A decade after its initial release, Nintendo’s most polarizing and controversial Zelda game is about to be re-released with all new HD visuals for the Wii U. Fans of Zelda went wild, this October they will get a remake of a beloved game and it will shorten the time span they have to wait for a new iteration on the Wii U. That wasn’t the case ten years ago. Ten years ago Nintendo fans were a little confused, a little outraged and a little distraught. Despite all the nay-saying and worry, on March 24, 2003 Nintendo had struck gold, The Wind Waker was critically acclaimed across the board, and went on to sell over 4.6 million copies worldwide. Not too bad for a little game that split the Zelda fan base down the middle for a year or so.
When Nintendo announced The Wind Waker in 2001 for GameCube, gamers were not very enthusiastic about Nintendo’s new choice for visuals, especially when it came to Link. Fans expected a mature adult Link ala Ocarina of Time, and what they were shown was a Link that looked to be inspired by Walt Disney.
The next few months following the reveal gamers denounced the game, saying that Nintendo was catering to children too much and that they had stopped caring about the hardcore fan base. However, as more and more news about the game trickled out, the controls that stuck to the Ocarina formula, the depth and scope of the story, the links (no pun intended) to the Ocarina timeline, and the copious amounts of new screenshots, people were suddenly enamored with the game, they jumped ship as it were. Release day hits, reviews are pouring in and games are pouring out. Nintendo has a smash hit on their hands and critics worldwide agree… they misjudged. No reviewer dared go lower than a nine, and soon, everyone who judged this book by its cover was eating crow.
The game was so beautiful that it rivaled the PS2’s visuals. Nintendo proved that even though the technical and graphical specs of the GameCube were not as advanced as its competition, they could still make a gorgeous game. Outset Island looked like an amazing place to live, The Forbidden Fortress was both scary and majestic at the same time. The real treat was sailing that turquoise blue ocean, one felt like they were actually riding the waves, feeling the mist on their face, and perhaps, getting a little seasick. In fact, if you fire up The Wind Waker now, it still looks amazing; aged like a fine wine.
What made The Wind Waker so unique, other than the art style, was the addition of sailing. No other Zelda game had strayed so far from the path that Nintendo set in 1987, maybe The Adventure of Link, but let’s not go there. Many players disliked the game three quarters of the way through because they felt the sailing mechanic made the game drag until the final battle. They didn’t want to sail the ocean blue in search of more rupies and special weapons, they wanted their obligatory duel with Ganon. This complaint is akin to the Red Dead Redemption problem with horseback riding, too much idleness on the horse and not enough things to do. Nintendo felt differently and has since introduced a unique mechanic in all the post Wind Waker titles. In 2006’s Twilight Princess, Link transforms into a wolf so that he can enter the Twilight Realm. In 2007’s The Phantom Hourglass, the direct sequel to The Wind Waker (one of only two timelines to get a direct sequel, the other being Ocarina), Nintendo stuck with the sailing mechanic. Spirit Tracks, released in 2009, saw Nintendo sinking the boat and going with the train mechanic. Nintendo, finally being tired of land and sea, took to the air with 2011’a Skyward Sword. Nintendo is even implementing a new mechanic in the A Link to the Past sequel for the 3DS, where Link can transform into a painting and walk as the wall to otherwise blocked areas of the game. All of these possibilities opened up because Nintendo took a chance with The Wind Waker.
The change in graphics allowed Link’s face to be more expressive. Not only could you tell what Link was thinking, Nintendo threw some nice facial expression jokes in to boot. The cut-scene of Link being catapulted onto the Forbidden Fortress will bring a giggle and a smile to anyone’s face. The eye animations are also amazing, if you watch them while you play Link’s eyes may give you subtle hints on how to solve certain puzzles in the room. Link may happen to glance at a stick that you need to light on fire so that another torch can be lit. Link’s eyes also move with left stick, should you move your thumb to the right, Link’s eyes will follow your thumb’s movement. Just another cherry added to the top of Nintendo’s perfect Zelda sundae.
The story in Wind Waker was enormous in scope. Link was invested in the story, not just running around saving the world because a tree told him to; he was doing it for family this time. Link really knew nothing of life off of Outset Island, where he lived with his grandmother and his sister, Aryll. The world’s birthday present to this young Link was trouble. After setting off to find a sword and save a damsel in distress, Link learns that there is a much larger world out there – one that has great evil churning in it. Link decides to then join a pirate (the aforementioned damsel in distress) on her ship to the Forsaken Fortress to save his sister who has been captured.
Once that beautiful melody graces the television speakers, no gamer can escape the beauty of the music, controls, or visuals – you are hooked and in store for one of the best Legend of Zelda games ever created. Hajime Wakai, Kenta Nagata, Toru Minegishi, and Kōji Kondō did a marvelous job creating mood with the music, tearing the heartstrings with one piece and revving up adrenaline in another. It makes sense that it took four composers to draft this masterpiece, as it truly is beautiful – a classic in gaming soundtracks.
Controlling Link has never been easier in prior releases. Nintendo, knowing what works and what doesn’t, took the Ocarina of Time controls and adapted them to the GameCube controller. What was once a good set up on the awkward N64 controller, now became perfection on the ergonomically comfortable GameCube controller. The Z-Targeting system remains unchanged, as does the storage of the special weapons like the boomerang, hookshot and skull hammer, to name a few. While playing The Wind Waker, you could never blame the controls for losing a boss fight, it was all on you.
Jump forward a decade: Nintendo is promoting their new system, The Wii U. Unexpectedly, in January they decided dropped the bombshell that The Wind Waker was getting an HD overhaul for their new system. Eiji Aonuma, the series director, stated that the HD Remake will “tune up the overall game experience.” With controls that neared perfection in the original release, one has to wonder what Aonuma meant by that. We believe that he was talking about the GamePad and how the map and HUD will most likely stay on that screen while you fight through dungeons to ward off the evil Ganon.
The Wind Waker was downright gorgeous when it was first released, but with the HD overhaul Nintendo is sending Hyrule into supermodel status. That supermodel Zelda will be walking down the runway sometime in October.