When The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker was first announced, it whipped up a storm of controversy. The dark, realistic style Nintendo had shown earlier on SpaceWorld 2000 was completely abandoned, and replaced with a cute, cartoony look. The game made use of a technique called cel shading, a graphical style that resembles cartoons with its bright colors, few shades, simple shapes and drawing like effects.
I have to admit I was angry as well. Being a huge Ocarina of Time fan, I had been hoping for a new installment on Nintendo’s brand new console, the Gamecube, that resembled the style of this game, only better. This was a huge change.
Now, a decade later, almost everyone agrees that this game is a timeless classic, and one of, if not the best 3D Zelda game, or even best Zelda game period. It’s still one of the best looking cel shading games you can find, but its graphical look isn’t its only quality.
Another big change Nintendo made with this Zelda, was to turn the overworld into an ocean. Early in the game you acquire your own (living) sailing boat, and you are free to sail the sea, discover islands, big and small, and recover treasure from the ocean floor. This gave a whole new feel to the adventure aspect Zelda is so loved for. Cruising through the waves, isolated on the vast ocean. Until you see the contours of islands appear on the horizon. It was al seamless too. The sense of discovery and wonder as you rode the waves on your own, was one of this game’s strongest points.
Of course, no Zelda is complete without memorable locations to visit. One of my favorites was Dragon Roost Island, a big volcano where a dragon lived. At the foot lived a race of birdlike people. Here you could also play a very fun minigame, in which you had to sort letters as quickly as possible. This was really addictive. The temple that was situated on this island, the Fire Temple, was also a great level. It was brought to live with beautiful effects such as floating cinders and pillars of fire erupting from the lava. The boss was a huge centipede you had to swing over using your grappling hook – all very spectacular.
Towards the end of the game there’s a part where you walk into a massive tower. A rope hangs from the ceiling, right in the center. You climb the rope, keep climbing, see the distance to the ground getting bigger and bigger. It’s an impressive segment of the game, something I’ve always remembered.
As with every Zelda game, the music is very good as well, such as the theme of Dragon Roost Island mentioned above. There are a lot of great tracks, like the main theme remix, the intro song and Outset Island, ranging from soothing melodies to epic pieces.
The final battle is also great. Ganondorf, Zelda and Link are standing on a platform surrounded by cascading water. Link and Zelda have to work together: Link shoots arrows of light and Zelda ricochets them into Ganondorf’s direction using his shield. What’s cool is that this ‘triangular’ fight represents the Triforce: Ganondorf holds the Triforce of Power, Link the Triforce of Courage and Zelda the Triforce of Wisdom. It really feels like a monumental battle.
The most controversial aspect of this game, the distinct graphical style, turned out to be one of the best and most memorable things about it. For its time, the game looked absolutely stunning and unlike anything we had seen before. Even today, the game holds up very well, because its still relies on bright colors and simple but elegant lines, rather than high polygon counts or sharp textures.
The Wind Waker has become one of the most beloved games in the franchise, and rightfully so. It was the result of a few bold decisions Nintendo made, that helped create the unique game it is. Truly a classic, and one of the best games on the Gamecube.
As some sort of weird coincidence, Nintendo announced a Wii U remake of this game in HD shortly after I wrote this article.