animefringe april 2003 / reviews

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Format: GameCube
Production: Nintendo / Shigeru Miyamoto
Comments: An epic adventure that still feels personal and fun.
Animefringe Reviews:
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Many people were shocked and dismayed when the first screenshots of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker surfaced; instead of the ultra-realistic adult Link featured in the first Gamecube demos, Wind Waker featured a super deformed kid Link, with big eyes and blonde hair. Many purists were worried over where the series was going. Now that the game has finally come out, real Zelda fans can see that they don't have to worry; The Wind Waker is an incredible game, sure to wow Zelda fans and newbies alike.

The most obvious upgrade from the previous Zelda games, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask (which used the same engine) is Wind Waker's graphics. Everything about the game screams "Saturday Morning Cartoon." Obviously, Wind Waker is not the first game to use graphic technique known as cel-shading (Jet Set Radio Future and Sly Cooper both came before Wind Waker), but the latest Zelda uses it far better than any game before it. The stiff, blocky, jagged polygonal look of Ocarina has been replaced in Wind Waker by a lot of curves. The animation is extremely fluid. Link, and all the game's characters, don't move as jerky as characters from Ocarina of Time. Despite the cartoon look of the game, the characters all move very realistically. The attention to detail is also astounding; tougher Moblins sport intricate tattoos; Link himself will drip with water for many seconds after swimming. The player will note dozens of these delightful details within the first few hours of play.

The game truly exudes a new feeling for the Zelda series. Wind Waker seems to combine both Norse and Celtic elements to create a very distinctive visual style. Much of the music in the game (which will be discussed shortly) and the game's visual elements feed into this theme. Link's boat, for example, looks extremely Norse, as do the "flat" intricate fire and dust effects the game features.

As mentioned above, Wind Waker features a very cartoony feel. This doesn't make the game immature by any stretch of the imagination; instead, the game's warm look back at old Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons adds a visual delight to the game. Link will often slam into walls, double take, jump fifty feet into the air after getting his butt burned by lava, be shot out of catapults (while in barrels) and any number of slapstick gags that remind many of us of the Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse stuff we grew up on. Even when you lose, the game seems more like a cartoon; if Link falls into lava or gets caught by guards, he'll start over (with a little energy lost) with a steaming butt or in a cell and a very Looney Tunes melody will play. The game also takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the Zelda series; for example, this game's incarnation of Link isn't too excited about wearing the green forest outfit that became the coming of age garb after Ocarina of Time's Link saved Hyrule.

As far as previous Zelda games are concerned, Wind Waker is the first of the series to truly tie the games together. Though there has been conjecture and ideas from gamers and producers as to the continuity of the Zelda series, Wind Waker begins to explicitly tie the games together. Wind Waker starts by explaining that ages ago, a mysterious warrior -- on a horse no less -- battled a great evil and saved the land of Hyrle. His forest garb became the traditional coming of age clothing in the land and his exploits remained mythical to the people even as the land changed. Thus the game opens in a new land. For those with sharp eyes and experience in Ocarina of Time, it's not so new; despite flooding throughout the world of Wind Waker, many places will echo locales in Ocarina of Time; the Dragon Roost island is surely Ocarina's Death Mountain, for example.

As Wind Waker is tied to Ocarina in plot, so the former's game play mechanics echo the latter's. Anyone familiar with the setup for Ocarina of Time will feel comfortable with Wind Waker. Basically, the Gamecube's left analog stick controls Link's movements. The harder the stick is pushed, the faster Link goes. The right stick (the C or Camera stick) controls the camera around link, and the D-Pad brings up Link's map. A is the action button. It's action is based on the where Link is at the moment: if he is in front of a rock, the on-screen A button will say "Lift", and pressing A on the controller will lift the rock, but once he is holding the rock, the text will change to "Throw", allowing Link to throw. B is used mainly for sword play. X, Y, and Z can be configured to use items, while L focuses the camera behind Link and R does a couple of movement commands (crouching, stop swinging on a rope). For the most part, the game is relatively intuitive and even those without experience in Ocarina of Time will pick up the controls quickly.

Wind Waker takes a lot of scenarios and game play from Ocarina of Time and improves them greatly. For example, in Ocarina of Time Link must sneak into Zelda's castle by hiding behind bushes. While the scenario was entertaining, it is completely blown out of the water by the sneaking Link does early in Wind Waker. Having lost his sword, Link must hide in a barrel to get by Moblin guards. Many aspects of Wind Waker are like this; refinements of Ocarina of Time's game play. The boat seems to mirror Epona in Ocarina of Time and it completely trounces the similar but god-awful Gummi Ship sequences in Kingdom Hearts. The biggest carry-over from the previous game is the use of a musical instrument. The Wind Waker is a little too similar to the ocarina. The use of the Wind Waker seems a little derivative, even though it is improved to play in various musical times.

This is not to say Wind Waker adds nothing new to the mix. In many respects, Wind Waker shares the same evolutionary relationship to Ocarina of Time that Super Mario Sunshine has with Super Mario 64. However, sea battles in Wind Waker are a new experience, as is swinging Indiana Jones-style from place to place. Another new addition is the Gameboy Advance/Gamecube connection. With a GBA and a connection cable, players can call on Mr. Tingle, a bizarre old man who wishes to be a fairy. He can help Link out by giving him hints, healing, balloons, and bombs and also issues side quests in town.

The game takes the best elements from Ocarina of Time and then builds on them, while adding many new exciting elements and adventures. There are a few elements sorely missed from Ocarina of Time. In Ocarina of Time, your fairy companion, Navi, could tell you the names and information for various enemies, which is unavailable in Wind Waker. Also, I'm sure I'm not the only one addicted to Ocarina's fishing game, which is sadly missing from Wind Waker.

The music, too, follows in this fashion. Many melodies will be familiar, as some are taken from Ocarina of Time and others are taken from other Zelda games. They all have been improved, and many of them sound much more Celtic/Norse than previous incarnations. There is also a very epic sounding Wind Waker theme which is very good.

There are a few minor quibbles: unlike Mario Sunshine, Wind Waker is a little easy. While it's no push-over, it's not as difficult as the Gamecube's Mario game or even Ocarina of Time. Additionally, the boat sequences can become tedious -- especially early on, as the distance from island to island is large. However, in the larger context of the game, these are small issues.

I've spent ten paragraphs telling you what could easily be summed up in a sentence: Wind Waker is a fun game. Any gamer will fall in love with the game. Wind Waker is exciting, epic yet personal, charming and simply a blast to play. More than Miyamoto's previous games, Wind Waker combines the feeling of being a kid and wandering into local woods and caves -- an experience Miyamoto draws upon in many games -- with being an epic hero. Anyone with a Gamecube has to do him or herself a favor and get this game. Anyone without a Gamecube should look into getting one, for this game.