The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Review
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii-U
As technology has been fast and constant in its evolution many games that we once thought of as groundbreaking or genre-defining inevitably show their age. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a rare game that time has been incredibly kind to in both its stylistic presentation and polished gameplay. It’s also an ideal game to give the HD re-release treatment as too few people got a chance to experience it the first time round, and the game wasn’t without its issues which Nintendo have attempted to fix in this edition of the most controversial Zelda title.
Our familiar hero Link’s birthday celebrations are cut short as his sister is kidnapped, leading him to team up with Tetra and her band of pirates to go and rescue her. In typical Zelda fashion Link soon finds himself on a much greater quest in an attempt to restore the flooded land of Hyrule. The initial focus on Link’s immediate family does bring a much more intimate element to the story than in many of the prior Zelda titles. Despite the colourful visuals The Wind Waker ends up becoming much bleaker as the game progresses, featuring possibly the darkest ending of the series yet.
Although players will be traversing around the game world in a different way from a traditional Zelda game, the general story structure and exploration remains largely the same as previous entries in the series. There is a familiar pattern of traversing the Great Sea to locate various dungeons in order to collect multiple artefacts that are required to further the story. Compared to other entries in the series like Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess the length of the story feels quite short thanks to fewer dungeons, and the infamous Triforce shard fetch-quest which in the original version simply halted all sense of pace and immediacy as players reached the end of the adventure. Fortunately the pacing of the latter stages of the game are sped up a little by reducing the amount of needless sailing around to gather up the Triforce pieces before the final battle.
Thankfully there is more than enough to do outside of the main story. By finding and using different charts Link can traverse the Great Sea in order to locate all sorts of different treasures. The use of charts to find sunken treasure or other points of interest such as enemy lookouts and submarines make the exploration feel more progressive rather than simply looking everywhere hoping to randomly discover something new. There are also many fun little mini-games to participate in such as shooting jumping fish or the board game Battleships, complete with theatrical interludes.
Each dungeon is unique in their environment, requiring the use of different items from Link’s arsenal to traverse each one. Inside each of the seven main dungeons are the usual assortment of enemies, block-pushing and puzzle solving that have we have come to expect from the series. Exploring each one is much more streamlined when compared to the earlier Zelda titles, where in certain circumstances it could be very easy to get lost or struggle to find the necessary items to progress. It’s very difficult to lose track of where you are as the path through each level feels like a guided tour rather than an exercise in exploration as is the case with some of the more sprawling temples of past games. Later dungeons allow Link to take command of a companion character who has their own abilities such as planting reflecting lights or planting trees to hookshot onto.
Boss battles finish off each dungeon, each of which require different weapons and tactics to defeat. Even at the time of the original release many of the bosses felt familiar, featuring largely the same tactics as the Nintendo 64 titles, with only slight changes. As with the dungeons themselves they will be a little too easy for anyone who has played a Zelda game in the past, as the bosses employ a similar bag of tricks as they have done in past games.
Improving upon the targeting system from Ocarina of Time the combat is incredibly fluid and responsive. When duelling with enemies Link stylishly hops and twirls while slashing away at them. These flourishes in the core sword combat are uniquely spectacular in conjunction with the large flashes as players land a successful strike on their opponents. Not every enemy can be conquered by simply stabbing them enough, as heavily armoured troops need their armour to be stripped off of them before they can be hurt, by launching a flashy counter attack that sees Link roll around his opponent and slashing at the fastening on their back.
Making use of Link’s various items and weapons changes the viewpoint around a lot, switching from the default third person view, to an over-the-shoulder perspective for aiming the boomerang and then to a first person perspective when using the bow. Link whips each new item out with speed and finesse allowing players to experiment with different battle tactics on the fly. Stunning an enemy with the boomerang and then flattening them with the hammer is incredibly satisfying thanks to the responsive controls and fluidly exaggerated battle animations. Although the combat has evolved in subsequent titles, the spectacle of seeing Link hop around the screen like Yoda never gets tired even in the final showdown of this twenty hour adventure.
There have been several tweaks to the gameplay, speeding up Link’s different actions. The major new optional item introduced allows players to sail at double the speed and without the need to keep changing the wind’s direction. When aiming the player can now move Link around with the left analogue stick like in a more traditional shooter like Call of Duty and it works very nicely, making it much less cumbersome than before. The PictoBox can also now store more images after obtaining it and can be upgraded much more quickly so players can post photographs onto Miiverse in the same way as Pikmin 3. Another amusing little feature is that Link can now take Facebook-style self-portraits with several expressions, which can produce some comical, ridiculous or even slightly creepy photos.
The most drastic change in the latter stages of the game is the removal of a lot of the tedium obtaining the eight shards of the Triforce of Courage. In the original game players had to find a chart, pay a visit to Tingle to pay a large sum to translate it and then actually go and scavenge for the actual shard. For the HD version players can simply go and collect five of the shards immediately from where their charts originally were, with the remaining three being obtained as before. Before the Triforce fetch-quest was quite boring, and annoying on replays, but now it flows much better as Link has more immediate obstacles to overcome to gather the shards instead of pointlessly sailing around the ocean in a poor attempt to add more content to the game.
Even with the attempts at speeding up the sailing and the streamlining of the Triforce quest, The Wind Waker still has the same issues from a pacing standpoint as it did when originally released. The game delivers some true series’ highlights such as discovering a sunken Hyrule or delivering that final blow in the last battle, but also has some of the most annoyingly slow paced moments sneaking around the Forbidden Fortress at the very beginning of the game, or any of the times where you’re simply sailing from one cutscene to the next. As content that was cut in the interest of time was eventually used in later Zelda games there aren’t any new dungeons or challenges to help with the stretches where you will simply sail from one end of the map to the other to collect an important item.
Despite its issues one could easily make the argument that The Wind Waker is the best Zelda title of them all. While the more story-focused Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword are very particular in how you progress through their worlds, here you can pretty much go anywhere in the Great Sea from very early in the adventure. In that regard the game is closer to the series’ roots than what we have in the newer titles as everywhere is locked away until the narrative requires the player to go to each location. It’s unfortunate that after ten years all we have seen of this particular strand of the series are the two pretty disappointing DS titles, especially since the ending hinted towards the series heading in a new direction.
Playing The Wind Waker with the added functionality of the Wii U’s GamePad does streamline much of what was quite tedious before. Mapping various items is done quickly without interrupting the flow of play with use of the touch screen, unless you specifically pause the action to think about what Link may need in a particularly hectic situation. Frequently used items such as the Wind Waker itself and the different boat functions like scavenging and the cannon are mapped to the D-pad, negating the need to fiddle around equipping them before use. As with Ocarina of Time 3D it’s also possible to use the gyro sensor on the GamePad to fine-tune first-person aiming which works extremely well in conjunction with the traditional analogue sticks.
The GamePad’s screen can also display the map of either the Great Sea or the current dungeon, depending on where the player is at the time. Being able to keep on eye on the various treasure charts is immensely more useful as Link’s location is also displayed in real-time, making positioning him on the X-mark much more user-friendly than constantly pausing to see your location in relation to your intended destination. For a game that does require a lot of map reading to uncover every secret available it perhaps would have been a nice feature to include some kind of note taking ability as in Phantom Hourglass just to jog the memory of those who don’t remember every minute detail of each area that they visit.
Players can also use the Wii U Pro Controller with the GamePad still in use as a secondary screen in a fashion similar to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but controls are a little more cumbersome as players who want to use the touch screen functions will need to do so more frequently than in Capcom’s title. It’s also possible to play exclusively with the Pro Controller or with off-TV play on the GamePad, both of which require players to pause the game to manage inventory or look at the various maps.
Thanks to the cel-shaded visuals the game still looks beautiful today when running in 1080p. Textures have been upgraded to take advantage of the higher resolution and a few additional lighting effects have been utilised, some of which do alter the aesthetics in a way which purists might be a little irked at. When characters are in close proximity to light sources such as torches they are rendered with softer shading than the harsher shadows of the rest of the game. There is also some use of bloom lighting in the daytime, and the colour palette has a heavier green push than the original version.
The soundtrack has also seen improvements as tracks have been re-recorded at a higher quality. Generally there isn’t too much of a difference from the original but fans who are very familiar with the game will notice occasional differences such as the lack of percussion on Windfall Island. It is a little disappointing however that the soundtrack hasn’t been done orchestrally this time around as with Skyward Sword. The soaring, epic soundtrack is still one of the best that the series has ever had despite not featuring the symphonic score it deserves.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is the definitive version of the GameCube classic. It’s largely faithful to the original whilst managing to make some improvements to the pacing in the latter stages of Link’s seafaring adventure. For new players the game is well worth investing in, especially those who have enjoyed more recent entries in the series. Fans who have finished the game multiple times before might not be willing to fork out the full price for what is basically the same game. Overall, the game has aged very well in both presentation and gameplay. It was one of the best games available for Nintendo’s underappreciated lunchbox, and it’s still just as good today.