Still Playing: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Wind Waker HD 1

Fifty pounds for a remake? Given Satoru Iwata’s stated desire to “preserve the value of the games we develop”, perhaps Wind Waker HD’s pricetag shouldn’t have come as such a surprise – and certainly not to anyone who’s ever tried to buy a Nintendo game a year or two after release for anything lower than the RRP. Yet few cineastes would balk at paying full price for a digitally remastered version of a classic movie, so why do we demand that a remake of an excellent ten-year-old game should be a budget release?

Besides, Wind Waker HD is more than just a simple increase in resolution, even if that alone will be enough for many. One of the most striking games of the GameCube era, it’s arguably the Zelda least in need of a visual spruce up, but it’s proof that even the most beautiful games can benefit from a little cosmetic enhancement. The bloom lighting on Outset Island where you begin your quest might seem a little excessive, although that dazzling sunlight makes for a more effective contrast with the darkness that comes later. Characters look more rounded than the original, an aesthetic choice that may not sit well with some, but works wonderfully for the most part. There are exceptions: the dramatic cel-shaded glow of first boss Gohma is disappointingly absent on a more detailed but much less vivid design. By contrast, Puppet Ganon benefits hugely from its visual makeover.

Elsewhere, complaints about the original have been addressed. The Triforce Quest – a laborious late-game hunt for eight treasure maps to be translated by Tingle at a high price – has been significantly streamlined. Now five shards can be found without consultation, and though you’ll have to pay to decipher the remaining three charts, it means you’ll no longer spend hours scouring the seas for more Rupees: a process that killed the pacing of the original game.

Furthermore, you can pick up a Swift Sail from Windfall Island’s auction house, which not only speeds up journey time, it forgoes the need to change the wind direction. As such, the Triforce Quest feels much less like a desperate bit of padding to cover for a slim runtime, and more a way of encouraging wider exploration, which was surely the designers’ original intent.

However, as a result, one of the slightest console Zeldas is now even shorter. There are still plenty of asides, of course, including a number of tweaks to make the rather laborious figurine sidequest much more viable. But unless you’re playing on the more difficult Hero mode – where health top-ups can’t be found in pots and vases – the treasure charts are more or less redundant. You won’t really need to dredge up the additional heart pieces to increase your life meter, even if there’s something oddly irresistible about the process of locating them.

It’s a game with a surfeit of hearts, then, but that also applies in the singular. Zelda games have rarely been short of it, but there’s a genuine warmth here that isn’t always evident in other games. The youthfulness of the characters perhaps plays a part: the likes of Medli and Makar, along with Link and Tetra, are innocents, unwitting (and in one case, seemingly unwilling) parts in fate’s design, and so the coming-of-age arc resonates all the more.

It’s also the funniest Zelda game. Link’s wide anime eyes are the most obvious example of the game’s exuberant expressiveness, but it’s everywhere else, too. Windfall in particular hosts a selection of memorable grotesques and oddballs, making up the weirdest and most neurotic Zelda cast to date. Much of the fun comes in moments of slapstick, particularly during combat. Shoot an arrow into a Moblin with its back turned and it’ll hop around clutching its backside, while Darknuts look positively baffled when you roll around their backs and slice apart the laces holding their armour together. Most opponents are Zelda staples, but they’ve never looked or moved better: Bokoblins here are scrawny little thugs, advancing en masse with scowls that would almost be menacing if they weren’t so easily dealt with.

The most immaculately judged hit-pause this side of Bayonetta is just part of what makes the combat sing. Accessible, fluid, and rich with showboating potential and humour – try lobbing a bomb into a mob and see what happens, or duping a Darknut into attacking when his partner is within swiping range – encounters are approached with a grin, not a sigh. It’s improved by the addition of gyro controls, and the ability to walk around and shoot in firstperson, with arrows piercing distant Peahats with a hearty thock. The musical notes that play with each successful strike remain as satisfying as they did a decade ago.

Indeed, the soundtrack (slightly sharper and richer here) is among the series’ best, The Great Sea still one of the most stirring overworld themes you’re likely to hear. Music has always played an important role in Zelda, but it’s particularly prominent here, Link using the titular instrument as a conductor’s baton, controlling the winds, and cajoling Medli and Makar into performances that dovetail beautifully in the game’s delightful main theme.

Yet Wind Waker remains an unfinished symphony. Nintendo has explained the absence of two uncompleted dungeons by admitting elements have been used in later Zelda games, but the cuts are still all too evident. The last of three sacred pearls is simply handed to you, and with it almost certainly another shot at a Water Temple – and a new ally to explore it with – in the middle act. And while shepherding Medli and Makar through the Earth and Wind temples results in some unique puzzles, the mind control mechanic would be a good deal more palatable if you weren’t forced to conduct a four-note melody each time. It’s disappointing, too, to see other niggles remain: the Molgera boss fight, for example, whose lock-on woes see Link stubbornly refuse to turn his attentions away from the serpent’s writhing offspring.

Nonetheless, when you’re sailing across those crisp blue waters, the twittering whistles of the dawn theme rousing the sun from its slumber as it gently climbs above the horizon, the allure of the open sea is powerful enough to drag such worries beneath the surface. Indeed, you wonder if Nintendo has now made a rod for its own back: after this, future HD remakes may need more than a simple up-res to turn heads.