When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was revealed over a decade ago, the reaction from fans was negative to say the least. Online forums were ablaze with angry posts stating that Nintendo had dumbed down the esteemed series for a kiddie audience.
Fast forward to the present day, and Wind Waker is lauded as a classic — not just for its captivating gameplay, but in terms of visuals, too.
Series head Eiji Aonuma has been speaking to Shacknews about the reasons for this change in opinion:
I think one big thing would be that we continued to use that art style in DS titles. They got to a kind of expanded userbase--a lot of people that didn't play Zelda games before. I think after seeing that, when you see Wind Waker's art style again, it becomes easier to approach because you're more used to it.
I think also at the time time, that kind of toon art style was something you were starting to see in a lot of CG. But, it was used a little a bit but after that, it wasn't used that much. Now, looking back at it, it seems like a very special thing.
While Nintendo stuck with the cel-shaded look for DS sequels Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, it would revert back to the "realistic" vibe for Twilight Princess. Aonuma admits that the initial fan reaction to Wind Waker had something to do with that change:
We had that negative reaction to that art style and then we did a 180, thinking 'maybe this is what the fans want'. It wasn't just that in terms of the direction of the art style for Twilight Princess, but I think that was a big influence.
Interestingly, Aonuma also reveals that Nintendo tested a HD version of Twilight Princess, but wasn't enamoured with the results:
We did a test of Twilight Princess in HD. But it didn't turn into a new thing. It looked better, it looked cleaner, and it looked like a master version of the game. But with Wind Waker, it really changed into something different — it changed into that really-looking-like-a-cartoon style we were aiming for, but we couldn't because of the Gamecube's power. I think now, the reason why people are enjoying it so much, that's a part of it.