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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD - Review
It's rather telling of the shift in video game aesthetics that, Wind Waker, which faced a rather hostile reaction when it was first unveiled back in 2001, is the first Zelda game to feature the HD treatment on Nintendo's new console. In contrast, Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess was championed when it was released back in 2006 for being the "proper" sequel to Ocarina of Time that fans had been craving.
Now though, things couldn't be more different. Twilight Princess is kind of regarded as being too much like the N64 classic for its own good. Not to mention that the grim and gritty realism that was all the rage back in the mid 2000s has kind of runs its course.
In steps mini-Link wielding his tiny sword and sporting a bobble-head and giant anime eyes. It's easy to forget just how much of a change the visuals in Wind Waker were for their time, especially considering they were coming from a series that was notorious for not changing all that much from game to game.
Sporting some of the graphical enhancements that are purportedly being used on the Wii U's next Legend of Zelda game, Wind Waker's new lick of paint is a welcome one. This isn't just a slap-dash overhaul but a carefully calculated one. From a distance, someone unfamiliar with the series could likely mistake this as being a native Wii U game, and not an updated GameCube title.
Even the Wii U's tablet is a nice addition. After Skyward Sword, it can at first seem a backwards step to be reverting to the basic joystick controls, but the use of the pad's second screen helps to streamline the gameplay. As with the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time, all of the game's menus and maps are offloaded onto the second screen, meaning that you'll never to stop the game to see where you need to go, or to switch out an item. It's a simple and obvious update, but a very welcome one.
So how does the Wind Waker's gameplay hold up? Pretty well actually. The series' core game mechanics have been set in stone for decades now and so it would seem clear at this point that they're pretty resistant to age. As usual, you journey to different areas, talk to people, go through a dungeon, and pick up a few gadgets along the way before fighting a boss. The puzzles are not the most complicated but they are, overall, smartly designed, and encourage you to think about the applications of the latest items you've received.
The game's tweak to the general game structure though is the water-covered overworld, meaning that navigation is done via boat. This hasn't aged so well. It was never all that enthralling in the original and it's still nothing to write home about here. After the first few hours, having to hop on your boat to get somewhere can feel tedious and quickly becomes a chore, especially since it takes so darn long to get anywhere.
Nintendo have attempted to remedy this somewhat with the addition of a new item, the Swift Sail, that cuts travel times in half. It's certainly an improvement, but still fails to hide the fact that the sailing element never did really did anything new for the game. Since the game's world is divided into small islands, it can make the whole experience seem somewhat stop-start and strung out. It's almost as if the entire island-ocean traversal aspect is simply a way to make the game's world seem bigger than it actually is.
There's also the impression that time was running out during development, and the second half of the game can suffer slightly as a result. Several sections later on require items that you aren't always aware of due to some lacklustre signposting, and while typically you might be happy exploring (this is a Zelda game after all) the fact that this entails more sailing...is likely to discourage you.
Even the game's later dungeons suffer from some odd decisions. Like when you're accompanied by another character who comes with their own abilities. It adds another element to the puzzles, as you have to factor in what your companions can do, but also results in some unnecessary babysitting, as you constantly have to make sure that the other characters are following you. The fact that you can control your companions doesn't help much, since in order to switch control you have to mess around playing a tune on the Wind Waker. It's a rather daft oversight, and things could have been improved immensely had you been able to switch characters with just the touch of a button.
The game's final dungeon meanwhile, is simply a rehash of previous bosses. Whilst the game's penultimate quest, which involves searching out the shards of the Tri-Force, is the most mind-numbing, pace-killing, section that simply didn't need to be there. Again, Nintendo have acknowledged their mistakes and this is the only part of the game to actually be altered, with a lot fewer hoops to jump through, making it slightly less frustrating than it previously was.
It might seem like all these problems diminish Wind Waker somewhat, but they don't. It's still a very good game, with some of the best visual designs in the entire series. Its dungeons are enjoyable, and there's a real sense of adventure embedded throughout the whole game. It's problems seem more noticeable because the rest of the game is so good. Ignore a few stupid decisions, and slightly weaker second half, and this is still as enjoyable as it was back in 2002, possibly even more so.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD was released on October 4th.
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