Waking the winds never felt this good.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is the second substantial Zelda remake in the past three years, and while the other one, 2011’s Ocarina of Time 3D, is a fine port of a classic, Wind Waker HD does more than just port over the already fantastic experience of Wind Waker on GameCube. Instead, it fine tunes the whole experience, streamlining it and making it flow more organically. Wind Waker HD is the definitive version of an already amazing game.
For the uninformed, Wind Waker, the original 2003 GameCube release, is a celebrated Zelda game that is a slightly different experience than most entries in the series. It’s not as dungeon heavy, but it makes up for that with some of the finest exploration, emboldened by a vast sea filled with areas to explore and secrets to uncover. It also tells the best story in the franchise that will pull on your nostalgic Ocarina of Time heartstrings until they plunge into some enemy’s head. Even before this HD remake, Wind Waker was in contention for the “Best Zelda Game Ever” and this lovingly crafted Wii U version makes an even better case for the esteemed title.
The little things are what make Wind Waker HD work so well. While the whole game can be played using the Wii U Pro Controller, you’d be missing out on the delightful enhancements that the two-screen setup employs if you choose not to use the GamePad. Similar to Ocarina of Time 3D, all of the menu screens are on the GamePad. You can easily drag and drop your items around, shifting what is active. You can do this in the middle of gameplay in a similar manner as Skyward Sword’s item menu. It’s wonderfully smooth and intuitive.
All the maps are also displayed on the GamePad, making it easier to figure out where to go without slowing down gameplay. Throw that in with the new Swift Sail, which doesn’t require you to change wind direction to move around, and sailing is brisker than ever. You can be sailing in one direction as you check the map around you to see where you want to go next. It removes the barriers that held up the rewarding exploration in the past. However, the Swift Sail is quite obtuse to get, and unless you know exactly when it’s available, you could still be faced with several hours of old-school slow sailing. It is mentioned by one of the lovable Fishmen if you take the time to explore, but hiding one of the game’s greatest solutions to its most controversial mechanic seems peculiar. So ProTip: Go to the Auction House after the Dragon Roost Cavern.
Adding to the gameplay efficiency, a lot of key items don’t even need to be equipped. The titular Wind Waker is just permanently mapped to the D-pad, and while sailing, the grappling hook and the bombs are also always on the D-pad. The sail, which would have to be equipped and raised up while sailing in the past, is now activated by the press of a button while in the boat. Additionally, you can use the GamePad’s motion controls to aim your arrows, grappling hooks, etc. in conjunction with an analog stick. It’s wonderful for adjusting your aim right before firing. It is a little disorienting when you’re playing just on the GamePad, though. None of this is earth-shattering; they are just really smart tweaks that make playing the game even better.
Wind Waker HD’s second act does have a bit of an earth-shattering change, though. The maligned Triforce shard hunt is vastly reduced. Instead of having to find eight charts that require a whopping 398 rupees each to translate, you only need to find three charts. None of the adventuring to find the shards is all that different, though. Basically, instead of having to find the chart and then go to a specific point in the sea to pull up the shard, you just find them where you would find the chart. It makes a padded, drawn-out late-game quest still feel fulfilling, just not as arduous.
The combat isn’t too deep, but it has a very rewarding feel to it. Part of that is courtesy of the musical flourishes, which build up as you attack enemies into a satisfying crescendo. Also, the parry system, which is no more difficult than timing a button press, makes you feel like a complete and total bad ass every single time you use it. Combat isn’t as deep or creative as it is in sequels, Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword, but Wind Waker’s fighting doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything. It might be simple, but it sure is fun, especially when the enemies make goofy noises and die in a puff of smoke.
Wind Waker HD is an excellent remake of an awesome game. It takes the best and worst parts of the experience and makes them both better. It makes a game that is already spectacular and improves on it. That’s not an easy feat, but Nintendo’s first HD remake sticks the landing so well that you’ll leave it wanting them to do remakes in this vein for every one of their classic games. If you’ve never played Wind Waker before, drop everything and play this game. It’s not substantially different enough to be a requirement to play if you’ve enjoyed it before, but if you ever have the urge to replay it, your warm, fuzzy memories will still be intact if you play Wind Waker HD.