I was dumbfounded by how long it took me to get to the first level. For those familiar to the series, that is also time spent with the minimum number of hearts. It was a few hours before I actually crossed the threshold of the forest temple. Mind you, it was not all safe/boring story sequences. A lot of the time is spent fighting, and the most tedious parts are spent after discovering the game has rudely turned you into a wolf with an annoying riding imp called Midna. Think "Navi" only worse.
It takes a while to get used to being a wolf. I spent the first area as a wolf repeatedly falling off the castle while giant bird things squawked at me. However, shortly after that the game teaches you a multi-monster attack that greatly simplifies feral life. It takes a few serious battles to master the attack, but then being a wolf is never really a problem again.
Zelda games have a habit of having things happen where it is not at
all clear what the player is supposed to do. This is not necessarily the player's fault, and the in-game help (a.k.a. annoying imp Midna) is not always that helpful. Normally these things happen during boss fights, where going back out to see what you missed is no longer an option. It wouldn't help anyway. An early example is the fight shown in the picture to the right. The evil, boar riding goblin Link has been chasing suddenly traps Link on the bridge and a joust ensues. If the boar spears Epona (Link's horse) then you have to start over. It then took me a good half an hour to figure out how to do any damage to the guy (accelerate to the right and then slight in with a swing). A very frustrating experience. You have to fight the guy a few more times during the game, but luckily the rest of the times are fairly painless. Anyway, this type of "guess what the game designers were thinking and then figure out a way to execute it" occurs all the way up to the final boss, where I was stuck in two of the phases for a while trying to figure out how to do any damage at all.
My final gripe about the game is the Cave of Ordeals. No, it is not too hard. I actually think it is an awesome idea and got so much better by going through it that the last level was ridiculously easy. My problem with the Cave of Ordeals is that I got all the way through clearing out room 47 when the door to room 48 refused to open. I had two rooms left, near full health and near full items, and the game exhibited some kind of bug. I wandered all around the room for ten minutes trying to find what I was missing to open the door. I turned into a wolf and sensed. Nothing. The game just had a bug. You can bet I wasn't going to go all the way through those 47 floors again anytime soon to see if it was going to happen again. So I just beat the game and will pull it out again when I have forgiven it for back stabbing me on floor 47 of the Cave of Ordeals.
Enough with the negative, though. There are many, many positive things to say about the game. It is huge! I did not do all the side quests and it still took me around fifty hours. Like most Zelda games, it takes a bit to get used to the controls, but about mid-way through the second level playing becomes a joy. There are so many creative and fun game mechanics built into the game. At first there are new twists on older items. For me, using magnets with the iron boots was new and fun. However, a little over half way through the game it starts giving you completely new items which are very clever and fun to mess around with. My favorite is the dominion rod (which animates certain statues) but all four of the last items were fun to learn and explore.
The best part of the game, though was the hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately, tough hand-to-hand combat can be difficult and so it is left until the end of the game. Up until that point, most/all monsters can be taken care of by using a certain item or doing a hack job on them. In the last few levels and the Cave of Ordeals, you have to actually duel. This involves using various special moves you pick up during the game and dealing with armored foes that can parry and use special moves of their own. After you get the hang of it, one-on-one battles like this are actually pretty straightforward, although still fun. The many-on-one battles of the Cave of Ordeals are more of a challenge, except I never got to the last one because of the before mentioned bug. It is really fun to swing your shielf with your left hand, knock the guy off balance, push a button to jump, and then swing your sword as you come down and the enemy is still exposed.
WARNING: SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. Do I have any tips? If you are the kind of player who (like me) likes to go through the game on his or her own and then get a guide to finish up the missing parts, you need to track which Poes you capture and which heart containers you get from the beginning. Otherwise there are too many to mess with at the end of the game. You can drink the colored (non-purple) Chu slime for good effects. Rare Chus show up in various locations. I found one in the cave in between the Kakariko Village and Death Mountain. Rare Chus are like Fairy tears, so you can then double your power up fun. Finally, try using the fishing rod when you are fighting hand-to-hand with the final boss. END OF SPOILERS.
Maybe this game isn't for everybody. Mario Galaxy is probably slightly better as an overall game. I think Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is still the second best Wii game out right now (with Mario Kart as a close third), even though it was a launch title originally meant for Game Cube.