Last month I wrote a feature (see it here for more context on this “My First” article series) on my first ever purchase and full playthrough of a Castlevania game with the fantastic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But Castlevania wasn’t the only beloved and long-running videogame series which had largely passed me by over my many years of playing videogames, so I didn’t want to stop there. And with my Wii U being the first Nintendo console I’ve owned, this has finally given me the opportunity to properly experience some of these other series, one of which is Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda.
My hands-on experience with the Zelda series was limited to playing a few hours of Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64 years ago, but that changed when a friend bought me a birthday present in the form of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U, a remastered version of the highly regarded 2002 GameCube title. (I asked for a monkey or a jetpack or a jetpack-wearing monkey, but I suppose the game was a decent replacement present). I recently completed The Wind Waker HD and I thought the game was a beautiful and extremely polished experience, the kind of which I was hoping for when I bought my Wii U, and Nintendo certainly didn’t let me down.
The Wind Waker HD tells the story of a young boy (you can name him what you want, but let’s call him… oh, I don’t know… how about “Link”?) living with his grandmother and younger sister, Aryll, on Outset Island, one of the many islands scattered around the large section of ocean that makes up the game-world. The game opens on Link’s birthday, when he is given a familiar-looking green outfit as he is now the same age as “the young hero spoken of in all the legends.”
Things take a dramatic turn when a giant bird flying overhead drops a female pirate captain named Tetra on Outset Island, only to then kidnap Aryll as a replacement. Armed with sword and shield, Link hitches a ride on Tetra’s ship and leaves home to rescue his sister. Link infiltrates the fortress where Aryll has been imprisoned, only to encounter the man responsible: the powerful and evil figure of legend named Ganon. After this initial encounter the game-world begins to open up and it becomes evident that more than the fate of Link’s sister hangs in the balance.
Upon beginning The Wind Waker HD, I was immediately struck by how stunning the game looks. I remember its cel-shaded art style being much maligned back when it was first revealed but opinion towards it largely turned around with time, and the graphics have never looked better than they do in this remastered version – the colours in particular are amazingly rich without ever being garish, and the lighting is subtle but never clashes with the more vibrant colour scheme. The draw distance is also noticeably impressive, adding to the sense of scale and openness. And the uplifting music that accompanies the glorious visuals helps in quickly setting a lively, adventurous mood.
Outset Island does a good job of teaching you the basics of movement and combat before you set out on your adventure, and the controls are largely simple and intuitive, although the fact that a button can perform different actions depending on whether or not you’re moving can take a little getting used to at first, as can the fact that Link will automatically jump if he hits a ledge at running speed. An agile little guy, Link can walk, run, crawl, leap and swim, although he can only keep his head above water for so long, so you need to be careful not to stray too far from land.
An early high point for me personally was the discovery that I could lift a pig above my head and it would snort in time with my footsteps as I walked or ran around. Oh, Mr. Pigglywinks, what fun we had…
But I digress.
The vast section of ocean that makes up the game-world – try to sail beyond the edges of the map and you’re automatically turned back around – opens up to the player after Link meets the talking boat named the King of Red Lions. Exploring the sea is made much more convenient by the fact that your map splits it up into equal squares, each of which bears a different name and an island or some kind of landmark within it. Besides landmasses, the sea itself is also worthy of exploration as there are dozens of treasures to be collected by winching them up from the seabed, and there are also other sea-bound curiosities to be found such as submarines, giant octopuses, enemy-manned watchtowers and more. No bearded, loincloth-clad Tom Hanks floating on a raft, though, sadly. (Two references to two Tom Hanks movies in two consecutive articles? I’m on fire!) If, like me, you’re someone who enjoys having their imagination stoked by the prospects offered by a good open-world game, The Wind Waker HD will certainly encourage you to get out there and explore its world and uncover the numerous secrets it holds.
A couple of other features help to liven up journeys across long stretches of open ocean, these being weather effects, the game’s day / night cycle, and Tingle Bottles. Weather effects allow for the sun shining gloriously in a clear sky, or rain pouring and lightning flashing during a storm, or thick fog rolling in and limiting your vision. As for the day / night cycle, this runs while you’re out at sea but not when you visit certain islands, which allows you to lock these islands in to a day or night state depending on when you visit them. This comes in useful for things such as the Windfall Island auction house, in which auctions only take place at night.
Finally there are the Tingle Bottles which appear randomly out at sea or washed up on island shores if your Wii U is connected to the internet while you play. Named after the spandex-clad nightmare that is the character named Tingle, these bottles contain Miiverse messages from other players in the form of writings or drawings or even photographs taken with the in-game camera – a.k.a. the “Picto Box” – that Link picks up early in the game. In all honesty, as much as I like the concept of the Tingle Bottles, I reached a point in the game where I started actively avoiding them due to the spoilers of later events and locations that some of them contained, even though I had chosen the in-game option to not be shown such spoilers.
The Tingle Bottles are a new addition that didn’t appear in the original release of The Wind Waker, and the Wii U rerelease also adds to and tinkers with the original game in other ways. Along with a few smaller gameplay tweaks, there’s the inclusion of an optional higher difficulty setting in the form of “Hero Mode”; sailing has been made much more convenient and user-friendly; and a particular quest later in the game has been streamlined compared to its original version, which was apparently much more drawn-out and laborious. Also, the GamePad’s screen is used to display your inventory, map and options, or you can play the game itself on the GamePad rather than on a television if you opt for off-TV play.
I never played the GameCube original so I can’t speak as to just how greatly all of these additions and tweaks add to The Wind Waker HD, but the game certainly feels like an extremely well-crafted whole, with no elements seeming tacked-on or simplified to a negative degree, so kudos to Nintendo for actually putting in the effort to create a definitive version of the game rather than simply giving the graphics a polish and calling it a day.
Before playing The Wind Waker HD, I was well aware that dungeons were a famous staple of the Zelda series, and this game certainly contains its share, such as Dragon Roost Cavern, the Tower of the Gods, and others. The dungeons are made up of several floors and numerous rooms filled with enemies, treasure chests and environmental puzzles, making each dungeon a mixture of combat, exploration and puzzle-solving. And of course, each dungeon contains a boss at the end.
The game’s first dungeon, the Forsaken Fortress, eases you into things while also incorporating stealth elements, because between 2000 and 2004 it was apparently a legal requirement that every single new videogame have at least one stealth section shoehorned into it. Although to be fair, stealth in The Wind Waker HD only appears briefly and is very forgiving, so it doesn’t frustrate or outstay its welcome.
The dungeons are all well-designed, such as the fire-themed Dragon Roost Cavern, in which you throw pots of water onto lava to create temporary stepping stones and use a burning torch in various ways to progress ; or the two temples which Link has to conquer cooperatively alongside two separate non-playable characters who possess their own unique abilities.
But one thing that did surprise me when it came to the dungeons was how easy they were, and this goes for the bosses of these dungeons as well. Although a couple of the boss battles do offer some interesting gameplay elements, on the whole they’re just too easy, a couple of them extremely so. The level of challenge presented by the game in general is also on the simple side, especially if you take the time to explore and collect as many health upgrades as possible, so if you’re looking to test yourself with The Wind Waker HD then you’d certainly be better off playing it on Hero Mode rather than the standard difficulty.
Although it may not offer much of a challenge, The Wind Waker HD does offer a great deal of fun and variety with its combat, and with the weapons and items connected to both combat and exploration. There are some really nice touches to the combat, such as having to leap over certain enemies to cut the straps of their protective armour, or picking up an enemy’s dropped weapon and using it against them.
And this is before you throw all of Link’s items into the mix, because at set points during the story, Link will be granted a new item, some of which are useful in combat, some in exploration, and some in both: the Deku Leaf allows you to glide through the air and stun enemies; bombs deal damage to enemies and can also be used to remove obstacles; the Hero’s Bow fires arrows and is later upgraded to fire different types; the Mirror Shield allows you to reflect light off it; the boomerang can stun multiple enemies simultaneously; and so on.
Along with bosses who can only be overcome via use of a specific item, some enemies require a combination of items to defeat, such as the rampaging statues who you have to shoot in the eye with your bow before throwing a bomb into their open mouth. Other items have secondary uses that are subtle and imaginative, such as the grappling hook’s ability to steal items from enemies.
Although Link can only carry a limited supply of bombs, arrows and currency, maximum-capacity upgrades can be found on certain islands, although many of these upgrades – along with other treasures and rewards – can only be collected once you’ve received the item required to remove the obstacle blocking your path. This is yet another incentive for exploring and returning to certain locations once your inventory has been expanded. Given that I wanted to experience as much of the game as possible, I tried to keep in mind the islands where a return visit was required to unlock their treats, and although the payoff was sometimes minor, it was always enjoyable to do.
One integral item that should be mentioned is the conductor’s baton named the Wind Waker, which gives the game its name. Thankfully, the game doesn’t take a dark turn by having Link use the baton as some kind of stabbing melee weapon to conduct an orchestra of death – no, instead the Wind Waker allows Link to perform special actions when he takes out the baton and inputs specific combinations of timed directional presses, with each combination creating a different tune.
The Wind Waker’s abilities include the power to control the direction of the wind, summoning a cyclone as a form of fast-travel, and allowing Link to take possession of moving statues. Link also learns a couple of tunes required to open doors in later dungeons. Although the Wind Waker is an item necessary for progression and certainly plays its part in both the gameplay and story, I was a little surprised that the conductor’s baton didn’t feature more heavily given that the game was named after it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I wouldn’t want it to interrupt the gameplay too frequently, for example, it’s just something I noticed.
Besides combat and exploration, The Wind Waker HD contains a number of side-quests and diversions for the player, all of which offer some kind of reward, whether it’s currency, a treasure map, a health upgrade, a Magic Armour item that allows you to create a barrier against enemy attacks, and even the deed to a small island. Some of these activities are mini-games, such as a Battleships-style game, sorting letters against the clock in a mail-sorting office, and practicing your archery on a leaping fish-man (don’t worry, he’s unfazed by any arrows that pierce him).
The actual side-quests are lengthier and generally more involved, although a few don’t involve more than collecting a set number of a particular item type and then delivering them to the relevant person for a reward. Others are more interesting, however, such as photographing specific events for a strange but impressively bearded shopkeeper, watering saplings scattered across the map within a time limit, and correctly trading particular items between several different merchants.
Side-quests can help in meeting and interacting with the large cast of characters who populate the world of The Wind Waker HD, and they’re a varied, colourful, eccentric and interesting bunch (the two wind gods are talking frogs who fly around on clouds – don’t do drugs, kids) who help to inject personality into the game-world and into their interactions with Link, who is mute and has no personality beyond “plucky hero”. Apart from occasional audible noises and words, character dialogue is delivered via text, with important words – such as something related to the story or a side-quest – highlighted for the player’s convenience.
Alongside what can be gleaned of their personalities and lives by speaking to them, it’s possible to learn a little more about some of these characters by taking photographs of them and then taking these pictures to a sculptor who makes figurines of the characters in question. Examine a figurine and information on that character is displayed. This also applies to enemies and bosses, so if you’re a completionist and want to collect every last figurine in the game, well, that’s going to keep you occupied for a while. Personally, I collected about two-thirds of the figurines before the novelty wore off, but it’s a nice optional activity for those who want to dive into it.
Given the game’s expansive world and large cast, I was surprised at the brevity of the main story of The Wind Waker HD. While it’s a sizeable and very enjoyable adventure that offers some interesting twists and set-pieces along the way, the story certainly isn’t as long as I expected it to be – I spent a great deal more time simply exploring the game-world, completing side-quests and uncovering treasures, than I did playing through the main plot. Don’t get me wrong, quality over quantity is a good thing, and I really enjoyed both my aimless wandering and the events of the story, it’s just that I expected more of the latter.
And to be fair, there are some stand-out moments in the story, such as Link’s initial visit to an underwater castle which I’m not going to talk about in any more detail here because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone yet to play it, but it’s a fantastic and evocative scene, and one of the most memorable for me personally.
There’s also a sense of history that, although brought up occasionally at the beginning of the game, expands and unfolds as the story progresses, and helps to give the game-world added depth and atmosphere. I really appreciated this, even as someone who had only partly played one Zelda game before The Wind Waker HD, so I imagine that many fans of the franchise instalments preceding The Wind Waker got an even bigger kick out of it.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD turned out to be a great choice for my first Zelda game. It’s a fun, colourful, action-packed adventure that exudes joy, looks stunning, plays smoothly, and is a very polished overall package featuring enhancements to what was clearly an already excellent game in its original form.
Some games can flourish and receive further well-deserved success and praise with a new lease on life – Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, The Jak & Daxter Trilogy, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, etc. – reminding people of just how good a game was the first time around while also offering enhancements that arguably improve upon the original experience for both new players and those who played it in the past. The Wind Waker HD is definitely a case of a rerelease done right.
Okay, so that’s The Wind Waker HD completed. I better get started on all of the other games in the Zelda series now. I mean, how many can there have been over the past twenty-eight years…?
Alex De-Gruchy is a writer and editor of fiction and non-fiction whose work has covered comic books, prose and videogames. His 8-issue comic series The Fallen, from publisher Monkeybrain, is currently being published on Comixology, while two graphic novels he has written will see release in 2015 from Markosia Enterprises. His upcoming videogame projects include action / strategy title Crystal Arena, visual novel Eternal Forest, and action-adventure Edelin Tales: Portals of Doom. To witness more wordy outpourings from his brain-meats, find him on Twitter: @AlexDeGruchy