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The Never-Ending Story 

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Poor Princess Zelda.

Once again, her kingdom is under siege, evil has risen and, as always, only a boy warrior can set things right.

The new "Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" plays like a well-worn chess set. The familiar pieces, the established rules of engagement and the game's inevitable outcome remain part of its charm. But like a McDonald's in Istanbul, this game franchise delivers the thrill of finding all your familiar comforts in an exotic setting.

With each incarnation of the series, players find the hero Link bravely questing through marvelous lands to save his princess. And even though the basic story and settings stay the same, Nintendo routinely opens everything up for reinterpretation and innovative tampering with the formula.

Running on the brand-new Nintendo gaming machine, the Wii, all this experimenting makes perfect sense,

The Wii might look like a new DVD drive from Apple, but with its television-style remote controls and motion-detecting technology that lets players control on-screen action by waving the controller around, the Wii takes home-gaming in a direction that it has never been.

"Zelda" picks up the Wii's oddball control set and turns it into a tool of fantasy. Before the game drops its first real villain onto the screen, players have already spent time waggling their remote around to catch fish, waving it to swing a sword and maneuvering it to aim a slingshot. In time, they learn to fight with sword and shield, let arrows fly from a bow and toss bombs and boomerangs.

At about the time that the Wii's weird control scheme starts to feel comfortable, the game launches off into one of the strangest set of premises to grace the series. A couple of hours into the adventure, the story abruptly leaves behind the well-worn coming-of-age tale for an alternate universe that is equal parts "Tron" and "Dungeons and Dragons." Couple this with an inexplicable transformation of the hero from a pointy-eared elf boy into a sulking acrobatic wolf, and you have a mythic setup that would leave Joseph Campbell scratching his head.

Anyone new to the game series might find all the narrative hard-right turns and creepy half-adult/half-child characters a bit unsettling. But this formula and the constant concocting are what's kept fans loyal through the years. The "Zelda" franchise has grown into a sort of Beatles phenomenon - devotees forgive the ongoing churn in style and artistic approach because they can always recognize an immutable core.

Although fans might cry "New Coke" at Nintendo's constant tinkering with one of its most beloved franchises, once they get over the strange original flavors, they'll find that this latest game is one to savor.

Who's It For: If George Lucas made a Broadway-musical sequel to "Star Wars," it would rake in piles of cash from people who loved the film series and just wanted to check out the saga's latest development. The same thing goes for "Zelda." The fact that the game features all kinds of quality touches and reaches for new levels of innovation doesn't really matter. No matter what, "Zelda" fans will find a way to save the princess once again.

If You Like This, Try That:If you like creative flourishes piled on top of hearty fantasy fare, "Shadow of the Colossus" for the PlayStation 2 offers a world where giants roam and a hero must find a way to destroy them.

Best Part: Ironically, adventure games have always been best enjoyed slumped on a coach, controller held limply in your lap. On the Wii, adventuring regains its action as you put your body into each battle. Now, it's easier to pretend being a hero standing up in front of the television rather than sitting down.


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David Thomas


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