“The Legend of Zelda” series is arguably Nintendo’s most successful franchise, aside from that one starring the portly mustached plumber Mario. Since 1987, the “Zelda” titles have appeared on a multitude of Nintendo’s systems, each one enjoying massive sales and critical praise. Now the series makes its long-awaited debut on Nintendo’s GameCube in “The Wind Waker” – a visually stunning hybrid of style and classic “Zelda” gameplay.
The first thing you’ll notice when “Wind Waker” begins is its unique style. The last time we saw Link was on the Nintendo 64 in “Ocarina of Time” and “Majora’s Mask” and he’s undergone quite the makeover since his last adventure. To call “Wind Waker” a visual feast would be a drastic understatement. The new “Zelda” is the closest thing to an interactive cartoon to date, with dazzling colors and an elaborate production design one could only dream of seeing on The Cartoon Network.
The game begins with the young protagonist on Outset Island, an astonishingly detailed environment that gives players just a taste of the visual splendor of “Wind Waker.” Waves elegantly crash into the shore, pigs roam frantically around town and characters chat with you as if it were an authentic seaside village. As it so happens, the game starts on your character’s birthday. We learn the young lad has reached an age when it’s tradition to don the famous green garments in tribute of “The Hero of Time.” That hero is, of course, Link from “Ocarina of Time.” From this moment on the quiet little town gets turned upside down and your adventure to save the world begins.
Outset Island is just one of dozens of islands in Link’s quest and much of the game is spent traveling between them. Your transportation is a talking sailboat that gives you hints to aid you in your journey, just one of the many colorful characters in “Wind Waker.”
“Wind Waker” owes its polished gameplay mechanics almost entirely to its Nintendo 64 predecessors. The controls are nearly identical in the way Link moves around his lavish 3D surroundings, but this time he has even more gadgets to play with. The familiar master sword, bow and arrow, bombs and boomerang have all returned along with new items such as the grappling hook and the deku leaf. The most important of Link’s new tools is the Wind Waker, a musical wand that serves a similar purpose as the ocarina did in “Ocarina of Time.”
Many familiar musical themes pop up in “Wind Waker” along your quest, dating back all the way to the original Nintendo game. There is plenty of new music to coalesce with the melodies of old, resulting in a splendid blending of the two. The sound effects are rich and work well to maintain the cartoon persona of “Wind Waker,” while voice acting is thrown out in favor of text to move along the story.
If there’s one minor flaw in “Wind Waker” it’s the game’s difficulty, which can be best described as ridiculously easy. Once you have the play mechanics of the game down, your quest becomes fairly straight-forward with very few bumps in the road to hinder your progress. Dungeons contain a host of puzzles, but they are hardly puzzling. Each one requires the intellect of an 8-year-old to solve, even in the later stages.
“Wind Waker” is more than worthy of the “Legend of Zelda” moniker, ranking as one of the best in the series. It owes a lot to its previous incarnations, but where “Wind Waker” excels is its ability to perfect the gameplay of old and repackage it an hyper-stylized fashion that is not only fun to play, but fun to watch.