Shh, it’s sleeping
Wind Waker HD is a beautiful game. More than aesthetically, nearly every individual element of the game has such care and attention lavished upon it to the point where it makes most other games look like filthy garbage. After playing for a few hours I hopped onto GTA Online and nearly wretched at just how dirty everything was in comparison.
A re-release of a ten-year old game, some of you may not be familiar with the original. At the time there was an outcry from fans of the Zelda series who were expecting a realistic title based on some tech-demo footage for the Gamecube, and then got given a cel-shaded cartoonish adventure. The more realistic form came much later with Twilight Princess, but at least in our opinion Wind Waker is up there alongside Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past as one of the very best games in the series. There were missteps to be sure, and many of those mistakes have carried through to this version, but the music, the artwork and the plot are all so breathtaking it’s hard not to be swept up in the majesty of the game.
Starting out on a small island, you immediately get a clear sense of how well the visual engine works. The sea is two-tone, with a rich blue accented by bright white lines for the waves. The wind is almost tangible as wisps of white in the air, the grass is a lush green with sharp edges. All the characters look like works of art, they have depth to them (the idea that it has a 2d look has been repeated in some places and we completely disagree) and they move in such a way that gives the illusion of them really being connected to the world. You get a chance to do some climbing, practice some sword-fighting (the direction and type of your attacks matters more than ever in Wind Waker) and you get to chase some pigs should you desire. Before long you’re donning the green robes and shield and setting off to rescue a damsel in distress.
Whilst most Zelda games seem linked only by character names and themes, Wind Waker more definitely within the timeline. The reveal of how that all works is one of the most spectacular moments in any game ever and it looks even better in crisp HD. Nintendo haven’t phoned this one in, re-working the lighting and many assets to make sure the new resolution fits, while also keeping the framerate consistently high. Thanks to the Gamecube’s forward-thinking the controls translate well to the gamepad, and you can use the pro controller if you’d prefer which is a feature we wish would be added to more Wii U games.
The music is seemingly remastered – sounding higher quality than the Gamecube originals but retaining that feature of changing depending on what’s happening on screen. The dynamic music was a big deal at the time and it’s surprising that more developers haven’t stolen the idea. Basically whenever you enter combat the music will pick up on your attacks as accents to the music, giving combat a more cinematic feel.
Combined with the return of locked targeting and some enemies that require you to dance around them or parry attacks and you have what is still the most convincing combat within an action-adventure RPG.As you unlock new items you find more and more uses for them in battles, as well as using them in inventive ways for huge boss fights. Zelda bosses have always been something special to experience and this set is no different. Even the first real boss is absolutely huge and leads to a cinematic fight where you’re usually in control of all of the best bits. Nintendo are obviously reluctant to take control away and that’s a good thing.
In terms of added features there’s a new hero mode where you can only regain health from fairies and potions as well as a messaging system where you can write messages in a bottle and then send them out for other players to find. These messages are everywhere and most are representative of the sort of Miiverse messages we’re used to seeing – innocent and entertaining little insights into other gamers’ experiences. It’s hard to fathom exactly how Nintendo have created this overwhelming culture of positivity on their servers, but it works and keeps the games a fun – and safe- place to play. The biggest new addition is the ability to either have the inventory screen on the Gamepad (which makes navigating your items a breeze, it really does speed up everything) or you can have the actual game. Playing Wind Waker with these beautiful graphics on the surprisingly competent Gamepad screen is a joy and reinforces the idea that handhelds will be around for a long time to come. IT looks stunning and plays well on the little screen and the transition is pretty much instant. This is what the Wii U is for.
Unfortunately there are still some problems with the title. The new lighting system can give characters a weird ‘claymation’ effect – particularly noticeable when opening chests. This spoils the look of the game a little and we’re not entirely sure why it was accepted for release. There is also the long drawn out section towards the end of the game, where Nintendo have admitted previously that it was only left in because the game was rushed to completion and some dungeons were taken out. Ten years on it’d be nice to think they’d solved that problem but instead they’ve just made it a little bit shorter, but just as frustrating. There’s no fun in the task you have to complete and the fact you need to do it more than once smacks of lazy game design.
It’s a shame because the rest of the game is so perfect. Dungeons are paced immaculately, you discover the story piece by piece until it all starts falling together and building to a climax, every single character is engaging and entertaining.
When it comes down to it, this is an expensive (£40 in the UK) remake of a spectacular game, done in very nearly the best way possible. If you haven’t played the game before it’s well worth picking up as it stands up just as well as any current-gen RPG. If you’ve played it before and enjoyed it it’s well worth picking up to experience it the way it should be, with clear crisp graphics and sound. If you’ve never liked the Zelda series, this one isn’t going to change your mind, but at least know that you’re missing something truly special.