Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker Wii U 9.0

The Legend of Zelda is my favorite series in all of gaming, a lifelong hobby and a favorite pastime in and of itself for me, and The Wind Waker just happens to be my favorite entry in that series. When I first glimpsed the screenshots Nintendo revealed of this remake, I literally danced for joy all the way to my bedroom to wake my wife with the blessed news. I just couldn't contain my excitement, and now that I finally have Wind Waker HD in my possession, it's nearly everything I could have hoped for from one of my personal favorite and most influential video games of all time. Although I was pretty skeptical it could be *that* much of an upgrade when I first bought it, Nintendo really went all-out here, way beyond my expectations. Before you read this review any further, I need to insert this disclaimer: this review will be quite long (hopefully in an informative-from-a-superfan sort of way) and (mostly) full of gushing praise from a lifelong gamer who is super passionate about The Wind Waker. If long, detailed reviews are not your thing, then skip this one. You've been warned.

For fans of Wind Waker who already know how amazing the core game is and just want to know what Nintendo upgraded and how this remake works out, skip the next two paragraphs. I bought the downloadable eshop version two weeks ago, and have become intimately acquainted with this remake by now, and I've played the original more times than I care to count. That been said, I think I'm more than capable of judging this version fairly.

*What's So Great About The Wind Waker?*

If you're unfamiliar with the game at all, you might wonder why I love Wind Waker so much. Well, it'd take a full-on dissertation to cover all that and I want this to mainly be about the remake itself, so I'll try to sum up my feelings quickly. It's true that pretty much every game in the Zelda series does a wonderful job capturing the epic tale of the "hero's journey." However, few Zelda games, and hardly any other games in general for that matter, have managed to capture the genuine and amazing feelings of discovery, exploration, and adventure like The Wind Waker did, at least for me anyway (Disclaimer: I love all Zelda games and am not bashing *insert your favorite Zelda title here* with that statement by any means. It's all subjective, right?). The timeless graphical style is so vibrantly colorful and imagination fueled/fueling, complimented very well by its timeless sound design and stirring, iconic musical score from Koji Kondo. The surprisingly mature, deep, and impactful narrative is juxtaposed beautifully against the colorful "Toon" aesthetics. The entire cast of characters is lovable and unique because of the fantastic writing and localization. The graphical style helped in this area as well, as the cartoon/anime style made for beautifully expressive characters (I personally find character expressions in WW to be preferable to the prevalent motion capturing and photo-realism you see in games these days. I like video games that don't always try to be interactive movies like so many modern "games" these days do. In my opinion, that approach ditches what makes video games such a unique, magical medium). In my opinion, The Wind Waker also features the most deep/interesting/engaging/sympathetic depiction of the series' mainstay villain, Ganondorf/Ganon. Even to this day, the brand new oceanic setting and nautical theme makes the game feel so fresh in comparison with other entries in the series. Every race and island feels genuinely real and likable, giving an amazing sense of connection to the world despite its gargantuan size, which in turn makes the quest feel all the more urgent. When it comes to gameplay, the established LoZ mechanics were more refined than ever, and the new gameplay mechanics fit the series perfectly. The swordplay is still among the best of any traditional 3D Zelda game to date, in my opinion. It all just screams top-notch, timeless masterpiece for me. The game literally changed my tastes and gaming horizons forever when I first played it all those years ago, and my love for it has only deepened with time. To see it get a genuine HD remake treatment is an absolute dream-come-true for me.

The original was not a perfect game though and I readily admit that. The game has a few noticeable flaws that keep it from the status of perfection that masterpieces such as Link's Awakening, Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, and (arguably) Twilight Princess have attained. No, the original was not quite perfect, but WW got so much right, it still ranks as my favorite Zelda entry. I have so many fond memories of playing it when I was younger; my baby sister used to love sitting at my feet and just watching me play, unable to read yet so I would read the words to her with the best acting ability I could muster (Grandma was read with my best sweet ol' granny voice, for example, lol). I've played this game so many times since then, it's the definition of a seminal game for me. Thankfully, this remake fixes almost all of the issues that weighed the original down, which I'll get to later. With WWHD, now I do consider it a flawless masterpiece, like the aforementioned legendary Zelda classics.

*A Review of The Wind Waker HD as a Remake*

That's enough about my nostalgic rambling though. This is a review of Wind Waker HD after all, so the real question is, how does this game fare with regards to the remake treatment it received? To put it simply, fantastic, amazing, utterly beautiful. It feels like a brand new game again.

The first thing you'll notice when starting up the game is its revamped graphics. The original Wind Waker's graphical style may have been hugely controversial when it was first announced, but the Toon design eventually won most fans over and actually lives on as one of its most timeless aspects. Seriously, the original Gamecube game still looks gorgeous compared to its contemporaries and it is because of this that I was kind of shocked when WWHD was announced (I readily admit that other Zelda titles, even ones newer than WW, seem to beg for a remake treatment more, but I'm not complaining). Still, Nintendo managed to find several ways to visually enhance Toon Link's world. It's all cel shaded still, and most 3D models seem to have little change, aside from much softer, more realistic shadows and edges on them. All textures have been redone completely and look fantastic in HD! Colors are far more vibrant than ever before and the range of colors has increased dramatically. The most noticeable graphical addition here are some very impressive enhanced lighting and shading effects. Because of all these new upgrades to the visuals, the majestic atmosphere of an endless deep blue ocean or encountering a thunderstorm at sunset while at sea (one of my favorite memories of the original) is simply unmatched. Seriously, take a look at the moon at night and marvel at how the world seems to be bathed in that lunar light, or the forbidden fortress with its incredibly thick level of atmosphere, or heck, even just soaking in the sun with the salty sea air breezing by. It's unbelievably gorgeous and immersive. The lighting shines through even in small moments, such as when weapons clash and sparks fly or when an opened treasure chest lets out a heavenly light. It's just awesome. Memorable locales and events (and anyone who has played the original knows this game has many of them) all have new life breathed into them because of the awesome new updated presentation. Some events have been really enhanced to new levels. Watching the game play out almost feels as if Pixar made a Zelda movie. Seriously, fantastic job here!

Contrary to my expectations, Nintendo made substantial upgrades to WW's formula in other ways too. Even the basic gameplay mechanics have been improved. The overall experience feels much smoother and more refined than the original. For example. the grappling hook item now wraps around your target much faster. Also, you don't have to come to a complete stop to switch your direction while swinging with the hook; you can just naturally change direction in mid-swing. These tweaks make using the grappling hook much more enjoyable and streamlined. Text scrolls much faster now in conversations than in the original. The Wind Waker itself is always mapped to "up" on the d-pad making it much more convenient to use. Little tweaks like this are everywhere in WWHD. These little gameplay refinements add up very quickly, and the overall experience is all the better for it. Controls feel more responsive, movement feels smoother, and everything just feels refined to perfection. Add this to the graphical improvements and new features exclusive to this version, and you get what feels like a brand new game. It's hard to explain, but you'll see what I mean when you play it for yourself. Some new ideas are neat and fit in with the classic experience very well too. One example of this is that you can now enter a basic first-person view and actually walk around and use some items like the boomerang or bow in this perspective. Don't expect an experience like Skyrim, but it is a pretty cool addition.

As far as new, system specific features goes, the Wii-U's signature hallmark, the gamepad, is utilized very well. Off-TV play works like a charm. Being able to relax in bed and enjoy the game is a very welcome addition. The touch screen is also used to good effect, making inventory management, accessing items like the hook or canon while at sea, or looking at the map of the great sea without having to pause the game a breeze. It makes for a smoother, more seamless experience. Being able to direct Link's use of the Wind Waker baton using touch controls feels natural. You can use the gamepad's gyroscopic feature to better aim things like your bow, picto-box, telescope, you name it, and it all feels fantastic. It's games like this that really show the potential and unique benefits of the gamepad. The Wii-U's button layout also makes the game better, as you now have many more buttons to map items to compared to the GameCube original. If you don't want to use the gamepad, you have the option to switch control to the Pro Controller for a more traditional experience. I think it's very nice that they put in that choice for players.

Another Wii-U feature that has been integrated really well is Miiverse. The original Wind Waker allowed you to connect your Gameboy Advance to your GameCube to access some unique but nonessential features involving Tingle and even a little co-op mode of sorts. That has all been taken out and replaced with the Tingle Bottle. This is where Miiverse comes in. At any time, you can take the bottle out and use the gamepad to type a message, draw a picture, or even take a photo with the in-game pictograph, put it in the bottle, and hurl it into the sea. Then, somewhere else in the real world, another player may see your glittering bottle washed up on a beach in their game. They can pick it up and see whatever message you put in the bottle. It's such a neat feature, and it fits right in with the rest of the themes of adventure on the high seas so prevalent in the game. Seriously, just the concept of a message in a bottle is so magical by itself, and using that as the Miiverse feature in WWHD feels like a perfect match. Awesome.

Remember how I mentioned the original Wind Waker had some caveats earlier? Most of them have been fixed in this remake! A bit into the game, you gain the ability to speed up sailing to a massive degree, via a "red sail" upgrade purchasable at the in-game auction house. You don't even need wind in the direction you're going to get this super speed. This update erases any frustration from getting from one locale to another using the "slow" sailing of the original almost entirely (Many people complain about the sailing in the original, but I personally loved the sailing a lot and think complaining about is missing the point, but oh well. The fast sailing feature here is a welcome addition, at any rate). The non-confrontational, easier difficulty of the original has been "fixed" via a much more challenging "hero mode" option similar to the one found in Skyward Sword, where enemies do double damage and the only method of healing Link is through potions. Even better, this more difficult mode is available right off the bat without having to play the whole game first! Best of all, they addressed my biggest gripe about the original: the infamous, horrendous Tri-Force piece fetch quest that all but ruined the otherwise perfect pace of the original. They fixed this by making it MUCH more streamlined and actually engaging, and that's awesome! Thank you so much for listening to fans and fixing these issues Aonuma-San. You're the best!

As much as this remake enhances the original WW's magic in many ways, it is, once again, not quite *all* I had hoped for. I really wish they had gone all-out in every aspect since this is a home console remake. They did nothing to add any substantial new content. Just one new dungeon would have made me so happy, and it's not unheard of for Nintendo to do this with enhanced Zelda titles (Link's Awakening DX comes to mind), but no. I know Aonuma wanted to keep the core experience intact here, and much of the original WW's cut content ended up in later Zelda games, but still, it's a slight shame. Ah well, at least the core game is such a masterpiece. Also, Koji Kondo's soundtrack for this game is one of my favorites of any video game ever. Yet, not much work was done to enhance it for this remake beyond some remastering of the original tunes. To be fair, some tunes do come across as a lot beefier and sound amazing, but not all. It would have been awesome to get Skyward Sword quality orchestration of at least some of this iconic soundtrack, but alas. Finally, and this is an admittedly nit-picky gripe, you can't invert the Y-axis of the second analog stick while in normal view. You can only invert right/left and you can invert the Y-axis of first-person view, but not the general Y-axis? Talk about jarring and difficult to get used to, at least for me anyway (I'm one of those guys who likes inverted controls). Why not put that option in for players, huh?! As you can tell by my score, these issues didn't keep me from loving the game, but I still feel they must be said. It's only fair for me to voice some criticism, right? I don't want you to think I'm completely blinded by bias, after all.

I understand some don't like reading long reviews, but if any remake deserved an in-depth analysis, it's this one. I'm so glad Nintendo decided to remake and enhance it to the degree that they did. Few games have made the huge impact on me the way that Wind Waker has. It's so surreal to think that when I first played it, I was just a kid not much older than Link is in this game, so young and naive. Now I'm an older (but still young) man with his own family and yet I feel the same childlike excitement when I play The Wind Waker HD, having gone though my own journey in life (with a lot left to go, hopefully :P). Everything about WWHD, the characters, the settings, the story, just the overall experience, it all just feels so familiar and yet brand new and magical again. It's a beautiful and surreal thing. Thank you so much Nintendo, for giving me the definitive version of one of my most beloved games of all time. The Wind Waker was always a flawed gem, but this remake has made it into a virtually caveat-free masterpiece and can now stand tall and proud among other flawless Zelda games. Not only that, but it stands tall among all video games, period. It really feels like a modern masterpiece, despite the fact that the core here is over a decade old, in much the same way playing other fantastic remakes like Halo Anniversary, Klonoa, and Ocarina of Time 3D feels. All great remakes, and WWHD fits in that high-quality group perfectly.

To you readers who stuck with this review until now, I hope my sappiness and wordiness hasn't been too annoying. I sincerely hoped to be helpful to all of you out there wondering if you should get this. Most "remakes" these days end up being incredibly lazy ports with no real effort put into the rerelease beyond upscaling resolution and no more. WWHD is so much grander and better than 95% of today's "remakes," remasters, and rereleases, it's not even funny. Trust me, I went into this remake with a huge amount of skepticism that they could really improve this game, and I really did wonder if the changes could justify buying it again, but I did anyway and boy am I glad I did! I say it's absolutely worth it. This is, without a doubt, the definitive version of a true classic and revitalizes it to the point where it feels brand new again. Go out and buy it immediately, and enjoy one of the greatest Legends of Zelda that has ever been told. Buy it, prepare for the adventure of your life, and go discover, and save, a vast, beautiful new world.

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