The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Review
When the original Wind Waker was released on Nintendo's Gamecube, I was in my early- to mid-twenties, with an almost completed college degree and no money. I scrimped and saved for weeks to be able to afford the game when it launched, and I was first in line for my copy. Over the next week or so, I played until my eyes could take no more and my hands were gnarled, broken wrecks. Upon seeing the title screen and intro for the updated Wind Waker HD on Wii U, my eyes began to itch and my fingers tingled, a physical reminder of what the game did to me just over a decade ago. When I finished Wind Waker back then, I declared it my favorite of all the Zelda games. As I finished the HD version this week, it not only held onto the title of Jason's favorite Zelda, but also one became of the top five best games I've ever played. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is an absolute masterpiece.
If you know the Zelda story, you know the basic outline of Wind Waker's plot. A young boy is spurred to action by the evil deeds of Ganondorf, and eventually becomes the hero everyone knows and loves. This time, Link's sister is sister-napped by a huge bird under Ganondorf's control, and our hero takes up with a group of pirates and a talking red boat in the quest to save her and, by extension, the world. That boat, The King of Red Lions, and Link's magical baton, the Wind Waker, are the "hooks" for this game, much like Spirit Tracks had the train, Minish Cap had the bird/hat thing, Ocarina of Time had Epona and the (duh) Ocarina of Time, etc. The overworld in Wind Waker is 90 percent water, so getting from place to place means you'll be spending a lot of time in The King of Red Lions and even more controlling the wind (among other things) with the Wind Waker (if you so choose, read on for details). As Zelda "hooks," they work magnificently even to those (like myself) who were previously convinced no Zelda game could be half-decent without Hyrule Field. As with most other Zelda titles, the plot isn't everything, but this one has a few more layers and twists than previous entries. It also boasts one of the most satisfying final acts in Zelda history.
Because the game is an HD remake, a lot has been said, and will be said, about how the title looks. Stay with me here, but the best way to describe the updated visuals is that Wind Waker HD looks exactly as nice as you remember it. The catch is, going back and looking at the Gamecube original, you'll be blown away by how much detail and care has gone into upgrading the game. How you remember the GCN version is clouded by history, and only by comparing the original and HD remake can you see how much has been done. Some may still hate on the cel-shaded art style, but the inarguable fact is that no Zelda game in series history has ever looked half as good as Wind Waker HD. I should note that the music has been remastered as well, and provides the same epic, stirring soundtrack - only about a thousand times clearer and more dynamic. Wind Waker HD is a feast for the senses, and shows off what Nintendo is capable of as they finally enter the HD era.
Finally we come to gameplay. How does it play? Does the Wii U Gamepad help or hurt? Are there motion controls? Ok, ok... We will cover it all. I, too, was worried that the larger Gamepad and touch screen would be ineffective and a mechanism for shoehorning in unnecessary gimmicks. After finishing the game, I can't imagine playing any other way. The dual stick controls, shoulder and face buttons marvelously take over for the Gamecube's odd controller and the transition seems natural. The touch screen is used to great effect as an inventory manager, with effortless drag and drops governing the use and equipping of items. Being able to see a dungeon map on there is the kind of innovation that no one ever knew was so valuable, but now seems like a staple. Even the motion controls and camera are used in entertaining ways, from aiming at a grapple points and boomerang targets to using the Picto Box to take photos. Like Pikmin 3, you can play Wind Waker HD entirely off-screen on the Gamepad, but once you get a feel for what it adds to television play you probably won't want to. The Pro Controller is also an option, but the same rule applies; the Gamepad really does make the game better. Wind Waker HD feels as much at home on the Wii U as it did the Gamecube, and the new controller is just icing on an already delicious cake.
There have been a few changes made to the game in an effort to address some problems people had with the original. The late game quest for Triforce pieces has been shortened considerably, and a new sail becomes available fairly early on that makes sea voyages move a little quicker. I personally didn't see these as "problems" in the original, but a vocal majority seems to disagree. A note about the new sail - not only does it make getting from island to island a little less time consuming, it also always catches the wind, regardless of direction, making the pause to switch directions a thing of the past. Personally, I felt as though this took something away from the game I remember, but what do I know? The sail can be used and switched for the standard sail at any time, though, so purists can enjoy the speed and still use the Wind Waker as it was intended. The shortened Triforce quest doesn't feel like they removed any content, just a bit of the tedium, so if you were fine the first time around rest assured - they didn't screw anything up with this one. The Tingle Tuner Game Boy Advance connectivity has been left out for obvious reasons, and I wasn't able to figure out if the Tingle statues were attainable by any other means. Since that side quest wasn't all that cool in the first place, its absence isn't really an issue.
Have you got a Wii U? You absolutely must buy Wind Waker HD. Don't have a Wii U? Go buy one; you'll need it to play this game. The intervening years and upgrades make this feel like a brand new game, and it is one everyone, regardless of taste, should play. Being a remake may preclude Wind Waker HD from being included in many Game of the Year lists, but know that in a perfect world it would top them all. Forget Bioshock, Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us; Wind Waker HD is the best game of the year, the best game on the Wii U and one of the most stunning achievements ever attained in the medium. It is, to put it bluntly, the perfect video game.
Final Rating: 100%. Simply put, it's perfect.