The Zelda saga continues in this visually stunning GameCube installment. This was the game that finally motivated me enough to buy a ' Cube. A large, involving quest with multiple characters to interact with, ingenious dungeons, and incredible, movie quality graphics absolutely blew me away.
First thing you notice is that the designers decided to go with the cell shaded look. Apparently this was a big deal becasue of a conceptual screenshot that was released even before the GameCube itself showed the next Zelda game following a realistic trend. Anyway by the time this game came out in 2003 cell shaded graphics were nothing new (they'd been around since Jet Grind Radio from the Dreamcast days, and who knows, probably before that even) but I think it's safe to say no other game out there does them better than here. They're not just cell shaded polygons, it's like controlling a Disney animated movie. The attention to detail is stunning. Characters have the full range of emotions with clear facial expressions, they laugh, cry, show anger and surprise with life-like reactions. The various monsters look cartoonish and non-threatening, but each has a distinct personality and nice detail in their look and actions. For instance, Moblins sniff the ground when near while looking for you, Kreese bats will flatten against the wall when hit with a blast of wind from the Deku leaf, armor knights look around in confusion when you cut the laces to their armour, etc. Bosses are definitely not cute looking. There is no problem discerning that the gigantic Goma wants to kill you by just looking at it.
The world this time around is made of up multiple islands upon a gigantic sea, which is really, really large. So large that sailing from one corner to the other takes upwards of fifteen minutes. Early on you obtain the "Wind Waker," which the magic wand where the game takes it's namesake that allows you to change the direction of the wind (among other things.) Sailing against the wind gets you nowhere fast, so you'll be using the Wind Waker a lot. Thankfully also you can get a song that allows you to teleport across the ocean.
The game starts off on your birthday, whereupon this giant bird shows up and kidnaps your little sister, thus you jump onboard this pirate ship to go rescue her. Eventually you end up becoming the "Hero of the wind" and have to save the world from Gannondorf, again. Video game villains never get the hint it seems.
Control for this game is spot on, basically the same as from N64's Ocarina of Time. A button is the general action button used to talk, fight, slide across ledges, etc. An item can be assigned to X, Y, and Z and used while on land or sea. B button is used mostly for fighting and backing out of various menus. L button targets the nearest enemy, L + R targets and puts up your shield. As in the N64 Zelda games jumping is done automatically whenever you come to a cliff or ridge. The auto jumping can be a little tricky at times, sometimes you end up jumping off things without intending to, but for the most part if you're mindful of what's going on you can avoid this minor pitfall. Approach a ledge slowly enough and Link will fall and grab onto it with one hand, which allows you to pull yourself up, drop down, or shimmy sideways hand over hand. Each item has it's own unique action as well with it's own control scheme, and most of it comes off rather naturally.
The overworld mostly consists of NPC driven fetch-it puzzles and finding hidden caves and such to get items, as well as a lot of fishing with the grappling hook on the water to find treasure chests and such. Whenever you see a ring of light on the water that mean's there's a chest beneath it, and although the ring disappears as you get close you can still use the sound to zero in. A lot of reviews I read complain about the fishing because it's too time consuming, and it can be if you obsessively stop at every light ring you see. But for the most part it's not hard to sail to a spot and fish there, once you get it down it's rather easy. Thing is every single island has some kind of secret, whether it's a cave or a chest or a triforce piece or entrance to a dungeon, and there's like 49 different areas to explore. I spent a good half-week just sailing around, checking everything out before even playing the game.
That's one of the problems I have with games nowadays actually (and why I don't play many RPGs.) This game is just too damn big. I hear other people talk about how it's "small" for a Zelda game. This game is small? There's 49 islands, six dungeons, 25 heart pieces, 49 treasure charts, 8 Triforce charts, 9 "special" charts, 8 giant Octopuses to kill, like a billion floating platforms to take down, 8 enemy submarines to conquer, 40 different items to collect, and five side quests (some of which are pretty tough, like when you have to water these trees spread across eight islands in under 20 minutes.) Plus there's also a hidden "Nintendo Club gallery," where you can get take pictures in the game and get them made into museum figures (kind of like Pokemon, gotta collect them all.) So once you get all that other stuff done you can take pictures of every single character, boss, and monster in the game and get them made into figures, down to the crabs and seagulls, until you finally have all 135 gallery figures. That's just too much for me, I gave up after about 30 or so. While it is fun to run around and try to find them all I do have other games I would like to play in my lifetime.
Where any Zelda game really shines though is in the dungeons, and here it's no exception. Each dungeon is expertly designed, follows a specific theme with lots of attention to detail, and does a good job to utilizing each new item you previously procured. Zelda has always been good at avoiding useless item overload, as in each item or powerup you get is necessary to advance in the game (there's no "pocket lint" that serves no purpose in your inventory.) The dungeons are challenging without being too hard and are laid out in such a way that it's easy to figure out how to proceed. Bosses are HUGE but usually have a weakness relating to a specific item you have, thus there are no straight up beat-the-crud-out-of-the-boss-fights until strangely the very last fight with Gannon.
If anything, I have to agree with other reviews in the fact that the game is too easy. You're way more powerful than any other bad guy you meet, although it can get a little hairy when fighting several of the large armor knights at the same time. The bosses are large and intimidating but easy to take down once you get their weaknesses. Plus the fact that you can eventually carry four life potions at once guarantees anyone with mediocre skills can probably complete the game. In fact the only time I actually "died" was from this giant black pig that you can make dig for treasure by throwing bait. Throw it around too much and it turns on you and kills you. There is something wrong when a pig kills me but the last boss doesn't.
Criticisms about difficulty and length aside, I think it's safe to say this game approaches the status of "fine art." If "perfection" in a video game is attainable it's my opinion that Wind Waker is among the few to come close.
Graphics: Incredible, movie quality animation makes it feel like you're playing an animated movie. All the characters have a somewhat "cutesy" thing going with the design, but the attention to detail and presentation is outstanding.
Sound: Very catchy music with lots of horns and harps. I hear the Dragon Roost Island theme in my sleep.
Gameplay: Near close to perfection, but the game is too long for us old people.
Back to Game Reviews