The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is one of those games that is forever remembered through rose-colored glasses. During the summer of 2001, Nintendo dropped a megaton bomb when it replaced the much-loved footage of a GameCube powered Zelda game–which showed an adult link battling a stalfos in life-like, realistic graphics–and instead rolled out footage of a cell-shaded ‘toon Link, with disproportionate, cartoony enemies and flat, colorful graphics. Fans went nuts…for the wrong reasons…and many declared the Zelda game series dead and accused Nintendo itself of jumping the shark.
But then the game was released in 2003, and fans bought it (some revolt that turned out to be). Within hours of playing, the tight controls and excellent story made people forget about the ridiculous art direction, and 30-plus hours later, by the end battle with Ganon–arguably the best end battle in the entire series–Wind Waker had developed a much-deserved huge fan base all it’s own.
(It must be noted: I was one of those naysayers in the beginning, and I was also one of those who still publicly apologize for saying bad things about the game when it was first announced. I will also always trust producers Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma with whatever they want to do with the series, as they proved me wrong.)
Now, just in time for the holidays, Nintendo has re-released the Wind Waker for the struggling Wii U system, this time with some enhancements and in full 1080p HD. That same incredible game is now much prettier to look at, which is strange to say as the art direction was the big sticking point the first time around.
The game centers around a distinct version of Hyrule that is covered in water and comprised mostly of tiny islands. A young boy wakes on his birthday and, as is ceremony, is given the classic tunic of the “Hero of Time,” to honor the one who saved the world from an evil darkness generations before. The young boy’s little sister is kidnapped by a huge bird and he–along with a band of pirates–sets out to rescue her. This begins the story that–by the end–will have many twists and turns, some very dark revelations about the history of Hyrule, and again, a final battle that left my jaw scrapping the ground the first time I played through.
Wind Waker uses either the Pro Controller or the Wii U’s Gamepad for control, and while both work, the GamePad is where it’s at, as the second screen makes for easy item switching on the fly without pausing, as well as a constant map while working through some of the game’s most inspired dungeons.
Some of the new tweaks involve the addition of a fast-travel sail for The King of Red Lions, which cuts travel time across the seas of Hyrule down by half. Also, the gyroscope inside the GamePad makes for some interesting arrow shooting or grappling.
The Triforce Quest, which comes very late in the game, has been reduced. In the original, the player had to seek out treasure maps, then pay 398 rupees each to Tingle to decipher and then use the maps to seek out one of the eight Triforce pieces. To speed up this long quest, Nintendo has condensed the map quest, instead creating in-game scenarios where a few of the Triforce shards are found without Tingle’s costly help. I was actually a fan of the Triforce Quest the first time around, but this makes it much better on time, especially as the game is rushing toward it’s incredible ending.
Lastly, Nintendo has included a much-needed “Hero Mode.” Now the game can be played at a higher difficulty, as enemies are much tougher and there are zero heart drops for healing. Wind Waker is one of the few Zelda games that I never found EVERY heart container, and in my most recent play through, I barely had enough hearts to fill my top row and still beat the game pretty easily. I’m not saying it was easy (then or now), but it wasn’t difficult, if that makes sense.
As for the Hi-def graphics, it is a stunning game to look at. The cell-shaded graphics looked gorgeous as they were on the GameCube, but here, they just explode off the screen. Wind Waker also runs at a very smooth frame rate. I want to say it’s full 60 FPS, but the cartoon-like graphics mask the aliasing of the images.
The sound and music are wonderful, as they were ten years ago, and the entire package now looks as good as it sounds. Also included in Wind Waker is a Mii-verse inspired “message in a bottle” feature that allows the player to take in-game photos with the pictobox and send messages to other players via a special Tingle bottle that is acquired early in the game. The photos and messages can then be saved by anyone playing the game anywhere in the world. Yup, social media has come to Hyrule, folks!
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a great HD upgrade to the Nintendo Wii U library, and a welcome bridge to a new Wii U Zelda game that we all hope is far along in development. It’s a glorious re-visitation of a classic game that had a rocky beginning, but when the game was actually played, completely delivered arguably the greatest story of any Zelda game. It looks and sounds incredible, even if it dabbles on the cartoony side of the art spectrum, and the entire game package is a perfect introduction of Link, Zelda, and Ganon to the newest Nintendo game system.
There are enough new additions/features to keep veteran “Wind Wakers” happy, all the while introducing a new generation of fans and players to this astonishing game. Regardless of your experience with the game, Wind Waker is the first incarnation of Zelda in High Definition and it is definitely not the last. I can’t wait for E3 2014, where Zelda producer, Eiji Aonuma, has hinted at the announcement of the new game. Until then, I’ll be sailing the seas of Hyrule on King of Red Lions, seeking out treasure and heart containers, and violently embedding the Master Sword into the heads of bad guys everywhere.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was reviewed using a copy purchased at retail. It was released October 4, 2013 exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U.