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Review: Wind Waker HD is a vivacious voyage into the past

By Andy Robinson on Tuesday 17th Sep 2013 at 10:01 PM UTC

With its radically overhauled art style and controversial nautical setting, few games proved to be as divisive among Nintendo fans as The Wind Waker.

Although the protesting purists ultimately put a stop to Zelda's colourful redirection (a planned sequel was axed in favour of the gritty Twilight Princess), that hasn't managed to dampen its legend as one of the series' most memorable chapters.

Wind Waker is the 3D Zelda that recaptured the classic spirit of exploration, dropping players on an immense blue ocean beneath an even bluer sky, with a seemingly endless horizon teasing high-seas thrills and tantalising adventures on tropical islands.

It's arguably the most beautiful and charismatic game in the series. Its characters, worlds and animations bulge with humour and vitality.

Link's charming combat grimace, the soaring soundtrack, and that trip underwater are among the very fondest series moments, and yet, a trip down memory lane reminds us that it's not quite the perfect Zelda.


The Wind Waker HD started life as an experiment. Producer Eiji Aonuma was looking at various art styles for his next major Zelda project, and decided to test how the GameCube classic would look in 1080p definition.

The results are startling. That timeless aesthetic, now razor sharp, is distractingly gorgeous. Link and his sun-kissed surroundings look shaper, smoother and gloriously colourful on Wii U, with some particularly stunning lighting and shadows combining to create a vibrant and tangible cartoon world. Some character models may show signs of age, and rare frame-rate dips blight certain scenes at sea, but otherwise this is one of the most accomplished HD updates you'll ever see.

But of course the changes aren't purely cosmetic; for fans of the original, GamePad inventory access, intuitive gyroscope aiming, and clever Miiverse integration ensure that this plays as the definitive version. For newcomers, the main quest triumphs - and occasionally disappoints - in the same way it did back in 2003.

Chronologically, Wind Waker takes place a hundred years following Ocarina of Time's N64 origin story, after mainstay villain Ganon has returned to find the original world of Hyrule encased beneath a vast ocean. Now the lush fields and ancient castles of previous adventures have been replaced with an endless stretch of sea, with only the occasional island village blotting the sapphire-coloured horizon.


Our protagonist is, naturally, a blonde haired boy in a green tunic - this time worn in direct tribute to the previous Hero of Time. In a break from series tradition this is one of many references to the previous Zelda story, resulting in a narrative that's surprising deep and heavy on fan service.

But Wind Waker is ultimately at its best when it pushes its lore into the background and leaves players free to absorb its whimsical waterworld. The Great Sea is arguably one of Nintendo's greatest sandboxes and a delight to explore. Casting off for the first time on Link's talking boat, the King of Red Lions, is a truly joyful moment, with the wind dancing in the sky as a flock of happy seagulls flank your path.

The world map - now handily displayed on the Wii U GamePad - is split into a 7x7 grid, with each of the 49 sections containing an island to explore, plus welcome distractions such as ghost ships, secret caves, sunken treasure (located with treasure maps and obtained with an on-board crane) and travelling merchants.

Even more so than Ocarina's iconic Hyrule field, there's a real incentive to travel the Great Sea. Voyaging towards islands on the horizon carries that distinct excitement of discovering new lands, and more often than not the secrets and characters you'll discover on these unmarked landmasses provide satisfying reward.

As the title suggests, wind is a key mechanic here, with Link able to change its direction and thus manipulate the navigation of his boat and later, items such as the parachute-like Deku Leaf.

In the original version, the demand of continually adjusting wind direction became tiresome. Thankfully this is one negative that the HD version remedies with the welcome introduction of the Swift Sail, which not only allows you to sail faster but does so regardless of the weather.

However, one key blemish the Wii U version doesn't manage to erase is that infamous section of the main story - the Triforce scavenger hunt - which is often remembered as Wind Waker's weakest moment.

According to Nintendo legend, as many as two planned dungeons were axed from the second half of Wind Waker's quest and replaced with the existing fetch quest. The unimaginative treasure hunt, especially when compared to the first half of the game, remains inelegant and deadly-dull on Wii U.

The introduction of the Swift Sail relieves some of the pain involved in completing Nintendo's shopping list, while the number of items required to collect has been marginally reduced. However, this proves a small compromise for several hours of peculiarly lazy design, and the decline in quality is even present in the final dungeons in the game, which are less inventive than the earlier levels.

But let's say it's water under the bridge now. It has, after all, been ten years since The Wind Waker arrived on GameCube, and as those few bad memories sink away the most important point sails: This is an unforgettable Zelda instalment, well worth revisiting.

The verdict

The rushed finale remains a small blemish on an otherwise unforgettable Zelda instalment, updated brilliantly.

  • A stunning visual upgrade
  • Zelda's greatest sandbox
  • Smart GamePad integration
  • Fetch quests still frustrate
  • Some generic dungeons
Nintendo Wii U
Adventure, RPG