The Wind Waker proved cell-shaded games can look absolutely stunning (the game looks better than many of the 3D realistic games of the time) and that gamers will never stick to their guns when it comes to backing their fervent opinions financially. After Nintendo codified The Legend of Zelda timelines last year, the decision for the shift in style makes more sense as The Wind Waker runs parallel to the Majora’s Mask/Twilight Princess timeline.
During the January Nintendo Direct, Eiji Aonuma, producer of The Legend of Zelda, talked about the plans for Zelda on the Wii U. While Aonuma could not talk about The Legend of Zelda game currently in the works for the Wii U, he did talk briefly about the philosophy and themes driving the game’s development. The mission of the new Zelda for Wii U is to rethink the conventions of Zelda. Without any actual visual component to show for the game, he was unable to talk about it directly. To make up for the lack of concrete details, he presented something else.
Aonuma showed some images that came out of the active development of the new Wii U Zelda. They looked immediately familiar as locales from The Wind Waker, except these visuals were in beautiful HD. The comparison between the HD visuals and the gameplay footage from the now decade-old game is startling. These visuals came from the team experimenting with bringing older Zelda art styles into HD after the E3 2011 tech demo. As an apology for the new Wii U Zelda needing some time to develop, Aonuma announced Wii U owners will have a reborn version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in glorious HD to play during the wait.
At E3 2013, Nintendo had a couple kiosks set up with a playable version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. A TV set up next to the kiosk with the Wii U running the new HD version played footage of the GameCube version, giving attendees the ability to compare the visuals actively (or passively) while playing the HD version of the game. The psychological effect is significant because it aggressively demonstrates that this is not simply another cash-grab HD port, but Nintendo and the Zelda team have put in the work to make this seem new. After Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch effectively brought a Studio Ghibli film to life with its lush animated visuals, seeing an HD upgrade of The Wind Waker makes huge sense. If ever there was a Zelda game that could benefit from 1080p visuals, the expressive and gorgeous world of the Wind Waker is it.
The demo offered two different levels, one an exploration of the locales to see how they translate into the new vibrant HD aesthetic and the other a boss fight again the monstrous Helmaroc King. For the sake of time and to see how the gameplay translated to the GamePad, I checked out the Helmaroc King battle. As soon as the battle started, things looked tremendously better, the visuals truly come to life. The gameplay and control scheme is relatively unchanged except for items like the grappling hook and the hero’s bow now require players to awkwardly hold the GamePad up to the TV. Part of that awkwardness may be because standing with a chained down GamePad at a kiosk next to a bored booth attendant that simply wants a smoke break and not to word vomit Nintendo’s spiel is not the most conducive environment for gameplay, but it is mostly because the mechanic is clunky. However, all of that is forgotten once Link reaches the top of the tower and the Helmaroc King bursts high into the air and lets out a mighty screech with feathers molting hypnotically and rhythmically from his impressive wingspan.
Once the battle gets going, everything plays incredibly smooth. Chaining swords hits to dodges to ponderous bashes of the skull hammer all feel intuitive and responsive. There is a fluidity to the dance with the Helmaroc King as the player remembers the exact strategy for defeating the foul fowl. It has all the same magic as playing the original except everything looks so beautiful.
The juxtaposition of the original Wind Waker next to the movement and fluidity of The Wind Wake HD gives a stark contrast. Nintendo not only changed the visuals, but updated some of the gameplay components that no longer work. For instance, the Tingle Tuner is now a Tingle Bottle that uses MiiVerse capabilities in an intriguing manner and simply making the boat move faster. The Wind Waker HD includes some minor improvements while maintaining the core experience even though the improved visuals would have sufficed to justify the release.
Longtime fans of the game will be in for a treat and new players to the game will marvel at the wonder that The Wind Waker has to offer when it releases for the Wii U in October.