The combination of unorthodox vibrant cel-shaded artwork and in-game travel via sailing initially made Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the Nintendo GameCube one of the more controversial Zelda titles ever. However it's these very aspects, alongside the fantastic score and the fluid combat system, that eventually made the game a classic, alongside my favorite Zelda game ever. So when Nintendo announced a high definition rehash, my interest and excitement were piqued. With the game finally released, I wondered, "Is this a simple repackaged, slightly improved update, or is Wind Waker as good – or even better – than I remember?"
"Nostalgia goggles" refers to the over exaggerated love for the past, remembering things as better than they actually were in hindsight. I admit this warm-hazy recollection of Wind Waker is a contributing factor to my undying attachment to the game.
But upon playing this updated rerelease, all misconceptions about "nostalgia goggles" were shattered completely. The fighting controls are still tight and satisfying, the characters are still charming and beautifully rendered, and the world is still as vast and immersive as it was when first released.
Like the original, this newly updated Wind Waker takes place long after the events of the Nintendo 64's, Ocarina of Time, with the kingdom of Hyrule long gone, lost to a great flood and becoming the Great Sea. The game begins on the birthday of our main protagonist, Link, but his celebration is short-lived when he rescues a female pirate from the clutches of a giant bird. During the rescue, his sister Aryll is abducted instead, setting up the game's main quest to retrieve her from the evil clutches of the evil Ganon.
As stories go, the abducted heroine requiring rescue narrative is admittedly a trope, but I can't hold it against a game that was released a decade ago. Some say the formula has gotten stale, but the setup seems appropriate for a fantasy fiction storyline, with plenty of original and surprising twists and turns thrown in to refresh the rescue-journey scenario. The Legend of Zelda franchise has always been amongst the best gaming franchises for both action and storyline, despite the lack of dialogue, a testament to how well every other aspect of the games visual and audio mesh, and The WindWaker continues the tradition.
Players are given to traverse the Great Sea, discovering islands, searching for treasure, battling sea monsters, launching bombs at sea forts, all with the help of his boat 'the King of the Red Lions.' A main component of the game (and where the game derives its name) is using the Wind Waker wand to conduct spells to manipulate the wind's direction for sailing, change the time of day, or open locked doors throughout Link's adventures. Of course, befitting any fantasy adventure, along the journey Link must fight through dungeons, caves, and fortresses, obtaining weapons and items such as an archer's bow, boomerang, grappling hook, or hookshot to name a few.
The Deku leaf is a two for one item, acting as a hang-glider and a weapon that shoots gusts of wind!
An HD Remake Done Right: Besides the crisper, sharper, and improved graphics, The Wind Waker HD has made several improvements to the original. One of the most tedious problems in the original game's sailing sequences was that the Wind Waker wand and the sail were required to be assigned to two of the three controller's action buttons. The treasure hunting hook would usually take the third, which meant trouble during spontaneous action sequences. This problem no longer exists in this modern rehash, as Nintendo made the wise choice of having these items standard and permanently etched onto the D-pad, making sailing a much less stressful task. Not to mention equipping items is now much easier on the fly thanks to the Wii U's Gamepad touchscreen.
If you've already played the game to death and are still on the fence about whether this update is worth revisiting, take note Hero mode just might be the reason to return back for another go. In Hero mode, the difficulty is ramped up to a very challenging level by limiting health items, only available from fairies, potions, when heart pieces are earned, or by visiting a fairy fountain. Damage dealt by enemies is also doubled. Together, these healing limitations and damage alterations makes playing Hero mode a whole new game of skill and planning.
Other improvements include the Swift Sail item, which decreases the time spent on lengthy boat excursions, another fix for one of the few unpopular flaws frequently complained about: too much time spent on the high seas.
Left: Wii U Version - Right: Original Gamecube Version
Exclusive Wii U Features: The improvement made to controls can't be understated when comparing this new version to the original. The jump to modern consoles have granted The Wind Waker access to the Wii U's unique set of features such as Miiverse, a secondary resistive touch screen, and motion controls. Players can now send off messages, pictures, or sketches in bottles to a random player's game, a fun distraction for when you find yourself in a need of a break from adventuring.
As for the motion controls, they're thankfully implemented without the sake of a gimmick. I dare say, I actually prefer aiming using the Wii U's Gamepad gyroscopic controls; I found it a quicker and more efficient method than the traditional 'aim reticle at target with control stick' method of the GameCube original. Although it's a minor use of the Gamepad's touchscreen, I also enjoyed equipping new items on the continuously present menu screen, now only requiring a swipe of the finger to access.
Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD earns a strong recommendation not only because it was a fantastic experience on the Gamecube, but because it's a remake done right for today's gamer too. The original was my favorite Zelda game of all time, but it still had several flaws that always bothered me through all these years. Nintendo did the right thing and fixed these issues successfully, one by one, and now I've fallen back in love with the game all over again.
Those who weren't drawn in by the charming visual style the first time will unlikely be swayed this time, though the update's graphics are undeniably improved. I went into The Wind Waker believing only these graphics would be improved, upon playing found them secondary in comparison to the numerous control and gameplay updates which make this game vastly superior to it's predecessor. Until the next console Legend of Zelda is announced, The Wind Waker HD is a welcome addition to any video game enthusiast's collection.
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