Putting the wind in the Wii U’s sail.
The Wii U has been struggling in the absence of a system seller, and a Legend of Zelda game would normally do the trick and turn the tides in favor of Nintendo’s new console. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and this Legend of Zelda game isn’t a new entry but a HD remastering of the most polarizing Legend of Zelda in the franchise’s long history. Nintendo believes Wind Waker HD is indeed that system seller, even creating Limited Edition bundles and dropping the price of its hardware in time with the game’s release.
Wind Waker HD is absolutely gorgeous and playing it again reminded me of just how much I loved this particular tale. However, a decade-old game with a fresh coat of paint—as pretty as it may be—does not move consoles on a wide scale.
The controversy surrounding the original Wind Waker stemmed from the young, cel-shaded Link and accompanying cutesy visuals. While this was a turn-off for many back during the GameCube era (and still is for many today), I didn't let a change in graphics get in the way of experiencing the next chapter in the Zelda saga. And if you were foolish enough to reject the game for that reason alone back then, Wind Waker HD makes those cel-shaded, cartoony graphics so stunningly beautiful now, it’d be a real shame for you to miss out on it again.
Above all other merits, Wind Waker HD should be applauded as the best-looking HD remaster ever, on any console. It pains me to think that the Wii wasn’t capable of HD and we’ve missed an entire console generation worth of spectacular-looking HD Nintendo games. And the fact that Nintendo has made a decade-old game look this great has me more eager than ever to play a fresh, new Legend of Zelda on Wii U—whenever that may be.
Link’s quest in Wind Waker is more a jovial one, as noticeably apparent with enemies having a less intimidating appearance. The characters and tasks Link encounters are fitting for this cuter, more childish setting and quest. It’s still lengthy, with much traveling by way of the sea—which, while unique and interesting, ends up being a chore even with new tweaks that allow faster traversal than in the original Wind Waker.
To try and reduce the amount of time Link spends in the water, a new “Swift Sail” can be won via an auction, which you probably won't come across in a regular playthrough… unless you hit Google because you know it’s there and are looking for it specifically. (I guess you will be now.) But really, the Swift Sail should just have replaced the regular sail to cut down on time. It’s also a few hours before you are able to access the auction to win it, so you’re stuck trudging slowly through the seemingly endless open sea at the beginning of the journey. Then not too long after finding this Swift Sail, Link acquires the Ballad of Gales Wind Waker tune, making the Swift Sail an unnecessary addition altogether.
The sea itself is massive and unavoidable. Link must travel across it to reach each town or dungeon, and search and explore every nook and cranny to locate treasure, heart containers, and more items vital to the completion of the game. It’s vast, which encourages exploration and adds a layer of wonder and uniqueness compared to other Zelda games, but in the end, it’s more of a tedious obstacle than a vessel for adventure. Luckily, the genius and fun to be found in the dungeons and in each boss fight more than makes up for what feels like hours of traveling on wavy water.
A decade-old targeting system and a clunky camera further add to the frustration, but can be forgiven given that the game is two-generations old. What does help, though, is having Link’s entire inventory and maps (there are a lot of maps) accessible on the GamePad. Having a map here has never been this helpful in any other game on Wii U, and being able to switch weapons and items on the fly without having to pause the action is a big plus.
A major complaint in the original Wind Waker (which I’ve heard was even more annoyingly difficult in the Japanese version of the game) was in the final main quest to locate shards of the Triforce. Both in the original and in the HD version, a total of eight pieces of Triforce must be located in what feels like a wild goose chase. Many of the Triforce shards can only be discovered if and when a Triforce chart (map) is first found, then brought to Tingle to decipher for a whopping 398 rupees. In the HD version, the quest has been cut down so that only three of the eight Triforce shards require charts to be deciphered, reducing the amount of times you have to visit and pay that Tingle weirdo.
Better than the rupees you save, though, is the time you’ll save, though the entire quest still takes a couple hours of back and forth traveling—sometimes to the same locations—to complete. Anyone beyond frustrated with this in the first Wind Waker should rest easier knowing that it’s been altered enough to make it bearable, but it's still not enjoyable.
That said, the Triforce quest and the tedium of sea travel are only minor blemishes on an otherwise stellar game. Wind Waker was never the greatest of the Zelda franchise, and nothing in this HD remaster makes it worthy enough to best the likes of Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past. But it does clean up some of the messier parts, while beautifying everything else that is well worth revisiting. To someone who never played Wind Waker the first time around, Wind Waker HD will be a joy. Anyone who has played it will enjoy the updated visuals and the chance to relive the charming tale of the Hero of Wind. But for anyone yet to pick up a Wii U, Wind Waker HD just isn’t enough on its own to help the tough sell that the Wii U is at the moment. It’s no system seller, but instead an excellent addition to the existing Wii U owner’s library—whether you’ve played it already or not.