Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

Link’s GameCube outing remains the stuff of legends.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 10/21/2013 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
The solid gameplay and narrative of the original have been preserved, while the already-beautiful graphics have been upgraded with an HD overhaul; the integration of Miiverse, Off-TV play, improved sailing, and a shortened fetch-quest add to an already amazing game.
Poison Mushroom for...
Remains a shorter Zelda game than usual, with only five real dungeons to explore.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to remaking classic games. Some developers prefer to lovingly recreate every polygon, while others will tear everything down to the foundation and start over again. Nintendo’s latest remake, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, is an example of expert preservation. Every scene, location, and character has been masterfully upscaled to HD, and is complemented by a new, hyper-realistic lighting system. Nintendo didn’t just stop with cosmetic upgrades, though, as the biggest complaints that were levied at the original Wind Waker, slow sailing and a needlessly tedious fetch quest at the end, have both been resolved. What Nintendo has done with Wind Waker HD not only demonstrates the timelessness of its GameCube predecessor, but boldly admits and rectifies its shortcomings.

What’s amazing about the original Wind Waker is that years later, the graphics have lost little of their luster. Despite a lower resolution, the overall quality of the visuals is fresher than most of the cookie cutter grit of today’s endlessly derivative war and zombie games. Wind Waker HD maintains the GameCube original’s signature cartoony look but pushes the graphics forward with more pixels and the addition of dynamic, realistic lighting. Admittedly, this lighting does alter the cartoony feel a bit, making the visuals more evocative of a Pixar movie than traditional line art. It’s a lateral move, but not one that detracts, as the game is stunning and will be just as timeless ten years from now.

Wind Waker HD smartly clings to everything that made the original so beloved. The graphics are the most obvious carryover, but the play control, story, and cinematics have all been untouched. Like with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Nintendo knew that the only way to reconvey the fun of Wind Waker was to have players experience the game with little reinterpretation. Other than a couple of trivial changes (different colored water in the Forbidden Woods, different musical tones for continuing or exiting to the main menu after a save), Nintendo has given players the same incredible game from 2003. The combat is especially gratifying, as the action is fluid and the ability to parry incoming attacks adds a nice layer of strategy. If there’s one glaring gripe to be made, it’s that there is a pivotal moment in the game where Nintendo went from a stark, black and white color palette to a sepia tone, instead. This shift diminishes the effect of what follows this scene in a big way, and was regrettable to see. It’s not game-breaking, just disappointing.

While certainly a classic, the original Wind Waker wasn’t without its problems. Many complained of extended traveling segments, slowly sailing across the water between destinations with little to do but watch the rolling waves. Without spoiling things, there was also an integral scavenger hunt at the end of the game that some players didn’t have the patience for. Rather than leave these two persistent issues unaddressed, Nintendo tackled both issues head on. To improve sailing, an item called the Swift Sail was added, which increases the speed of Link’s boat and always has the wind at its back without manually adjusting it. For the scavenger hunt, the number of steps to complete it has been reduced. What might seem like two trivial changes have made a significant difference in Wind Waker HD, improving its playability and fixing a couple key complaints that plagued the original game.

The only real remaining complaints about Wind Waker HD can be directed squarely at the length of its campaign. This is a shorter Zelda game, which is a letdown when considering how engaging an experience it is. Some might argue that the tradeoff is no unnecessary filler, but the lack of dungeons is as noticeable now as when Wind Waker first came out. Nintendo did compensate for this with a bevy of side quests, which can lengthen one’s time on the Great Sea if they choose to partake. From collecting an exhaustive figurine collection of every character in the game, to engaging in clandestine pictograph taking, Link has plenty to do beyond slaying monsters and solving puzzles.

Anyone who’s been holding out on buying a Wii U really needs to reconsider following the release of Wind Waker HD. What was already a masterpiece has become better than ever. Miiverse integration is an optional way of adding depth to the experience, as seeing fellow fans’ musings and pictographs is very fun. (It’s also hilarious how Link can take selfies with the Pictograph Box now.) The use of Off-TV in Wind Waker HD is also a great addition, and if anyone out there needs more convincing beyond the chance to play an incredible game, the special Wii U bundle features an amazing Zelda-themed GamePad. With this game, Pikmin 3, and the Wonderful 101 finally out, Wii U has officially arrived. Make buying Wind Waker HD a priority, as it’s everything that a video game should be.

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