The Legend of Zelda has always been one of gaming’s most heralded franchises. With every Zelda release, there is a huge amount of celebration and also die-hard fan criticism. The Wind Waker received its fair share — and then some — of criticism, mostly due to its radically different art style. When people sat down to actually play it, they found it to be one of the most unique additions to the franchise. The Wind Waker HD edition allows us to return to the seas in a way that transcends nostalgia.
What makes The Wind Waker HD stand out from the rest of the Zelda games is not only its art style but the overall presentation. Instead of a world filled with dark undertones, there is a vast sea of vibrant colors and a sense of cheeriness with its inhabitants. Instead of initiating the story as traditional Link — who is an arguably boring character in most of the games — you play as a nameless hero, brought into his timeless role as Link. Link is more endearing in The Wind Waker, with a childlike sense of ambition and determination. Instead of a story of epic proportions, it is more a coming-of-age story for Link. He only wants to save his sister, but it is on that journey that he finds his true role as the hero of time.
Not remembering much from my first time with the game over ten years ago, it was fascinating to explore the seas again. Most games in the Zelda franchise have some sort of an open world to explore, but in the end, the areas are pretty finite. The Wind Waker HD allows for a true open world — a boundless, uncharted sea riddled with islands to discover. The scope was unrivaled at its initial release on the GameCube, and it holds up very well today. This time around, the visuals are even more beautiful in its high-definition glory. Particles and explosions appear more apparent and defined. Lighting is intensified — although a bit to an extreme — to give the world a more colorful and brighter look. I couldn’t help but become enamored all over again.
Unlike most high-definition remakes, The Wind Waker HD is more than just a slap of new paint for a quick buck. Numerous features and slight changes in the game play help smooth out some of the rough edges from the GameCube version. Sailing used to be a boring and laborious process, but in the high-definition version, there is a “swift sail” that sails 50% faster and always has the wind with it. I audibly laughed when I first used it because of the ridiculous speed of travel. It suffices to say that it made transportation in The Wind Waker HD much more enjoyable. Also changed is the Triforce quest. Rather than have to find eight charts and then their respective Triforce pieces across the sea, only three charts are hidden on the map, with the rest already able to be found. Among other little nuances tinkered with, these two changes were wholly appreciated.
Of course, the large draw to playing on the Wii U is the second screen capabilities. On the GamePad, you will find all of the menus and maps you would normally have to press the Start button to bring up. It’s really nifty when sailing to see where you’re going without the hassle of constantly having to pause the game. You can also equip items by just flicking the item to whatever button you like on the touch screen while still having control in the game. This makes boss battles and combat feel far more fluid than ever. It would be very difficult to go back to playing in the traditional manner after this superior method of inventory management.
At the end of the day, The Wind Waker HD is still the same game to the core. Link has his Wind Waker to help orchestrate the wind, and temples and dungeons are to be explored with monsters to be slayed. What I always appreciated most about The Wind Waker was its combat. Other Zelda games have very stagnant sword fighting, but The Wind Waker puts its own stylish spin on it. Enemies can be parried as Link circles around for a back blow or hops over their heads with a swift slash. Each hit on an enemy with your sword has an accompanied music cue to add to the charm. While enemy variety isn’t high, the battles always feel exciting and satisfying.
The only bad marks that I can really give to The Wind Waker HD are the low difficulty and lack of numerous dungeons and bosses. Each dungeon has a mini-boss to defeat to get that dungeon’s special item to progress further until the main boss. Unfortunately, the mini-bosses are incredibly underwhelming. Often, they’re regular enemies that you’ll face countless times later in the game. The main bosses, while large in size and creative in design, offer very little in terms of challenge. It’s a shame because the dungeons and puzzles are so brilliantly crafted and the payoff isn’t substantial.
At first, I was disappointed at the small number of dungeons in The Wind Waker HD, as I admittedly didn’t remember much from my time with the original years ago. It was when I discovered that the rest of the game has so much content that I truly realized what a special game The Wind Waker HD is. Rather than stuff as many dungeons as possible to compete in a monotonous manner, the vast array of islands filled with secrets and puzzles give way to strong pacing. After a long dungeon, it was cathartic to just set sail on the seas and let the wind take me to whatever destination arose. The scope of the world in The Wind Waker HD is unparalleled compared to other games in the Zelda franchise.
This being my first Zelda game I’ve played in over seven years, it was a magical feeling. Suddenly, I was brought back to my younger years when I was hooked to the television with a sense of childlike eagerness — a sense of ambition for discovery. The quality of life changes made to the original game along with the GamePad compatibility help transcend an already fantastic game into a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Nintendo knows better than to mess around with its key franchises, and it’s clear how much love went into remaking The Wind Waker for old fans and new.