Review: The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker

I have waited a long time to review this game. As many of my readers know, I’ve been a gamer for most of my life. When I was a young boy, I cut my teeth on a variety of arcade classics. But it was the Nintendo Entertainment System that really ignited my obsession with gaming. I played nearly every NES game I could get my hands on, but one of my all-time favorites was The Legend of Zelda. There was just something magical about it. Everything from the timeless score to the color of the cartridge itself captivated me. I played that game until I had memorized nearly every square on the map. As I grew up, there was a period of time where my attention largely drifted away from gaming. But even then, hearing the opening notes to Zelda’s Theme would send waves of nostalgia through my brain.

That being said, I suppose it should come as no surprise to reveal that it was also a Zelda game that reawakened my zeal for video games once again. In this case, the game in question was The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It happened like this; my wife and I had learned that we were going to have a baby. So, the two of us made a visit to our local Toys ‘R Us store to scope out some potential baby toys. As we were walking down the isle, we turned the corner and came face-to-face with a Nintendo GameCube display. The kiosk was loaded with a demo copy of The Wind Waker and the two of us spent what seemed like hours tinkering with the game. By the time we finally left the store, we had a brand new GameCube and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in our shopping bag. And just like that, I was a video game addict once again.

Even though I spent a lot of time playing The Wind Waker on my GameCube, I never managed to complete it. It seems I would always get distracted by some other game and I just never got around to finishing it. With that in mind, I was really excited to finally sit down and play this game to completion. Before I get into the review itself, allow me to take a moment to mention that there are two different versions of this game available. The first, is the original release for the Nintendo GameCube. The second is an HD remaster for the Wii U. Unless you have some particular desire to experience the game on its original hardware, I highly recommend the HD version of the game. For starters, it looks much smoother and sharper than the original. Also, this new version also adds a few tweaks to the gameplay mechanics that just make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. (More on this later). In my opinion, The Wind Waker HD is without a doubt, the definitive version of the game. Plus, even though the Wii U is essentially a dead platform these days, this version of the game is still easy enough to get your hands on. The Wind Waker HD is the version of the game I played for this review.

The timeline for The Legend of Zelda series is a very complicated thing. To start with, the games are not released in any sort of chronological order. Yet, they do all take place in the same fantasy setting. To make things even more confusing, both of the main characters from the series (Zelda and Link), are not actually the same individuals from game-to-game. Finally, as if that wasn’t already twisted enough, there are multiple branching timelines within the series itself. These branches in the lore are mostly based on “what-if” scenarios that take place after the events of LoZ: Ocarina of Time.  This game, The Wind Waker, takes place in what is known as the “Adult Timeline”. This timeline assumes that the character of Link (from Ocarina), vanishes after the events of that game. As a result, Ganon escapes from his prison and takes over the Kingdom of Hyrule. Eventually, the gods intervene and submerge Hyrule in a great deluge. This results in a portion of the Triforce remaining in the sunken kingdom, and thus, out of Ganon’s reach. The other half is kept by Princess Zelda and passed on to her descendants over the generations that follow. Now, hundreds of years later, the world is little more than a vast sea. Ganon, still searching for the descendants of Zelda, has dispatched monsters to kidnap any young girl they encounter. The game begins on a small island when our hero, Link, discovers that his sister Aryll has been kidnapped. During an attempt to rescue his sister, Link nearly drowns after falling into the Great Sea. He is rescued by a magical talking sailboat called “King of Red Lions”.  The boat guides Link on his quest to rescue Aryll, but it also seems to have an ulterior motive. Having no choice but to follow King of Red Lions’ guidance, Link sets out on an unknown adventure, traversing the uncharted waters of the Great Sea. During his quest, we will come to understand his destiny and uncover the long forgotten history of the world that sits just beneath the waves.

As I mentioned above, when sitting down to play this game, players have two options; the GameCube or the Wii U. If you take my advice and play the Wii U version, there are two different control schemes to choose from. First up, is the standard method – the Wii U Game Pad. By default, this puts the action on your television set and allows the screen on the Game Pad to be used for maps and inventory management (this a big time saver). The second option is the Wii U Pro Controller. The Pro Controller is certainly more comfortable to hold than the bulky Wii U Game Pad and it’s actually a little more precise (at least in my opinion). The trade off to using the Pro Controller is the lack of a second screen. Having the Game Pad screen is certainly very handy, but its absence is not game-breaking. In the end, it’s really up to personal preference. Personally, I think I prefer the Wii U pad. If playing The Wind Waker using the GameCube, there’s really only one controller option and it works just fine. I never had any issues with the playcontrol on the original GameCube version.

Controls aside, there are actually a few other differences between the two versions of the game. To start with, the Wii U version contains a number of quality-of-life improvements. For starters, after a certain point in the game, the remaster has an option that allows players to increase the speed of their boat. This can make traversing the world much faster than it was in the original release. There’s also a pretty major change to one of the quests available towards the end of the game. While controversial to some purists, this revamp doesn’t detract from the game itself. In fact, it actually helps prevent what many players (myself included) felt was a lull in the action during a point in the game where the storyline is progressing at a fever pitch. In that regard, I find it to be a welcome change.

The next biggest difference between the two versions is a change to an optional portion of the game called the “Tingle Quest”. In the original GameCube version, players could hook up a Game Boy Advance to their GameCube. Doing so turns the Game Boy into a “Tingle Tuner” – which acts as sort of a secondary controller that provides the player with some new functions as well as hints and tips. This option is removed from the Wii U version. Instead, the Tingle Tuner is replaced with the “Tingle Bottle”. The bottle originally allowed players to send messages or screenshots to other players randomly using Nintendo’s Miiverse service. The concept was created to work like a “message in a bottle” – players would drop their notes into the sea, where they would be found by others. In this way, players could share hints and tips with each other via the internet. However, as of late 2017, the Miiverse service as been retired so this functionality no longer exists in the game.

In terms of gameplay, this game is very similar to the Nintendo 64-era Zelda titles. It’s presented in 3D and many of the game’s controls and puzzles are similar in nature. If you’ve played either Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask, then you’ll feel right at home with The Wind Waker. In fact, The Wind Waker even uses a number of sounds and musical pieces from those games. But that’s where the similarities stop. One of the first things Zelda fans noticed about this game when it was released was the radical new art design. With The Wind Waker, instead of going for realistic looking graphics, Nintendo switched gears and presented this game with a cartoon-like fashion. This really put me off at first. But it didn’t take long before it started to grow on me. Now, I actually feel like the cel-shaded visuals are part of the game’s charm.

Like most other Zelda games, players are free to explore an overworld map and a handful of dungeons. In this game, the “overworld” is actually a vast sea that’s divided into a 7×7 square grid (with a total of forty-nine unique areas). When the game begins, you start with a blank map. Each square on the map contains an area of interest (usually an island or land mass). Every time you sail to a new square, it’s wise to seek out a talking fish that patrols the area. For a small price, these fish will mark your map with the features of whatever square you’re currently visiting. Eventually, you’ll end up with a complete map – which makes navigating the game much easier.

Aside from the obvious points of interest, there’s plenty of little secrets scattered about the overworld. At various points in the game, you will uncover treasure charts that will point to the location of chests hidden deep beneath the water’s surface. These chests can contain everything from rupees to heart containers. There’s also other charts that become available later that allow players to hunt down things like traveling merchants, enemy submarines, etc. To say that there’s a lot of optional content to discover is an understatement.

In fact, it’s these “sidetreks” that really make the game feel complete. The main plot is sufficient enough in terms of length, but it’s all the optional fluff that really gives the game an open feel. Shortly after the game gets started, players are free to travel pretty much anywhere on the map that they wish. Of course, players will encounter plenty of roadblocks in the beginning. But this level of freedom is pretty liberating. As you explore, you’ll come across a wide variety of characters and subplots that do a fantastic job of making the gameworld come to life.

As is the case with any Zelda title. There’s more to the game than just random exploration. There’s always a specific goal in mind at any point in the game. More often than not, these usually revolve around dungeons. In this regard, the formula is pretty much the same as it is in any other Zelda game; explore the dungeon, solve puzzles, find the special treasure, and defeat the dungeon boss. It’s a tried and true plan for success and once again it works perfectly in this game.

This time around, Nintendo did a fantastic job of making each dungeon feel unique and interesting. With each new treasure discovered, a new level of skill and complexity is introduced. For example, early in the game, players will discover a magical leaf. Using this leaf, players can fan air in various directions so as stun enemies, clear floor debris, and interact with environmental objects. Link can also use the leaf as a makeshift paraglider, allowing him to leap from tall platforms and drift long distances. Later in the game, players will also discover a grappling hook. This object allows them to latch on to far away objects and pull themselves to areas normally out of their reach. As you might guess, by the end of the game, ingenious players will figure out how to use these two items in tandem to help overcome a variety of obstacles.

By the time it is all said and done, The Wind Waker provides an absolutely stellar gameplay experience. It takes everything that made Ocarina of Time so wonderful, adds a few new twists and turns. It completes the experience by offering a fresh coat of paint in terms of the new art-design. The whole recipe really cooks up into feast that fans are sure to enjoy. It really is that good. This game ranks right up there with Ocarina in terms of being one of the greatest video games of all time.

 

Version Reviewed: Wii U

Difficulty: Variable –  When playing the HD Remake, there are two difficulty options to choose from; Normal Mode and Hero Mode. Normal Mode is what I’d recommend to most players. It’s pretty much your standard experience. With this in mind, I actually found the majority of the game to a bit easier than most Zelda titles. This is especially true if you take the time to explore and search out heart containers as they become available. Sure, there are a few tough bosses to be found in the game. But they become much more manageable with some simple preparation. In Hero Mode, the game is much more challenging. In this mode of play, enemies deal more damage and healing hearts are non-existent. If you’re looking for a fairly hard-core experience, Hero Mode is the way to go.

Multiplayer:  No.

Story: The Wind Waker puts a huge twist in the Zelda storyline. Even with all of the branching timelines and oddities that the series is known for, this game takes things to a whole new era. And it works. The end result is both an adorable fairytale and a fantasy epic all rolled into one.

Originality: By this point, Zelda games had an established formula of success that Nintendo was expected to follow. So to keep things feeling unique, each game tended to have to introduce some new and unique element/setting. For example, Majora’s Mask had Terminus, the Oracle games introduced the “linked games” concept. For this foray, it is the sea-faring setting that makes this game stand apart from all others. That, combined with the new art direction, really make The Wind Waker feel like something fans had never seen in the series before.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is an interesting mix of both new and old songs. But in the end, it’s very well done. The opening theme is memorable and fitting, and the rest of the game’s score is perfectly balanced.

Fun: The best part of this game for me is the exploration. Even though a majority of the open sea is devoid of landmarks, there was just something about the “vastness” of the game that I enjoyed. I also found the characters and overall storyline to be very fun and engaging. The dungeon puzzles were clever and not very repetitive. The only real buzzkill I found was the inability to use the Tingle Bottle due to the death of the Miiverse service. But even then, this did not detract from other aspects of the game.

Graphics: Many people consider cel-shaded graphics to be an easy cop-out. In some cases, that can certainly be true. But for this game, it seemed like a very good choice. Even though The Wind Waker has a colorful and “flat” look to it, there’s a lot of depth and the lighting effects are very well done. Naturally, the HD Remaster looks even better than the original.

Playcontrol: On the original GameCube hardware, everything works flawlessly. The controls are natural and well thought out. For the Wii U, the Pro Controller definitely offers a tighter and more precise experience. But the trade off to this is the lack of a second screen. That being said, the controls on the Wii U Game Pad work surprisingly well. I tried both and in the end, I eventually settled on the Game Pad.

Downloadable Content: None

Mature Content: None

Value: It’s getting harder to find new copies of this game in stores. But when you can, they usually sell between $20-$30. When it was originally released, The Wind Waker HD sold for around $60. Truth be told, even at that price, the game is still worth it. Collectors looking for the original GameCube version around going to have to dish out quite a bit more. Most copies of the original version sell for around $70 and up.

Overall score (1-100): 100 – Nintendo does it again. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is another example of perfection. Aside from the lack of Miiverse support in modern times, there isn’t a bad thing I can find to say about this game. The original version was near perfect and this remaster only improves on that even further. In my opinion, this game is must have for any Wii U owner and Zelda fan. It really is that good.

Original System: GC

Available today on:  Wii U   –  (List updated as of  Fall 2020)

Best Modern Experience: Wii U   –   (As of Fall 2020

Other Games in this Series: 

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages –  The Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – – Tri Force Heroes – Breath of the Wild