Also available on Gamecube
Legend of Zelda is a series that is and always has been near and dear to my heart. I've beaten every game in series except for Triforce Heroes and the three CD-i games at least once, and I'm working on getting every release of every game. I naturally had Wind Waker HD preordered several years back (still have the Ganondorf statue in my game room), but it wasn't until last week that I actually got around to sitting down and replaying it. Don't get me wrong - I'd played and beaten Wind Waker years ago, but that was on the Gamecube, and that was also a good 12 years back. With Breath of the Wild releasing in a month (yes, I have it pre-ordered on both Switch and Wii U), I figured now was a good time to revisit one of the most underappreciated games in the Zelda series and see if it stands up with how good I remember the original's being back when I was a kid.
The Wind Waker is for games what the Dreamcast is for consoles - really damn good but torn to pieces by critics when it was current. Fortunately for Wind Waker, however, it's a lot easier to re-release games years down the line when people start to realize what a gem they missed. I mean, it lessens the impact when the system you put the re-release on is your version of Sega's Dreamcast, but let's not split hairs. Before we let the whole "HD" part seep into this review, let's pay proper respect to the OG Wind Waker - it looked fucking gorgeous. The Gamecube was NOT a weak piece of tech, and the brilliant stylistic choice of cel shaded graphics made the visual limitations of the time all but disappear. Because of that cel shaded style, the resolution bump from 480i to 1080p isn't as noticeable as it would be for a game with a "realistic" art style, but Nintendo more than made up for that by buffing other areas of the visual presentation. The colors pop like they never did on the Gamecube, the lighting and fog effects have been completely redone, and environment models and draw distance have been given major overhauls. As I said, the game already looked incredible, but it takes on a whole new life with the TLC that the folks at Nintendo put into this remaster.
The music in Wind Waker, of course, has always been the best in the series in my opinion, and playing it through a modern soundbar and subwoofer is like stepping into nirvana. The control, while obviously hindered by the use of an inherently inferior controller (which, really, is any controller that isn't the Gamecube pad), works great. The aiming with your bow, boomerang, hookshot, and grappling hook, is actually dramatically improved with the addition of the Wii U gamepad's gyroscope, allowing you to use the right stick for big movements and just move the gamepad for finer adjustements. The added use of the gamepad's touch screen for item management and map display is also a very welcome addition, letting you switch your equipped items on the fly or travel the Great Sea without having to stop to check your map.
In this replay of Wind Waker 12 years after my first playthrough, there are some things that stuck out to me as well as some things that I hadn't noticed as a child. The first is the game's difficulty. I always knew that Wind Waker was probably the easiest of the console Zelda games (perhaps the easiest Zelda game in general), but just HOW easy the combat was had faded from memory. The ONLY boss in the entire game that gave me trouble was the third form of the Puppet Ganon boss. The puzzles were very simple to solve save for one or two, and half of the time I got stuck for any period of time in a dungeon was because I had overlooked something obvious - "right under my nose," so to speak. What surprised me the most, however - and this hurts to say as an avid Zelda fan - is how quickly the game wore out its welcome for me. By the time I reached the Tower of the Gods, I was about ready to be done, knowing full well that I was only about halfway through. I think I didn't feel that way as a kid because of how incredible the freedom to explore the Great Sea felt coming off of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, but truthfully, the sailing got tedious this go around.
What really killed my enthusiasm for the last half of the game was primarily two things. First, as anyone who's played the game can guess, is the god awful Triforce shard fetch quest. It is, thankfully, streamlined a bit in the HD remaster, but it's still a pain in the ass, and it still feels completely pointless. The second - and bigger - enthusiasm killer for me tied into the Triforce shard hunt, and that's the game's reliance on randomly stumbling upon places and side quests for things that are required for the story. I know that secrets and puzzles are Zelda's thing, but some of the things in Wind Waker felt excessive. Having to have the Power Bracer to get the Earth Temple, which you can only get if you have the Ice Arrows and Fire Arrows, which you can only get if you have the cyclone teleport song, which you can only get if you shoot the pissy cyclone god enough times who only appears if you stumble on the gigantic cyclone in the sea. Putting a Triforce shard on the Ghost Ship which you need Ghost Ship Map to find which is hidden in a random dungeon on a random island with no other significance. I might just being whining like a bitch here - which I'm wont to do - but the amount of things that you'd have to be extremely lucky, extremely thorough and with a great memory, or use a walkthrough to find just in order to progress the main quest seemed over the top.
Now that I've voiced my gripes with the game, let's talk about the positives. The combat in Wind Waker is, in my opinion, the most fluid, fun, and natural feeling of any Zelda game, and that's a definite plus. It's legitimately FUN to kill enemies in this game. If you're in an exploration mood, there are a LOT of secrets on the Great Sea to find, and it's a HUGE sea to explore. The Zelda series is long known for its lore and ability to take the same base story and make it interesting every single time, but Wind Waker excels in that especially in my opinion, second perhaps only to Skyward Sword or Link to the Past. One of my favorite aspects of Wind Waker - which, to the best of my memory, is absent from every other Zelda game - is the survival gauntlet hidden on Outset Island. Yes, the first 30 floors are required for a Triforce shard, but there are another 20 floors beyond that, each floor more difficult than the last, on which to test your mettle. For a game with combat this well done, that might be my favorite optional feature of all.
This is a kiddie game on a kiddie platform, right? Dude got stabbed straight in the face with a sword; that's metal af.
Having replayed it years later and as an adult, I don't think Wind Waker is nearly as good as many of my friends say it is or as even my own memories say it is. That doesn't mean that I think it's a bad game - it's one of the best games of the 6th generation - but the nostalgia glasses are real for me on this one, folks. I absolutely recommend playing through Wind Waker, either on Wii U or Gamecube, if you're into Legend of Zelda and haven't played it yet, but keep a walkthrough handy for when you inevitably get frustrated with the damn Triforce hunt or the other ridiculously well hidden required items.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.