The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is an adventure game for the Wii U. It is also an HD remake of the The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the GameCube. For this review I’ll be talking about Wind Waker as a game in general rather than pointing out the differences between the remake and the original. I’ll also be assuming you’re familiar with general Zelda concepts either from personal experience or by checking out some of my previous Zelda reviews. Lastly, let it be noted that while you can play with game with a Wii U Pro Controller, I played almost all of the game using the gamepad. With all of that out of the way, let’s set sail!
The game opens with legends of a hero battling evil and returning peace to the land, as is familiar in most of the Zelda games by this point. It also explains the traditions of the people on Link’s home island. The game lets you start playing as the protagonist, Link, though you can name him however you see fit. It’s your birthday and you’re at the age where the boys of the island are given the traditional green clothing and are sent to train to become just like that hero of legend. However, your birthday plans get interrupted when a giant bird flies into the islands forest clutching a damsel in its talons. Without hesitation, or much thinking, you rush to the maiden’s aid. You chase off the enemies and escort the lady out. Upon exiting the forest, your sister runs to greet you, only to be assaulted by the unexpected return of the big bad bird creature. Your sister is kidnapped, but luckily your rescued friend just so happens to be the leader of a gang of pirates with their own ship. It’s clear what you must do. You climb aboard and begin your journey through the Great Sea on a mission to bring your sister back. Anchors aweigh to adventure!
The gameplay is a lot of the typical Zelda fare. You go to a number of dungeons collecting key items and new weapons to use along the way like bombs, a boomerang, a bow, etc. You also have a lot of optional sidequests to complete for some extra goodies. The more items you get, the more of the game you can explore and the more opportunities open up to you. However, the most obvious change is the emphasis on sailing. In this game most of the world is covered by a vast body of water known as the Great Sea. You get your own ship and can sail across the sea to find uncharted islands, submarines, sea platforms, and a number of other things just floating around out there in the big blue. You have to chart out the whole map yourself while also finding treasure maps along the way. You use the titular Wind Waker, a magical baton, to control wind itself in order to play mystical songs that have various effects. You can turn the wind’s direction in your favor to help sail across the vast overworld faster. Most of the swordplay and other general item usage and gameplay should be pretty familiar to fans of the previous entries. The other big change people will notice is the art direction. Wind Waker features a more cartoonish visual style that will make for some unique new interpretations of familiar faces and invite some interesting all-new sights as well.
There’s plenty here that I really enjoyed. I’m a Zelda fan, so having another Zelda game following the Zelda formula is an easy sale for me. I like how the gameplay basically feels like a combination of Ocarina of Time and the first Legend of Zelda. It has the cinematic elements and 3D gameplay of Ocarina of Time mixed with the open-world exploration aspects of The Legend of Zelda and adds a level of cohesion and polish that helps smooth out the rough edges of each. I enjoyed having to go and chart out each square of the map for myself as I learned bits of information on each of the islands. It’s also fun to see what random things pop up and try to remember where you can use your newly acquired items to get secrets you couldn’t access the first time around. I like that you can go wherever you want rather then being herded in a linear path the whole time. I also like the tweaks to the general gameplay to make even something as simple as swordplay both smooth and satisfying. The music in general is nice, along with some fun musical flourishes upon scoring blows on your foes. Plus, the art style is actually quite admirable because even to this day it hasn’t aged a bit. Some of the sidequests will require some interesting thinking as well as some serious doing. And you’d be surprised how dimensional some of these characters can be. I also appreciate the way the game slowly adds in story elements and does so in a manner that keeps them from feeling too forced or unbelievable. This isn’t some simple premise that is to be fulfilled in a systematic fashion. Some twists and turns guide the events at hand in a way that makes your adventure feel justified rather than laid out ahead of time. The game also respects your intelligence with the hints while also still leaving some nice tips around if you’re really stuck. Yes, there’s plenty here to respect and appreciate, but it’s not quite perfect.
The overworld is vast with many things in it, and sailing from place to place can feel relaxing yet adventurous at the same time, but this also can become tedious as well. The ability to manipulate wind, warp around the sea, and even use the swift sail in the HD version are nice ways to speed things up, but sometimes it still can feel a bit tedious trying to go from point A to point B when there’s no reason to stop along the way. The large overworld is impressive, but much like Ocarina of Time the place is a bit too barren to warrant the size. There’s just not enough there, but if it was smaller then you wouldn’t be able to sail much so… I guess style was more important than substance for this experience. On top of that, many of the islands look the same. I can understand the sea platforms and submarines looking the same, though that’s irksome as well, but the islands too? You’d think they would come up with a few more island designs to make them unique rather than having six that look like dice and multiple star islands. The way they handle rupees isn’t great here. You either don’t have enough for wildly expensive items or you have an absurd abundance with nothing to spend it on. The sidequests involving the pictobox, which is basically a Zelda game’s form of a camera, are pretty loose as well. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what you’re supposed to take a picture of, and sometimes even when you take a picture of the correct thing it might still not count because of the angle or framing. It’s nice that you really have to feel it out on these, but it’s frustrating that there are so many variables to keep you from being confident in your solutions, even when they SHOULD be correct. The game can be lenient at times, but sometimes you’ll end up looking up a guide to tell you to take a picture you already took, just slightly incorrectly somehow. I also think the game is a bit on the short side. It feels like you get items and upgrades very quickly and don’t often utilize them as much as you could. The art may not be your cup of tea, looking a bit on the childish side while you’re looking for something more serious. And the new game plus mode offers nothing of consequence to warrant another playthrough on it immediately. None of this is game-breaking, but it certainly keeps it from hitting masterpiece status.
I’d also like to take a moment to talk about the few differences I AM aware of with the HD version. The visuals are more or less the same between them. The HD version lets you see a bit further, it’s a bit crisper, and there are a few more particle and lighting effects thrown in. The addition of the swift sail allows you to automatically move the wind to your back without playing the specific song to change it, which is nice. It also allows you to use the gamepad for a few features. You can use the gamepad’s gyro controls for looking and aiming, which I found pretty nice. You can use the gamepad’s screen as a quick map reference or to switch out inventory items on the fly. You can even use it for off TV play. Don’t worry, you can still use your Wii U Pro Controller for a more traditional gameplay experience. For sure one of the sidequests has been made easier, giving you 30 minutes rather than the usual 20, but I won’t spoil it for you. There’s also Miiverse integration in the form of Tingle bottles. Using these you can use pictures and text and create Miiverse posts that other players connected to the internet can then find in the ocean or washed up on shores. These can be a fun way to spread helpful hints to other players that still requires an active role in finding the hints. Plus, you can also just share cool stuff and have a sense of community without leaving the world of Wind Waker. I would just recommend leaving them off for your first run through the game to keep the authenticity a bit more alive, but it’s up to you, of course.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a great game and a pretty good Zelda game at that. It combines elements of The Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time with a nice layer of polish on top. Recommendations are going to be odd, but let’s get to it. If you’ve never played any version of Wind Waker before, then get either one. The HD version recently went into the Nintendo Selects which means now it will only cost 20 bucks brand new. That means it’ll most likely be cheaper than the GameCube versoin. If you own and can still play the original one then is the HD version worth it? Well… I’d lean towards no. It looks slightly better, it’s slightly more convenient, and it’s slightly easier. Yeah, it’s cheap and all, but the lack of authenticity might leave something to be desired. Of course, if you’re a huge Zelda fan then you’ve probably already got it and don’t give a damn what I say. It’s 20 bucks for a solid Zelda title. That’s hard to pass up. I do want to apologize if I don’t seem to give this game enough credit or enthusiasm as it deserves, but keep in mind that this is long down the line in the number of Zelda games I’ve played. It’s not my favorite Zelda game. It’s not the first I’ve played or the first I’ve beat. It’s not the most unique. It’s neither the best Zelda game I’ve played nor the worst. It’s not my least favorite. It’s not the first Zelda game or the newest either. It’s just stuck in the middle of the large cloud that is the Zelda franchise for me. That being said, it’s still a great game and a very good Zelda game that I would highly recommend regardless of if it’s the first one you’ve ever picked up or if it’s just that one in the series you’ve never had your hands on. It’s worth it, and this re-release shows that ship hasn’t sailed just because the GameCube is out of fashion. I’ll see you on the open seas… or… ya know… I……… just pretend I said something less stupid to end it.