Nintendo’s first move in the HD re-release space is not unsurprising, but it’s definitely important. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is exactly that: an HD remake of a beloved classic, and what will probably be the first of many from Nintendo. Even with all of the bells and whistles you would expect from an HD remake, the game itself holds up remarkably and plays just as well as it did ten years ago. It also demonstrates a clear understanding of where the Zelda series’ strengths lie.
Going back to The Wind Waker for the first time in years is an eye-opening experience. Yes, it’s still a gorgeous-looking game, and the HD upgrade does wonders for the already-pleasing aesthetic, but it’s more than that. It’s a charming and breezy adventure that feels full of life and mystery, something the more recent releases in the series clearly lack. The characters are all wacky and memorable, the many discoveries you can find throughout your adventures are still pleasantly surprising, and the game still feels fresh, even if it’s still following a very basic formula.
I love Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword and even the DS Zelda games, yet it feels like there’s something those games lack that Wind Waker has in spades. Sailing around to different islands, finding plenty of discoveries and getting a sense that this is a living, breathing world is truly special, and something we rarely see these days. Nintendo releasing Wind Waker HD isn’t just an opportunity for fans to replay a classic; it’s a sign that the series needs another Wind Waker, a game that will recapture the imagination of fans and bring the Zelda franchise back into the forefront as one of Nintendo’s premiere series.
Even if you’ve never played Wind Waker before, it’s easy to understand why it’s a game worth revisiting. While the GameCube original still holds up, especially visually, the HD remake demonstrates just how to improve an already-proven aesthetic. Everything is touched up in just the right ways, but still remains faithful to the original look. It’s sharper, more detailed, yet just as imaginative and memorable as ever. The game’s soundtrack was upgraded as well, sounding less like MIDI tracks and more like actual orchestral tunes than ever before.
Wind Waker, above any other Zelda title, is a game known for its sound and music. During combat, the music shifts from whatever song is playing to a more dramatic piece, and with each dodge, parry and attack, you get music stings that both add to the game’s combat style and blend in seamlessly with the impeccable sound design.
As mentioned, the rest of the game holds up better than most games of that era. The combat is fast, strategic and never gets old, with a dodge-and-parry system that fits the game’s style perfectly. The sailing is just as engaging as ever, with the sense of exploration still present, leaving you with plenty of opportunities to sail around and discover new islands and other hidden items whenever you want. If you always found the sailing to be a tedious chore, you now have the option to purchase a sail that allows you to go faster than ever. It’s a small improvement, but one that should satiate those looking for a swifter experience on the open sea.
The Wii U GamePad is utilized in excellent (if not expected) ways as well. You can use it to swap between items on the fly, easily see where you are sailing at all times and, most importantly of all, use it as a dungeon map so you never have to pause to see where you are going. These are small touches, but ones that began to feel almost essential after just a few hours of play.
If you’re dying for more of a challenge, Wind Waker HD introduces Hero Mode, which doubles the damage when attacked by enemies and removes any random health recovery items found throughout dungeons. This adds the necessary challenge that many fans felt was missing from the original game, making it more on par with some of the more difficult games in the series. The best part is you have it unlocked from the start, giving series veterans a chance to try out a different twist on a game they’ve already experienced.
Wind Waker HD is full of charming, colorful characters, plenty to explore and some of the best dungeons in the Zelda series to date. It’s still one of the strongest titles in Nintendo’s venerable franchise, and perhaps one of the few that has aged gracefully. Despite the lack of anything major changes to the game, the update to the visuals and the GamePad options are enough to make this one of the best games you can purchase for the Wii U. Hopefully this trip back to the past is a good sign for the future of the series.
Pros: Updated visuals are stunning, gameplay still holds up remarkably well, excellent GamePad support
Cons: The lack of any major updates might disappoint some