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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube) review

"I've got a great idea for a game: you play as a young princess, and your goal is to eat loads of baked beans, sprouts and such. I call it Zelda: The Wind Maker..... Anyone?? Okay, that's it for the flatulence jokes in this review. I promise. "

I've got a great idea for a game: you play as a young princess, and your goal is to eat loads of baked beans, sprouts and such. I call it Zelda: The Wind Maker..... Anyone?? Okay, that's it for the flatulence jokes in this review. I promise.

It'd be hard to find a game that has been the subject of as much debate before it's release as The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The Zelda games are probably the most hallowed of all time in the eyes of many gamers: from the days when a green-suited ginger elf first stepped into a dark cave and received a wooden sword way back in the NES days, the epic tales of heroes and princesses, friends and villains, and ultimate destiny, have consistently captured the heart of Nintendo fans across the globe. Everyone has their favourite Zelda game (mine's Link's Awakening), and their favourite Zelda moment (mine's the genuinely tear-jerking finale to the aforementioned Link's Awakening), and at least one Zelda game usually hovers around the top of various magazines' ''Best Ever Games'' etc. polls. And so when footage of an uber-realistic Link (the hero of the franchise) doing battle was released way back before the 'Cube's release, most gamers who had grown up with Shigeru Miyamoto's classic series nearly wept with excitement. By the time real details of the GC's Zelda title began to emerge though, opinion was becoming more divided. It became apparent that rather than the realistic look, The Big N were opting for an 'Interactive Cartoon' look. Many people exclaimed that this was a work of genius, while others wrote the game off as 'childish rubbish' based on the new look colourful graphics (oh the sweet irony). Before anyone had even had a chance to play the game, many gamers' opinions were already set in stone.... So the fact that this game proved good enough to even win round the ignorant few who had initially refused to play it because it was too 'kiddie' is a fantastic achievement in itself.

As usual you play a young elf-like boy named Link. Through the generations a 'Link' has always arisen to defeat the forces of evil, and as such, it has become tradition for young boys to dress up in the traditional green tunic on the day when they come of age. Our tale begins on that particular day for our hero. 'Our' Link enjoys a relatively carefree life on peaceful Outset Island, living with his sister Aryll and their Nan. Then, on that fateful birthday all changes for Link. He is happily larking about with Aryll when he sees a huge bird flying overhead, clutching a girl with pointed ears in it's talons. Coming under cannon fire, the bird drops the girl, and being an all round decent chap, Link scuttles off to find her. She is relatively unharmed, thankfully, and she introduces herself as Tetra, captain of a nearby pirate ship. Link helps her back down to the village, only to see the huge bird flying away... with Aryll! Arming himself with sword and shield, and wearing the fabled green tunic of heroes past, Link joins forces with Tetra's pirate crew, and sets sail to find his sister.... Just who is this bird working for? Why the fetish for pointy-eared females? And perhaps most importantly, is Link really destined to be the next in a line of real heroes?

As you'd expect from a Zelda title, this game boasts a truly marvellous plot. What starts off as a relatively simplistic search and rescue tale grows into a true epic - by the end of the game, a Link will once more be taking up the fabled Master Sword and heading into a battle for the fate of the land. What's best about it is the way the plot grows fluidly and naturally: the stakes become much higher, the whole scope so much more epic, and it happens so logically that you hardly notice. In a way the true plan of the game's villain is a plot twist - it certainly takes things in a direction that you wouldn't have expected, but it doesn't feel forced as so many plot twists can do. It all feels right, somehow, and must surely rank as one of the greatest plots to grace a videogame for several years. What's more, the game is full of genuinely likeable characters, which really helps in getting you involved. As you grow attached to the cast, from the hero himself, to the pirates with their dubious loyalties, to the individual inhabitants of every island and town that you visit, be they human, birdlike creatures, or even plant-based creatures, you can't help but want to keep on playing just so that you know that they'll be okay. This sort of emotional involvement (I even felt quite choked up by the thought of Link's Nan, alone and sickly, waiting for her grandson to return home to her) is really quite rare in games, and once more makes you appreciate just how majestic this story is.

Structurally, this game takes the form of a 3D adventure game, like last year's superb StarFox Adventures. As Link you roam the environments, talking to friendly characters that you meet, killing unfriendly characters that you meet, and doing a fair bit of running, jumping and climbing (not to mention swinging from ropes, pushing token large blocks about and such). But to dismiss this game as just another adventure title is like saying Beyonce is just a pretty girl. Strictly it's true, but there's so much more to it than that. This is a game packed to the beautifully-cel-shaded rafters with marvellous little touches that are sure to leave you smiling the whole time you are playing. Early on in the game, for example, you must work your way through a heavily guarded enemy fortress without the aid of your sword. It's touches of brilliance such as this that make the game so special - no sooner have you mastered the art of the blade than it is ripped from your eager clutches: this game really keeps you on your toes. With no sword to fight with, you must come up with another way to make it to the top of the fortress.... In time you'll discover that you can take one of the many wooden barrels that you see scattered around the place and climb inside it. You can then walk with the barrel over your head (just like the cardboard box in Metal Gear Solid), and so long as the guards don't see your feet poking out from underneath then you can slip by unnoticed. It's a charming moment aided no end by the cartoon-like presentation of the game: it's hard to imagine this section working quite so well in the realistic graphical style that Ninty originally showed off. By the time you reach this moment you'll only be an hour or so in, but already you'll be beginning to realise just how special this game really is.

As you progress deeper into your quest you start to gather items other than just your sword and shield that can be used to dispatch your foes or just aid your progress. From the traditional but still great boomerang and grappling hook, to the more abstract, such as the leaf which can be used (in the right wind) to fly you across huge chasms, every single new item you get will add a new depth to your gameplay. Each one requires different skills to use, too: the boomerang for example, can be aimed at many different targets at once - chuck it and it's arc will pass through each of your targeted areas in turn before it returns to your grip. Although, like so many of the skills in the game, it can require a small amount of practice, once you have it down you can really pull off some impressive manoeuvres. Despite the large arsenal of weapons and other items at your disposal, this game is still impressively easy to control - you simply assign one of the main buttons to a particular item, meaning that you only have a certain number of moves at any one time. Rather than being a restriction, this makes control more liberating - you can swap your equipped items at any time, and you never feel bogged down by the weight of moves at your disposal.

The key item in the game, though, is the eponymous Wind Waker itself. This is a rather glorious conductors baton that can be used to play a variety of tunes with the controller's C-Stick. By playing the right tune it's possible to literally control the wind, changing the direction in which it blows, for example, or calling up great tornadoes to whisk you across the map. Although memorising the songs, and getting to grips with playing them (done by pushing the C-Stick in the right direction at the right time to a set rhythm) can be quite tricky at first, it soon becomes a second nature to you. The two Zelda games released on the Game Boy Color a few years back fell into the trap of relying on the unique key items (such as the Harp of Ages) in order to solve the majority of the puzzles in the game. The Wind Waker just about manages to avoid falling into the same trap. While the game naturally relies on the Wind Waker a great deal (they did name the game after it, after all), there is still a large number of puzzles and situations that require the use of one of your other items, or even a little cerebral work on your part. This keeps the game nicely varied.

One thing that is a little overused in the game, though, is the sailing aspect of the tale. Although initially you travel with Tetra and her crew, you soon get your mitts on your own small seafaring vessel. Your boat may be much smaller than Tetra's galleon, but your boat can talk to you, which makes it much cooler in my books. Initially your aquatic travels are engaging enough; the vast oceans contain several sights to see, such as enemy lookouts and submarines, and once you have the grappling hook you can use it to try and drag up sunken treasure. However, it's understandably quite difficult to make the open sea look varied. There are some noble weather effects - such as harsh rainstorms that can come on alarmingly quickly - but ultimately things look too samey too soon. As such, the hours that you spend sailing the ocean waves can start to become a little bit of a chore the further you progress into the game, which is a pity, as it's the only real blemish on this otherwise top notch title.

Thankfully there is enough variety in the various islands you visit to make up for the boat sections. Each town you visit has it's own unique feel and character, to ensure that each area is easily distinguishable from the rest. The real jewel in the crown of the land based sections, however, comes in the form of the superb 'dungeons' - the areas of the game where you tend to earn your new weapons or other such items, as well as facing bosses to earn whatever key items you need to collect in order to complete your quest: initially you're searching for some mystical pearls, and after that... well, that'd be telling..... Each dungeon is blissfully designed, filled with traps to avoid, keys to find and puzzles which seem to be placed in just the right location. It really is hard to fault them - although at times you'll think that you've reached a dead end, the right path always becomes apparent in time, and usually in a very logical and deceptively simple way: one example would be in one of the earlier dungeons, which has a plant theme. it may seem as though there's nowhere left to go, but after some experimenting, you come to realise that by standing on a lily pad and waving your leaf (the one you use as a parachute) around your head, you can propel your way slowly up the river that winds through the lower levels of the dungeon. Obvious when you think about it, and extremely satisfying. It's clever design like this that means that most things that stump you in the game can be solved by just thinking for a moment as opposed to by the use of trial and error.

The bosses at the end of the dungeons are masterful to behold, too. These huge beasts look suitably fearsome and daunting when you first encounter them, but once more by applying a little thought it becomes clear just how to take them out. Of course, even when you work out just what you need to do, actually getting it done is still quite a challenge: some of the bosses in this game are pleasantly difficult. All in all, some of the boss creatures you face here are truly memorable, and these fights are some of the real highlights of the game.

If the main quest gets a little daunting there's still plenty to do in this game: sidequests are aplenty in The Wind Waker, and range from small things like tracking down some shady kids shamelessly skiving off of school, to much grander endeavours such as the attempt to fill in your map of the land: swimming just outside of every major feature in the Ocean (as well as most of the minor ones) are helpful little fish who add that particular location to your map with a pen they hold in their mouths, providing you manage to find them and feed them some bait (no, I'm not making this up). There are loads of little missions like this to undertake, and if that still isn't enough for you, there are also sub-games that can be played, such as the 'Battleships' style grid game that can be played (for a fee) in one of the first towns that you come across. There really is plenty to keep you going here.

As I said, the graphics were a real bone of contention before the game even came out, although to be honest I find it hard to see why this should be. The cel-shaded cartoon style may be bright and bold, but this is also one of the most detailed games on the 'Cube. Everything looks to have been given a great deal of care in this game, right down to the expressions on the characters' faces. Link screws his face up in concentration or pain, his eyes widen in surprise or joy.... the graphical style really does allow for such a level of emotion to be shown on his face (and on the faces of the more minor characters). The land-based environments, too, look utterly marvellous - once again it's the level of detail that's gone into the crashing waterfalls, into the sunny towns and into the dark and dank forests that really impresses - little details such as heat hazes or small bugs flying around really add to the effect, making every location you visit feel like a living, breathing, real place (because of, not in spite of the graphical style). This, and touches such as the steam pluming from the nostrils of some of the enemies, for example, make you realise that in spite of what some people may have thought, Shigsy hasn't gone completely barmy:- the cartoon style is perfect for this game.

The music here is magnificent, too. Managing to create tension and light-hearted joy in equal measures, every tune in the game feels perfectly suited to the situation in which it is played. Every single note feels as if it's being played at the perfect moment: it's hard to fault the new score here. However, the real musical highlight is the first time the game breaks into the familiar, even legendary, Zelda theme tune. When you fist hear this music bursting triumphantly from your speakers you are filled with a wonderful feeling that you are in for a real videogame treat.... Zelda is back, and all is well with the world.

The Wind Waker is a top class title, easily the game of 2003, and easily the best game available on the cube right now. It's epic plot, insanely addictive gameplay and fantastic presentation all suck you in, and while it'll only last you a few weeks most probably, they'll be weeks that you remember for quite a while. It's just a pity that the sailing sections get tedious, otherwise this would be a perfect game. Get it in. Now.

tomclark's avatar
Community review by tomclark (March 06, 2004)

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