The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Wii U Review

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It’s crazy to think that it’s been over ten years when the internet went ablaze with comments slating the new art style for the, back then, upcoming The Legend of Zelda game, The Wind Waker for GameCube. As time moved on, more people began to convert and grow to love its beautiful presentation and cel-shaded graphics. The Wind Waker is without a doubt the one Zelda game that causes a partition between fans. Some fans love it to the point they think it is the best in the franchise, some hate it, and then there are people like me who found it to be a great game, but could see issues with its pacing and unchallenging difficulty that in the end brought the experience down from being an overall classic. When you have a new entry in a series that has such a history behind it, it will always be an unfathomable job trying to make it the best, especially with such an enormous benchmark that the Zelda series has.

Even so, there is still no doubt that while The Wind Waker had issues, one thing that was never a problem was its choice of art style. To this day, The Wind Waker remains a shining example with what you can do with cel-shading. This is even more evident in 2013 with the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, a remastering of Toon Link’s adventure for Nintendo’s Wii U that demonstrates just how timeless the visuals of The Wind Waker truly are.

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Of course, The Wind Waker HD is still The Wind Waker, which means it’s still the classic Zelda formula. You play a little blonde haired boy name Link, who is equipped with the trademark green tunic, a sword and a shield, and must go save the world from the evil known as Ganon. Its mechanics and progression follow in the same linear vein as Ocarina of Time’s – locate and overcome various dungeons, solve the puzzles using the gear they hide and then finally finish off with a boss fight – rather than the unique twist of Majora’s Mask or the dungeon infused overworld of Skyward Sword.

The story of The Wind Waker is set centuries after the events of Ocarina of Time when the land of Hyrule is no longer, as the world has been flooded by a deluge. Only bits of ground remain above the Great Sea, housing the last living civilians of the world. The hero, Link, explores this digital version of Waterworld with his companion – no, not Kevin Costner, but the talking red boat known as the King of Red Lions. This boat informs Link of the dangers ahead and sets him on his journey to stop the evil from ruling what’s left of the world, while meeting with some friendly pirates along the way and sailing the globe.

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This grand open sea also suffered from one of the game’s biggest complaints back then – getting around required you to spend too much time sailing on the water.  In the beginning, sailing felt like a refreshing change from riding the horse Epona, and stumbling across a random island with rewarding secrets felt like you truly were on a open sea adventure of discovery. Still, this doesn’t deter from the fact that you spend a lot of time on the ocean. This, coupled with having to keep adjusting the wind direction with the use of the Wind Waker, so that your sails would blow at full speed, meant a lot of interruption on your journey. That’s why it’s great to know that Nintendo has modified parts of The Wind Waker HD to make for a better experience. Even the dreaded Triforce hunting quest has been changed so that it doesn’t last as long.

What’s immediately evident – which you’ll clearly see during the opening scenes – is how great the game looks. A part of it is the art style, but the resolution bump to 1080p, along with updated textures and new lighting techniques, allow the game to truly shine on the Wii U. It’s a sharp, bright, extremely colourful and rich game that perfectly captures the essence of a cartoon within its stylish world. It wouldn’t be too far from the true to state that this title looks like a game that could have come out in 2013 for the current generation of consoles. The personality that oozes from this game is something else, be it from Link’s facial features that are often used to expose his feelings (the barrel scene is great for seeing this up close) to the brilliant stylized take on existing Zelda enemies and the amazing musical score – it all comes together so well for this HD release of The Wind Waker.

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Nintendo didn’t just stop there with this HD release, as  it also used this opportunity to tune aspects of the game to make it flow better, be it from the helpful inclusion of the second screen on the gamepad or altering aspects of the game that didn’t sit too well with fans ten years ago. The gamepad is primarily used as a way to display maps and access inventory items without freezing the gameplay. It’s rather handy, especially so when you’re picking up the new miiverse “message in a bottle” feature. These little green bottles contain messages from users who sent a note in their game. This can be seen by simply touching them in the world, which adds them to your message inventory, and of course, that can be accessed without stopping the game. Combine this with the game’s Picto Box (a camera) and you get all sorts of entertaining pictures and selfies of Link sent to you that it’s such an amusing time to spend looking at these while you’re sailing the grand ocean.

Another addition is the inclusion of Hero Mode. This first made its appearance in Skyward Sword as an unlock after you beat the game, but now Nintendo has used this difficulty setting for anyone who wants to have a harder version of The Wind Waker from the get go, because let’s be honest, the original was a bit easy. Hero Mode isn’t the most elegant way to up the challenge, since all it does is make Link take double damage and removes recovery hearts from the environment, meaning you can only heal through grandma’s tasty soup or healing fairies. The enemy AI still behaves the same, so the “fix” seems like a quick way out. A neat feature is that you can switch the difficulty at any time before you load your save file, so if you’re one of the younger people who never got to experience The Wind Waker, you can try Hero Mode and then adjust it if you find it too frustrating.

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The last major changes are the inclusion of the Swift Sail, an item that can be gained after the first dungeon from the auction house that will double the boat’s travelling speed. It also automatically changes the wind direction, so you never need to keep conducting the Wind’s Requiem to force the wind to blow behind your sails. It’s a time saver, but even then, you will still find yourself on the high seas for a long time. The other is the change to the most tedious quest in the game, the Triforce hunt. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a part near the end of the game where Link must sail the ocean looking for sunken treasure that contains pieces of the Triforce, eight in total. This has been altered so that instead of having to find the maps to locate the Triforce pieces, you will get the pieces instead, cutting the length of time you spend on the quest and to some extent circumventing the boredom that came with it.

Minor changes, that don’t really do much on their own, do come together to make the overall experience better. Animations are quicker. For example, pulling treasure out of the sea is much faster, the grappling hook animation is shorter, and the Wind Waker songs don’t repeat, which back in 2003 was annoying when in the temple where you have to switch characters with the command song. There’s loads more, but all you need to know is that these changes are for the better, offering a smarter, quicker and fluid gameplay experience that no longer spends time stop-starting the action.

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For anyone who has never played The Wind Waker, this HD release is one that you must own for your limited (for now) Wii U library. It’s a charming experience that has been improved visually and mechanically to make for a better game. The Wind Waker HD comes across as a game created from this era is a testament to how well the title has held up over ten years. As for fans, revisiting the magical world of The Wind Waker feels like a trip down memory lane, but without any of the unpleasant mechanics you’ve forgotten about. It might not be the system seller Nintendo are after, but if you want to sail the high seas with Link again, then there is no question that The Wind Waker HD is the best and most satisfying way to do that, and at the same time sets a good benchmark for what we should expect from HD re-releases.

9/10

by

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Version tested: Wii U

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Action-Adventure