When Nintendo took the decision to follow their lauded N64 Zelda adventures with the supposedly kiddy-fied Wind Waker, there was uproar in some circles. Majora’s Mask had been quite easily the darkest, most maudlin Zelda quest yet, and because of the notorious Zelda 128 footage that had shown a grittier sword swinging Link, fans were expecting a Gamecube powered, grown-up stab at the series, not the cartoon version that eventually showed up. Sales were poor when compared to Ocarina of Time, and the game received criticisms which often get raised today, all these years on: the sailing was boring; those bloody Triforce shards.
But this was no watered down Zelda-lite, and there were just as many people who adored the seafaring odyssey, and remember it fondly today. Wind Waker was, and still is, an astonishingly expansive game, which embellishes Link with snippets of latter-day gaming trends whilst not abandoning the heart and soul of what makes a Legend of Zelda game so timeless.
Given how wonderful “Celda” looked in its original incarnation, joining Twilight Princess among the best looking things on the Gamecube, it was not the most obvious title to give a high-definition makeover. It doesn’t take long after making your return visit to the pig-infested Outset Island before you realise just what a fine job Nintendo have done in bringing their iconic franchise into HD for the first time.
Cel shading tends to age far better than most other graphical styles, yet the 1080p sheen has given this reimagining a sophisticated edge, whilst losing none of the vibrancy that made the 2002 release look so special. Proper 16:9 widescreen this time around means that the game fills your modern HDTV screen without borders or inappropriate stretching. The colours are still bright – Link pops particularly beautifully – but the devil is in the details. The textures have been paid a great deal of attention – buildings are adorned with intricate patterns when you view them up close, and everything is clearer, sharper. The use of dynamic shadow and lighting effects are seriously impressive when you put them up alongside the decade-old original. The Great Sea was always a lovely place to get lost in, no matter what anyone would tell you to the contrary. Traversing the undulating waters as the sun sets, with the familiar theme tune chirruping away and the skies awash with beautiful colours is as memorable a gaming experience as you can have anywhere, and now has the benefit of being even better than you remembered it. Pushing the King of Red Lions towards islands and outcrops no longer leads to objects popping into view thanks to the improved draw distances that have made the open seas a seamless miracle.
As perfect as the Gamecube controller was for handling young Link, the Wii U Gamepad is a brilliant way to play a Zelda title, just as we always imagined it would be. If you really want to stay old-school, then there is support for the Pro Controller, too – but the extra screen works so well that it is hard to imagine why anyone would want to select that option. Your inventory and map screens can be accessed on the fly without pausing the game. For those who remember the constant stopping and starting to look at sea charts and maps back in the day, this is manna from heaven. Items can be allocated to the available action buttons by just dragging them with your finger or stylus, with the Wind Waker baton not even having to be equipped to use it as it is permanently mapped to the d-pad. Like the splendid 3DS version of Ocarina, you can aim weapons or gadgets in your arsenal using the gyro, which works a treat. Best of all is the option to play off-screen, which is initiated with a simple button press.
Elsewhere there are other improvements and embellishments that attempt to enhance our experience. The real biggie is the inclusion of the Swift Sail. Available to buy relatively early in the game, it speeds up the sailing sections of the game, and also means that your craft will always have the wind behind it – negating the use of the Wind Waker to change its direction. For some, this will be an absolute boon – the lengthy boat trips were seen by some as unnecessary and dull. If you enjoy the tranquil nature and laid back pace of exploring your salty environs, then you don’t have to buy the thing anyway. Everybody is happy.
Subtle and sensible tweaks have been made. The crane which is used to hoist goodies up from the sea bed is now quicker. Animations for other tasks (like using the Wind Waker) can be skipped. The arduous hunt for Triforce shards has been made more palatable, with far less of the unavoidably boring backtracking. Once you get your hands on the cannon, there is now a very handy trajectory indicator which makes aiming much easier and far less frustrating.
Tingle is forcibly introduced early doors, and while the Game Boy Advance link is no more, there is a wonderful new MiiVerse tie-in, the Tingle Bottle, which allows you to leave messages dotted around the Great Sea for other adventurers to discover. Hero Mode returns from Skyward Sword, eliminating any collectible hearts and allowing your foes to deal double damage. The sweeping, familiar musical accompaniments have been remastered rather splendidly. If you have the opportunity to listen to this one with a decent set of headphones on, please do so. Even the Picto Box has been improved – allowing you to store far more snapshots, and also giving you the option to have Link take unashamed “selfies” which can be plastered all over the MiiVerse.
Despite the radical overhaul in the visuals department, Wind Waker was never truly revolutionary in the same way as Ocarina of Time, which transported the green tunic into 3D, or Skyward Sword, which dared to innovate with Link’s inventory and physicality, and delivered a valid reason to use Wii Motion Plus. Fancy sail or not, there is still a heck of a lot of sailing to contend with, and that will not appeal to everyone. Dungeons are quite thin on the ground, and some of the bosses are staggeringly easy to beat. A promising early flirtation with stealth is hardly expanded upon again, as the structure of the game eases straight back into the familiar Zelda pattern.
Even with these problems, this is a game that has the power to enthral and delight at every juncture. Dungeoneering is classic Zelda, but with some beautiful touches – like the way Link’s eyes are drawn to important objects or waypoints, helping the observant to solve the clever puzzles that have become the series hallmark. Finding new islands and secrets has never felt more exciting than by boat and the use of treasure maps, and there is much to discover – including the trademark Heart Pieces and the variety of compulsive mini-games you encounter along your travels. There are some memorable new characters for Link to meet, all of whom play a role in the excellent story. The anime influences are strong – from the wide-eyed, expressive face of the hero, or the Miyazaki-flavoured denizens of the Forest Haven.
VERDICT: Nintendo are placing a great deal of faith in The Wind Waker HD, even producing a lush limited edition console to mark its release. It is undoubtedly an excellent effort, which breathes new life into a decade-old title, and is a bright and arresting way for Link to debut in HD. What Nintendo need to do now is set about crafting something more than just a do-over, and move the wonderful old series forward on their richly promising hardware.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.