After what seems like a never-ending drought of games, Nintendo is finally starting to get some titles out for their Wii U. Starting with Pikmin 3, released in August, Nintendo has set a slew of titles to trickle onto the market. The second of these to make it to market is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, a high definition remake of the controversial 2003 release in the series. I did get a chance to play some of the game at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles earlier this year and it looked impressive. Now that I’ve gotten to play the full game, I can appreciate Nintendo’s efforts even more.
When Wind Waker was first released a little over 10 years ago, the verdict was definitely split. For the most part, critics adored it, but the fans were divided. The cel-shaded art was taken by many to mean that Wind Waker was geared more towards children than the adults who had been playing series. As a result, Wind Waker had embarrassingly low sales results compared to the other entries in the series. With that in mind, it is somewhat puzzling that Nintendo would choose the title for an HD remake and new limited edition console bundle. That’s not to say that The Wind Waker HD isn’t worth playing, it’s just not what many would have expected. The next and much better selling Legend of Zelda title, The Twilight Princess, actually used pretty much the same game engine as Wind Waker so maybe a Twilight Princess HD title is in the cards down the line.
The “HD” moniker here in The Wind Waker HD means that the game now runs in full 1080p, but that really only makes a difference on bigger televisions. Without getting too technical, unless your gaming TV is over 50 inches, by just looking, you’d have a hard time telling the two apart. Because of the style choices in its design, the improved graphics aren’t the main reason to buy The Wind Waker HD. That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t look great, but it always did. The difference is that now you can play it on bigger TVs without those pesky scan lines or muddy looking, blown up textures. Odds are though, that the cel-shaded art style itself will continue to be a point of contention for many gamers.
Besides the unique art style, Wind Waker changes up The Legend of Zelda formula quite a bit. Taking place several centuries after Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the main character in Wind Waker isn’t the legendary Link, but a new, namable, boy who lives on a tiny island in The Great Sea. Though, for all intents and purposes the hero may as well be Link, since he dresses up like Link and learns many of the same skills.
Wind Waker plays pretty much like every other modern Legend of Zelda game with a couple of exceptions. Because the new hero lives on a tiny island, the only way off is by boat and unfortunately, every other location in the game is also a tiny island. That means that a good chunk of time is spent on a boat. I remember while playing the original game that as long as I had the boat travelling in the right direction, I could go do something else or take a catnap waiting to get close to the next pertinent area. It was pretty brutal. Luckily, I had a wireless Wavebird controller and wasn’t stuck in front of my TV for each voyage.
Though critics loved the risk taking art style change in Wind Waker, most admitted that the sailing mechanic was tedious. The title, Wind Waker, refers to the hero’s ability to control the wind. Unfortunately this means that if you want to sail east, you need to make the wind blow that direction. Not only that, but if you want to glide with your oversized leaf over to another area, you need to make sure the wind is blowing that way too. That along with huge expanses of sea between destinations doesn’t make for great pacing or compelling gameplay.
In this version, a new sail is available that makes the wind changing unnecessary and also speeds your boat up considerably. The sailing is still an issue in The Wind Waker HD, but it is now a little less painful. That is a good thing, and may get a few more people to give the game a shot. If you’re willing to put in the time, there are some beautiful scenes and really great environments in the game. The game also isn’t quite as juvenile as the beginning might have you believe. In the end, it’s a real Legend of Zelda experience with some memorable moments.
Faster sailing isn’t the only improvement in Wind Waker HD. A few of the quests, including the final third of the game, have been reworked to improve pacing and add a social online component. Tingle Bottles, which is similar to the messages in Demon’s Souls, have been added. The pictures you can take in the game are also sharable in Miiverse. Those who want a real challenge can also give the Hero mode a try and finally, the game is playable off-screen, on the GamePad.
All of these changes are certainly improvements, and while I enjoyed the original Wind Waker, its flaws were pretty severe. Wind Waker HD has taken a good game and makes it better. I am not at all against this recent trend of remaking classic games. It definitely contributes to those nostalgic feelings, but if nostalgia is all Nintendo has to offer, they have a tough road ahead. I hope Wind Waker HD sells well, but the history of the game and Nintendo’s Wii U launch strategy may indicate otherwise. When most of the good games on a system are remakes, it’s hard to imagine things turning out well.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence.