Revisiting these whimsical waters in glorious High Definition
By: Corey Dirrig
(Warning: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a remake of the original GameCube title that released in 2003. There will be a lot of comparisons to that original game in this review. Some Spoilers may exist in the review below).
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has retro-actively become one of the more beloved entries in this iconic series. It was a wise choice for Nintendo to tackle this game to show off the graphical capabilities of the Wii U. The original was and still is timeless, as the art direction seems to have transcended console generations and hardware limitations. Eiji Aonuma and his team seem very aware that The Legend of Zelda series runs the risk of becoming stale and predictable if it continues down the path it has traveled down, seeing as Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, though great games in their own right, seem to mimic the past more than innovate for the future. It really makes sense for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD to release on Nintendo’s newest console, as it represents the risks that the series has taken in the past to deliver an engaging, new experience. It has given the development team the opportunity to revisit a beloved game that may have been initially overlooked on the GameCube and transform it into a more refined experience, and one that possibly provides a look at what the company aims to do with the next installment.
The first thing you notice when you boot up the game is just how much at home its colorful world looks and feels on the Wii U, really feeling and looking like that game you remember from 2003. It hasn’t lost any of it’s original charm, looking like if Pixar had partnered with Nintendo to design it themselves. Even the characters like Tetra, the mailman, and Link himself look like they were ripped right from their studio. Distant objects are no longer limited by the hardware specs, allowing for those once blurred objects in the distance to be fully modeled and clear. Also very noticeable from the get-go is the improved lighting effects, resulting in a brighter, much more vibrant world. Even the shadows from the grass and trees look outstanding. If I didn’t know any better, this game feels like it was meant to be on Wii U from the start, standing toe to toe with some of Wii U’s finest, as it runs at full 1080p. Some frame rate issues do occur at points when theirs a lot of action on screen, but never made a difference in how charming and outstanding the experience is.
Link’s journey across the Great Sea to save his sister, and soon after the world, takes him to many fascinating locations. Though there are only a handful of dungeons compared to other games in the series, but what makes The Wind Waker’s oceanic world unique is that there are lots of smaller islands to discover and explore. Each island you visit, big or small, has some sort of charming character or race attached to it. It’s one of the few games in the franchise where each character physically portrays what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling; even Link shows off his emotional side through a range of fun, cartoony expressions. The best easter egg in the game comes in the form of The Great Deku Tree, the beloved tree from Ocarina of Time (or if you delve further into Zelda lore, the seedling of the original Great Deku Tree). Nintendo also pulled a fast one on us, being hip with the times and adding the awesome ability to take ‘selfies’ while he’s on my adventure. It just goes to show that Nintendo clearly wants us to experience the playful and whimsical mood evoked by the fantastic world. This is further complemented by the solid soundtrack. My personal favorite track is the one that plays as you explore Dragon Roost Island, it feels very soothing and evokes the thought of nautical adventure.
There have been an extensive number of tweaks made to some of the core gameplay mechanics, nearly all of which have drastically improved the overall feel pacing. The core quest line and structure remain mostly unchanged, as the dungeon design and puzzle-solving elements were never the issue. The most substantial, and probably the best, difference is found during the Triforce Quest segment, as it is notoriously known for being the least intuitive part of the original game. For those who haven’t played the original game, it is essentially a glorified fetch quest where you locate the eight shards of the Triforce of Courage. It was clearly inserted in the original as a means to artificially extend the game. Many hardcore Zelda fans know that some of the original dungeons planned for the game were cut towards the end of production, so they added this quest. Not only did this completely kill the pace of the game up until that point, but it also highlighted how few dungeons there now were.
Unfortunately, Nintendo has opted not to include those “lost” dungeons into this version of the game, but it has at least streamlined the entire process of collecting the Triforce shards of that quest. It would have been interesting to see more of the ideas they had planned because there are so many cool aspects visually and level design wise. In the GameCube version, you had to find a sea chart for each shard, get it deciphered for a ridiculous amount of rupees and then use it to locate that shard. Now you can just simply find most of the shards, although you’ll need to complete a simple puzzle or beat a bad guy or two to get to it. It definitely feels a lot better in terms of pacing. It’s important to point out that there is still some puzzles to solve to get them, which makes sense as it retains an element of exploration, almost feeling like it’s compensating for the lack of the missing dungeons, but I still appreciate the effort to make this quest extremely less brutal. Nevertheless, exploration remains a key aspect. While it’ll often nudge players in the right direction, it’s not always as straightforward as it may seem, and in most instances you’ll need, and be encouraged, to explore the overworld, updating your sea chart and knowledge of each island you find along the way. This is where it truly comes into its own, providing a sense of adventure and discovery.
Another mechanic that has received a significant overhaul is the sailing. Link now has access to a new and improved sail, which allows him to travel the seas at a greater speed than was previously possible. The best thing about this too is that you never have to change the direction of the wind when using it, thus reducing the frequency on which you have to depend on the Wind Waker. The instruments are usually key items in every Zelda game, and this one was no exception, but it was a pain in the original game. I am glad I don’t have to whip it out every time I wanted to sail somewhere. Your success in the main quest is wholly dependent on your knowledge of the open seas, which is a time-consuming affair in itself, but one which is now way more enjoyable. Exploration is undoubtedly one of the title’s strongest elements, still feeling as immersive all these years later. It’s remarkable just how well it stands out even against today’s options across all the platforms.
The Wii U GamePad provides some unique ways to improve on the Zelda formula. It worth noting that if the GamePad isn’t your thing, the game does ask if you prefer to use Wii U Pro Controller, but if you do you’re missing out on a great deal of convenience. Managing items via the GamePad’s touch screen no longer requires you to pause the game unless you are using the off-TV mode. You can effortlessly shift things around, making it especially useful for the switching out items on the fly while solving the dungeons. Items still require being assigned to specific face and shoulder buttons, although as much as you are switching out items throughout the game, it would have been great to assign some to the D-Pad. What makes that even more thought-provoking is that you are able to use the D-Pad to use the cannon and crane on the boat while sailing. Again, not that it makes the experience any less fun, it was just a thought I had while roaming around one of the later dungeons. The maps are also displayed on the GamePad and provide detailed information in real-time, which is especially useful when I was sailing and searching for islands. It’s a godsend and one which makes navigating both fun and effortless.
On complaint I do have is that Nintendo has somehow shoehorned motion controls into this game for some reason. Though rare, I did have to use the gyroscope in the GamePad to aim my grappling hook and other items, which I didn’t like. There are some games like Wii Sports that need motion controls and I enjoy games like that, but get them out of my Zelda experience. It may seem more intuitive for some, but I prefer the sticks.
8.5/10 – The DNA Network
Nintendo has painstakingly remastered one of the most beloved games of the series. The game’s timeless art style is charming and whimsical, thanks to the fresh coat of HD paint, while also making an extensive amount of worthwhile improvements to original’s flawed aspects. Sailing across the Great Sea, discovering new islands and exploring the dungeons, which still are a master craft in game design a decade later, has simply never been as much fun as it is on the Wii U., The fact that it still offers more gameplay and entertainment value than most modern titles on the market today speaks volumes about its undeniable quality. This refined experience will appeal to newcomers and veterans alike, and we can only hope that the small, yet significant steps that Nintendo has taken with this outstanding remake are a promising sign of things to come.