First Impressions: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

Wind Reawakened

It’s strange to have a first impression on a remake of a game, especially when it’s a game like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The truth is that despite being 10 years old at this point, Wind Waker is still a great looking game that plays well and has held up very well over time. Whether that’s due to the GameCube’s surprising processing power or the cell-shaded graphical style that was never meant to look realistic in the first place is a matter of conjecture, but the real question is “is this a game that needs to be remade?” The short answer to that is “probably not,” but based on the work that Nintendo has put into the HD version bound for Wii U, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little refresh.

We were fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with Wind Waker HD and it’s safe to say that the game is progressing very nicely indeed, but there are still some obvious differences that stand out from the now classic GameCube iteration.

The first thing that anyone playing Wind Waker HD will notice – whether you’ve experienced the original or not — is that it is absolutely gorgeous. The colours look sharper and textures are smoother than ever, and the whole game is now set in a widescreen resolution that fills every edge of the display. The sprawling oceans and lush green islands seem to come alive and look natural in their own cartoon-like way.

As far as gameplay goes, everything seems to be mostly unchanged from the original release. This is still a third person adventure that doesn’t diverge from the classic formula too much. The two playable areas in this demo were Link’s homeland of Outset Island and the Forsaken Fortress.

Outset Island allows for some light exploration and boat travel. This is the perfect way to become acquainted with the updated GamePad controls. Though the button layout is similar to that of the GameCube controller, targeting and movements are slightly altered, but they still feel natural. Boat travel is also a huge element of Wind Waker, and the developers here have been kind enough to add faster travel speeds with the simple tap of a button. This is a very welcome addition that will be recognized by anyone who has played the original.

Playing in the Forsaken Fortress involves running up a spiralling tower while avoiding enemy attack. Speed is a necessity here, so we obviously rolled all the way up when not busy using the grappling hook to cross fallen bridges. Reaching the top of the tower culminates in a boss battle against Helmaroc King, a giant bird equipped with some light armour. This was the point in the demo where we got to experience some true Wind Waker action, switching between swordplay and Link’s trusty Skull Hammer. The action is smooth and the frame rate remains consistent without a single hiccup, even during the more frantic and graphically taxing portions of the fight.

Wind Waker is played mostly using the GamePad’s face buttons and control sticks, but there is a bit of touchscreen integration beyond simply displaying a mini-map. The good news is that none of these additional elements were necessary, so you aren't forced to engage in touch-based minigames just to proceed. However, the ability to manage and swap out items directly on the GamePad is both an effective and useful addition. The other major feature of the GamePad – and something that we know many gamers are hoping for — is that it does support off-screen play, and everything looks just as crisp when scaled down to the smaller screen. The GamePad’s gyroscope can also optionally be used to aim or look around through Link’s telescope, an unsurprising addition as similar controls were implemented in 2011’s 3DS release of Ocarina of Time.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is a game that many Nintendo gamers are already intimately familiar with, and this HD version is shaping up to be a true love letter to these very same fans. It’s also looking to be a great way to introduce newcomers and younger players to the Zelda series. The game is set to release this October and we’re extremely excited to see what other innovations will be used to breathe new life into the already vibrant adventure.