The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD - Staff Review  

Selfies on the High Seas
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Wii U
Less than 20 Hours
+ Terrific battles and puzzles.
+ Beautiful visual design.
+ Fantastic improvements to travel mechanics.
+ Amazing musical score.
+ Selfies!
- Too short.
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   Do you remember all those things about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker that you hated? No, not the art style; that is and always has been amazing. But the tedious travel mechanics probably come to mind. Now imagine what the game would have been like if all that was washed away. Well, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is that dream made real. Nintendo's divisive GameCube classic always had one of the most fascinating settings and stories in the franchise's lengthy history, and thanks to a hefty retooling for the Wii U, Wind Waker looks and plays better than it ever has before, finally taking its place as the Zelda classic it was always meant to be.

   Wind Waker's tale takes place centuries after the events of Ocarina of Time, in an oceanic world dotted with innumerable islands where the legend of the Hero of Time is passed down from generation to generation. On a particular island, it is traditional to dress boys in green on their tenth birthday in honor of said hero, and on the birthday of a boy whose name may or may not be "Link," his sister is kidnapped by a colossal demon-bird and carried away across the sea. In order to rescue her, he enlists the help of a feisty pirate girl named Tetra and her swashbuckling crew, a talking sailboat, and a mystical conductor's baton capable of controlling the winds. As is typical of young, green-garbed heroes of Hyrule, this simple quest to rescue his sister eventually snowballs into a mission to save the whole world.

   As Zelda games go, Wind Waker is more focused on plot than most, but much of that plot is derived from the mythos of this new, watery world. Much of the world's mythos is derived from Ocarina of Time, and the sense of familiarity it provides is quite effective. The characters in the game are also particularly memorable in this iteration, most notably Tetra and the King of Red Lions. While the pacing dips a bit in the latter half of the game, the sense of adventure throughout remains constant.

   The gameplay of Wind Waker should be familiar to most Zelda fans, as it's based heavily on the mechanics that were introduced in Ocarina of Time. Link fights with his sword and shield, and can use the L button to lock on to enemies. As the game progresses, he discovers new tools that can assist both in combat and in solving the puzzles scattered throughout the game. However, where Ocarina of Time had a slow, methodical feel to battles, generally requiring a patient, block-and-counter approach, Wind Waker's Link is a faster fighter, and the shield is used less frequently in favor of fast, fluid attacks and acrobatic dodges and leaps that are triggered contextually, all accompanied by cartoonish sound effects that constantly increase in pitch.

Link and Tetra, the dynamic duo! Link and Tetra, the dynamic duo!

   Like any good Zelda game, much of the fun comes from the adventure and the puzzle-solving rather than the combat. Even the boss fights are usually more puzzle than battle. Wind Waker is interesting in this regard, as while it has fewer full-blown dungeons than any recent Zelda title in memory, it has many more puzzles to solve thanks to its expansive, island-filled ocean and mind-boggling number of side quests. Much of the game is spent sailing around the world on Link's sailboat, exploring the islands he finds and searching for sunken treasure.

   Sailing is one aspect of the game worth diving into a bit deeper. Those who played the GameCube original may recall that, while the mechanics were interesting and enjoyable at first, they quickly became tedious as the game required players to start traveling all over the world at a much more frequent pace. Link's sailboat is fairly slow, and Link also needs to manually control the wind using his Wind Waker baton in order to get very far. Thankfully, Wind Waker HD offers a solution to this issue in the form of the swift sail, a new item that can be acquired fairly easily midway through the game (around the time when the sailing begins to get aggravating). The swift sail is roughly twice as fast as Link's normal sail, but more importantly, it possesses the magical ability to ensure that the wind is always at its back, effectively turning Link's little ship into a high-powered motorboat.

   The swift sail isn't the only travel method that has gained a booster in Wind Waker HD. Players may also recall a fast-travel system that used cyclones to traverse the world. In the GameCube original, players would need to track down each and every one of these cyclones individually in order to make use of them, but in Wind Waker HD, once the ability to use them is unlocked, every one becomes immediately accessible including those leading to areas Link hasn't yet explored. Coupled with the new swift sail, getting around the vast ocean world of Wind Waker is a breeze.

   There is one other brand new feature of Wind Waker HD, which adds an interesting social aspect to this version. In the GameCube original, an item called the Tingle Tuner offered up connectivity with the Game Boy Advance. Since this functionality is quite obviously defunct in 2013, Nintendo created a new Tingle item to fill its place: the Tingle Bottle. The Tingle Bottle is, effectively, a social media platform that functions entirely within the confines of Wind Waker HD. Players can write or draw messages and put them into the bottle. The bottle is then tossed out to sea, where it can be found by other players playing the game. The item sees high use, and players can't go for more than a couple of minutes before spotting one in the water somewhere. The Tingle Bottle also allows players to include pictures taken with the PictoBox, Link's in-game camera. While this is fantastic in its own right, it's even better when coupled with the PictoBox's new function: Link can take selfies. By switching the camera's viewpoint, Link can enter the frame of the picture alongside whatever it is he's capturing, and the left analog stick coupled with the LZ button allows players to alter his expression. Players can even make his eyes spin around wildly by holding down L3. Needless to say, this has quickly become an internet meme.

The swift sail makes getting around a breeze! The swift sail makes getting around a breeze!

   The Wii U's gamepad also offers up a nice interface improvement in the form of an always-on menu to access Link's inventory and map. Having this screen always open is a huge boon, particularly when going through the various charts one finds over the course of the journey. However, for those who don't want to use the gamepad, Pro Controller support is available, as is the ability to play the game entirely on the gamepad's screen. There's also gyro functionality for aiming certain items such as the bow, but more often than not this is less accurate and irritating. Thankfully, it can be turned off in the options menu.

   The original Wind Waker has always been the best looking game in the Zelda franchise, and Wind Waker HD simply reaffirms that. It is one of the most vibrant, colorful games in existence, and its signature cel-shading looks better than it ever has thanks to its new HD resolution. Couple that with some new lighting effects, and it's difficult to believe that the game was ever in SD to begin with. The audio hasn't changed significantly from the GameCube version, but thankfully it didn't need to. Wind Waker's score is among the best work Koji Kondo has ever produced for the series. The sound effects are likewise extraordinarily memorable, bringing with them a cartoonish whimsy that helps make the adventure all the more enjoyable.

   At the time of its original release, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker got a lot of flak. After Ocarina of Time's more realistic approach to Link and Hyrule, some people had difficulty accepting this new "Toon Link." Couple that with the travel problems, and the game never really got the love it deserved. Wind Waker HD changes all that, and it may now be the greatest Zelda title ever made. With a memorable cast, an incredible, larger-than-life setting, and a unique, inimitable visual style, no Zelda title to date captures the spirit of the series quite like Wind Waker HD. If one had to criticize it for anything, it would be its depressingly short duration. Most players will have no issue completing the game in well under 20 hours, but there is a vast array of side content to explore, so thankfully those who want to keep adventuring with Link are free to do so. If you've never had an opportunity to experience The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, now is the best chance to do so.

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