Every generation has a legend, and every console generation sees legendary adventure games that some hail as the greatest of all time. The "Legend of Zelda" series has been tying the fiction of traditional story telling with the reality of classic video games since 1987. The Zelda name carries the same lineage of classic games like other Nintendo flagships such as Metroid and Mario. The Zelda series also boasts one of the few modern classics in console gaming. To this day, 1998’s "Ocarina of Time" hailed as the greatest game of all time. With such a pedigree to live up to, it’s not surprising that "The Wind Waker" was initially met with shock. Not being sure what to expect from a cel-shaded game featuring a cartoon like, "kiddie" version of Link, people have been quite speculative on whether or not the game will deliver. Time for speculation has ended. The latest Zelda is here, and does it deliver? The answer is a resounding "Yes."
Conversely, the game play experience is where everyone anticipated the title would live up to its namesake. I’m happy to report that in this instance, everyone was absolutely correct. Wind Waker is a bit different from predecessors in terms of presentation and story arc, but the adventures and events that fill in the middle are as extraordinary as ever.
The game starts as a young boy named Link is given the green outfit on his birthday that all young lads receive at that very age. Legend has it in his area that the last great hero to fend off the evil Ganon was that age when his heroic tasks were accomplished. The uniform is given to young boys in hopes that they too will lead courageous and heroic lives. Unfortunately, as Link receives this gift, his younger sister Aryll mysteriously disappears. Learning that young girls all across the Great Sea’s various islands have been vanishing, Link understands that it is up to him to save his sister. Little does he know that it will only be part of a much greater quest and conflict.
Right off the bat, the difference in over world navigation between villages and dungeons becomes perfectly apparent. Initially stowing with a band of rag-tag pirates, Link eventually meets a living boat known as the King of Red Dragons. This boat is what you’ll use to traverse the sea between islands and tackle the challenges and perilous hazards that await within the water itself.
The exploration, item acquirement, and combat are basically highly refined, yet mostly similar to what you experienced in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The "Wind Waker" itself is a magical baton that Link uses to conduct hymns. Operating it is not much different from the Ocarina. Initially, the Wind Waker allows Link to control the direction of the wind. This is what makes it possible to dictate which direction his sail boat will go in order to reach his specific destination. You eventually gain more advanced abilities like being to control weather and the flow of time, among others.
Along with this emphasis on wind and navigation, the game itself requires more attentiveness and interaction with the environment. Link now has a grappling hook which can be used to swing back and forth and reach difficult areas. A boomerang can be used to attack multiple enemies or collect items from one location. You’ll even have to rely on a large Deku leaf to glide across wide chasms and get to distant, hard to reach areas. The series trademark bombs are present, and double as a cannon projectile while faring the seas. Even simple tasks such as collecting water in a jar can be vital in solving some of the games very clever navigational puzzles.
Link’s skills with swordplay have also improved a great deal over previous installments. Various combos are now much easier to pull off, and the best improvement is that just before the enemy you have targeted is about to strike, the sword will light up green as an indication. Hitting the action button during this very brief window of opportunity will allow Link to do spectacular parry attacks. This includes rolling to the side of a dashing at a foe with your blade, or flipping to evade an attack while applying your might to their cranium. Much like the tranquilizer gun in MGS2, this slight addition actually goes a very long way in improving your character’s options in combat.
Speaking of Metal Gear Solid, it’s easy to see that Miyamoto was influenced by the seminal stealth action classic. Link now possesses the ability to sidle walls, shuffle from side to side while against them, and even peek around corners to get a glance of what lies ahead. Coupled with the grappling hook and pre-existing ability of crawling all make for some very unique and entertaining stealth sequences. You’ll even be able to don a wooden barrel in order to remain out of plain sight of adversaries. Sticking to the shadows hasn’t been this clever since the legendary cardboard box.
Should you free a friendly, somewhat creepy looking individual by the name of Tingle from the confines of imprisonment early in the game, you’ll be granted another luxury. Making use of your connected Gameboy Advance as the "tingle tuner," another person will be able to join the quest to a limited capacity, or you can simply use it for help when necessary. The tingle tuner provides all sorts of helpful information and the ability to purchase key items while not in the presence of a shop. Anyone who has utilized the PDA in Sony’s "Ratchet & Clank" will feel instantly familiar with the use and practicality of this device. The tingle tuner is a great feature in itself, but it’s also a very clever way for Nintendo to made use of the GBA to GC connectivity. Previous Nintendo heavy hitters like Super Mario Sunshine saw no use at all, and Metroid Prime was limited to Easter Eggs like the fusion suit and original game in the series.
Living up to the Zelda series’ tremendous legacy was enough, but Wind Waker is truly exceptional. Scenarios reminiscent of Ico, Tenchu, and the aforementioned Metal Gear Solid show how well Nintendo can incorporate the experiences provided by the newest innovations in gaming to a classic formula. Even some of the humorous dialog in the game shows Nintendo’s awareness of exactly where they fit in the industry and the world as a whole today, but despite shifting trends and aging demographics, they’ll continue to do what they do best.
Wind Waker’s visual style, the cause of so much controversy in the last year, can easily be classified as one of the game’s strongest suits. You’ve seen cel-shading in games before, but you’ve never seen it quite like this. In terms of "eye candy," this is quite possibly the closest a videogame has yet come to an interactive Saturday morning cartoon.
From the opening sequences of witnessing a large draw distance and seeing seagulls fly right by an observation deck to the epic boss battles, The Wind Waker is full of visual splendor. Much of this can be attributed to the vibrant, nuanced, and realistic animation that is present virtually everywhere in the game. Link’s subtle facial expressions, grass swaying in the wind, and the rainfall on an overcast night are simply a terrific attention to detail. Unlike many games that require interaction with a large number of NPCs (non-playable characters), in Wind Waker you can often identify most characters by their unique appearance and traits. Whether it’s the mucous hanging from a young child’s nose or the disturbing-yet-hilarious antics of Tingle, you get the genuine impression that each character has his or her own personality. You’ll even meet a strange guy who will you remind of The Simpsons’ Disco Stu.
Equally terrific is the layout and design of the game’s villages, dungeons, and assorted islands. The unique quality of each location allows you to identify them each by a faint silhouette while navigating the waters of The Great Sea aboard The King of Red Dragons. Many of the great artistic aspects are matched with very good technical features. The lighting from fire and lanterns, rainfall, and transparent textures of Link’s wind sail are all very, very impressive.
The boss battles are also stellar. Huge enemies will fill up the screen with full use of color pallet, awesome effects, and a genuine sense of urgency. It could be argued that Link’s "even smaller than usual" stature helps to promote the intimidation factor that one would be expected to feel going against such monstrous beasts.
The only area where the graphics fall short is that many of the surfaces in the game can seem dull, drab, and lifeless. It probably is no coincidence that the game doesn’t look terrific in still screenshots, because nobody will be impressed until the game is seen in motion. This is not surprising considering that no cel-shaded games have managed to make these types of things look better than what The Wind Waker accomplishes. While the game lacks some of the flashy graphics features seen in a lot of new games, it has a wonderful design, animates beautifully, and will likely stand the test of time. As Ocarina of Time’s age in terms of graphical prowess becomes more evident as time progresses, Wind Waker seems like it will impress even a few years from now. When a game is the first terrific example of a relatively new graphics technique like Wind Waker is for cel-shading or Virtua Fighter 2 was for texture mapping, gamers will always remember the classics that pulled a certain feature off first. For the one area of the game that people had expected to suffer most, Wind Waker does a great job.
Artistic design, game play schematics, and innovations aside, the one area where The Wind Waker truly lives up to its legendary namesake is the one area that made the series a pillar of the medium to begin with: its fun, fun, fun, and more fun. With the intuitive controls, unique presentation, and classic good vs. evil overtones, it’s hard to imagine anyone who could not enjoy playing this game.
The game’s own awareness of the Zelda universe genuinely gives you the impression that you’re the young lad in the green tights doing whatever it takes to live up to the standards set by your heroic predecessor. All the while you’re grounded in reality by knowing your sister is missing and constantly being made aware of your age and small stature. Even the manner in which you reacquaint with the series namesake is top-notch entertainment.
While there are fewer dungeons than were available in Ocarina of Time, the size, scope, and unique aspects of those present more than make up for it. You will also enjoy the challenge of tackling certain obstacles or adversaries rather than becoming annoyed by them. Wind Waker does everything you could hope for an adventure game to do. And it does so with style.
You may be put off by the game’s visual presentation at first, but once you become aware of how well it works, you’re simply left with yet another classic game in an already classic series. The navigation, the combat, the dungeons, the characters, and the peril you must face as that young elf boy in green are all fantastic. Link can certainly wake wind, and if all Saturday morning cartoons could provide the exhilaration that this game does, Link could possibly manage to wake me up on the weekend. Until then, a lot of very late mornings will be spent enjoying this masterpiece.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com