The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Review
The Smoothest of Sailing
Eleven years have passed since the polarizing Zelda adventure, The Wind Waker, hit the GameCube. In that time, its gained praise from players all over the world, who grew to love the art style and charming characters, set within one of the largest worlds in the franchise. The game had a few triangle shaped issues that needed ironing out, but the love for the experience has finally been met with a Wii U remastering in the form of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD.
Those problems I mentioned? Eliminated. Things you didn’t know needed adjustment? Fixed for the better. This is the definitive version of the game, and a perfect example of what a second screen brings to the adventure genre.
As simple as that sounds, the story takes a few twists and turns with beautifully articulated and animated characters that each have a desire, a problem, and a method to solve that problem. From pirates on the sea, to love struck pig men, the things that happen around the simple premise are what make the story glisten without over powering the more important aspects of the game. 100% completion (which can take more than 70 hours) rewards the player with fleshed out characters who’s personalities gently shift with the wind as you help them out. The overarching thread culminates in some big, yet predictable moments for characters, allowing them all to grow, and in a few cases, experience great loss. The thread the game weaves isn’t as complex as Majora’s Mask, but it facilitates gameplay so well that it’s mostly excusable, especially considering the dramatic ending. The best stories in the game will come from player experiences that can now be shared in an online Miiverse community.
The green-clad hero known as Link is one of the most tightly controlled versions of the character in any Zelda game, and the Wii U makes control even better. Navigating on foot is always a joy, and the game now fully supports the touch screen for inventory and map management, meaning the game never has to pause to check over status or location. The game primarily focuses on its sailing mechanic, however, and this part of the game is what needed the most sharpening.
Nintendo fixed every problem I ever had with the sailing.
In the original game, you were at the mercy of the wind’s direction to move your sail boat, and you had to play a song every time you wanted to make a sharp turn. This process, along with the already slow sailing, made every trip across the ocean take far too long and made it too much of a struggle to search for side quests. Now, in the HD version, the sail can be upgraded to move at double speed and catch the wind in any direction without a song, which massively cuts down on the tedium associated with boating. Traversal across the ocean is now…fun. Not a chore, or a pace breaker, but an actual fun activity to partake in.
Mixed with that are tons of minute adjustments all around the game, from faster animations to quicker text roll outs. The amount of changes would make a pretty long list, but it’s pretty easy to say that the changes enhance the core puzzle solving gameplay, improving pacing, maintaining immersion, and keeping the game enjoyable every step of the way.
Miiverse integration has been added through “Tingle Bottles,” which let players write messages with screen shots and throw them out to sea for other adventurers to find. An optional feature, it lets players who need it get help from others playing the game, and helps those sort of interactions mesh with the context of the experience.
Motion Controls have been added, but they’re limited to looking, aiming, and shooting, and can be turned off very easily. I personally liked using them, as I could use them to make fine, quick tweaks to my aim and more satisfactorily take down targets. The function is just like Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS.
The dreaded Triforce quest at the end has been fixed. Not changed, but fixed. I won’t spoil it, but for those who know what it is, it is far less time consuming and most of it can be done very early on. For those that don’t already know, the quest originally turned the end of the game into a slog, but it’s now integrated into the flow of the game so well that you may not even understand why it was ever an issue. A few small changes to it were that important.
Overall, the title has some of the most fun, in-depth 3D adventure gameplay around, with expertly designed puzzles and fantastic battles. An additional hard mode was added for veteran players, making sure it’s a fresh experience for those who may have played the game before.
Graphics & Sound
If I told you this game came out in 2002…you’d probably believe me, to be honest. The visuals have gotten a massive bump in texture resolution, color saturation and lighting quality, which all combine to make this a beautiful game. Aged geometry on the models gets highlighted by the new lighting, hoever, and that causes the game to show its age a couple of times. Outside of those situations though, the cartoon art style is as charming as ever, making everything feel like a highly animated, significant part of the world.
The HD upgrades make the game less a 2D cartoon, and more of a 3D Pixar film (definitely a compliment.) The art style carries the game’s visuals, as the expressive characters and contrasting vistas paired with rich colors make everything beautiful to look at. The lighting system needs to be commended for being truly dynamic; objects now cast real shadows on each other. Looking to the sunset, a seagull out in the distance will now drop a shadow on things behind you, and buildings will bathe the land around them in shade that moves with the time of day. Seeing this, on land or at sea, makes the game feel more believable, despite its cartoon look. The game will forever be beautiful to look at, thanks to the forward thinking artists from 2002.
Sound is great, with some of the most memorable music tracks the series has to offer. Music itself has gained a bump up in fidelity; while the game still uses MIDI tracks produced by the hardware, more layers have been added to each song, and a few have samples that sound quite a lot like a real instrument. Several songs add audio tracks, change tempo, or meld with other music depending on the situation, and it makes every fight and puzzle more intense. Sound effects are good, from the grunts and cries of characters, to the clang of metal on metal. Satisfyingly meaty noises accompany combat, making each hit, blunt or otherwise, feel like it did some damage. Attacks also add a note to the music, which gives further feedback to the player. Ambient noise fills many locations in the game, making them feel large, deep, and, at times, dangerous. This is some of the strongest sound design in the series, standing above many other games in the genre.
Strangely, the port to the Wii U has brought a couple of problems with it, though they are all simply technical and not issues with the games mechanics.
Sometimes, the frame rate will drop if there’s a lot going on. This happens most often on the sea, but it’s still enough to pull you out of the experience the first few times.
With the amount of options added to the game, I’d love to be able to change the controls. It’s a personal thing, but my long, skinny fingers could have been better served if I was allowed to adjust the location of my most used actions.
I’m digging a little bit hard here, but uh, sometimes shadows get a little jagged. It’s such a non-issue that I probably should edit this point out.
Aside from the myriad side quests and activities, the game features a second quest, which lets you play in different clothing and finish off a photo collection, as well as a Hard mode (known as Hero Mode,) which takes out all recovery hearts, has enemies dealing double damage, and forces you to recover with potions and fairies. It’s my preferred way play the game.
There’s also the aforementioned Miiverse support, as well as support for the Wii U Pro Controller (great controller, but the game is near perfect with the Wii U Gamepad.)
The Wind Waker epitomizes 3D adventure gameplay, and the HD version makes it even better. Every single thing in the game is fun to do, and there’s never a moment that feels dull or tedious. For those that haven’t played the game yet, this is the way to do it. For those that have, returning to the Great Sea has never been better. Highly recommended.