The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Review

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Most of us are familiar with the uproar that came from the unveiling of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for GameCube back in the early 2000s. As is often the case with angry gamers on the Internet, it was difficult to tell if hoards of people were genuinely upset with the cel-shaded art style, or if it was simply a vocal, raging minority screaming through a megaphone. Judging by my friends’ reactions, I think a large number of people were at least initially upset by the art style, largely because they still had images of the Space World 2000 tech demo fresh in their minds.

It was a then-gorgeous display of what a fight between Link and Ganon could (and presumably would) look like on Nintendo’s powerful new console. With 13 years between then and now (oh my God!), I have to say, that once-impressive tech demo did not age well. Wind Waker’s cel-shaded aesthetic, however, still looks gorgeous today.

Now, not to be all hipster about it, but I was actually very pleased with the cartoon look from the very beginning. The moment I laid eyes on the images and videos for Wind Waker, I was elated. I was, admittedly, a bit shocked by the decision to go in such a lighthearted direction, but I wasn’t bothered by it — I loved it! That meant, of course, that I was tasked with the heavy burden of having to defend the game and its honor from my friends’ vicious attacks. “It looks like a game for babies!” they would exclaim. Upon the game’s release, however, I didn’t hear much criticism from them. Oh, what’s that? You were all too busy EATING IT UP to complain?

It was a bit bizarre to see a game go from being eviscerated to lauded, but that’s exactly what happened with Wind Waker.

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It’s now 2013 and Nintendo has finally made its first foray into the world of high-definition gaming with its Wii U console. To whet the appetites of gamers while they wait for the next true console Zelda title, Nintendo has released what is basically a remastered edition of its groundbreaking classic with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. If I didn’t already know that, at its heart, this was an 11-year-old game, I would have no problem believing it was a brand-new creation.

Nintendo took everything about the original GameCube title, and simply made it better in its Wii U form. The most obvious upgrade, of course, is in how the game looks. The original version, designed for standard-definition televisions, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, was at a resolution of 480i. The new HD version, with a 16:9  aspect ratio, is viewed at a resolution of 1080p. That alone is a huge upgrade, but Nintendo went back and meticulously recreated every single visible character and object in the game to look even more spectacular with the Wii U’s graphical power.

Enhancements were also made to the in-game lighting, which gives added effect to the cartoon look, but another benefit to putting the game on Wii U is that it takes advantage of enhanced draw distance, which in layman’s terms means you are able to see objects — in this case, islands — further off in the distance.

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Speaking of distance, one of the few complaints about the original Wind Waker was that its map was too big and often took too long to traverse. Personally, I didn’t think it was really that big a deal, but Nintendo addressed the issue by making the “Swift Sail” available in Windfall Island’s auction house.

The Swift Sail allows you to sail at twice the speed of the regular sail, and eliminates the need to change the wind’s direction when making drastic navigational turns. In other words, the wind is always at your back. With these things compounded, gliding across the Great Sea is simple, easy and fun. This also helps tremendously when searching for the Triforce shards later in the game. Thankfully, that much-maligned quest has been updated, streamlined and improved.

In terms of gameplay, Wind Waker was known for having some of the most fluid combat ever. That hasn’t changed, but now, you no longer need to pause the game and pull up a menu to swap out items assigned to the face and shoulder buttons. Instead, the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen is implemented, where you can easily slide items from your inventory to whichever buttons you prefer. It’s much quicker and much smoother than in the GameCube version, especially in the middle of a fight.

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Much like in Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword on Wii, Wind Waker HD uses gyroscopic controls (only now with the GamePad, not the Wii-mote) to direct the grappling hook, boomerang, hookshot and bow. Though you can choose to use the analog stick, it doesn’t take long to get acclimated to the gyroscopic option, which is honestly an easier, quicker and more accurate means of input.

One of my favorite parts about WWHD is its Miiverse integration. If your Wii U is connected to the Internet, you can send messages, drawings and pictographs across Miiverse by way of the Tingle Bottle. Once you’ve decided what you want to share, you toss the bottle out into the sea. All through the game, you’ll spot bottles floating in the water with the same types of content from other players.

Wind Waker HD is the definitive, quintessential incarnation of the game — of that, there is no doubt. I believe this is how Eiji Aonuma, the longtime director of the Zelda series, envisioned Wind Waker when development first began over a decade ago. Its characters are quirky, its art is charming, its music is inspiring, and its gameplay fun and unhindered. If you were looking for a reason to pick up a Wii U, this is it.

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2 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Review

  1. Such a charming and gorgeous game. I think the second half is still a little janky in pacing, but the final boss fight almost makes up for it. Highly recommended and a classic.

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