Sail Of The Century
While we all wait for a proper new Zelda game on Wii U, Nintendo has decided to plug the gap with this spruced-up re-release of 2002's The Wind Waker. Before its release for the GameCube, The Wind Waker was controversial among Nintendo fans for going for a cartoony look, comic tone and childish Link after the more serious and grown-up Ocarina of Time on N64 a few years previously.
The controversy continued after its release, when it became clear that the game's length had been cut so it would make its release date and then padded out with a long treasure hunt, while many found its ocean setting empty compared to the Hyrule of previous games.
That only makes it better news that Nintendo has remade The Wind Waker in HD for Wii U, since it gives us all a chance to reassess a game that, now the dust has settled, stands as one of the very best in the series - and certainly the most charming. This is a classic all-ages adventure with timeless visuals. It has only got better with age, and Nintendo has done a beautiful job updating it.
Link starts out as a young boy celebrating his birthday on an idyllic island in the middle of a wide sea. When he dresses up as the hero of legend - donning the familiar green suit and sword and shield - it becomes clear that we're in the same world as Ocarina of Time, only hundreds of years later and apparently after a great flood.
Link's sister is kidnapped and he sets off on an adventure to rescue her from the clutches of the evil Ganondorf, at first with a motley band of pirates and then sailing his own little boat, which - mysteriously - talks to him. He gains a conductor's baton that lets him set the direction of the wind, and sails from island to island, discovering secrets, chatting to townsfolk and exploring the Zelda series' traditional dungeons to discover exciting new tools, like the grappling hook, iron boots and mirror shield.
If you know Zelda, you know what to expect from the gameplay - great puzzles, fun combat against varied enemies, a range of mini-games, funny side-quests and an unrivalled sense of wonder and exploration as you uncover the secrets of a lively fantasy world. It's all there in Wind Waker, although it's true that the game is easier and a little shorter than most of the other home console Zeldas.
A few things make it really stand out, though. It has the best sword-fighting combat of any of the Zelda games, with brilliant dynamic music making these fencing battles even more exciting. The exploration by boat is more freeform than in other Zeldas, feels more fresh and original now, and is wonderfully atmospheric and exciting - even if some of the journey times are quite long. And the story has a mind-blowing twist halfway through that will change the way you think about the whole thing.
But above all, it's the look of the game. The famous toon-shading graphics may have split opinion all those years ago, but they look better than any other game of this age now - really clean and colourful - while the animation is some of the best ever seen in video games. Link and the other characters just burst off the screen.
Nintendo has gone much further in overhauling The Wind Waker than these "remasters" usually do. The graphical upgrade is more than just a higher resolution - high quality textures, lavish new effects and totally redone lighting, along with the new widescreen format, make the game look stunning on a modern TV - as if it didn't look brilliant already.
There's a new, optional hard mode, called Hero mode, for those who find the combat a bit of a pushover. You can swap messages and pictures with other players online in bottles that wash up on the islands' shores. To answer critics of the long travel times, it's now possible to buy a fast sail for your boat which doubles its speed while also removing the need to set the wind direction. And the much-maligned Triforce treasure hunt from the end of the game has been cut back so it's quicker (and cheaper) to complete.
All these tweaks are for the better, but it's the sheer quality and verve of the original game that shines through. No, it's not the most epic of Zelda games, but it is one of the most effortlessly enjoyable; it plays faster and looks better than all the others and has charm to spare. It's a modern classic that deserves a place in every collection, and this is a gorgeous new version of it.
GAME's Verdict: 10/10
- A gorgeous new edition of an absolute classic action adventure, with loads of updates.
- Stunning animation and art style look even better now than they did in 2002.
- Huge world is a delight to explore, and feels fresher than some other Zelda games.
- It's a bit easy, with few truly challenging puzzles.
- If you pay close attention you can spot where some content was cut.
- Players with short attention spans might still not enjoy the sailing.