“Zelda – Wind Waker” Video Game Review (Gamecube)

Alright, raise your hand if you have not heard of Zelda. Hmmm. Just as I thought, not a single hand raised. Nintendo has done the best job of any gaming console to build up a quality stack of 1st party titles (Mario, Donkey Kong, Starfox, etc), and their latest update is on our pointy eared friend Link. The last installment (“Ocarina of Time”) took the world by storm and was heralded by many as the best Zelda of all-time (a pretty lofty statement) with the innovation of a 3-Dimensional world for Link to explore, it was to say the least, outstanding. Eyes really opened up for Zelda’s future when Nintendo first revealed the Gamecube at Spaceworld 2000 and showed a real-time clip of a fully rendered life-like Ganon and Link going head-t-head. The same eyes however, slammed shut wishing to wake up from a nightmare once the actual new Zelda had been revealed as nothing more than a cel-shaded cartoony kid, not the full grown down-to-business Link everyone had hoped for. Regardless of whether or not it was the right move, could it still be everything you were wanting?

Instead of the traditional storyline of rescuing Princess Zelda, there’s a slightly different approach taken this time around. You are still the adventurous Link, but you are now rescuing your sister from the claws of the one and only Ganondorf, and instead of the typical dirt covered map you will be investigating a world that is primarily composed of water. The problem? Well, Ganon is at it again, he’s kidnapping children for some mysterious use, either that or he’s searching for a particular child, one who could grant him power… did you really expect me to tell you which? Play the game lazy bum. So you will spend your time sailing, and you better learn to love it because once you type in your name it’s all H2O baby. At the start of the game it’s your birthday, at which time your mother tells you you’re at the age to wear the “Hero’s Clothes” (all green of course), shortly after that a gigantic bird is navigated to your homey little island and decides to snag your little sister. You attempt to rescue her to no avail, and then decide to take the Master Sword into your hands, but to do that you must collect three pearls. While it does sound simple, there are plenty of little quests you must do in order to complete said objective, and believe me, it will take a few hours. Once you get the pearls, you’ll have to find the broken Triforce which has been scattered throughout the vast sea, so just like any other buried treasure, you find a map to guide you to each Triforce shard. Along the way though, you discover that the ancient seas have been hiding a very deep secret… Now despite what you may think, it takes much more computer to beautifully depict a cel-shaded environment. The graphics are absolutely astounding, there are tons of minor things to gaze at, such as near the beginning you enter a volcanic area and the wind is blowing around ashen-lava particles, simply gorgeous. Once you are out to sea though, there really isn’t much to do with water, so they focused on the sky and did the best they could. The sun, moon and stars are all there, and if you look up at night you can even see constellations up there, pretty cool. The excellence does not quit there though, the lighting is sweetly done as well. Every shift in the sun will produce shadow, or even torches in the darkness will have a glow of their own. It doesn’t stop there, the environment is fairly active as well, for instance if you’re fighting an enemy and you knock him into a vase, the vase will break, and if you pound your head into a wall, if the wall has a shelf it is likely to break (which is taught to you early on in the game).

Now the game play is pretty well thought out. You have maps, items (even items that hold items), plenty of sword swinging and grappling grabbing mixed in with boomerang banging. The controller has not changed much since Ocarina of Time, the principle is still there, you can hold several items plus your sword and shield. The left analog stick allows you to move/run/jump (the jump is automatically triggered when you run over a ledge), the right analog (C-stick) is used to control the camera angle, a magnificent benefit, the D-pad is used for viewing maps. The left trigger allows you to target (the old Z-targeting method, well, I guess it’s L-targeting now) and center the camera on Link, the Right trigger lets you crouch, defend or grab/pull a block. The X, Y, Z buttons store items for use, A is the action button (open, drop, speak, grab/throw, check) which the top right of the screen will notify what you are able to do in the given moment, the B button swings your sword (hack away my friend) and the start button takes you to your subscreens.

The game screen is pretty simple, the top left has your life and magic meters, the top right has your items, the bottom left has your map, and your rupees/money is on the bottom right. The map screen is pretty awkward at first, but its simplicity will seep through eventually. You usually draw up the world map first which is composed of a large square grid (7 x 7) of 49 squares in all. Each square contains a main island of some sort (and usually a few tiny islands), they begin undiscovered but once you get going you can begin filling in the squares with actual drawings, but in order to do this you must visit your sea-friend the fish who draws on your map and tells you a secret about the area! However, in order to do that you must feed him bait, and in order to get bait you have to have a bait bag, which holds two kinds of bait, fish bait and bird bait, and while it is called “bait”, don’t get your hopes up because you will be eating neither of the two. The other map screen from the overworld viewpoint is the t treasure maps (you switch over by pressing “Y”), this is where filling in the map squares becomes useful. As you get a map whether, it’s a treasure map or Triforce map, or even a map to get a Triforce map, (oh yes they did) you will get a view of the treasure map on the right screen which is a very zoomed in view of a square detailing the location of the treasure with an “X”, this is on the right side of the screen, on the left you have the overworld map to compare your treasure map to so that you can match up the zoomed in shapes with the zoomed out shapes and find out where the heck that treasure is. Unlike most Zelda games, money does play a big factor in this game, because some maps are unreadable (which happen to be the maps that lead you to Triforce maps) and you must take these pesky maps to get deciphered by an expert and this will cost you some grip (money). The underworld map is just like it has been since “A Link to the Past”, you have the floor level on your left, and the map on the right detailing where you are and where you’ve been. If you have the dungeon map then you can also see where you’ve been, go and get the compass to tell you where the boss and treasure chests are hidden then snag the Big Key and you’re practically done!

The subscreen is composed of two primary areas, the “Item” screen and the “Quest Status” screen. The item screen is just what it sounds like, contains your selectable items of choice. The Quest screen contains your “Save” and “Options” selections, as well as your equipment (sword, shield), the Pearls and Triforce you’ve found, heart fragments you’ve collected (if you find four then you get an additional heart container which lengthens your health), amount of treasure charts you have, and finally your Wind Waker songs.

Near the beginning of the game you gain a Conductors baton (music conductor that is), as you go along you learn different songs which allow you to do different things, it’s fun at first but later on in the game becomes slightly annoying. You typically learn a song through finding a stone that contains the spell’s notes. Some of the songs have to do with manipulating the wind, but not all of them. It’s fairly easy to use once you practice a few minutes, the songs are not as easy as OoT (Ocarina of Time), there are different tempos you can conduct at which can create a challenge at times.

You do have a little friend that can accompany you on your quest, his name is Tingle and he’s accessible through the Gameboy Advance, he doesn’t spice it up much or make a huge difference, but it’s slightly entertaining if you have a friend watching who is getting bored and wants to participate.

The fighting in this game is quite entertaining and doesn’t get old any time soon, the best part is the new addition of a sword technique called the parry, which is a counter-attack. There’s also been an upgraded spin attack called the Super Spin attack, believe me, it’s super fun and super useful, some enemies can only be penetrated by such an attack. There is a plethora of enemies to munch on as the game flies through, not very many are new, they’ve only been renovated for further use. One of the cooler enemy features is that they are not limited to hitting only yourself, they are also able to strike each other, pretty nifty! The bosses can be somewhat entertaining, but none of them present the slightest challenge (which is fine by me). The magic bar is used very little, it only applies to a few items, such as a magic leaf (I’ll let you reveal what this leaf does) and magic arrows. There are two ways to extend your health bar, and it roots back to the roots of the first Zelda, you can 1) defeat a boss and gain an extra heart container; 2) go out and find a heart container.

There aren’t nearly enough items to discuss them all without spoiling some of the fun so I will leave it as an enigma for you to discover, just remember this clue: if it can grab a branch, it can grab a buried treasure. Yeah I know, not too subtle.

The sound is good for what it is, it’s used in dungeons and the overworld, but minus the typical Zelda music. Very disappointing to say the least, the overworld music is extremely chipper and is precisely what you’d expect to hear a small elf-child to be listening to while sailing his magic boat. However, there is a classic remake buried deeply in the game, waiting to be revealed toward the very end and it is everything you’d want it to be and more, I just wish they didn’t use it so sparingly.

The fun factor is fairly decent here, plenty to do and plenty to see, but it feels remarkably like busy-work teachers used to give me at school, just something to keep me occupied until the next big event. “Run here! Run there! Now go grab that so that you can grab this and use this to open that which will allow you to take this there to push that!” However, there are a few outstanding battles and sights that simply must be viewed if not played, the final battle is simply amazing and there’s a building buried underwater that is great, and the graphics are pretty darned sweet.

My impression as I reflected once the game ended was not what one would hope or expect from a Zelda game. It was short, not nearly enough levels or dry land to explore, not enough bosses to battle or weapons to choose from. For me, this will always be the game that could have been, a perfect opportunity to take it to the next level, the only thing they give enough of was seawater. Yuck. I know I know, there was plenty of sea to explore, but it felt so much more tedious than rewarding, I mean come on, there’s only so many treasures I want to find full of 20 rupees. There is hope though, there is another Zelda in the works by Capcom, now don’t get your hopes too high since it will more than likely be using the same engine as this one (read: cel-shading), but that has a huge upside of not taking too long to design another game, because let’s face it, the Zelda we want won’t be close to being done until the next console. Until then, I’ll just go pick up the Gamecube version of Ocarina of Time.

4 out of 5