Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Zelda: Wind Waker HD

Release Date: December 13, 2002 / September 20, 2013
Played On: Wii-U

The 3D Zelda games only recently clicked with me. I always tried to start with Zelda 64, trying to understand the magic so many people experienced only to find the game really hard to stick with. It's one of those games that didn't age particularly well and runs on the fuel of nostalgia.

It wasn't until Twilight Princess that I truly enjoyed a 3D Zelda game.

I've made it my mission to go back and play some of the other 3D Zeldas to fill in this gaping black hole in my video game life.

I knew very little about Wind Waker other than the relatively young internet losing their shit over toon link. I vaguely remember my brother sitting feet from his SD TV, the hum of the tubes only drowned out by the uplifting adventuring music, sailing across the great sea. I remember briefly trying to track down a used copy for the GameCube around 2007 and finding that the price was above the original $60 for a used copy. But other than that, I knew nothing about Wind Waker before going in.

What I didn't Like

For the first 10 hours, this was by and far my favorite Zelda game I had ever played. But more on that later.

The last 6 hours is a repetitive and slow race to Ganon's Tower. You're forced to find 8 Tri-force pieces. But it's not that simple. Sometimes you have to find the Tri-force chart, then pay a guy almost 400 rupees to read them. So if like me, your wallet only holds 1,000 rupees, you find yourself running around slashing at grass for an hour trying to make up the last cash I needed. Apparently in the Gamecube version, you were punished way worse than this. Forced to find a chart for all 8 tri-force pieces in a thinly veiled attempt to extend the game length.

The HD version sped up the sailing mechanic. I still felt like it was slow. Going from island to island
could take five minutes with nothing happening in between besides a few barrel races or sharks.

And you unlock a fast travel mechanic 8 hours into the game, but you can only fast travel to 8 or so spots on the giant map. And other than that, only 4 spots were marked with what island they were. I was constantly referencing my phone for the island maps.

I also hated that they tried to shoehorn the Wii-U tracking device into the game. Anytime you try to use the boomerang or grappling hook, you either have to move the Wii-U game pad to aim or while holding the item button down on the right hand side of the gamepad, you also have to use the right joystick to aim.

And dammit, if you try to use the joystick for precision aiming, you better not physically move the gamepad because you will miss your shot.

What Was OK

The combat didn't speak to me. I played Twilight Princess shortly before Wind Waker. Some of the lock, dodge, and hit mechanics that were in TP were not in Wind Waker HD. Granted, the original Wind Waker game came out well before TP, so these mechanics were probably fine tuned. But WW could've used it.

Speaking of combat, there are too many enemies that you need to take down in a special / annoying way. For instance, there are these helicopter enemies that you have to blow wind from your leaf at before you can hit them. As far as I can tell, you can't aim the leaf up or down. So if there are multiple levels to a map, these things slowly move toward you and down at you. So by the time they are on the same plain as you, they are too close for you to get the wind blow off.

The Poes required you to stand in light and aim your mirror shield at them. The mechanics to actually aim your shield were unwieldy and often took too long to actually hit the enemy. You were required to pull out your sword in order to use the shield, then hold on the right trigger to go into a block stance, then move the right stick to aim.

There were too many barriers to just explore like you can with other Zelda games. Yes, you still need to unlock some items to gain access to tougher spots. That's fine. I'm talking about the random tornados in the water that may throw you across the sea. I'm talking about the pirate ships and sharks that circle and hit you over and over again when you're just trying to get onto land.

There were times where I felt like this world was mine to discover, but there were so many times where I was cursing and gave up exploring an island completely.

What I liked

Born too late to explore the Earth, born too soon to explore the galaxy.

This is one of those few games where I felt like an explorer. I had a blank map, a boat, and a general sense of purpose. You'd come across a stranded submarine and could get into the hold. Or there's an island with a treasure chest set precariously on the edge and you have to figure out how to get there. You never knew if you would come across some pirates, or a dungeon, or some other strange creature that inhabits this land.

I was excited to explore what each square of the map held.

I know the cell shading got a lot of crap when it first came out, but especially in the HD version, the vibrant colors are a welcome site after bathing in the muddy European fields in Battlefield 1 and the dark hallways in Alien Isolation. Wind Waker is absolutely gorgeous aesthetically and the soundtrack just pulls everything together.

And although I'm sure if I looked at a list of the actual dungeons I would be proved wrong, but this didn't feel like it followed the typical Zelda order of dungeons, Forest, Lava, Water, etc. I was genuinely surprised by each dungeon.

The one I was most surprised by was Ganon's Tower. The final dungeon of the game is usually a retreading of all boss battles and then an annoying final battle with Ganon.

Although this one re-treaded, I didn't mind it much. And the encounter with Ganon is one of the strongest final battles in any Zelda game. From the first few fights with the creepy puppet version of Ganon all the way to the roof top battle with the man himself.

And Zelda isn't really known for it's character development. But Ganon's monolog before the last battle makes you feel for him. He's a guy who's home turned into a terrible desert. All he wanted was a place his people could call home and feel safe. If it wasn't for his techniques to get that, Ganon would almost be the hero of this story.

Final Thoughts

If you are one of the 15 people that bought a Wii-U, this game is well worth re-visiting. The colors pop, the game play is so different than most everything else, and you'll find yourself lost in this world for at least a few hours.

I can't help but think about the internet reaction to this game and how it probably derailed Nintendo wanting to take a risk on Zelda again for a while. I would've been interested in the Zelda branch where Nintendo kept going this way.

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