Release Date: 4 October 2013
Platform: Wii U
I was never the biggest fan of the Legend of Zelda franchise. Maybe it was because I was more traditionally into platformers. Maybe it was because the games weren’t overflowing with the colourful cutesiness I was traditionally accustomed to. Perhaps it was even the result of owning a copy of Link’s Awakening DX on my good old Game Boy Color as a child and not having the foggiest clue what kind of game I was playing, had no idea what I was meant to do, and spent most of my time walking around the same three pieces of forest while getting more and more bored. Whatever it might have been, I wasn’t a fan.
But as I’ve said before, being a Wii U owner makes you adventurous in your gaming. You have to be (especially in those dark, early days) or else you wouldn’t have an awful lot to play. So I got my hands on a copy of The Wind Waker HD. I didn’t know much about it beyond the fact that it was much derided in certain corners back in the GameCube days for its cel-shaded graphics and its Triforce Quest, but that people grew to love it once they’d actually played it. Since I held no allegiance to the tropes of the franchise (and personally liked the idea of playing a giant cartoon) I felt that it was time to give a home console Zelda game a go. It was a good decision, becoming a tremendous addition to my collection, and my absolute favourite game to blare Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ to.
Taking place in the third of the Zelda timelines, Wind Waker HD picks up hundreds of years after the events of Ocarina of Time. When Ganondorf threatened to return after being defeated by the Hero of Time (Link in Ocarina of Time), the goddesses that watch over Hyrule find that there is no hero to vanquish him. Lacking a hero they take the only other apparently viable course of action available to them: they flood all of Hyrule, locking all but a few of its inhabitants beneath the sea in a world where time has literally stopped.
Those lucky few not trapped in Hyrule were told to flee to the top of the mountains which now survive as scattered islands in the Great Sea, inhabited by their descendants. The new incarnation of Link lives on Outset Island. Having just turned 12 he is due to receive his special green tunic, but on his way to his grandmother’s house he sees a gigantic bird drop a young girl, Tetra, into the Forest of Fairies. He rescues her, but only to discover that his sister Aryll has now been abducted by the same gigantic bird.
Tetra’s a no-nonsense kind of girl in the sense that, even at such a young age, she is the leader of the Great Sea’s most formidable band of pirates, and is willing to help Link get his sister back. With her help and the help of the King of Red Lions (a talking boat), magical trees, magical tree stumps, fairies, giant fairies, ghosts, the Wind Waker, bird people, inanimate-animate statues, and Tingle (who is simultaneously incredibly endearing and very disturbing) Link must rescue his sister and undo the machinations of Ganondorf to restore peace and tranquility to the Great Sea.
The Wind Waker HD, like many of its Zelda home console brethren, is a 3D adventure/puzzle game. While players are still required to traverse dungeons in a linear sequence to reach the end of the game, the main difference here is that you’ll be doing a lot of sailing. This requires the use of the Wind Waker, a baton that allows you to control the direction of the wind and the direction your ship sails in. As you sail you can piece together a map of the Great Sea by feeding a gigantic talking fish. It’s an odd way of doing things (and isn’t a requirement), but having the whole map will be extremely useful as the game progresses. There are also a number of side quests that you can undertake which allow you to do things like increase the amount of life you have, power up certain weapons, and capture fairies in glass jars. All of these things become useful as you go on, especially when it comes to fighting the later bosses.
The Wii U GamePad is used primarily as an inventory, allowing you to swap out weapons and assign new ones to the control buttons without having to pause the game. It doesn’t sound like much, but since items frequently need to be swapped out in rapid succession (especially for my gaming style, which relies on trying everything until something eventually hurts the boss) it is an incredibly useful feature. It can also be used as a camera (Link taking selfies is amazing!) and allows you to write messages and place them in Tingle bottles, which are uploaded to Miiverse. Tingle bottles are littered all over the ocean, and allow players to randomly discover messages left by other players. It’s nothing incredible, but it’s a fun little additional feature. Apart from these uses, the GamePad can also be used for off-TV play.
Graphically, the game is astounding and handles incredibly smoothly, with only one bout of slowdown that I experienced while going up against a particular boss. In true and proper Nintendo style there are also parts where you’ll need sunglasses to play it’s that bright and cheerful. This fits well with my general gaming philosophy of ‘if your corneas aren’t on fire, the game isn’t worth playing’.
I think what this game has that other Zelda games didn’t have for me is a sense of whimsy. The graphical style combined with the enormous ocean makes it feel like an actual adventure, rather than just traipsing around a map from one dungeon to the next. Admittedly, I don’t have many great points of comparison for the franchise (I currently own Ocarina of Time 3D and Twilight Princess but have yet to get around to playing either of them), but this game absolutely blows away those Zelda games that I have played.
Sometimes I spent hours just randomly sailing around the Great Sea (playing the aforementioned ‘Orinoco Flow’) and talking to fish and that one random nearly naked guy who sells you things from his boat. For a game to be able to balance requiring tremendous concentration to get past certain points and being incredibly relaxing in others without feeling disjointed to me is quite an accomplishment. For those like myself who were unfamiliar with the franchise, Wind Waker is a nice jumping in point that allows you to pick up the gameplay basics present in all of the Zelda games without needing to take a relative’s eye out with a Wiimote (as I’ve heard is necessary in Skyward Sword and which I look forward to testing out).
My Final Rating: 9 / 10
Buy The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD at Amazon.com