Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
There’s certainly a case for arguing that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is the best Zelda game ever made. Back in 2003 it was a bit of a dark horse for the series, although personally I never really understood why people had a problem with the game’s unique art direction. Still, everyone seemed to get over it, and the game has aged unbelievably well. This HD remake only makes a few small tweaks, but helps perfect an already brilliant experience that is just as enjoyable today as it was 10 years ago.
Whilst structurally similar to both previous and subsequent Zelda games, there’s a few key differences that define Wind Waker as a unique game in the series. Link’s adventure takes him across The Great Sea on an epic quest, and this results in levels of freedom and exploration few other games come close to achieving. You can look out off one of countless islands at a vast ocean, and know that you can go anywhere. If you can see it, you can sail to it. This isn’t just a beautiful looking world, it’s a real one, and it’s full of awesome secrets and rewards for you to discover.
I do realise that a lot of people didn’t actually like the sailing aspect of the game, but it’s personally one of my favourite elements, and really isn’t as time consuming as some people make it out to be. At most you will be sailing for ten minutes at a time, and before you’re half way into the story you can unlock the ability to fast travel. There’s also a new item called the Swift Sail, which allows you to travel at twice the standard speed. This is great if you’re planning to do some serious sea charting/heart collecting, or if you have the attention span of a small fish.
When you get to the game’s dungeons you’ll be looking at some of the finest levels the Zelda series has ever graced the world of videogames with. The first three are particularly brilliant, and feature just the right balance of puzzle, exploration and challenge. There are some pretty decent boss fights too.
One of the biggest complaints about the original version of the game was the Triforce quest that takes place in the last quarter of the game. This was included because of time constraints during development, and replaced two final, unfinished, dungeons. Whilst the idea of Nintendo going back and finishing them for the remake certainly sounded nice, this never happened, although the Triforce quest has been streamlined.
It’s not all bad though, as these missing dungeons do help keep the game at a fairly reasonable difficulty level. If you remember the last couple of dungeons in Ocarina of Time, these are exceptionally hard and require the player to locate a number of small keys that are tedious to find without a guide. The final dungeons in Wind Waker certainly began to test my patients, and if the game had continued with two more then these could have easily reached higher levels of frustration.
However, as a Wind Waker veteran, I might not be the best person to comment on difficulty when it comes to the game. I remember it being reasonably intuitive when it first came out, although I do think there will be a couple of places where new players may get a bit stuck. I’m a little surprised that Nintendo hasn’t an easy mode, as there certainly isn’t as much guidance here as you’ll find in other adventure games. Even just a quest log, or a list of objectives or something would have helped. In Skyward Sword you had Fi, and although she might have been the worst character in the entire series ever, she did make for a better alternative than reaching for the guide book, and it’s a shame Wind Waker doesn’t have a similar feature.
What you do have is a Hero Mode, a harder difficulty that feels a little perfunctory. Here enemies do double damage, and the only way to heal is by using fairies or potions. If you’re willing to search for all the hidden heart pieces then presumably you can counterbalance the additional challenge, and it’s a little disappointing that Nintendo didn’t find some more creative ways to modify the game. There’s already some really cool twists when playing on New Game +, and more of this would have been nice.
There’s also the new ‘Tingle Bottle’ feature, which replaces the Tingle Tuner (which is ironic considering that a GBA connected to a GameCube is a fairly similar set up to the Wii U). This allows for Miiverse integration, and has you sending messages that arrive randomly in other peoples games. It’s actually quite cool, although does little that will alter anyone’s opinion of the game. All the best features features, for instance the brilliant combat, massive world and orchestral soundtrack, were all found in the original, and Wind Waker HD is ultimately the same great game that it was when first released on GameCube.
Of course the one thing any returning player will notice instantly is the new graphics, and for the most part these are a nice improvement on the original game. Admittedly the GameCube version still looks great, but can’t compete with the smooth and crisp feel achieved when outputting at 1080p. This isn’t just a direct upscale however, but rather a full on remake with new textures, lighting, and a slightly modified colour pallet. At times it looks completely stunning, but there are the odd moments when the light catches things at the wrong angle and this can be pretty strange. Notably Link stops looking like a cartoon and starts looking like he’s made out of clay, and this isn’t a pretty sight. It’s not often, but there are times when it’s the GameCube version that looks superior.
But minor complaints aside, almost all the changes made are for the better. This is a fine tuned version of a masterpiece, and will provide countless hours of enjoyment to both new and old players. Wind Waker has already defined itself as a classic, and this newest version makes it even more accessible and fun to play. This is a charming, fun and captivating adventure that will continue to stand the test of time incredibly well.