The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Reviewed by Danielle Riendeau
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-09-01 GameCube Action/Platform E (Everyone) Nintendo

When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker first came out in the Spring of 2003, quite a few eyebrows were raised in the gaming community. While almost any game in Nintendo's esteemed Zelda series garners rave reviews and commercial success, Wind Waker simply looked so radically new and different, with its cartoony graphics and unique sailing system that many people were unsure what to think about it. Until they actually played the game, that is.

The first thing anyone notices about Wind Waker is the graphical style. Upon starting up, the player is confronted by a visually astounding world, a sort of cartoon reality. Every visual detail lends itself to the completeness of the picture, from the white crests of waves on the ocean to the little gusts in the air that indicate the direction of the wind. Even the opening sequence has a distinct "storybook" theme that lends the game it's charm and personality.

Another element that jumps out immediately is the strong sense of story and character that develops throughout the game. Wind Waker opens with the strongest narrative yet seen in the franchise, with a storyline built upon the "mythology" created in Ocarina of time. The land of Hyrule has been flooded (as the hero of time never returned) and the current world consists of many islands fragmented by a giant ocean. The storyline continues to reference events and characters from past games, but it has infinitely more depth and charm than the older games, displaying more emotional resonance and urgency. Link himself is a much more emotional character, the entire adventure begins because Link is determined to rescue his kidnapped sister, Aryll.

Wind Waker is one of the finest examples in the Zelda franchise of solid, satisfying game play and evolving game mechanics. As in previous games, Link advances through the world using the items and songs he acquires, moving from breathtaking fantasy-inspired locales to puzzle-packed dungeons presided over by fearsome boss characters.

The dungeons are tremendous and impressive, from the early forested labyrinth of the forbidden woods to the colossal Wind Temple later on. The challenge level is spot-on, as is the sense of fun and progression. Exploration is rewarded, and the puzzles are never too easy or too dense, everything makes sense within the context of your environment. Likewise, the boss characters are imaginatively designed and fun to fight, each having his/her unique patterns and weaknesses.

Combat has been ramped up dramatically from previous games. The system itself has been overhauled, maintaining the ease of the old "Z-targeting" paradigm, while increasing the speed and strategy level of every fight. Link now has a variety of attacks, and a "warning" signaling the best time to strike and start a combo attack. It's all very intuitive and rewarding, especially when Link brings down the larger armored guards.

Replacing Link's horse Epona is the King of Red Lions, the talking ship that Link uses to traverse the sea. Sailing is more complicated than the horseback riding of earlier titles: it requires a basic ability to read a map and use the wind to point yourself in the right direction. The sea can also be quite perilous at times; storms brew up, sharks and birds attack, and battleships add to the turmoil of the seas. However, despite the hazards, sailing can be incredibly rewarding. It is always a visually arresting experience, and becomes very simple and easy after you get the hang of it. In fact, after playing through Ocarina again, I found that I really preferred the smoothness and speed of the ship. Additionally, it pays to explore the ocean, literally, as there are hidden treasure chests and treasure maps, as well as remote islands just waiting to be plundered.

Wind Waker is positively packed with side quests, many of them centered on what passes for a bustling town in this world: Windfall Island. There are pictographs to be taken, letters to mail, relationships to mend, and even pigs to catch (there's no lack of variety here!). There are also a metric ton of minigames, from finding treasure maps, to an eBay style auction game, to a "part time job" sorting letters on dragon Roost Island, there is never a shortage of things to do. The games are designed to give weary players a fun break from the main quest and tantalize gamers obsessed with collecting everything, and they serve this function well.

Every game has flaws, and Wind Waker is no exception. Many people have found the sailing portion of the game to be a nuisance, and it's true that it is a bit complicated at first. Because this is a major part of the game, those that find it aggravating will no doubt be turned off by it. Sailing aside, there is one section towards the beginning of the game that is needlessly awkward and time consuming: a "stealth" section at the forbidden fortress. Thankfully, it is only a red herring of sorts, as the rest of the game plays beautifully, but it nearly made me put down my controller for good.

Despite nitpicks and controversial features, The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker is a modern masterpiece. It takes a proven formula (the 3D Zeldas) and elevates the game play and graphics to the next level. This game is truly an "evolution" in the proper sense, and brings to the table a real sense of fun and adventure, wrapping the player up in its incredible, colorful, storybook world. You'll never want it to end.