The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 24.09.2013

Review for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U

There's a certain something when it comes to Nintendo games; an unparalleled sense of joy, exploration, memorable characters and charming worlds. The Japanese game maker sits proudly within a group of studios that have produced a constant stream of games that fans return to time and time again, but also opening up the doors for newcomers to easily step into these virtual universes.

One franchise that stands out clearly from the pack as a contender for the adventuring crown is The Legend of Zelda. The series has evolved over a quarter of a century, but at its core maintained a true sense of exploration and timeless fairy-tales. A loved one faces peril, a hero steps up and conquers the bad guy; it's an effortlessly simple formula yet Nintendo brews these tales to near perfection every time.

The latest chapter is a retelling of the 2002/2003 GameCube entry, The Wind Waker, smothered in HD paint and tweaks around the edges. Can the new Wii U edition claim victory once again, or should Nintendo simply bury the legend deep beneath the ocean?

For those unfamiliar with The Wind Waker, Nintendo first started to rally in the talent back in 2001, piecing together what initially looked like a continuation of the Ocarina of Time arc, intricately detailed and all together intoxicating in its potential. However that's not the Nintendo that's held the industry together for so long. The Zelda team just weren't satisfied at moulding together something easy, instead opting for a controversial new look. Averse to simply playing it safe, the project was stripped back from its dark and foreboding design in favour of something that, from the outset, looked far brighter, slightly Pixar-esque and defied fan expectation. Was it a step too far for Nintendo?

Despite the melodramatic scoffing from critics, The Wind Waker sailed onto store shelves and gradually found a home for itself with fans in the years that followed. An almost boundless world to conquer, nippy fighting mechanics and deeper purpose made The Wind Waker a firm favourite within the complex timeline. A straight up Virtual Console release could have been a viable, cost effective option, but just like a decade ago Nintendo has tried to offer something different, without diluting nostalgia too much.

The storyline is near identical to the original, bar a few minor scripting changes to accommodate the gameplay refinements. We start off in a peaceful, remote island that's sitting comfortably to the furthest regions of the sea. It is protagonist Link's birthday, a celebration where young lads that come of age are ushered to wear the ancient green garb of the hero from Ocarina of Time. Suddenly pirates storm the island as a ghastly bird swoops in and nabs Link's little sister. Apparently it has a thing for little girls with blonde hair, how strange. So our hero, sword and shield at hand, ventures off to slay that vile beast, with a smile, of course. Whilst the premise sounds rather straightforward, the foundations sprout into something that's a little bit more than the usual good versus evil.

Towards the later stages of the plot, twists and revelations surface from the depths; piecing together the past in a cinematic and touching way. Those who know the script off-book can still enjoy the tale from start to finish - the characters are as prominent and the dialogue essentially the same. Tetra is still a feisty blonde pirate, Prince Komali a floundering wimp and Ganondorf hasn't shaven. Now that Nintendo has released the official series timeline since the original GameCube version, elements of The Wind Wakerdo make even more sense this time round.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U

Conceptually, The Wind Waker HD retains much of what Nintendo had built up prior to the original GameCube release. Players rummage around an expansive world, roaming into enclosed levels called dungeons, fending off monsters, claiming new items and beating flesh-hungry bosses. That's the essence of the Legend of Zelda, blending in puzzles, a quirky cast and side-quests that tick off all the boxes. This setup has been maintained throughout the Wii U re-release; keeping the original design very much intact. The main goal for the designers at Nintendo was to simply refine and streamline the start to finish, softening those longer sessions at sea.

Just as the opening credits draw to a close and our hero touches the sand on his home island for the first time, it's immediately apparent that The Wind Waker has more than survived the jump into HD. The lighting, which has found its fair share of doubters, looks impeccable. Producer Eiji Aonuma wanted the world to feel scorching hot in the daytime, elegantly warm for tea and bathed in a cool air of mystery as night casts its deep blue blanket. Although the art style is stylised in a bold, cartoon look in comparison to its contemporaries, the new lighting system helps highlight just how charming the design really is. Whether playing for the very first time or recalling the adventure once again, the visual style is simply too hard to resist.

The actual geometric structure remains generally unchanged, rebuilt perhaps in places to accommodate the migration to widescreen. Link is still ever-emotive, wide eyed with a head that's ever so slightly oversized, grass pops from the surface with prickly stems and buildings give a distinct tribal motif. Textures, for the most part are crisper, bringing out finer details without derailing the original art-style. Coupled with the improved, more dramatic lighting, we're even more involved in the action than ever before. It's not all perfect, however, as some of the textures do appear murky and stick out like a sore thumb, minor, but distracting within the gorgeous overworld. Likewise the added thicker shadows around characters standing in the shade detract them from the environment, for an almost stuck-on look, but it's tolerable non-the less.

When sailing and running about town, the more recent capability of the Wii U graphics chip becomes clear. The animation certainly compliments the look of Link and his surroundings. Nothing's changed movement wise, but the game runs in a fluid 30fps, and a constant one at that. Together with an HDMI cable and 1080p, the Wii U version stands the test of time.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U

Aside from the graphical overhaul; other revisions come in how Nintendo have tried to streamline the experience with the GamePad in mind. Wind Waker HD can be played in two ways - using the GamePad or a Wii U Pro Controller. Those wanting to keep it strictly as it were over a decade ago can have a near-GameCube feel, with Link's arsenal mapped out accordingly on the Pro Controller, but the real enhancement comes in the use of the touch-screen on the GamePad. The over-world and dungeon maps are instantly accessible, making traversing a seemingly tricky level more intuitive and streamlined. Items are also managed through this interface, by simply dragging weapons and accessories to the corresponding buttons - nothing truly revolutionary, as seen in systems introduced in Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, but a useful enhancement nonetheless.

Using the GamePad also invites the ability to use the motion controls for looking around the environment in first person, firing bows and arrows or pointing a boomerang. A useful addition at times, as controlling items in this way does shake up what would have been an analogue-only affair, but in the heat of a boss battle it can splutter awkward camera movement and flaky movement because of the pace.

Despite this, there were some ideas that we thought of earlier this year that could have been woven into the adventure. Wii remote and Nunchuck for swordplay could have been an extra option, likewise for baton movement and aiming projectiles. It's a shame, given the opportunity, that Nintendo didn't include these extra control schemes for players - MotionPlus would have required far more development though; but simple remote waggling could have taken the immersion a step further.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U

The adventure can also be played entirely off-screen too, relying on the pausing of the game to tinker with weapons. Although the GamePad screen isn't HD in resolution, the game still sparkles with vivid colour and smooth animation, making it still very much playable in portable form. If Nintendo were to create a new 3DS game in the same Wind Waker universe, we'd be there in a heartbeat. However, off-TV really should be considered as an extra option for shorter bursts as the full HD Wind Waker experience is just too delicious have on a smaller sale.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD can be rushed through in around ten hours. It's fairly short compared to more recent titles like Twilight Princess, and Nintendo had admittedly cut two of the game's dungeons ahead of the 2002/2003 release. That said, reworking the game on Wii U could have sparked an opportunity to forge extra bonus dungeons, challenges for experienced players to tuck into and to expand the tale for newcomers. However, as a means of preservation, Nintendo simply restructured the later segments of the game and included a difficult "Hero Mode" that ups the ante by stripping the world of recovery hearts and doubles the damage. These additions can be enough to draw in seasoned Wind Waker players to attempt the game once again; but it does seem a missed opportunity to create extra, substantial content. A new post-credits challenge that uses most, if not all, of Link's toolkit would have made the journey more worthwhile for those who'd already taken the same steps a decade ago.

One final addition is the inclusion of Miiverse bottles. Gone is the Tingle Tuner, which used the Game Boy Advance in the original, in favour of social networking bottles that wash up onto the shore. These can include drawings and messages from fellow The Wind Waker HD players - a nifty inclusion that does make what is typically a solo affair into a less isolated one. However, the original Tingle Tuner could have simply been displayed on the GamePad screen to mimic the past connectivity, so again it does seem odd that it wasn't included in some form. Smaller tweaks include the ability to take "selfies" by pointing the Pictobox camera towards link and very minor variations in the quality of the already sublime soundtrack.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD proves how timeless Nintendo titles are. Enhanced, revised and revisited, the game is certainly one to explore again or for the first time on Nintendo Wii U.

There are aspects that could have been improved, and opportunities perhaps not taken, but this version certainly lives up to the Legend of Zelda name and is a strong contender for a magical adventure in the living room.






Action Adventure



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (8 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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