I’m going to do things a little differently this week. Usually, you hop online to read me waxing lyrical about whatever forgettable indie game I’ve gotten into that week, or slate a big-budget action title for being racist and terrible (no, I won’t let Black Ops 2 go). However, since the holidays are upon us, I’d like to talk about the game that started my love of Nintendo and put me on the path toward being a gamer. I got it for Christmas nine years ago, and it’s called The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
Right from the outset (no pun intended, fans) with its sweeping establishing shot of the ocean, it was clear that Wind Waker was going to be a huge experience. Boasting one of the biggest game worlds of any Nintendo game, almost every inch of it could be explored from the off, and though there was a comparatively small amount of land, it was all used to its full potential. Within the untamed wilderness of the Great Sea lay heavily-armed rock formations, mysterious dungeons, towns, a postal service and a great deal of minigames, not to mention larger sidequests like the figurine collection that took two playthroughs of the game to complete.
The only other Zelda game that even came close to this depth of content was Twilight Princess, and Wind Waker still trumps it in its attempts to create a lively, colourful world full of people with personality, character arcs and schedules all their own that go towards creating one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played – a game so expansive in its scope and magnitude, in 2003 no less, that it remains one of very few games ever to have moved me to tears.
Not that size is the only important factor – Wind Waker also contains loving nods to other games, like a great many characters from Ocarina of Time returning to provide exposition and continuity with the whole, complicated Zelda timeline. It feels like an homage to the series thus far, revelling in its glories with one giant, Technicolor celebration of all that made the Nintendo of old so wonderful for the children of the 80s and 90s. It’s glorious, and something they need to dip into more – profit in the short term is fine, but not such that you lose your sense of who you are or what you’ve meant to a generation.
Graphically Wind Waker caused quite the stir when it was first shown in 2002. After the Spaceworld 2000 trailer showing a realistic Link and Ganon sword fighting, players were ready to get into some high-poly GameCube action with the betriforced elfin hero. However, seeing a cel-shaded cartoon character running and sailing around the world caused many, foolishly, to proclaim the game kiddy and irreverent. Fools. Not only does the colour scheme, animation style and cel-shading of Wind Waker wonderfully evoke the magical, fantastic world Link is supposed to inhabit, it does so in such a way that beyond display resolution the graphics have aged incredibly. Look back on Twilight Princess today and it becomes clear that being amazing at launch does not equal amazing visuals in retrospect, but Wind Waker manages it in a way that few other games – perhaps Paper Mario, but no more I could name – have.
The gorgeous musical score that runs throughout is another part of this game that ought to easily stand the test of time. Whether it’s building tension before you discover Tetra in the forest at the start of your quest or when the ambient wind is all that accompanies the King of Hyrule’s great sacrifice in the ending, there’s always an audible treat for the player. It was only limited by the MIDI-only format, but the tracks are so good it’s easy to forgive, and if you care to pick up a copy of the Skyward Sword Special Edition, the CD soundtrack contains a delightful orchestral interpretation of the most iconic Wind Waker tunes.
An audiovisual tour de force already, Wind Waker took the three-dimensional combat system pioneered by Ocarina of Time and ran with it, adding more moves than ever and making the whole thing even more seamless thanks to the impeccable controller layout of the GameCube.
All these wonderful features conspire to make Wind Waker a game that it’s very hard to get bored with: it’s charming, funny, heartwarming and beautiful in equal measure; anyone with even a passing interest in gaming as an art form should look to it as a shining example of that philosophy expressed perfectly. Nine years ago Zelda made me a Nintendo gamer, and this Christmas I’m definitely going to play it again – if you have a copy, join me in rekindling love for a game I’ll never forget. 9.9/10.