Wait. When did this game come out? 2003? Huh. Could’ve sworn it was a new release.
Sadly I never played the original, which shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve read some of my previous Zelda reviews. I didn’t get into the series until Phantom Hourglass, but I’ve been doing my darnedest to catch up on the series whenever possible. I remember the controversy in the gaming press when the art style of Wind Waker was revealed, but that seems to have changed to adoration over the years. It’s interesting how opinions change, but here, now, in 2013, in HD, this game looks fantastic. Call it cell-shaded, cartoony or whatever you wish, but there’s a lightness and a playfulness that I found simply wonderful.
I can’t speak to any of the changes or upgrades to the game, but what is here I’m realizing is pretty typical Zelda stuff. You find dungeons, you get new weapons or items, then you use them to defeat the boss. It’s a formula they’ve been using seemingly since the dawn of time, and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t work like a charm. The now-ubiquitous gamepad inventory scheme works great, and Link controls, well, just like you’d expect. In an interesting plot change-up, <SPOILERS> you don’t have a normal chase after Zelda, initially you need to save your little sister. </SPOILERS> You being a child Link, nobody thinks you can do it, but by golly you set out to prove them wrong!
Like in Phantom Hourglass, the overworld this time is a massive, sprawling ocean. It’s dotted with islands here, there and everywhere, which will only appear on your map if you get a fish to paint them on. I’m not sure I’m a fan of this mechanic, as it seems to only serve to slow down a game which really doesn’t need any more slowing down, but I suppose it does give a mild sense of accomplishment as you uncover your map. This takes quite a while, as unless you manage to find the upgraded sail you’ll be spending quite some time playing a tune and then waiting for the winds to blow you where you need to be. The game improved massively when I was able to simply set off when I wanted at twice the normal speed, and that was before I found out about the waterspouts.
The game never really felt difficult or as tricky as some Zelda games, though there are the occasional times when you realize the solution they want makes very little sense. I’ve come to expect these moments in a Zelda game where I either get stuck for awhile and get frustrated until I come across some small thing I missed, or I look up the solution online. I try not to do the latter, but as I’m often playing several games at once I miss or forget things all the time. Zelda games aren’t meant to be played that way, so I’ll take some of the blame there. There is a ‘Hero’ mode in which hearts are scarce, but I’m no Zelda expert and didn’t quite have the patience (or skill) to methodically dismantle a dungeon that way.
Nintendo has integrated a ‘selfie’ feature and a Miiverse message-in-a-bottle feature, which allows you to pick up bottles on shores around the sea from other players games. It felt a bit odd writing a message and setting it loose in the world, but like the entirety of Wind Waker HD, it was oddly calming. It’s nice to take a break from military shooters, action brawlers and shoot-em-ups to simply enjoy a world and adventure through some dungeons.
It’s not a typical Zelda experience, but at the same time it is. The mechanics are there, the plot structure is there, but the seriousness has flown the coop like a Link on a chicken. The art style, the plot, the child Link, the audio score, the pacing and the difficulty level all combine to create a glorious bright world to inhabit and enjoy, without ever being too taxing.