If there’s one thing I really don’t like in gaming is serious fanboy culture, it’s nonsensical, unconstructive and frankly, quite pathetic. You can imagine my displeasure when Wind Waker was unveiled to meet hilarious cries of ‘Celda’, it looks ‘cartoony’ and ‘gay’. Well…cel-shaded visuals were fine when Jet Set Radio used them, cartoons kick ass and it’s ok to be gay! Let me put it on record that Wind Waker is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played, the quality of the visuals is matched by the depth of gameplay and richness of the environments. This is classic Nintendo stuff. If you dismiss the game because of that then you are a fool.
Wind Waker does not disappoint on any level, I’m a long time Zelda fan from the original NES incarnation and this is well up to the standard set before that has made this such a highly anticipated title. The game could have gone two ways with its new look, we could have had a realistic style or a cartoony style, I am glad they went with the latter, as soon as you start playing you will forget any apprehensions you had about the switch to cel graphics as it instantly recognizable as Zelda, you’ll be at home in seconds.
The game kicks off with you on Outset island, you get to play around and learn the controls in a few mini-tasks like collecting pigs for a neighbour…it’s actually your birthday though and you get to dress up as the ‘ancient hero’ – Link from Ocarina of Time. So you have your little green hat and sooner or later you get other bits and bobs of equipment, your sister gets kidnapped by a huge bird and hey, you got yourself an adventure!
The control system is pretty much what you have played with on the N64 games, L is a lock on button, C-stick controls your camera and you can assign items to X, Y and Z as you wish. This is essential as you will find a lot of items to play with in Wind Waker, there are more things to play with than in any other Zelda game. Some of your old favorites will make an appearance such as the bombs and the boomerang, but then there are new ones such as the grappling hook. There are a few new fighting moves too including the ability to disarm opponents. The Ocarina has been replaced by the Wind Waker, a magic wand that is critical to your progress, by using the C-stick to play a tune you can control the environment, the most important is probably the ability to control the direction of the wind.
One of the major changes to the way you play Wind Waker is your sail boat, controlled by aforementioned wind. The game world is a vast ocean split into lots of small islands, you are constantly nudged in the right direction for how to advance the plot, but there are a lot of hidden tasks and sub-quests to be found if you venture out and explore of your own accord. Not only will you find islands but other ships, look-out points and some nasty weather conditions. Your map is slowly updated by small talking fish (still a Japanese game at heart!) and you can even go off on hunts for sunken treasure when you find the necessary charts. My only complaint with this sailing dynamic is that its veeery slow, getting to destinations on opposite sides of the map can take forever seemingly and the ocean can be quite empty, this does get cut down when you obtain some of the higher level abilities though. Perhaps Epona can make a return in the next game though…
In typical Zelda style you are given a mini quest before the main game kicks in, Wind Waker sets you off by making you collect three pearls to open up an ancient tower. The first of these pearls sends you into an underground volcanic cave, it is without doubt the most stunning environment I have ever seen in a video game. The air is filled with a heat haze and floating embers while everything around you is coated in a thick orange glow, the lava explosions are just the icing on the cake. Playing this ‘dungeon’ really gets you in the mood for the rest of the game, some ingenious puzzles are found too but I won’t spoil them for you.
The animation is absolutely flawless too, your clothes whip around correctly in the wind and the tassels on the guards spears flow just as you would expect, the fluidity of the large boss creatures is also just staggering to behold. Battles are made all the more exciting by the graphical finesse, when fighting one guard I sent him sprawling backwards, he fell backwards onto a table of crockery – cups rolled over and plates fell to the ground and smashed, a remarkable little detail that is common throughout the game. Seagulls flock behind your ship when out at sea, rain drips down and off Link when he gets caught in a storm and explosions at sea thrust a column of water straight up into the air. All this is accompanied by a superbly cheery sound track, some of which based on old Zelda tunes and there’s some great SFX in there too, particularly when you are out on the waves in the middle of a thunderstorm, surround speakers highly recommended.
I have heard from some people that Wind Waker is too easy…well I agree, in terms of the ‘extra lives and high-score’ mentality, Wind Walker isn’t particularly challenging. But the Zelda games have never been about that, the joy of Wind Walker is not really from winning battles and conserving your health, it’s about exploration and discovery, if you staying alive were a struggle, the game would get tiresome. As it is I much prefer to work out how the hell I’m supposed to reach that ledge I can see rather than struggle against a torrent of enemies.
If you are a fan of games then you can’t fail to enjoy playing Wind Waker, one of the most highly polished, diverse and satisfying games that has been released in some time. If we ever see a better Gamecube game than this it will have to be very, very special, if you can get the bonus edition with Ocarina of Time included then you really should snap this up as soon as possible. Wind Waker is the kind of game that will be warmly remembered in 10 years time, and you don’t say that too often.
FINAL SCORE: 94%