When future generations look back on the postmodern era, they will remark not at what we achieved, but at how many of our suspicions turned out later to be proved correct. New Coke was a bad idea. Jimmy Saville was less wholesome than he appeared. And most gratifyingly of all, The Wind Waker did have good graphics, once they were polished up a bit.
See, Wind Waker HD is in its basic essence a remake. An HD remake at that, precisely the sort of thing gamers and games journalists are supposed to wholeheartedly loathe. And yet it’s receiving a good reception. Of course, this isn’t necessarily as simplistic as it seems, so let’s delve further into the facts of the matter.
Wind Waker HD is not what you’d describe as a straight port. Yes it has the same story, graphical style, items, dialogue and side quests as the original game, but it also holds many important changes from its predecessor. Namely, a sail that lets you go quite fast.
That’s facetious of course. The major reworking is of course the graphics. While retaining the charming and unique style of cel-shading which incurred so much ill-thought out hatred and the rubbish nickname “Celda” back in 2002, they’ve been significantly added to. Such visual effects as bloom and particle effects are done to just the right extent to make the visuals shine, without trampling all over the existing design work. Unlike some other “HD” remakes, this runs at an impressive 60 frames per second (as did the original), this time in full 1080p resolution. Of course, technical detail is artistically irrelevant, but it does show the effort Nintendo has put in to attempt a revival of one of its less lauded games.
The meat of the changes come in terms of actual gameplay. Three major alterations immediately stand out. Firstly, the addition of the Swift Sail means that travel across the game’s overworld, the Great Sea, takes far less time than previously. Second is the removal of the small co-op component, the Tingle Tuner, in favour of Miiverse compatibility. The third is the simplification of the Triforce hunt that takes place towards the game’s finale.
It’s the first and third of those which need discussion in more detail. If I may speak directly for a moment, I will defend the decision to have long travel times in The Wind Waker. Now a pitchfork-wielding mob might be kicking down my front door, but the fact that Link couldn’t simply zoom everywhere in a matter of seconds lent an air of real adventure to proceedings. It was exciting and breathtaking to break out of the railroading that ensued to begin with and feel that, though the journey may be long, it would be richer for the wait. As William Henry Davies once wrote, we have no time to stand and stare, and I think in that rush we lose part of the game’s soul.
The same goes for the Triforce hunt. Yes of course it was tedious, but that was the point. It was an arduous quest designed to test the patience and mettle of a young boy. It was not supposed to be a walk in the park. It’s a well-known piece of trivia that the Triforce Quest replaced two cut dungeons, and like most gamers I would rather have them there in its place, but for a short-notice filler the team at Nintendo did a damn good job, and forced the player to explore areas they may never have otherwise visited. The ability to storm through a game at lightning speed adds nothing to its artistic merit or enjoyability. Imagine listening to an album at treble speed. Do you enjoy it more? Of course you don’t.
However, for all the stripped out elements, the game is still an absolute joy to experience. Controls are tight and responsive, the items and dungeons are many and varied, the aesthetic of the thing has aged wonderfully and the soundtrack still stands up as one of the best audio experiences of modern gaming. It is a mark of a good game indeed when the only major criticisms which can be leveled against it are the removal of features.
The Wind Waker has always been an underrated gem in the Zelda series. That oversight is near criminal, since it was, is, and will remain one of the finest gaming experiences ever to hit screens. A must-play for Wii U owners and a reason to become one for those who aren’t. 94%