When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was first announced for the Nintendo Gamecube, the reaction was mixed at best. Rather than continuing in the gritty, realistic style promised in the 2000 Spaceworld trailer, the Wind Waker trailer revealed a cheery, cel-shaded cartoon world. Fans decried the art direction, accusing Nintendo of making a kiddie game for dumb babies. Granted, they were mostly right, as long as you replace “kiddie game” with “beautiful, well-crafted masterpiece” and “dumb babies” with “everyone other than dumb babies.” And then of course, the game itself turned out to be fantastic. The cartoonish graphics belied an expressive simplicity – characters and environments brimmed with personality. The oceanic world was vast and seemingly endless, harboring an untold amount of secrets. The music was fantastic and engrossing, and remains deeply etched in my brain even 10 years later. It’s hard to pinpoint another game as lovingly crafted; certainly, it stands as an exemplar of the form.
Of course, the game was almost universally lauded by critics, and these days, many gamers tend to look back at it with rose-tinted glasses (without admitting they were wrong, naturally.) I’ll cop to it, though: I was wrong about The Wind Waker. I was initially turned off by the art style, but upon playing it, it became my most-played game of the generation, and I still count it in my favorite games of all time. It perfectly recaptured the spirit of Zelda, a series originally built on exploration of the unknown, the thinking man’s adventure. And so, a re-release 10 years later, in stunning HD, was the perfect way for me to relive one of my most treasured experiences in my 23 years as a gamer. It’s a shrewd move on Nintendo’s part, given that HD remakes must be relatively easy to pull off, but it’s clear that the development team did not phone it in. The game serves as a perfect time capsule, a beautiful summation of the allure that Nintendo’s particular style still holds, and a great argument for the importance of recognizing older games as still relevant. Nostalgia, as it turns out, is a hell of a drug.
Within minutes of booting it up for the first time, I was in love all over again. The HD treatment does wonders for the game. The ocean really does seem to go on forever as hazy islands linger on the horizon. Link borders on being a living cartoon; he grimaces, yawns, and sighs, and looks at whatever catches his interest as you explore towns and caverns. My only complaint with the visuals is minor, and is one that plagues many modern games; the amount of bloom often borders on egregious, washing out colors that used to be eye-poppingly vibrant. Combat and item use remains largely the same; that is to say, the best ever featured in a Zelda game. The added functionality of the Wii U gamepad allows the player to use gyroscopic controls for items like the bow and arrow and telescope; a small feature, but immersion-building nonetheless.
Everything amazing and memorable about the original has been preserved here, from the devilishly tricky dungeons to the unique sidequests and witty dialogue. Everything painful about the original has been streamlined, removed, or revised. The player can now purchase the Swift Sail, an item that makes traversing the open sea a much quicker and easier prospect by removing the need to change wind direction when altering tack. Equipping items is relegated to the gamepad’s touchscreen, letting the player drag items into slots rather than pausing to assign them to buttons. That screen can also display the dungeon or overworld maps, which means keeping track of Link’s location is a breeze. The late-game Triforce quest, a huge timesink originally, has been amended to be less of a headache. Other minor changes, like increased text speed and streamlined quest lines, improve the flow of the game without drastically altering it.
Have you ever revisited something you treasured after a long period of time, only to find that its charm has diminished over the years? The Wind Waker does not suffer from that one bit. This could have been a transparent cash grab from Nintendo, a plea to buy into their (sadly) flagging console. Luckily, there’s a great deal of effort put in for an HD update. What Nintendo has managed to do, in essence, is subtly tweak the game so that it seems as good as you remember (when in actuality it’s even better.) I’m just glad to have another excuse to spend some time revisiting my childhood.
Things I Loved
- Gorgeous HD upgrade
- Memorable soundtrack
- Complex dungeons and quests
Things I Hated
- Truthfully? Nothing.