New 'Zelda' Delayed Until Early 2006 — At Least

Development team has requested extra time to add more levels, Nintendo executive says.

It looks like gamers will have to wait until next year to rescue Nintendo's most famous princess.

Nintendo announced late Monday night that its highly anticipated "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" will be delayed until at least April 2006. The game had been scheduled for release this fall.

"After much discussion, the 'Zelda' development team has requested extra time to add new levels, more depth and even higher quality to 'Zelda: Twilight Princess,' " Nintendo's Vice President of Affairs Perrin Kaplan said in a statement. "While this may come as a disappointment to many eager fans, it will absolutely enrich the game and make it a multi-million seller."

"Twilight Princess" had been expected to be one of the top-selling and best-reviewed games of the holiday season and the biggest title for Nintendo's struggling GameCube home console, having garnered sterling pre-release press, including a "Best Console Game" nod from the Games Critics Awards at this year's E3.

Since the launch of the first "Legend of Zelda" game back in 1986, the series — which chronicles the adventures of a boy named Link and features a mix of dungeon-based fighting, puzzle-solving and above-ground exploration — has been among gaming's most successful franchises. "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," released in 1998, holds the top position on game review aggregator GameRankings.com and is often hailed in the gaming press as the best game of all time.

The new game's impressive pedigree had clearly influenced "Twilight Princess" producer Eiji Aounma, who said at E3 that "our goal is to create a game that surpasses 'Ocarina of Time.' " Aounma's previous "Zelda" effort, 2003's "The Wind Waker," which placed the normally landlocked Link on a high-seas adventure, sold and scored well but was criticized for being too short. In interviews following the game's release, Aounma and "Zelda" creator Shigeru Miyamoto acknowledged that the game had been shortened in order to meet its release date. According to Kaplan, "Twilight Princess" was delayed to ensure that it would be released unabridged.

The game appeared to be well on its way to completion when Nintendo last made it playable to the press in June. The game brings Link back to land and was set to feature horseback combat and enable him to transform into a wolf. In one playable scene, the now-adult Link engaged in realistic combat from atop his steed, slashing at an armor-clad villain who rode a giant boar and rampaged across an expansive field. In another polished scene, Link enlisted the help of monkeys and utilized a boomerang that can summon miniature tornadoes to solve a few trademark "Zelda" puzzles.

The "Zelda" delay may inspire a sense of déjà vu for longtime fans of the series. "Ocarina of Time," while cut short in order to meet its due date, was met with repeated delays from Nintendo, shipping nearly a year after its initially promised release. Nintendo reps had promised "The Wind Waker" for fall 2002, but delivered the game in March 2003.

The prospects of "Twilight Princess" not even making March have raised questions about whether the delay was motivated at least in part to bolster what is expected to be a thin lineup of GameCube games in 2006. Nintendo reps had initially said the company's next system, code-named Revolution, would be released in the same time frame as Sony's PlayStation 3. But at E3, Kaplan said Sony's newly announced spring delivery of PS3 was probably sooner that Nintendo's Revolution target date (see "Nintendo Reaches Back With Revolution, Shrinks Game Boy").

"Zelda" isn't the season's only big delay. Earlier this month, Square Enix confirmed that "Final Fantasy XII" will not ship until 2006. Last month Electronic Arts delayed its expected October release of "The Godfather" until early 2006.

Gamers who have stuck with GameCube during a year thin on releases will have other options. Nintendo still plans to deliver a handful of exclusives for the system this year, including a new "Pokémon" adventure, a console version of its Game Boy favorite "Fire Emblem," and a baseball title starring Mario. Third parties will continue to support the GameCube with big titles such as "Need for Speed Underground," "Tony Hawk" and "King Kong." With "Zelda" out of the picture, this holiday season's home-console darlings are expected to be Sony's juggernaut PS2 and Microsoft's new Xbox 360.

Nintendo released some better news for gamers Tuesday morning (August 16). The company had nothing new to announce regarding "Zelda," but officially lowered the price of its newest handheld, the Nintendo DS, by $20. Effective August 22, it will have a retail price of $129.99. On that day the company will release "Nintendogs," a DS virtual-pet game the company is banking on to be one of this year's big hits.