A decade after dazzling the GameCube generation, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is still my favourite game in the renowned series and the best game on Wii U, without competition.
I still vividly remember the stir of 2003 when Nintendo unleashed the “childish” cel-shaded Wind Waker with cartoonish flair in stark contrast to the more convoluted and, by comparison, adult tones of Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time.
But concerns that Nintendo was watering-down its beloved sword-wielding franchise were washed away when The Wind Waker delivered engaging combat, a playful world, charming characters and absorbing puzzles to solve.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is as good now as it was on the GameCube ten years ago ... its unequivocally the best HD remake I’ve ever played.
Recasting Link, the courageous quasi-reborn hero, as a bold cartoon character barely into his teens defied belief. With his baggy, crisp green clothes and curious wide eyes, Wind Waker’s Link fit the description of Zelda’s tunic-wearing hero, but looked nothing like the iconic mascot that anchored the Nintendo 64.
As it turns out, Eiji Aonuma and his team's valiant decision was the greatest risk they ever took. Not only because it spawned one of the best games on the GameCube — a console with a legacy comprising the utmost quality — but also because it stands the true test of time and looks absolutely stunning in full high definition.
The revamped Link bursts out of the HD screen full of life and vigour in a way most HD remakes only dream of imitating. The Wind Waker may have strived to recapture the magic on Wii U, but it’s surpassed the wildest expectations. It’s, dare I say, even better now with a high-def beaming protagonist, and even when the nostalgic allure wears thin, it’s every bit the masterpiece it was on the ‘Cube.
The complete package stands up without a hitch after all these years, as the ultimate all-time classic. Unlike most games of the GameCube/PS2/Xbox era, The Wind Waker refuses to grow old and, after its remastering, could pass for a new release. There’s the odd kerfuffle with lighting and Link’s foot can still semi-disappear into the ground when running up hill, but aside from these minor blights on a gorgeous canvass, there’s nothing that gives away The Wind Waker’s true age.
The gameplay feels lighter compared to the more detailed Skyward Sword and darker Twilight Princess, but that too has helped it retain its quality where its contemporaries have not. It’s as easy and engrossing to pick up and play now as it ever was, and feels immediately intuitive to anyone that has waltzed through a Zelda quest before, even though its intricacies set it apart.
It begins with an unlikely hero forced into a damsel in distress adventure against the odds. Along the way, you’ll complete ingenious dungeons, even if they’re not quite as memorable as Ocarina of Time, using a collection of old-timey items that rock up just as you need them ahead of exaggerated boss battles.
When you’re not slicing things, there are plenty of cozy townsfolk that’ll have you embark on a mixture of optional quests (actually they’re mostly chores, really) and the trusty stallion has been replaced by an incessantly talkative boat. Wind Waker did cause dismay by swapping a sprawling hillside for a vast, flat plane ocean that’s mostly full of a whole lot of nothing. In all there are almost 50 islands to explore, many of them tiny, leading you back to obvious strongholds.
Wind Waker’s greatest strength is brilliant combat with a lock-on system that never fails coupled with imaginative dungeons teeming with audacious puzzles. It’s an innovative formula that never risks becoming repetitive by introducing new items, enemies and quirky side-quests with impeccable pacing through 30 hours that will simply fly by.
Fighting a colourful range of admittedly easy enemies using the GamePad doesn’t try and do too much to make it into something that it’s not. Nintendo’s second screen offers immediate access to the inventory, otherwise there’s an abundance of pausing to shuffle around Link’s kit, and its motion-sensors can be used to aim projectiles and scopes like the bow or telescope if the analogue sticks feel too slow; as you would expect, the motion controls are rubbish, but we can forgive Nintendo for trying.
Alternatively, Wind Waker HD is fully compatible with the Pro Controller, which became my preference when not employing the full off-TV mode as a less bulky option. Moving the camera with a second control stick is also a massive improvement, most players probably won’t notice, compared to the GameCube’s laughably tiny C-Stick.
Nintendo has tweaked a few decade old complaints by speeding up the once tedious sailing segments and cutting down the only annoying fetch quest. More notably, the HD remake introduces the more difficult Hero Mode which can be toggled on from the file select screen. You’ll have to be extra vigilant facing enemies that dish out double damage, as regaining health is only possible through potions and fairies. The standard difficulty was never overbearing, but now feels even easier by modern standards. However, that isn’t to say it’s any less enjoyable just because the average player won’t hit a “game over” screen, and those who want the additional challenge have the option from the outset.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is as good now as it was on the GameCube ten years ago. With charming characters, imaginative puzzles and a vibrant style that was always destined for high definition, its unequivocally the best HD remake I’ve ever played. It looks fantastic, and the suburb gameplay hasn’t aged a day.