Well Nintendo’s Gamecube nostalgia train just keeps on a rolling doesn’t it? First we got new Pikmin and Luigi’s Mansion games and now an HD remake of what was (at the very least) the best Legend of Zelda game on everyone’s favourite handled mauve box. I’m especially excited as Wind Waker is hands down my second favourite Zelda game (Majora’s Mask for life) both because of its unique aesthetic and nice relaxing pace. It acts as a subtle inversion of the standard Zelda formula with the tropes we’ve come to love tweaked just enough to be familiar yet different, granting a true sense of discovery while still holding true to the spirit of the series. While not everyone appreciated its breaking from the norm at the time, it’s become a cult classic entry in the series. Luckily now a whole new group of people can get their hands on it with this HD remake and while the game isn’t perfect it holds up surprisingly well.
I’m mainly going to talk about the quality of the remake in this review but before we get into that let’s just quickly go over how the base game itself holds up in terms of game design after all these years. It very much follows the standard Zelda format that was established in Ocarina but with how different the game was in terms of look and pacing it’s easy to forget exactly how closely it followed that format. The dungeon designs, the busy work side quests, the weird ancillary mini-games; it’s all here but just cell shaded. You’re still going to end up using whatever item you just found to complete the dungeon you’re in, you’re still going to have to go to extraordinary ends just to get extra bottles and bigger sacks for all your bombs and rupees and such, and you’re still going to chase down three colour coded jewels and do magic with a musical bent to it. That said though this game did add some interesting elements with the all sailing you get to do and the mechanics surrounding it like map building and treasure hunting. While the sailing stuff was something that was pretty hit or miss for a lot of people, personally it’s my favourite part of the game. It’s just such a great mix of relaxing slow-paced travel and planning combined with a wonderful feeling of discovery that comes from every island, raft, or submarine you find just waiting to be explored. Don’t go into it expecting anything other than exactly what you’ve come to expect from a Zelda game but know that it is a different kind of Zelda game and that’s what makes it special.
As for the quality of this remake we’ll break that down into two areas, the graphics and the controls, both of which make the transition near perfectly.
Starting off with the graphics, the game looks absolutely drop dead gorgeous in HD. The smooth cell shading and whole primary colour textures just look amazing in high def and while it feels like they might have added in a bit more bloom than was in the Gamecube version, the overall look just works and makes it feel like the original game was made with HD in mind. I’ve also noticed lots more little touches in the look, like Ganon symbols on the moblin lookouts’ telescopes, that while I’m almost sure were in the original I didn’t really notice until this remake. Great as this game looks though there are still some telltale game design crows feet on display that betray its age. Specifically I’m talking about the world geometry and the rope physics which are very simplistic compared to modern releases. The shapes the world is built from are fairly basic and you can very easily see the lines where polygons connect in a lot of places, not a bad thing necessarily but telling. The rope physics are similar in that all ropes seem to work exclusively in straight lines with any concept of residual momentum or slack being non-existent, again not necessarily a downside but most certainly indicative of the era in which this game was made. Also just as a note, sound-wise it’s a perfect remake; the one sound that was iconic to me from this game was the weird french battleship mini-game guy yelling “SPLOOSH!” whenever you missed and that sounds spot-on so I’m totally happy.
As for the controls, I guess it kind of depends on whether you’re using a pro controller or the gamepad; I used a gamepad because I didn’t have a pro controller but I assume the game plays pretty close to the original version when using a pro. That said it plays pretty close to the original on the gamepad as well, just with a few extra features to take advantage of its more unique aspects. The most obvious one is the fact that you can have the map or your inventory displayed on the bottom screen while exploring which is a nice touch especially during the sailing sections as it makes navigation much more seamless than it was in the original. They’ve also added gyroscope controls for all the first person stuff but thankfully you can use the right stick instead if you prefer and can even flat-out turn off the gyroscope if you want which is a welcome choice I wish all Wii U games had. Overall it feels like a very faithful remake, the new control scheme feels equivalent to the old one and the extra features either add something to the experience or can be turned off and kept out of the way.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t beat the game again in writing this review, I just blew through the first three dungeons and then farted about the overworld for a while exploring islands and having fun. Fact of the matter is, even if this was just a completely straight port of the original with no improvements whatsoever it’d still get a good score because Wind Waker was and still is a fantastic Zelda game. Yes, it has certainly aged a bit as can be seen in the skeleton of the visual design and the layout and style of the gameplay, but it still holds up incredibly well. If you’ve got a Wii U then it’s certainly worth picking up either just for nostalgia if you’ve played it before or to enjoy a true classic if you haven’t. I can happily give The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD a 5 out of 5 stars if only because I would have given the original game that same score and this version is equivalent if not better.