The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Review: Amazing At Any Resolution

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Nintendo is no stranger to remakes and reimaginings. Super Mario Bros. Metroid. Mario Kart. Donkey Kong. In fact, most of the company’s key franchises have been recycled with every console generation. And yet, somehow, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD feels different. Perhaps it is because the Wii U is under intense pressure to pick up sales, and needs a knockout game. Or maybe it is the fact that certain critics see Nintendo’s stable of characters as stale and overused, relying too much on the charity of nostalgic gamers. Or it could just be that it is the first Zelda game in high definition.

Whatever made Nintendo decide to re-release this title, it has proven to be a brilliant choice. It’s like meeting an old friend after a ten-year gap.

Platforms: Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Cartoony RPG… IN HD!
Release Date: October 4, 2013
ESRB Rating: Everyone

From the controversial cel-shaded graphics to swapping Hyrule’s fields with a giant ocean, Wind Waker was a huge leap away from Link’s usual fare, and yet the game best exuded the qualities worthy of the “Legend of Zelda” name. Exploration. Dungeons and monsters. Kooky characters. Beautiful music. For those discovering the game for the first time, it will be amazing. For those who played the original GameCube version, they will be in awe at how pretty it looks now that it’s been polished up to HD, and how much they have forgotten.

The story takes places hundreds of years after the main Zelda games. Link is a young lad on Outset Island, going about his business, when suddenly, his sister is snatched by a giant bird. Enlisting the help of Captain Tetra and her pirate crew, Link sets out to rescue his sister, only to discover she is being held by a powerful being known as Ganon. After being thwarted by Ganon’s forces, Link is enlisted by a talking boat, the Red King of Lions, to find the magical weapons of old that can once again defeat this evil menace. Gifted with the magical Wind Waker, Link is able to conduct music that can turn the direction of the wind and also day to night to aid him in his quest.

So what’s new? The biggest change is the graphics. The bold cel-shaded style remains, but is absolutely gorgeous in HD. If Nintendo was ever to team up with Disney and create a manga film based on Zelda, this would be the result. Smoke and dust billow out in Aladdin-style swirly clouds, while some of the characters and monsters look like they’ve come directly from Pixar. In a gaming landscape constantly dominated by dark and dreary first-person shooters, this game is like a big, bright visceral dream exploding out of director Eiji Aonuma’s brain. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has not simply been upscaled; the lighting effects and textures have been reworked, and the result is quite magical.

The other big difference is the Wii U GamePad functionality. In most RPGs, you have to pause to equip items or look at maps, which can grow tedious and interrupt the pace of the game. Here, the second screen is a gift from the Earth and Wind gods. At the touch of the screen you can flick between your inventory to the map. Tapping on certain sections of the map will zoom in on them for clarification, while sliding an object or weapon to one of the mapped buttons will assign it immediately. It’s not overly used, nor are there any annoying minigames that require the screen to be implemented. It is simple but effective, and makes playing the game all the more fun.

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The screen also has a third function, which is to read Tingle Bottle messages. Once you have met the chubby fairy-dressed character, he gifts you with the Tingle Bottle. It allows players to write a small note a little larger than a Tweet, or take a picture, and cast it into the vast ocean. The bottle will float digitally into the ether, until it finds its way into another player’s game. As silly as this may sound, it may prove to be the best feature of the game. Catching sight of a bottle shimmering in the sea or half-buried in the sandy shores fills you with excitement. It harkens back to the days when the original game was released, and the World Wide Web was a mystery to us all. Finding a message from a stranger in China or Brazil or Australia manages to perfectly capture the fun and excitement that this ocean-trekking adventure instills. Perhaps because of the social media influence, Link is now able to take a “selfie” using the Picto-Box, and upload it to the Miiverse.

There have been some other modest tweaks to the game itself. The animations for certain actions, such as the Grappling Hook, have been sped up. The last portion of the game, during which you hunt for the Triforce, has been reduced, much to the delight of frustrated fans. There is a new Swift Sail that cuts sailing time in half, although you have to find it first. Players can also move around when firing weapons that switch to first-person perspective, such as the bow or the boomerang. Like the Wii title Link’s Crossbow Training, it makes a strong case for Nintendo to internally develop an FPS. As for those who can still actually remember the game and every secret (including the well-hidden Nintendo Gallery), there is the new Hero Mode which is sure to challenge even the most ardent Zelda fan.

Even after a decade, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD not only holds up to the test of time, but shames current games for not having the audacity to be as artistically bold or entertainingly fun. It is not the stop-gap measure some suggested it would be until a new Legend of Zelda title arrives, but a glorious pirate romp into the past. The small tweaks combined with the beautiful HD graphics make the experience feel less like a re-issue and more like a new game. If you needed a reason to buy a Wii U, this is it.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.

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In addition to being Warp Zoned's UK Correspondent, Andrew Rainnie is a screenwriter and filmmaker. You can email him at andrew AT warpzoned DOT com or you can, if you're inclined, visit his personal website.

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