Game: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Released: Nintendo EAD, March 24th, 2003
System: Nintendo GameCube
Game started: February 15th, 2015
Amount completed: Defeated Kalle Demos in the Forbidden Woods, explored a handful of random islands, picked up so many pigs.
Wind Waker did not make a great first impression in 2001. When a demo reel debuted at Nintendo’s Space World trade show, the internet-at-large took the game to task for its cartoon visuals. Most of the complaints lodged against Wind Waker were based on a sense of deception. After all, it was only one year prior at the same trade show that Nintendo unveiled a demo video of a mature-looking Link engaged in an epic sword fight with his nemesis, Ganondorf. Instead of this gritty and realistic Legend of Zelda game, fans were outraged to see a childish Link parading around in a goofy cartoon world.
Of course, this feeling of betrayal was no more than a bloated sense of entitlement. The cel shaded art of Wind Waker turned out to be a fresh change of pace and an intelligent design choice. Whereas other Zelda titles need to be remastered from the ground up to compete with the current market’s hyper-realistic graphics, Wind Waker’s aesthetic needs only a slight bump to HD to impress. The cartoon visuals are timeless in the same way that classic Disney animated features are; bright colors and simple lines used to their fullest to craft a wondrous world full of fun characters.
The wide range of expressions that can cross Link’s goofball face still delight me to this day. Additionally, the exaggerated facial changes serve a second function as intuitive clues for the player. When Link’s large eyes glanced somewhere off-screen and his mouth narrowed into an inquisitive pucker, we knew to look around the room for hidden switches or objects. This sort of interaction with the player is much more engaging than interrupting gameplay to have a nagging fairy explicitly explain where to look for a solution.
Unfortunately, no amount of timeless visuals can make up for poor design choices. Wind Waker opens with a quaint island village to explore, the potential of a legend to be fulfilled, and a quest with lovable pirates to save your sister. Then, the story screeches to a halt and all fun is temporarily sucked out of the game, thanks to a dungeon filled with crumby stealth sections.
Stealth is a gameplay mechanic that should NEVER be included in a game where stealth is not the focus. It is already a challenge to pull off sneaking and silence as the central mechanic of a game, so adding it as an extra feature is a fool’s errand. Since Link made the transition to 3D, every game seems to feature some sort of frustrating stealth section that betrays the core concepts of Zelda gameplay. Instead of learning to master his sword and delve into complex dungeons, Link has to slink unarmed in the shadows. The penalty for being caught is equally frustrating- forcing the player back to the start of the dungeon as Link is automatically thrown into a jail cell every time he gets spotted.
Fortunately, this narrow stealth-based dungeon gives way to a huge ocean world covered in mysterious islands. Exploring the waters of Wind Waker is a interesting alternative to the traditional Zelda adventure. It’s easy to feel a sense of excitement as the wind picks up and Link hoists his sail. The vast number of islands and environments to visit makes this seafaring journey seem epic in scale. The game uses its cartoon visuals to reinforce a storybook aesthetic, providing the player with numerous colorful characters and scenarios with which to interact.
Wind Waker did not make a great first impression on us in 2015. An initially fun game filled with potential quickly gave way to one of the most frustrating moments in Laura and my collective gaming history. But once we powered through this stealth-based slump, Wind Waker proved that its cartoon visuals and vast ocean journey have stood the test of time. The vibrant and expressive characters were a delight to see, encouraging us to raise the sails and take to the seas for adventure.
My time with Wind Waker can be summarized with the following: