Twilight Princess Dungeons: Goron Mines

Ah, time to review the Goron Mines. I might recall incorrectly since I wasn’t really keeping track of Zelda news at the time, but I remember that during the pre-release buzz for Twilight Princess, Nintendo seemed to show this dungeon more than the others. Certainly, particular chambers of this dungeon, like the open room with the Bulblin Archers, and the dungeon boss were familiar sights for many before the game released. So in a way, that put more pressure on the Goron Mines than really any other dungeon of the game. We’d seen it already, so the dungeon had the challenge of impressing us further when we actually played it.

The dungeon is solid, but it has a number of shortcomings that I’d like to get into, and I don’t believe that’s because I had too high of expectations from it being hyped; I think it falls slightly under the quality we tend to expect from good Zelda dungeons (though it’s by no means the only dungeon in the series to disappoint, nor does it disappoint too severely). As usual, I will start with the dungeon’s thematic design before I get into gameplay.

The theme of the Goron Mines is that of an industrial… well, mine. This is where the Gorons mine ore. The dungeon concept is essentially a good one: The Goron Mines have areas and challenges reminiscent of the basic, common lava dungeons we’ve seen throughout the series, making it a very familiar Goron dungeon. At the same time, it introduces the industrial aspects, giving it a flavor that no other Goron dungeon has and, along with the Death Mountain area in which it is located, helps to give the Goron society a very distinct new style in Twilight Princess.

The dungeon’s music carries this theme very well, with primarily metallic clanks and droning hums for sounds, making it a very atmospheric theme like most dungeon themes in Twilight Princess. I don’t think it’s good listening on its own, and I think they could have done way better than a simplistic, repeating pattern of clanks for dungeon music. Something more complex, interesting, or even just longer and with more variation would have been very welcome. As it stands, though, the music works for what the dungeon is.

My problem with the Goron Mines is that, while it connects its themes very well, I think it fails to use them well, and moreover I’m not sure they’re that interesting to begin with. The dungeon is overly gritty to me, with little to offer in terms of visual appeal; the dungeon is realistic and manages to feel exactly like an area of this type should, but at the same time I don’t think it does anything creative or interesting with it, so the Goron Mines look and feel like a dull mining site or industrial area like we see in other stories without anything to make it fresh or appealing in Twilight Princess specifically. To some degree this might be personal preference — I enjoyed the themes of the Forest Temple after all, and they’re also recycled from other stories without any invention on the concepts — but I think there is merit in saying there are more interesting and fitting ways they could have implemented industrial themes into Zelda.

Besides, there is another issue with their implementation that the Forest Temple did not have, which is that there’s little variation. While the Forest Temple did have a recurring theme throughout the dungeon that it never deviated from, every room felt unique within that theme. You had different rooms claimed by or built around nature in different ways, and very few if any of them looked or played the same way. That’s not true of the Goron Mines. Many of the rooms in this dungeon feel exactly like the others. There is variation, but only to a limited degree; the dungeon has a set number of room archetypes — so few you could count them on one hand — and virtually every room follows one of them. As a result, the dungeon grows stale quicker than most. Repetition sets in as you pass by a lot of the same scenery over and over again. The Goron Mines fail to present the player with enough visual variety.

The dungeon is much the same gameplay-wise as it is theme-wise. There are some neat gameplay concepts here, many of which go well with the industrial mine. You spend a lot of this dungeon standing on pressure switches, activating cranes, and navigating caverns with the new Iron Boots mechanic; the metal boots cling to magnetized ore in the mines, allowing you to walk on the walls.

The puzzles are fun enough, although like in most of Twilight Princess, they are on the scarcer side and there is more emphasis on fighting. The problem in the dungeon’s design lies not with the puzzles or fights but with the layout. The dungeon is too linear. Moreover it doesn’t feel like it should be. Some dungeons or areas in games are linear but are still well-designed because they’re made with the linearity in mind. This doesn’t feel like one of those to me. The Goron Mines is an almost entirely linear trek with no deviation or sense of finding the path yourself; the game strings you along from room to room and makes your path plain and obvious. There’s no discovery. The dungeon gets more exciting when you encounter the miniboss and acquire the Hero’s Bow, but this occurs over halfway through the dungeon, and while the bow sections are surprisingly exciting and entertaining, they happen so late in the dungeon that the excitement is short-lived, and either way, by this time the dungeon has already started to turn into a grind.

The biggest cause of that grind is the magnetic ore. I agree that the idea of walking on the walls with the Iron Boots was a cool idea, and I can see why a lot of people like it, but really what it comes down to is a meaningless gesture. It doesn’t add anything to the dungeon; there is nothing to figure out, nothing to spot or solve. No challenge. You simply get on the ore and follow it to the end. It’s a gimmick with no impact on gameplay, which would actually be fine if it didn’t take so long. Movement on the magnetic ore is painfully slow, and since it adds nothing whatsoever to the game, there’s no good reason for it to be so. All this mechanic manages to be is a pointless slowdown that drastically increases the time spent in the dungeon while forcing you to spend it simply inching your way along a linear path. In all probability, the dungeon wouldn’t feel like a grind without these portions, because it would progress much faster. The player would get through the similar rooms faster, making it feel less stale, and the player would be far less bored of the dungeon by the time they reached the Hero’s Bow. The dungeon would have just been much more satisfying overall. I know it might sound petty to essentially blame the Iron Boot portions for the entire dungeon’s problems, and really they aren’t the only design issue, but they are a big problem and they do end up making every other shortcoming a lot worse. These sections should have been sped up.

Finally, there’s the battles. The normal fights in the Goron Mines are fairly typical. Fiery foes that can burn a Wooden Shield, and who have breath attacks and the like. The most interesting enemies in the dungeon are actually the standard Bulblins, who are encountered throughout the game but fought often for the first time in this dungeon. They are cool enemies that fit the dungeon well, and while they’re generally very easy, they can be a tad tricky in groups. The squads of Bulblin Archers fought throughout the dungeon are particularly tough opponents.

The miniboss, Dangoro, is a fun fight that’s very similar to the Gorons that had to be overcome while climbing Death Mountain. This fight isn’t tricky and it follows the overly simple three-hit formula found throughout this game, but it’s still entertaining enough and I find it enjoyable. It’s especially neat to fight a Goron character who’s actually not a bad guy instead of some monster. This miniboss is fought to the first of two recurring miniboss themes in the game, so it doesn’t have a unique theme, but it’s still a good one that fits this battle and dungeon particularly well with its metallic clanking sounds. The fight could have been longer and more challenging, but at least it’s still fun.

The dungeon boss on the other hand is once more bogged down by similar problems as those of the rest of the dungeon. Fyrus’ design is decent enough and certainly improved from his beta design, and the fight has a good concept; stop a charging, rampaging monster by disorienting him with a shot to the head from your bow, and then trip him to attack his face head-on. But the execution is bad. Like Diababa, this fight locks your camera on the boss, but it’s a lot more annoying here, in a relatively tight room (when Fyrus is in it) with a very mobile boss. Fyrus moves around but presents no challenge; his weak point is obvious and easy to hit with the bow. There’s very little threat, and he’s quickly killed. It feels like there was supposed to be more to this fight, since Fyrus has a line of sight and will actually lose track of you if you hide behind the pillars. This fight should have been reworked to take advantage of this, making Fyrus next to impossible to stop when charging, forcing you to sneak up and shoot various points on his body to stun him. This fight could have been so much better, and should have been, so it could have fit his very intimidating battle music better. A good boss concept, but it needed better execution.

That’s very much the mantra of this dungeon: The Goron Mines has lots of good ideas, but its execution is really poor. There are many design problems and slowdowns that just don’t need to happen, turning the dungeon into an obnoxious grind and making the would-be epic boss in reality very underwhelming. The dungeon isn’t terrible, though. It’s solid and there’s fun to be had here. I do enjoy the Goron Mines, but it always has me grumbling at the Iron Boots portions and just generally leaves me wanting more from it.

So how about you? What are your thoughts on the Goron Mines? What were your expectations going into them, considering the pre-release buzz? How did you feel about the dungeon itself after playing it? Do you think it’s poorly designed like I do, or did you enjoy it a lot? Do you dig the industrial mine theme? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week when I review the Lakebed Temple!