by Okami but I don't recall Amaterasu ever having to deal with door handles or other purely human interaction methods. And Epona is sooo much better than Agro in Shadow of the Colossus.
Items and combat
I love that most of the equipment upgrades in Twilight Princess are optional. I didn't get the Giant Wallet or the Magic Armor and survived the game. Zelda games are true RPGs to me; I'm on a mission to save the world, I don't have time to go fishing, catch bugs or anything else. I'M TRYING TO SAVE THE WORLD!!!!!! This alone makes the game much more enjoyable for me.
The items for this game are nothing short of amazing. The spinner added a level of fun that cannot be described. All of the old favorites are there but some have been tweaked. One such item is the dual hook shot is a work of pure genius and creativity.
The combat in Twilight Princess is sublime. I only learned three of the techniques but that made fighting deeper than in most games. There's nothing quite like rolling behind a heavily armored foe only to hit them with a shoryuken type move and beat them senseless. The finishing move is both brutal and fitting for the type of fighting in the game. Kudos to Nintendo.
I don't think Hyrule has ever felt so realized to me than in TP. Everything about it just feels real and that feeling is heightened by its rendering in true 3D space. The characters are all amazing and emote completely through animation and some non-language vocals. I really missed that in Skyward Sword. There's a way that Nintendo tells story through minimal exposition and cut scenes that I find utterly charming and beautiful.
Ultimately, the real reason I love this game is the gameplay and the GameCube controller.
I adore the GameCube controller; not just for that fact that it can be purple or orange, but because it is the most expressive controller ever made. All of the buttons are not made equal and, due to that, the buttons can communicate the designer's intent to the player. In Twilight Princess, the standard attack is B and the big, green A button is the heavy attack. This lets the player know that the heavy attack is like a giant exclamation point, a stopping point, to the sword combo. The X and Y buttons are easily accessible but remind the player that these are your secondary weapons; the sword is the focal point of your combat arts.
The GameCube controller also has what I call the Nintendo analog stick. It has more resistance than a PlayStation pad and the divits at each point on the circle let you know precisely where the stick is at any moment. It reminds me of why I love square restrictor gates on arcade sticks.
The crisp controls married with the GC controller are a match made in heaven and a large part of why this game shines.
When I played Twilight Princess on Wii, I quit and said the standard "Fuck this game" as I did so. Upon revisiting the title on GameCube, my mind was changed drastically. I love this title. I think it's the best Zelda game ever. I truly believe that Twilight Princess is so much better on GameCube because that is the system it was designed for originally. Everything about the game communicates that fact and it's an incredible experience because of it.