Release Date: October 4, 2013Platform: Wii UDeveloper: NintendoPublisher: NintendoGenre: Action-Adventure
Every time a new Zelda game cuts through the grass and emerges onto the market, you can almost feel the sheer magic that surrounds the title before you even get your hands on it: a true legend of the gaming world in its own right. Well this year Zelda fanatics were given quite an unexpected treat in the form of their first taste of a main-entry Zelda game on the Wii U hardware. Nintendo knew it would still be a while before the true next-gen Zelda Wii U would be ready for release, and so to tide us fans over until then, they gave us a full-blown HD remake of what is arguably one of Link’s greatest and most beloved adventures to date: The Wind Waker, first released on The GameCube way back in 2003. And yes, that means you’ll get to interact with Tingle in high definition for the very first time (and you know you really want to).
Everything you loved about the original Wind Waker has been left elegantly intact, from the fantastic story about pirates and seafaring, to the unique and interesting puzzle-filled dungeons you’ll traverse along the way, to the charming island inhabitants and the flurry of fun side quests. But at the same time, everything has been clearly upgraded for 2013 in an impeccable sheen of HD graphics, supporting GamePad controls for maps and inventory, and just an all-around upheld reintroduction to the gameplay that made The Wind Waker one of Link’s most fantastic adventures today. It is not only a must-have for everyone who owns Nintendo’s latest home console, but is could easily be a system seller for many who are still on the fence about getting one: which is no small feat for a game that first game out 10 years ago.
From the moment the game’s opening segments first booted up, and I found myself standing at the top of a wooden outpost, cel-shaded blonde hair waving in the breeze, and overlooking the sea, I was completely overcome with that same sense of magic that I felt the first time I played the game way back on the Gamecube: only now the magic has been modified to make sense for the modern gaming world. The Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics, which were once a controversial subject for die-hard Ocarina of Time fans, have never looked better and brighter here in HD. The amount of dynamic shadow and lighting incorporated here is simply astounding, and literally everything in the game world has an impeccable color and shine, from the characters themselves, to the items you’ll collect and the locations you’ll adventure through.
Being on the Wii U now, it’s clear that Nintendo took every opportunity to update The Wind Waker on the unique next-generation hardware, without ever going overboard or compromising the vision of the original game. The greatest inclusion is easily the item inventory and map interface that reads on your Wii U GamePad screen at all times. Seriously, I don’t think there can ever be a way to play a Zelda game again without all of your most important information and items sitting easily in the palm of your hands. Panning through your inventory screens and assigning items to inputs has never felt so good with the quick flick of your finger on the touchscreen, and the different maps you’ll find and collect look especially nice in this format, and it’s so incredibly convenient and cool to just quickly glance down in the middle of a dungeon to gather up your bearings.
The other big addition you’ll notice towards the beginning of the game is Nintendo’s inclusion of its Miiverse functionality into The Wind Waker. I was afraid these kinds of these would be a bit too gimmicky at first, but the developers absolutely nailed this feature, by allowing players to write their own custom messages and leave them in little green bottles in the water and along the shore for others to find and scoop up. It’s a nice little detail, and nothing that affects the actual game in any respect, but it adds another extra bit of magic every time you find a glittering little bottle washed up alongside your sea vessel (if only the contents in most of the bottles I found so far were half as interesting). It fully adds to the mystery of exploring the vast open waters in The Wind Waker, and a nice little reminder at times that you aren’t entirely alone out there.
But of course, there are still a few minor quirks every now and then that manage to date The Wind Waker and expose the game as a remake of a 10-year-old classic. Probably the most notable of these is in the camera, which, although for the most part works smoothly and cooperatively with you, can sometimes get sporadic and snap too close to Link in certain indoor environments, or go straight through characters or walls themselves for a short moment, most apparent when you’re climbing ladders at awkward angles, or taking a corner too closely. Some will also find a few of the more annoying gameplay choices from the first time around still feel a bit archaic in spots, but these are mostly attested to a few of the smaller mini-games and side quests, and are overall not that big of a deal, as most will likely just be a matter of preference.
If you’ll allow me to circle back to the graphics again for a minute (yes, they’re really that good), one portion of the game that especially shines is the sea exploration and sailing mechanics, which was often considered a point of debate for fans of the game, with some enjoyable these idle breaks in the action, and others feeling that the sailing itself was too slow and too tedious. I happened to always enjoy sailing component in the original Wind Waker, although the increased draw distance between landmarks on the waters now in the HD version made these segments a real highlight to me. And better yet, your boat seems to sail much faster now than I remember it did all those years ago. It’s really saying something when the cartoony blue ocean with the simple rolling white line of waves become some of the best water textures I’ve ever seen in a game.
But honestly? The greatest thing to me about this HD remake of The Wind Waker is that it truly serves to show how Nintento’s iconic action-adventure series continues to stand the test of time from generation to generation of gaming. If I had never played the original or even knew about its existence, then I would have wholeheartedly believed that this was a brand new Zelda adventure built specifically for the Wii U. With the graphics completely upgraded, the gameplay and puzzles are still as fresh and lively as ever, and it’s not only the perfect way for Zelda fanatics to revisit one of Link’s most beloved adventures, but the perfect way to introduce legions of newcomers to one of gaming’s most magical adventures. And so with that, there’s really only one thing left to say to Nintendo: bring on the long-awaited Zelda Wii U!
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 10/10
Soundtrack – 10/10
Replayability – 10/10