Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wii U review: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

A decade after its original Gamecube release, The Legend of Zelda title that introduced the cel-shaded Toon Link and the Great Sea he sailed across received an HD remake on Nintendo’s Wii U. During the years between the original Wind Waker and this new Wind Waker HD, it was expressed that there were a number of features that the development staff wanted to work into the original release, but were unable to due primarily to technological restrictions they faced in 2003. Wind Waker HD promised to be more than a simple visual upgrade of the original Gamecube adventure, and ultimately incorporated a number of reworked gameplay features, as well as a few new additions.

While many remakes in recent years have seen significant visual jumps in their quality (i.e. – Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Final Fantasy IV DS, etc.), Wind Waker HD’s strongest graphical showings come from its improved lighting effects and more strikingly visible environment textures. Character models and the various locales across the Great Sea appear largely unchanged from the Gamecube original, due in no small part to the fact that cel-shaded graphics were far ahead of their time, and have since aged significantly better than the visuals of nearly every other game in the long-running series. The soundtrack, however, has been cleaned up a bit, and a few subtle variations on classic tunes have been thrown into the mix.

For those who missed out on the Wind Waker during its original 2003 release, the story is set hundreds of years after the events of Ocarina of Time. The intro sequence explains that, even though OoT's Link was able to save Hyrule from Ganondorf’s evil conquest once, after he had returned to his own time there was no one to stop the Gerudo King once he escaped his imprisonment in the Sacred Realm. In a last-ditch effort to save the people of Hyrule, the goddesses washed away the kingdom, sending the people to live on the islands that now marked the Great Sea. As centuries passed, those who knew the legends of Hyrule dwindled in numbers, though on Link’s birthday, he receives a green Tunic from his grandmother, which she cites as being associated with the hero of legend, and a tradition for boys to wear on his home of Outset Island.

Not long after, a giant bird carrying the pirate captain Tetra flies over Outset Island, only to be struck by a cannonball from Tetra’s pursuing crew members. The bird drops Tetra in the forest atop the island, and Link decides to go help at the insistence of his younger sister Aryll. After scaling the island and fighting a few monsters, Link rescues Tetra and the two exit the forest only to witness young Aryll be whisked away by the giant bird from before, who mistook Aryll for Tetra. Determined to save his sister, Link acquires a shield and sword and climbs aboard Tetra’s ship as they head for the Forsaken Fortress.

Once inside, Link manages to sneak past Moblin patrols and is reunited with his sister, who is being held captive with two other young girls in a prison cell atop the Forsaken Fortress. However, this victory is short-lived, as the giant bird swoops in and tosses Link to the ocean, at the command of its shadowy master. The next morning, Link awakes to find he has been rescued by a talking sailboat which calls itself the King of Red Lions. He informs Link that the master of the Forsaken Fortress and the one who has been spreading monsters across the Great Sea is none other than Ganondorf, and that Link must gather three pearls in order to access a greater power capable of stopping Ganondorf’s schemes.

Mechanically, Wind Waker built directly off its N64 predecessors Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The titular Wind Waker, which is used to control the direction of the wind that steers your sailboat, as well as a few other key interactions, effectively stood in for the previous musical instrument, the Ocarina of Time. Combat followed suit, with carefully timed strikes being coordinated with the trigger-based targeting system. The set of items Link collected from the various dungeons are still implemented with great frequency in later legs of The Wind Waker, often used in tandem with other items or weapons to overcome more challenging and complicated hurdles. While the core of this experience may remain largely the same, it is largely to the game’s benefit, as Wind Waker HD doesn’t need to fix what isn’t broken. That said, the optional gyroscope controls are available for the Telescope and Picto Box, should players feel so inclined to explore these additions, though the classic joystick controls are generally more smooth and precise.

Little changes to some of the items and questlines in Wind Waker HD end up going a long way. When sailing across the Great Sea, the Cannon, Crane, and Wind Waker are automatically set to the D-pad, while the Sail is set to the A button, allowing you to set another three separate items to the X, Y, and R buttons respectively. This cuts down on the amount of time spent swapping from the inventory. On a related note, the Gamepad’s touch controls allow you to drag items to these three buttons on the fly, without needing to pause the game first. Those who recall the Tingle Tuner from the Gamecube version will find it has been replaced with a more practical counterpart in the form of Tingle Bottles, which can carry messages into other player’s games via Miiverse, offering a more community-oriented experience not unlike the hints players can leave for one another in Dark Souls.

For completionists who enjoyed snapping pictographs of friendly faces and Ganondorf’s loyal monsters during their journey to turn into sculpted figurines at the Nintendo Gallery, the number of open slots in the Picto Box has been bumped up to twelve, as has the number of figurines that can be crafted each day. Enemy spoil drops appear to have been improved as well, making sidequests dependent on the number of Skull Necklaces, Butterfly Pendants, or Golden Feathers in your possession much quicker to complete. A speedier sail is available around the game’s midway point, and the process of collecting Triforce pieces during the late hours has been cut in half, thanks to the majority of the chart locations being replaced with the actual Triforce shards themselves. This not only makes collecting the Triforce shards feel like less of a chore than in the original Gamecube version, it circumvents the severe hiccup in the story’s pacing that comes as a result from suddenly needing to divert all of your attention from the buildup toward the late-game challenges and subsequent intense progression of the story.

If you have never experienced this particular Legend of Zelda title before, the HD update is a fantastic option. It’s also perhaps one of the most easily-accessible Zelda titles out there, for those who may have only experienced a scant few games in the series – not to say that The Wind Waker is an overly easy experience, but it does provide more intuitive controls and in-depth tutorials that stack as the game gradually offers up new options for improving combat and puzzle strategies. While the visuals may not be a vast improvement over the Gamecube original, they still hold up strong today, and offer a very distinct style that matches the sense of wonder in this fantasy setting, as well as the coming-of-age direction that the story takes with its younger protagonist.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

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