The recent announcement of The Wind Waker HD for Wii U was met with a great deal of excitement not just here on Nintendo Life, but across social networks and other websites. It's a title that has a passionate, loyal following, and the prospect of an enhanced version prompted plenty of conversations about just what improvements the GamePad and console could offer, something we considered ourselves.
The reaction should hardly be a surprise, as a similar meltdown of gamers' composure greeted the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, and in some senses that release set a benchmark for the level of improvement we expect to see in Wind Waker HD. Developer Grezzo did an impressive job of overhauling the graphics engine while maintaining the look of the original, as the N64 visuals are seen through rose-tinted spectacles. A light, delicate touch was applied in other areas, instinctively placing inventory selection on the touch screen — making those pesky iron boots easier to equip in the Water Temple — and including gyroscopic aiming for those that wanted it. Oh, and it had some lovely 3D.
The key to Ocarina of Time 3D having such a positive impact was that it didn't feel like a lazy upscale and polish before being dropped into stores. Changes to Link's animations made running and jumping look more fluid, and graphical flourishes were important in making sure it felt like a game fit for 2011. Some elements were, arguably, phoned in, with sound and music being polished of any compression and re-used in their original form; such was the quality of the package that it could be argued as suitable for the experience, but that's down to subjective opinion. Some, perhaps with good cause, also grumbled that a handheld title — ideally suitable for shorter spells of play — kept the Master Quest locked until after a completion of the main game, committing players to at least 15-20 hours before they could access the mode.
Our hope is, certainly, that Nintendo — or whatever studio is assigned the task of producing the Wind Waker re-make — will repeat the triumphs of Grezzo's efforts, and consider improvements where it maybe narrowly missed a mark. We're nit-picking and ultimately realise that no re-make is likely to get absolutely everything spot-on, but we like to dream.
What OoT 3D and Wind Waker HD do show us is that Nintendo's using the assets at its disposal to deal with new challenges on its systems. The company faces gamer impatience and the insatiable desire for new games, and also longer, more expensive development cycles. While Wii owners had a wait of five years between main series entries, appeasement arrived in the presence of the NES, SNES and N64 Zelda entries becoming available on the Virtual Console, along with two DS releases; 3DS owners have also had multiple Virtual Console offerings. While the desire to access these older games is still there, we suspect that many are now over the novelty and want fresh Zelda experiences, and want them yesterday.
The trouble for Nintendo is that high-quality Zelda titles don't get turned around in a year — like, dare we say, 2D Mario platformers perhaps can — yet it's fortunate to have a fanbase keen for spruced up remakes. We see a lot of requests, of course, for The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, a rumoured title that has refused to go away and even, just before E3 2012, saw the release of a fake trailer that was so realistic it led to a lot of debate over just how fake it was, or if it was a genuine leak from Nintendo. It didn't help the frenzy that, not long after Ocarina of Time 3D's arrival, Eiji Aonuma encouraged fans to speak up and added that "it wouldn't be an utter impossibility". We equate that to setting a firework and running away, as it prompted petitions with thousands of signatures.
Majora's Mask should, in theory, be relatively easy to produce, and as fans know provides an entirely different experience and vibe to its more famous N64 sibling. The fresh animations and assets from Grezzo's re-make could certainly be utilised, with the building blocks in place to make the process of re-mastering it rather straight-forward. We suspect that the issue isn't in practicalities but timing. Nintendo will be keen to satisfy series fans with regular output, but will also want to avoid allowing the 3DS to look like a handheld of excessive N64 remakes, especially if they detract from attention on new experiences — Ocarina of Time 3D filled a yawning gap in the 3DS release schedule, and Wind Waker HD may play a similar role for Wii U.
We also know that a new Zelda entry has been in development for a good spell on 3DS, and just because we've heard nothing doesn't mean it won't arrive in the next 12 months, as Wii U Direct and Pokémon X & Y reminded us that Nintendo likes to drop its announcement bombs within a year of a game's release. A new 3DS Zelda would take priority over Majora's Mask 3D any day of the week, and if the latter doesn't arrive in the next 12 months it's tough to see it arriving any time soon.
We should also consider the fact that Nintendo, in all likelihood, will want to spread out its remakes for as long as possible so that they're available when absolutely needed. We've also heard Shigeru Miyamoto talk about a re-make of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on 3DS, which we imagine would be best suited as an eShop release. We might want these new versions right now, but once they're released the ship has sailed — releasing old games multiple times in bundles or on a version of the Virtual Console is one thing, re-making a re-make is something else entirely.
The past two years have shown us that Nintendo is warming to the idea of giving older Zelda titles a new lease of life on more powerful hardware, which is exciting for those of us always eager for more adventures with Link. Majora's Mask 3D and A Link to the Past both seem likely to get the treatment, but it's a question of when that'll come — or even if it'll be in this generation of handheld. The desire for Majora's Mask is particularly strong, yet its window of opportunity shrinks as a full Zelda entry on 3DS undoubtedly gets closer.
Even if it and others arrive on a future handheld or home console, however, it does Nintendo no harm to introduce a new generation of gamers to some of its very finest creations.