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

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

"I shouldn't even have to point out the notoriety that goes with a Legend of Zelda game. When someone plays a Zelda title for the first time, they go in expecting an impressive and engaging adventure. The Zelda series has earned this respect, obtained in games like the original Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and reinforced in timeless classics like A Link to the Past and The Ocarina of Time. So, does the Wind Waker live up to its predecessors? In many ways, it does. Bu..."

I shouldn't even have to point out the notoriety that goes with a Legend of Zelda game. When someone plays a Zelda title for the first time, they go in expecting an impressive and engaging adventure. The Zelda series has earned this respect, obtained in games like the original Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and reinforced in timeless classics like A Link to the Past and The Ocarina of Time. So, does the Wind Waker live up to its predecessors? In many ways, it does. But these traits aren't dominant enough to minimize the game's shortcomings, landing the game in the shallow end of Zelda's gene pool.

Each installment of Zelda has radically altered the gameplay from its previous installment in some way. Link's Adventure stepped apart from the original by moving dungeons to a 2-D Castlevania-esque adventure and a rudimentary statistic leveling system. A Link to the Past featured the now constantly-copied Light World/Dark World concept, and Ocarina of Time expanded on this idea further with time travel: One Hyrule in its prime, another in a state of apocalyptic decline. Majora's Mask furthered OOT's time travel concept by having Link relive the same three days over and over, a concept which got mixed reactions from fans. Wind Waker is no different. It took the classic Zelda formula and turned it on its head, covering the whole world in a massive body of water. This was a novel concept, but sadly wasn't thought out very well in its implementation.

Much of the game boils down to spending many long, tedious minutes sailing across the water. The developers hoped to alleviate the long periods of doing nothing by giving you little things to do on the way. Barrels appear in your way which must be hurdled to avoid being hurled from your boat, and small slalom courses occasionally appear as well. Shining circles indicate sunken treasure which can be fished up, but most players won't bother with this task since all it does force you to spend more time on the ocean. About a third of the way through the game, a transportation spell is made available which makes getting around much quicker. The downside is you now have to play two or three songs just to get to your goal. Stopping your boat and playing several songs in succession gets old. Fast.

Dotted around the ocean is a huge number of hidden things to discover, ranging from submarines to goblin towers to little rafts and killer octopuses. Past Zelda games have focused heavily on fully exploring the countryside to discover all its secrets and uncover all the hidden heart pieces, and in this sense Wind Waker remains true. Unfortunately, now instead of a well designed and wonderfully created countryside we get a large flat piece of blue to explore. So looking around for that last heart cotainer goes from enjoyable task to tedious chore. And the minute a game becomes a tedious chore is the minute it needs to be shelved, and fast. Luckily, you can completely skip most of these and instead proceed straight to your next destination; the game doesn't force you to explore the ocean and find sunken treasure until the game's second-to-last chapter.

The shortcomings of the Ocean Exploration aside, the rest of the game is fantastic. Each (land based) area is as masterfully created as the previous Zelda games. The towns actually feel lived in instead of buildings with lights on inside - the huge cast of characters actually has a personality, a name and even a backstory to go with them (most of this is revealed through the game's optional Nintendo Gallery collection minigame). And the Dungeons, dare I say, put even Majora's Mask to shame in creativity and innovative use of your inventory.

Later dungeons in the game feature a new concept in the series - cooperative play. Thanks to a song you learn halfway through the game, you can transmit control to another character who can perform another task, unreachable to Link. This is a novel concept, but like the Ocean it isn't implemented very well. Every time you want to change, you have to play the song. And you will have to change a lot. This was also an obvious and open opportunity for a multiplayer option, but it doesn't seem this even crossed the developer's mind.

Nintendo wisely used the same basic fighting system that appeared in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, and it translates well to this medium. If there is a problem, it is the introduction of the Counter-attack. What originally seems like a good idea when you first learn the ability, by the end of the first dungeon you find yourself patiently (and sometimes impatiently) waiting for your opportunity to counter-attack rather then exhibiting an offensive/defensive strategy that was a necessity in the Nintendo 64 installments. What should have been a method of attack in your broad repertoire instead becomes a crutch, many enemies actually requiring you to Counter-attack to damage them at all (the game's final boss being the most notable example). Speaking of bosses, they are a dream. Even though one of them is basically a rehash of Ocarina's Bio-electric Anemone Barinade, they are all still a blast to fight against. Featuring everything from giant sandworms to giant hand puppets, this is Zelda at its best.

Another thing Zelda is famous for is its huge armory of bizarre items, and the even more bizarre ways you have to use them. The Hookshot has been a staple of the Zelda series since A Link to the Past, and it returns once again for Wind Waker. The prerequisite Boomerang and Bow & Arrow return once again, but joined now by a grappling hook, a magical leaf, and a magical conductor's baton. It is in this form that music returns to Zelda. Previous installments have had the magical Ocarina, whose songs controlled various actions. The Wind Waker does the same thing, but now… it's a baton. It's silly, but the ocarina was getting tired.

Wind Waker isn't terribly different from it's elders in terms of story: simple and to the point, with few plot twists and no character development. But in terms of presentation of the story, Wind Waker is a step above. Thanks in no small part to the game's unique visual style, characters are finally capable of exhibiting true emotion. This is a mixed bag; while it finally lends character to a Zelda title, it brings the After School Special melodrama ripe through the game into sharp focus.

This installment begins on the aptly named Outset Island. The few people of the island, presumably sustaining themselves through inbreeding, have a custom of dressing their boys in green on their tenth birthday. Once the newest incarnation of Link gets his clothes, he immediately sees a huge bird being chased by a pirate ship. Struck by a canon ball, the bird drops something which closely resembles a girl into the forest above Link's home. Link immediately sets out to rescue the girl. Though Wind Waker begins with quite a bit more oomph then any other Zelda title, it slows down very quickly, almost immediately tasking you with collecting objects which should be very familiar to Ocarina players.

The cast of characters, on the other hand, is varied and engaging. A short list includes a tribe of bird people who act as mailmen, a giant dragon, a giant talking fish, a giant talking tree, a talking boat and many other things that talk that normally wouldn't.

Ocarina of Time's near-perfect control system returns, remapped to the GameCube controller. If the Nintendo 64 titles had a problem, it was a complete lack of full camera control which made tight corners and narrow paths much trickier to navigate. Wind Waker fixes this problem, giving the player complete control to zoom in and out, and pan around as much as they like. Unfortunately, this feature is rarely used because you almost never need it in dungeons. Mostly it is used to entertain yourself on the boat, creating sweeping pans and dynamic fixed shots while you wait to get to the next destination.

The excellent Z-Targeting system has become the still-excellent L-Targeting system, and commands to use items and attack are as quick as ever. As an added plus, it is now much easier to select different types of arrows - gone are the days of constantly shuffling through arrow types in the inventory menu. One quick button press changes to another type. Wind Waker's controls are by far the best yet seen in the franchise.

The graphics of Wind Waker are really hit or miss. Some people love it, some people hate it. I'm in-between. Though the cel-shaded graphics certainly don't hurt the game any, they aren't much of a plus either. The environments themselves (with the exception of the ever-present ocean, which is literally one big piece of blue) are all very well designed and animated, as are the characters who populate the world.

A few of these characters really stand out however, most notably being the two brothers on Outset Island. One is tall and thin, the other short and squat with a massive circular head. Other characters like the Great Deku Tree and the King of Hyrule are very well created and are just a pleasure to look at. Link's Grandmother looks the part of the helpless old lady, and the expressive animations on her face make her draw a large amount of sympathy from the player.

It is here that Wind Waker's graphics truly shine. Every character has a bevy of facial expressions, each easily recognizable from the others. One of the most memorable moments in the game is the expression on Link's face when he is placed in a canon: His face changes very noticeably from one of surprise, to grim determination, to absolute terror. Despite the effectiveness of this animation style, the same result could've been achieved using a more ‘mature‘ (I absolutely hate using this word, but it's the only adjective I can think of that gets my point across) graphical style that would have appealed to a much broader audience.

Nintendo's intent seemed to have been to reproduce the graphics of A Link to the Past in a 3-D format. And while nobody can deny that they succeeded, the overwhelmingly negative response from older gamers about “Celda” made it loud and clear to Nintendo that this graphical style cut it on the Super Nintendo, and is even passable on the Game Boy Advance, but is just unacceptable on a fourth generation console. Now while I personally don't agree with this sentiment, a game's popularity is based largely on its fanbase. And when you alienate your fanbase, you destroy a franchise.

Wind Waker, like any other Zelda game, is chock full of memorable music which is just a pleasure to listen to. Which is lucky, because it's one of the few things to do while sailing across the ocean. Though no tune is as memorable as the Overworld Theme from A Link to the Past or the Hyrule Field theme from Ocarina of Time, there are plenty you will find jumping into your head at unexpected times. Not Zelda's best music, but not its worst either.

The sound is fine as well. Though it features no true voice acting, there is a large supply of memorable sound bits which accompany each character and add quite a bit to their expressive faces. Each weapon and item has its own unique sound effect which accompanies it, and none of it ever gets tedious to listen to despite how often you'll be hearing them. The actual music you get to play with the Wind Waker is rather disappointing, however. While Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask featured fully composed and orchestrated themes which could be played on the Ocarina, the Wind Waker doesn't feel the same. You instead feel like you're whipping out a stick and waving it around, even though it is accompanied by appropriately breezey notes.

Minigames have also been a Zelda staple since the original installment. Though none have yet surpassed Bombchu Bowling in Ocarina of Time, a few Wind Waker minigames come very close. Not only are they actually fun to do, they are funny as well. The obviously bored man who works at the Battleship game, jumping behind little cardboard cutouts and imitating the voices of Sea Captains, old women and orphans (using a bad French accent, no less) is downright hilarious. I still bust up laughing whenever I hear someone (usually me) say 'sploosh.' Other minigames include sorting mail, shooting flying fish with your bow, completing picture jumbles, the list goes on and on. If you enjoy lots of minigames, then Wind Waker is right up your alley.

For you crazy item collecting nuts, Wind Waker will please you greatly. Midway through your adventure, you gain access to the Nintendo Gallery. If you bring a photograph to the Nintendo Gallery, then you will receive a figurine which you can view at your leisure, and read a little backstory behind that character. Literally every character, enemy and boss in the game has a Nintendo Gallery figurine, and the game has to be played several times over to complete the whole thing.

Continuing its long tradition of being the only developer to actually care about its own peripheral hardware, Nintendo makes excellent use of the GBA-GCN Link Cable in Wind Waker. Very early on in the game you acquire the Tingle Tuner, and using it in-game transmits a map of the immediate area to the GBA. You, or another person, can freely explore this map at their leisure while the action continues on screen. Using the GBA, you can even make marks on the world to point out objects of interest, or create small explosions for small monetary fees. It's a fun, but ultimately pointless diversion.

So, I just spent three paragraphs gushing about the Extras. So why didn't I give it a 5? Well, like almost every other category in this review the Extras took a hit because you have to deal with travelling across the ocean to reach most of them. In many cases, you have to explore the ocean just to find the minigames to begin with. In case you haven't figured it out yet, the monotony of the ocean is the iceberg to Zelda's Titanic.

When it comes to replay value, Wind Waker really disappoints. Traveling the ocean gets boring very quickly, and the small diversions along the way only serve to prolong your torment. The dungeons, while satisfyingly long and providing plenty of head scratching puzzles, are far too few. I won't even bother telling you exactly how many there are in the hopes you'll buy this game anyway, but you'll be done with the whole thing almost before you realize it. Miyamoto has gone on record saying that he didn't want the game to be too challenging. I don't know what game he was playing, because this is one of the easiest Zeldas in recent memory (which is saying something).

Sadly, there isn't a whole lot to keep you coming back to Wind Waker. The Nintendo Gallery is pretty much the only reason to complete the game multiple times, but the fact that your camera can only hold three pictures at a time means you just spend a lot more time on the ocean then seems absolutely necessary.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10
Story: 4 out of 5
Controls: 10 out of 10
Graphics: 3 out of 5
Sound and Music: 4 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 6 out of 10
Overall Score: 7.6 out of 10

The Good: Expanding on Ocarina of Time's control setup, Wind Waker has perfected the formula creating one the single best control setup of any Adventure game. A unique graphical style adds considerable character to the game. The dungeons are long and varied, making unique use of every tool in your inventory (I especially enjoy how they made the Iron Boots and the Hookshot interact with one another). This also has one of the best endings of any Zelda title so far. Only Majora's Mask is anywhere close to competition.
The Bad: The player is required to affect the environment by playing the Wind Waker far too often. It becomes very tedious having to play many songs in succession to get the desired result, oftentimes having to play the same song over and over and over (and over) in a brief amount of time (and over and over). The Graphic style, while unique, doesn't do much to lend to the game's theme and a more modern style (like that seen in Devil May Cry) or artistic style (like that seen in Viewtiful Joe) would've done much to quiet the Celda trolls. The dungeons are far too few. The game is literally over before you realize it.
The Ugly: The ocean is the absolute worst thing to happen to the series since the CDi spinoff titles. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's because the elder Zelda fanbase has gone out of their way to deny its existence, kind of like how the cast of Star Wars pretends the Star Wars Christmas Special doesn't exist. Not only is the ocean huge, it isn't much fun to be on. Minor diversions on the way don't do much to alleviate the tedium.

This isn't the worst Zelda game ever, or even the worst game ever. I think calling it even mediocre would be pushing it. It's merely average, and for a Zelda game that's below average. This game had an overwhelming amount of hype to live up to, especially after the 2000 E3 trailer which many erroneously believed to be footage of the next Zelda game (it merely showcased what the GameCube was capable of). And if we've learned anything from Star Wars, nothing can ever hope to live up to hype. When it comes to Twilight Princess, everyone is silently holding their breath, hoping we “don't end up with another Wind Waker.” And this can mean only good things for Zeldas to come.

mrshotgun's avatar
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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