The Legend of Zelda series is one that is familiar to a vast majority of gamers. People will regale you with stories about Ocarina of Time, they will you “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!”, and they will eagerly discuss the best Zelda games with you. One game that is frequently overlooked in various Zelda discussions is The Wind Waker, which is a shame because it is right up there in my top three Zelda games of all time. I’ll be talking about the HD remaster available on the Wii-U, which I think is the best way to experience this game.
The story starts with young Link growing up on Outset Island. It’s his birthday, and his sister has a special present for him. This fantastic day suddenly takes a sharp turn when a large evil-looking bird carrying a young girl is shot down over the Outset Island jungle by a pirate ship! Link sets out to investigate this strange occurrence, and manages to rescue the young girl named Tetra, but things go from bad worse when the bird recovers, snatches up Link’s sister, and flies in the direction of a dark tower. And thus begins Link’s quest, setting out on an oceanic adventure, with a band of pirates, to rescue his sister.
The first thing that everyone notices with this game is the art style. The Wind Waker forgoes the “mature” art from The Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and makes use of cel-shading to great a more toon like Zelda game. People immediately associated this choice with an idea that The Wind Waker is a childish game for kids that adults will have no interest in, but in retrospect, this is one of the most striking art styles of any Zelda game. I love the look and feel of this game. I love that this cel-shaded Link is able to convey so much more emotion than the more mature high polygon 3D faces of the two Link’s that came before. And the HD overhaul makes this art look even more stunning, with layers and layers and layers of extra detail, vastly increased draw distances, and a softer but more effective colour palette. Unlike the old 3D models with lots of sharp angles and weird shapes, the cel-shading art has an almost timeless quality to it – I dont think it will ever look dated.
The next that everyone notices about this game is that the overworld, Hyrule, has been drowned over time by rising waters. The whole world now exists as an archipelago of islands – the Hyrule mountain tops that were tall enough to stay above water. Early in the game you come across an enchanted boat, you find a sail, and you find a wand called the Wind Waker, which allows you to control the winds so you can sail to any location on the map. I love the layout of this new Hyrule, I love that you can still navigate to important landmarks from the previous games that have been reinterpreted with the new nautical theme. The large expanses of ocean feel almost endless, and there is something about setting a course and sailing from one side of the map to the other that I just find so charming. Not everyone finds it charming, with the sailing between islands often seen as a chore, so one of the updates made to this game in the HD remake was the ability to acquire an advanced sail that allows you sail the seas at a much faster speed if you so desire.
Adventuring is standard fare for anyone who has ever played a Zelda game before. You have a sword and shield which does most of the work, and bunch of secondary items that are often required to supplement your fighting and defeat the larger enemies – for example, using a grappling hook to pull the vital bits out of a jelly monster, which you would then strike with your sword. You go into dungeons, explore every nook and cranny, defeat the boss, grab the treasure, and move on to the next dungeon. One of the interesting parts of this game is the treasure map system – you find treasure maps littered throughout the world, you decipher the maps to work out where the treasure is, and then you use your grappling hook as a crane to to retrieve the treasure from the depths of the ocean. During the final parts of the game this treasure hunting becomes a mandatory for a specific set of maps, and this was a source of much angst for gamers as treasure hunting can be lengthy and tedious. But the HD remake has addressed these concerns, with some of the special maps replaced by the actual treasure, and other special maps placed in more logical positions. But yeah, this Zelda game doesn’t stray too far from the established formula, it takes something that works well and enhances it in what I think are the right ways.
Secondary items play an important part in this game. Your Wind Waker works in a similar fashion to the ocarinas that have come before, allowing you change the environment, teleport to different parts of the map, and do some more quest specific actions. Most of the traditional items are back for this game, but there are some new secondary items like the Deku leaf which you can use as a parachute, and a giant hammer which you can use to break through armour and bash pegs into the ground. Also available is different varieties of bait to catch fish, pigs and seagulls, loot which you get from defeating enemies and can be traded in to specific people for a variety of different power-ups, and a trading game that has you roaming around the various islands looking for merchants so you can swap different decorative items and establishing trade routes.
The last thing I want to talk about is the Picto Box. This is a camera that allows you take pictures of anything and everything, and you can take these pictures to the museum and have them turned into models. This is a quest aimed at completionists – and your models (and the Picto Box) carry over into your subsequent playthroughs so you can take photos of those early boss fights that occur before you get the Picto Box first time around. The HD remake takes the Picto Box and uses it as a way to connect players with other players around the world via Mii-verse. When you take a picture, you can also write a little message, put the picture and the message in a bottle, and toss it out into the ocean where it will wash up on the shores of other player’s games. The Picto Box functionality has also been tweaked so that you can take selfies, have Link pull funny faces while doing it, and post these pictures to the internet. It’s a simple tweak, completely optional, and a great way for people to get involved in the Wind Waker Mii-verse community if they want.
Okay I’m over 1000 words now so I better stop gushing. The Wind Waker was one of my favourite games on the Game Cube, and this HD remake shows that it easily stands the test of time. If you own a Wii-U, this is one of the must-have games that should definitely be in your library.
Review by Ryan Lawler