A quick google search reveals that compared to it’s closest main series neighbours Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, the original Wind Waker falls short by a few million units sold, clocking in just below the throwaway Link’s Crossbow Training. For fans salivating for the kind of realistic hero showcased in Nintendo’s Spaceworld tech demo, the sight of Wind Waker’s felt-tip coloured, pint-sized adventurer felt like betrayal. This schism combined with the Gamecube’s poor market performance means that Wind Waker is likely to be one of the Zeldas you missed. And that’s a shame. But don’t worry, Nintendo has given you a chance to redeem your mistake with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD.
The game opens with Link’s little sister Aryll waking him up from a nap to give him a coming-of-age present on his birthday. It’s not long before a monstrous bird steals her away, and Link must embark on a quest to rescue her and bring her back home to Grandma. Themes of childhood, family and growing up are present from the outset, and they bleed into every aspect of this game. If you’ve played a 3D Zelda, you already know the broad gameplay strokes. A large, explorable overworld with dungeons dotted around it; special weapons to be collected in each, used both to solve puzzles and overcome foes with specific weaknesses. The combat is sleeker and more energetic than it’s predecessor, the addition of timed parries adds an extra element without ruining flow. The dungeon puzzles are never particularly taxing, but Wind Waker understands the simple joy of playing with its many toys. Every addition to the inventory feels like it pulls its weight, and many offer alternative functions such as the grappling hook doubling as a crane for pulling up treasure from the sea floor. There is as much fun in defeating an enemy as there is in discovering every unique (and often comical) reaction they have to each weapon.
The original Wind Waker suffered from its combat and dungeons being particularly easy, even compared to other Zeldas. By the time you’ve collected a few bottles and heart containers, the possibility of death becomes vanishingly small. Thankfully, the remake offers a godsend to skilled players in the form of “Hero Mode” difficulty, which can be turned on and off at any time. As well as the standard move of buffing enemy damage, this mode completely removes random health pickups, leaving pre-bottled healing potions as your only option for healing. This turns dungeons into truly perilous excursions that require forethought to overcome. Wind Waker’s sailing is another source of controversy. While the main story is linear, and pockets of content are kept apart by large expanses of homogeneous blue, it is in some ways the most open overworld of any Zelda. The player who just wants to power through the story can beeline directly from one key location to the next, the wide-eyed explorer can investigate any errant, treasure-filled rock on the horizon and the methodical completionist can hunt down cartographer fish to chart every corner of the ocean. The remake also adds an upgraded sail which speeds up your boat and removes the need to change the wind direction manually, drastically reducing the tedium involved in sailing. It’s the same huge world, now with fewer barriers to entry.
Wind Waker’s greatest strength is, of course, its aesthetics. Aside from basic upgrades to resolution and effects, there is a shift in visual style. The original has more marked shade contrasts and richer colours. The remake, on the other hand, opts for higher detail, less saturated colours, more bloom and softer model lighting. The more realistic lighting effects coupled with the heavily stylized character designs gives them a clay-like effect, in contrast to the original’s more straight-forward cartoonish flair. Is this an improvement? It depends. Rolling across a mist-veiled 1080p ocean is a visual delight far beyond the scope of the ‘Cube. Then again, certain events benefit more from the original’s bold palette and contrasts, such as encounters with colourful bosses in dark caverns. Compared to games in general, however, this HD helping is still at the top of the class. The entire adventure feels filtered through the eyes of a child, tinged with exaggerated vibrancy and wonder. Every boss and most enemies tower over Link, emphasizing his smallness. The character designs are full of expression, most of all the boisterous protagonist himself. The music, much of which is interwoven cleverly with the story, equals the visual art. Evocative nautical jigs played on traditional instruments- this OST will get into your heart if you let it. “Beautiful” would be too simple a word to encapsulate it fully. This is a game so aesthetically complete that every element bows in service to its overarching themes.
The less obvious triumph of Wind Waker is its story. The game quite obviously relies heavily on narrative clichés, both of the series and of the genre, but it also quite readily subverts them. This is not a quest for royal romance, but reuniting your family. Link is not a capable fighter chosen by the Gods, but an unfortunate kid swept up by chance. Unlike every other title wherein the series villain Ganondorf is little more than an avatar for pure evil, Wind Waker presents him as a tired, complex antagonist. At a push, you might even say he represents the tiredness of the standard hero-villain dynamic itself. There are many more twists and subversions in this tale which would be spoilers. Zelda’s stories are never heavy or overly deep, but like its art style, Wind Waker’s narrative manages to do great things with only a few, strong moves. This legend is not about grand destinies, but about making the best out of your lot, and the limitless potential of ambitious youth.
For those who never played the original my advice is this: if you have any affinity for Zelda, or the adventure genre in general, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a refurbished piece of video game history you would do yourself a disservice to miss again. To those who have been round this rodeo once before: the original Wind Waker is, ironically, still so eminently playable that it’s hard to improve upon to a great degree. However, if you’re itching to see the most beautiful Zelda in new crystal clear graphics, to tackle the adventure in a difficulty that behoves a veteran, or simply to relive a piece of your past in a more streamlined package, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is guaranteed to captivate you all over again.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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