Archives for posts with tag: The Legend of Zelda

Switch console
I’m pretty excited about the Switch. I have to admit, I like the idea of a hybrid console quite a bit; while I love my home console blockbusters as much as the next person, I have a lot of admiration for my handhelds, because they offer games that either don’t see release on home console, or that just make sense to play on a smaller screen wherever you are. Games like Danganronpa, Steins;Gate and Bravely Default, and others like Rhythm Thief, Yomawari and Etrian Odyssey make systems like the Vita and 3DS worth owning, so the prospect of a machine that gives me both my handheld fix and Nintendo’s evergreen home console titles certainly excites.

Before the unveil, when rumours of a hybrid console were still just that, Nintendo moved to consolidate its handheld and home console teams, leading many to believe that their new machine would give gamers the best of both worlds in one box, offering a steady stream of typically home console-style titles and more traditional handheld fare, all in one place. Post-reveal however, the waters were muddied somewhat when Reggie Fils-Aimé, President of Nintendo of America, stated that the Switch would not serve as a replacement for the company’s current handheld, the 3DS. This statement was further strengthened when, during a Nintendo Direct stream for the Fire Emblem series, a new handheld-only title was announced.

Of course, it’s a good thing that Nintendo are continuing to support their 65 million-strong 3DS userbase, but the only thing I could think in the aftermath of that announcement was, “why couldn’t they put that on the Switch as well?”

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a ground-up remake of the Japan-only 1992 Famicon game Fire Emblem Gaiden, lands on the 3DS in May, just two months after the Switch itself hits store shelves supported by a pretty meagre launch line-up. Of course, by May, new Switch owners will also be able to get hold of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a Game of the Year-style port of the Wii U kart racer, as well as, presumably, a handful of other games, such as Disgaea 5 and Puyo Puyo Tetris. And while there was also an announcement for a new, Switch-only Fire Emblem at that Direct presentation, it won’t see release until sometime next year. So it strikes me as a bit odd that Nintendo didn’t think to put Echoes out on both systems, giving gamers the choice of where (and how!) they want to play the game, while also bolstering the Switch line-up at the same time.

It seems to me that Nintendo have an opportunity here to both beef up their new console’s catalogue and transition gamers over from the 3DS, by releasing those handheld games – and I’m making the assumption here that Echoes won’t be the last ever game made for the 3DS – on the Switch too. One problem here could be price, as gamers aren’t likely to pay significantly more money for a game that they could just get on their existing 3DS, and pre-order pricing for Switch games is currently a bit out-there (Super Bomberman R for fifty quid, anyone?). What I’d like to see Nintendo do is to make the games available on the same day and, crucially, at the same price for both systems. I’d be perfectly happy to pay, say, £30 to play a Fire Emblem Echoes or a Link Between Worlds-style Zelda adventure on my Switch, filling the gaps between the likes of Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey.

Project Octopath Traveler, from the Bravely Default team, suggests we will see smaller-scale, traditionally handheld-style games on the system.

Project Octopath Traveler, from the Bravely Default team, suggests we will see smaller-scale, traditionally handheld-style games on the system.

This is a new concept for a games machine, one that can be used as either a handheld or a home console, so lets see it take advantage of that unique selling point and bring as many games into our hands as possible. Handhelds like the 3DS and Vita are overflowing with tons of little Japanese curios, visual novels, old-school jRPGs and rhythm-action games, and sadly, eventually those systems are going to be put out to pasture. I want the Switch to pick up that slack, to continue that legacy, while pushing up the minimum target spec, allowing for more technically-impressive handheld games while also bringing Nintendo’s stellar home console output right into my lap, all at the same time. I want to see Nintendo really embracing the handheld aspect of the Switch; I want to see it become a super-powered successor to the Vita and 3DS as much as it is a sequel to the Wii U, even if they do keep insisting its primarily a home console.

Because if they mean to support the Switch and the 3DS separately, we have to wonder why they ever bothered to merge their handheld and home console teams in the first place.

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Nintendo Switch
Nintendo have finally unveiled their next platform, and it’s called Nintendo Switch.

Coming next March, Nintendo debuted the machine in a three-minute lifestyle video this afternoon, and it seems the rumours were right. The Switch sees Nintendo merging their handheld and home console strategies into one flexible platform, with a tablet that you can either attach tiny controllers to and take on the go, or dock at home to connect to your television. The console uses 3DS-like cartridges for its games because, obviously, you aren’t going to want to take a wallet of optical discs with you when you’re out and about, and while handy, this would seem to be the death knell for physical backward compatibility.

We’re yet to see official specs for the system, but NVIDIA this afternoon revealed that the Switch is powered by a custom Tegra system-on-chip – an ARM part, and another detail that has long been rumoured. Given that we don’t know what this custom SoC actually is (both X1 and the upcoming X2 have been rumoured), it’s difficult to guess at how the Switch will perform – at least relative to the Wii U, as it’s unlikely to trouble either Xbox One or PS4 in performance. But more important than that, surely, are the games that the machine will run.

If the leaks and rumours have taken a bit of the surprise out of the console reveal, there was at least the unexpected appearance of the upcoming Skyrim remaster in the reveal trailer, as someone was shown playing Bethesda’s fantasy RPG on a plane, before returning home to dock the tablet and continue their adventure. Also present were Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon, two titles which have been rumoured to be getting ports to the new platform, as well as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, NBA 2k17 and a 3D Mario game. Nintendo have also announced a selection of the third party support the Switch will, hopefully, enjoy, which includes names like Telltale, Take Two, From Software and more. You can see a larger list on this handy slide.

So let’s talk a little more about the hardware. As above, we don’t have specs yet, but we can talk in a bit more detail about the ways in which you’ll play the Switch. The tablet comes with two small detachable controllers, each containing an analogue stick and a collection of face buttons. These ‘Joy-Cons’ can be used separately, with one in each hand, or attached to a controller-shaped unit called the Joy-Con Grip to create a more traditional, albeit odd-looking, controller option. The Joy Cons can also be used for multiplayer games, with each player using one, and then there’s the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller as a separate option.

Swicth Options

It’s an interesting strategy for sure, and I think it makes sense given Nintendo’s relative strengths; their handhelds have pretty much always outpaced their home consoles in sales, and it’s hard not to argue that the 3DS has enjoyed better third party support than the Wii U. Indeed, even in an apparently shrinking handheld market, the 3DS has managed almost 60 million sales, so it’s not a bad idea for Nintendo to make an attempt at unifying both of those markets. With the Switch being fully capable of handheld play, it’ll be interesting to see how long the company continue to support their current portable system, but if the Switch comes in at a reasonable price and gets the next mainline Pokémon game, it could do very well for itself indeed.

The Switch concept is unlikely to do much for those that have been clamouring for Nintendo to just release a simple, traditional home console free of gimmickry or new ideas, but as someone who plays handhelds quite a lot, I’m pretty optimistic about it. I love my Vita, but one of the reasons I was excited for it in the first place was the promise of console quality games on the go. While there’s still a ton of interesting games coming to that platform, the bigger budget titles have long since dried up. With Switch, the possibility has returned, and even if third party content does slow to a Wii U-style trickle, there’s still the promise of playing Nintendo’s own games, like Breath of the Wild, while you’re on the go.

For now, we’ll have to wait for hardware specs and launch pricing, but you can check out the unveil trailer below.

Hyrule Warriors treasure chest
Tomorrow, Nintendo’s first big title since Mario Kart 8 hits the Wii U, and this one’s a little different. For the first time in four years, Nintendo has given an outside studio the keys to one of its biggest franchises, and the result is a curious mash-up of two separate worlds.

When Hyrule Warriors was first revealed, I thought it looked pretty bad. I had no interest in it at all, despite (or perhaps because of) my deep love for the Zelda series. However, as more of the game has been shown in the months since its unveiling, the more interested I’ve become. I’ve noted this before, but Hyrule Warriors strikes me as a massive Zelda fanservice project in the guise of a Musou game, and it’s certainly a great way to draw those unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warriors series, like me, into the franchise.

Taking characters and settings from the much-revered The Legend of Zelda series and matching it to the tactical action of the Dynasty Warriors franchise might seem like an odd fit, but it works quite well in practice. As a total Musou noob, I’m enjoying Hyrule Warriors a great deal – it’s huge fun to storm through the massed ranks of bokoblins and stalchilds (stalchildren?), sending dozens of them flying into the air with a single sweep of Link’s spin attack or Impa’s enormous Giant’s Knife.

Of course, these are just the foot soldiers of the enemy forces, and there are hardier foes to tackle on the battlefield. The tactical side of the game comes in the form of a number of keeps on the map, which can be both captured for and lost by you and your allies. To take a fort, you’ll have to lay the smackdown on a large number of foot soldiers before the keep boss, a larger, sturdier variant, comes out to see what’s going on. Defeating these foes wins the keep. And then there are special enemies out there to grapple with, foes like the nimble, fire-breathing Lizalfos or the shrieking Gibdo.

Hyrule Warriors Dodongo

But it wouldn’t be a Zelda title without some memorable bosses, and so there are of course some huge screen-filling monsters to contend with. When King Dodongo gets dropped into the middle of Hyrule Field surrounded by hundreds of Bokoblins, it seems like utter chaos. By this point though, you’ve unlocked bombs, and we all know what happens when you combine bombs with King Dodongo’s gaping maw. Later on, you’ll fend off Gohma as it launches a massive assault on the Great Deku Tree, and by then you’ve found a bow and arrows (in a chest, of course). And again, you know how you need to take the boss down.

This might sound like a negative, but it’s really not. Here you are battling through familiar places, against familiar foes in familiar ways, and it’s this huge dose of nostalgia that makes the game feel that it’s as much a Zelda game as it is a Warriors one. These battles are freshened up by a heightened sense of urgency that’s never really seen in the Zelda series; during that battle with Gohma, the armoured arachnid was occupying my home base, and if I hadn’t taken him down in time, it would have been an instant game over. It was a close run thing, and defeating it in time to save the Great Deku Tree was an early highpoint.

If it’s not clear yet, the game is utterly drenched in a deep love for the Zelda series. It’s not just seen in the locations, characters, bosses and iconic items like Link’s bombs and bow. It’s seen in the mix of musical themes from across the series that plays over the title screen. It’s seen in the mix of art-styles throughout, with storyboard sequences taking on a Wind Waker aesthetic, while the in-game graphics are reminiscent of both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. It’s even seen in the loading screens, with an 8-bit Link running around avoiding NES octoroks. The development team’s love for the source material is visible everywhere throughout the production, and it makes it a real treat for fans of the venerable series.

Hyrule Warrios Impa special attack

There’s plenty of stuff I haven’t had a chance to look too deeply into just yet, like the crafting mechanics that allow you to create buff-conferring badges, or the Smithy, who can transfer skills from one weapon to another. Then there are multiple characters and weapons to unlock, and other modes to play through, like the bite-sized missions of Adventure Mode – this genuinely feels like a game that could last me for a good few months. I have, however, had a chance to play as Impa, and I think she’s set to become a fan favourite here. Her play style is massively satisfying, with every swing of her massive Giant’s Knife conveying the weapon’s full heft. She starts off with a great, heavy-hitting combo that ends with her summoning a massive ball of water to take out foes at a distance, and not only is it useful against enemies in the lava-drenched Eldin Caves, but it looks absolutely spectacular.

And the game does occasionally look a bit special. It’s not a graphical showcase by any means, but when there’s a sea of enemies on-screen and various graphical effects going off as your character spins, pirouettes and poses, it often manages to look rather beautiful. If I have one complaint though, it’s the map. It can often be rather difficult to read in the heat of the moment, making it quite easy to lose your way as you rush off on another time-sensitive errand, but I’m hopeful that it’s something I’ll adjust to after a while of play. Surprisingly, you can’t use the GamePad screen to display a larger, more detailed map – as it stands, it just lists your objectives and there seems to be no way to change that. Given that the map is an essential part of your strategy, this is quite the oversight. At least in the opening stages, you’ll likely find yourself pausing the game to properly scrutinise the map and see where you need to go.

It remains to be seen whether the constant combat of Hyrule Warriors will prove wearying in the long run, though it’s certainly far less one-note than I had expected. There also seems to be plenty to unlock, including a large number of Zelda universe characters to get to grips with, each of which seems to handle very differently. At the very least, I’ll be playing through the entirety of the story before jumping into Adventure Mode to see how that helps to extend the experience.

In a new Hyrule Warriors-focussed Direct broadcast, Nintendo today announced that Ganondorf, the main antagonist of the Legend of Zelda series, will be a playable character in the upcoming Warriors/Zelda mash-up.

His appearance in Hyrule Warriors seems to give a nod to Skyward Sword‘s Demise; both are hulking, top-heavy characters, have the same long red hair, and they each carry a huge, black serrated blade. Players will also be able to get new costumes for Ganondorf, changing his appearance to match that of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Costumes from those same games will also be available for both Link and Zelda, and all of them can be obtained by registering the game on Club Nintendo. You can see all the costumes in the video below.

Ganondorf joins Twilight Princess‘ Zant and Skyward Sword‘s Ghirahim on the side of playable bad guys, while on the heroes’ side we have Link, Zelda, Sheik, Impa, Darunia, Princess Ruto, Midna, Agitha, Skyward Sword‘s sword spirit Fi and all-new character Lana, to bring the total playable character count to 13.

Elsewhere in the Direct, Koei Tecmo’s Yosuke Hayashi gives us an introduction to mission structure and character progression, as well as detailing some of the trademark Zelda elements that will be present in the game, such as using bombs to help take down King Dodongo – bombs that you will, of course, find in a chest. Nintendo’s top Zelda man, Eiji Aonuma, also appears throughout to introduce more small-scale franchise elements that will appear in Hyrule Warriors, such as cuccos, cutting grass and gold skulltulas.

It’s a good watch for fans of the Zelda franchise who may not have dabbled in the Warriors series before, like myself. Not only does it give a good indication of what to expect from the game, but we can also see how some of the characters handle in battle. Surprisingly, I’m quite looking forward to getting to grips with Lana’s combat style – who wouldn’t want to ride into battle on the back of the Deku Tree Sprout, or summon a giant cucco to vanquish your enemies?

The Direct also details Hyrule Warriors‘ Adventure Mode, which presents specific missions on a grid styled after a top-down Zelda map – appropriately rendered in an 8-bit aesthetic. Each block on the grid represents a mission with its own objectives – the challenge shown in the video is to defeat 300 enemies in ten minutes – so it seems like it’s essentially a challenge mode, and completing a challenge unlocks the adjacent blocks, opening up more objectives to tackle. Using exploration items on the map screen, you can also uncover new weapons or heart pieces that may appear as rare drops in the missions themselves. It also sounds like Adventure Mode is the only way to unlock some playable characters, which is unfortunate for those that aren’t drawn to challenge mode-type gameplay.

Hyrule Warriors is shaping up to be quite a celebration of the Zelda series, and this can be felt in the variety of stages featured in the game. The broadcast focuses on three of the areas we’ll be able to battle through; Ocarina of Time‘s Lake Hylia, Twilight Princess‘ Twilight Field, and Skyward Sword‘s Skyloft. I’m genuinely looking forward to paying Skyloft another visit, but that music – I don’t like what they’ve done with ‘Ballad of the Goddess’. I get that the background music needs to be faster-paced to accommodate the action, but it just doesn’t work, for me. Having said that, the up-tempo rendition of Twilight Princess‘ field music works really well, and I doubt I’ll be able to refrain from whistling along with it.

Development of Hyrule Warriors was completed just over a week ago, in time for it’s Japanese release on August 14th. We in Europe will be getting our hands on Nintendo and Koei Tecmo’s collaborative effort on September 19th, and if you’re willing to give Game fifty of your hard-earned pounds, you can get a Limited Edition that comes complete with a replica of Link’s primary-coloured scarf.

hwscarf

Standard edition for me, then.

hwfi_editedA few days ago, a whole host of Hyrule Warriors screens emerged showing off plenty of Skyward Sword content for the upcoming Zelda/Warriors hybrid. In the screens, which you can see here, we were treated to views of stages based on Link and Zelda’s peaceful home of Skyloft, the verdant Faron Woods, and what appears to be a flattened-out recreation of the Sealed Grounds. As far as characters go, we got glimpses of antagonists Ghirahim and The Imprisoned, as well as Link’s helper throughout Skyward Sword, Fi, who appeared to be a playable character.

Now, via a new trailer, we have confirmation that Fi is indeed playable, joining the cast alongside Zelda, Link, Impa, Midna, Twilight Princess‘ bug princess Agitha and new character Lana. In the trailer, we can see Fi’s balletic fighting style as she skips and skates her way through massed ranks of bokoblins, reminiscent of the way she dances in Skyward Sword. As the spirit of the Goddess Sword, Fi can also transform into the sacred blade to attack her enemies.

Hyrule Warriors seems to be shaping up to be the ultimate Zelda fanservice project (you can even hookshot Termina’s moon out of the sky, for goodness’ sake!), and going by the almost entirely female cast of playable characters revealed thus far, one certainly couldn’t accuse Nintendo and Tecmo Koei of not being inclusive.

I’ve never really had an interest in the Warriors games – they’ve just never particularly appealed to me. But taking the Warriors template and turning it into a celebration of one of my favourite franchises is a great way to draw me into the series.

Hyrule Warriors launches for Wii U on September 19th.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess often gets passed off as something of a reimagined Ocarina of Time, and it’s not too difficult to see why; like most of the Zelda games we’ve seen since that much-loved 1998 instalment, Twilight Princess builds on the foundations laid down by Link’s first foray into 3D. Moreover, with a return to a more muted, ‘realistic’ presentation it’s not a difficult conclusion to jump to.

But for my money, Twilight Princess is the ultimate evolution of that strain of the Zelda franchise, taking everything Ocarina did and making it grander, darker, and more mysterious, while focusing more on story and scene composition than any Zelda that came before. It takes what made Ocarina great, strengthens those building blocks, and adds in new experiences (like the ability to become a wolf and sniff out objectives), ultimately managing to earn its own distinct identity.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the game’s Hyrule Field theme. For those of us that played Ocarina of Time back in 1998, it’s unlikely that anything will beat that first moment of stepping onto the expansive Hyrule Field – seeing a game world open up like that just wasn’t something we were used to back in the late nineties. As a spectacle, it’s not something Twilight Princess could hope to replicate, and to my mind, it relies on its theme to distinguish itself from its legendary precursor.

Where Ocarina‘s Hyrule Field theme is playful and sunny, reflecting the theme of a young boy setting off into the world to meet his destiny, Twilight Princess‘ theme is altogether more rousing, suggestive of the themes of a brave young man thrust out into the wider world in an effort to rescue those he holds dear. It sounds determined.

There are of course moments that call back to Ocarina of Time, and one piece that plays on that familiarity comes during a moment where we adventure through the Sacred Grove, in an effort to hunt down the legendary Master Sword, the Blade of Evil’s Bane. Link needs the sword to undo a curse placed upon him, and so we find ourselves in a lost part of the world that seems strangely familiar – it’s as if the long-forgotten ruins of Ocarina‘s Temple of Time have been overrun by the Lost Woods, and this impression is built upon by the music, a mysterious take on Saria’s Song.

It creates a strange mood, taking a well-known melody from a past game and stretching it into something different. Its backing melody feels more like something we would have heard in Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack than something you’d hear in a Zelda game – immediately mysterious, tempering the known, the familiar, with the unknown, the enigmatic. As a whole, it seems to say, “this place may feel familiar, but it’s not the same.”

My favourite couple of pieces of Twilight Princess music though, are also the most idiosyncratic. They’re pure Twilight Princess, laden with mystery, the weight of ancient wisdom long forgotten, and a healthy dose of the melancholy. The first of these is ‘Light Spirits’.

Early in the game, Link must journey to three sacred springs and bring light back to the spirits that dwell there, undoing the dark curse placed upon them by Zant, the King of the Twilight. This theme is heard whenever Link converses with one of the spirits, and it imparts a feeling of their timelessness, suggesting that they have long watched over Hyrule, while also creating a mood that speaks to the unknown nature of these beings that show themselves only to a chosen few. The orchestral arrangement, used for the Zelda symphony concerts, is even better, sounding like something Danny Elfman might have conjured up for an early-nineties Tim Burton film.

My favourite piece by far though comes during an incredibly emotional scene with Midna. After being confronted by Zant at the Lanayru Spirit Spring, Midna is forcibly exposed to the spirit’s light, leaving her near death. Link, transformed back into a wolf by Zant’s magic, desperately rushes toward Castle Town, a dying Midna sprawled on his back, to look for help.

It’s the music that makes this scene so special, a beautifully emotive piano-led piece that plays as you tear across a moonlit Hyrule Field at night, in search of aid for the friend that has been with you since the start of your journey. And it’s not over-complicated – that the music is so understated as you desperately rush to save Midna makes it all the more effective.

The quality of the compositions is such that it’s a shame Nintendo decided to use sequenced music rather than record with a full orchestra, something they did with great success in their next title in the series, Skyward Sword. Happily, with the advent of video-game focused symphonic concerts, we’re able to experience the music as its creators no doubt intended it to be heard, and it’s all the more stirring for it.

Of course, The Legend of Zelda has always had strong, memorable music, and it makes me wish for a Zelda-themed music game akin to Square-Enix’s excellent Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Like that other much-loved franchise, Zelda has over a quarter of a century of series history to draw from, and it’d be great to celebrate that in the form of a rhythm-action game. For now, I’ll have to content myself with the upcoming fanservice extravaganza that Hyrule Warriors looks like being.

WW1Do you remember that Spaceworld 2000 Zelda demo? I certainly do. Coming off the back of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it was exactly the kind of next-gen Zelda I was looking forward to on Nintendo’s then-unnamed Gamecube. But a year later, at 2001’s Spaceworld, this happened. And I wasn’t happy about it.

It wasn’t the cel-shading (after all, I was already a huge fan of Jet Set Radio, the game that pioneered the technique). It wasn’t even the kiddy, cartoon-in-motion aesthetic. My issue was very simple: after a year of looking forward to something, I was handed the sudden realisation that it didn’t even exist. I was disappointed, and while I wasn’t one of those people decrying the game all over the internet, it did mean that I walked away from the franchise for about a decade.

Upon its 2003 release, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker received massive critical acclaim, yet even this reception, backed up with positive reactions from friends whose gaming opinions I trusted, couldn’t bring me around. I had simply moved on to other games. Or so I thought.

The Zelda series has always held a special place in my heart though (Ocarina and Awakening in particular, the former easily sitting in my top five games of all time), and 2011’s excellent Skyward Sword eventually brought me back into the fold. It was as much the time of year as it was the game; Christmas just feels like a great time to play through one of Link’s adventures, and this past Christmas, it was the Wii U and its HD remake of Wind Waker that was grabbing all my attention. And so, despite having just bought an Xbox One, I ordered a Wii U Wind Waker HD bundle. And I’m glad I did.

The Wind Waker begins on Outset Island, where a young boy has just come of age. The islanders have a tradition of dressing young boys in the image of a legendary hero, hoping to instill that hero’s courage and bravery in them. That boy is Link and his big day is about to be ruined. A monstrous bird soaring high over Outset Island breaks the sleepy day-to-day existence Link has always known, and hot on it’s talons is a pirate ship, aiming its cannons directly at the huge invader. In its clutches is that ship’s captain, a young blonde girl by the name of Tetra, and when the bird is struck by a cannonball, dropping her into the dark, forbidding forest at the summit of the island Link, like any hero worth his salt, sets off to help. Unfortunately for him, having saved Tetra, the huge bird sets its sights on his younger sister Aryll, mistaking her for its prey. She is snatched away before his eyes.

Link hears from Quill, an inter-island flying postman, that the bird has been searching out blonde girls with pointy ears and taking them to the Forsaken Fortress in the far north. The bird is doing the bidding of some dark force that has made the fortress his base of operations and so, joining up with the pirates, Link leaves his island, setting off to save his sister.

What follows will be no surprise to fans of the series; these games have long been married to a certain formula of field exploration, dungeon-puzzling and item acquisition and as a newcomer to a game that many first experienced a decade ago, I found it striking just how similar the game feels to Ocarina of Time. Granted, you sail from location to location across an expansive sea, and yes, there are new gadgets to get to grips with (the grappling hook being a particular favourite, used not only to traverse the environment but also to stun or steal items from enemies), but the core gameplay is identical. You move in the same way, you get around dungeons in the same way, you target and, save for a new button-prompt dodge/counter system, attack enemies in the same way.

Granted, this isn’t really a negative as Ocarina still feels remarkably playable today, some fifteen years after its release. Like Bungie with the first Halo title, Nintendo absolutely nailed 3D Zelda on their first go, and so it’s difficult to begrudge the similarities in game design between the two. It’s also worth pointing out that most people would have played Wind Waker five years after Ocarina; until recently, the only Zelda I’d played since that 1998 masterpiece had been Skyward Sword which, with its motion-controlled swordplay, felt like a different take on the series.

But again, it’s hardly a bad thing that Wind Waker plays so similarly to what may be the greatest game ever made, and there’s plenty here to enjoy over the forty-or-so hours you’ll spend in Link’s company. The Great Sea is dotted with memorable environments, charming characters, satisfying puzzles and epic boss battles; the Tower of the Gods in particular, coming at about the halfway-point in the game, is an almost-perfect distillation of everything that Wind Waker is. And then of course there’s those visuals.

WW2

Nintendo’s choice of graphical style has certainly been vindicated with the passage of time. The game just hasn’t aged visually at all. Like the aforementioned Jet Set Radio it’s still strikingly beautiful, and if you didn’t know any better you could easily mistake this HD remastering for a new-for-2013 release. Eiji Aonuma’s team have attempted to give Wind Waker HD the same respectful makeover that Grezzo afforded the 2011 3DS release of Ocarina – that game looked much as you remember it, until you saw comparison shots side by side, and that’s much the same for this re-release. Slightly dampening that intended goal is a new lighting system that, while giving the game a more modern sheen, can occasionally take away from the flat, cartoon-y look the original release sought to create, sometimes highlighting contours and gradients on character models that make them appear like small figurines in a diorama. The effect is not enough to diminish the enhancements elsewhere in the production however, as Wind Waker HD is a stunningly clean, sharp and colourful presentation.

This aesthetic direction also affords Wind Waker the most expressive incarnation of the legendary hero we’ve ever seen. Link has always been a silent character, essentially a cipher for the player to project themselves into his adventures throughout Hyrule. While that’s still the case here, Link’s character design makes his emotions easy to read, his big, expressive eyes telegraphing everything from bold courage, fear, exhaustion and sadness all the way through to delight. And his facial expression in his ‘sidle’ animation is enough to melt the heart of anyone still decrying the choice of art style.

The developers also managed to absolutely nail the tone of the game, every aspect of the production coming together to deliver a playful, almost childlike experience. From the sunny, colourful visuals to the memorable supporting cast (Tetra, Medli and Makar being my personal favourites) to the excellent soundtrack, it all combines to create a sense of whimsical adventure. The story and setting even manage to leave some room for a bit of gentle shading later on, as Link delves beneath the Great Sea and learns the truth behind the ancient civilization that secretly lies far below the surface in a sequence that ties the events of this game to Ocarina of Time. Even the despotic villain Ganon is afforded a bit of humanity, with the writers giving him some motivation for his acts of evil.

Over the years, I’ve seen claims that Wind Waker is a better Zelda than Ocarina, and though I absolutely loved my time with it I can’t agree. For a start, the pacing is nowhere near as tight as the older game. I can count on one finger the amount of times I felt Ocarina was becoming fatiguing (and I don’t mean the Water Temple), but the last couple of hours of Wind Waker felt poorly paced to me. The infamous Triforce Hunt has in this version been toned down, yet I feel they could have halved it again as much of it just felt like busy work – especially the horrid ‘savage labyrinth’ area on Outset Island. Thirty floors of combat isn’t so much fun as it is somewhat wearying.

Secondly, sailing across the sea from island to island can be a bit tedious – often, I’d set my direction, hoist my sail and then read something until I reached my destination (a habit which can prove dangerous if you’re sailing near to the Forsaken Fortress and head straight into a mine). I’d imagine ten years ago the sheer scale of the Great Sea would have been impressive, the promise of hoisting your sail and heading off in any direction imparting a sense of freedom rarely felt in its contemporaries. In the here and now, when more games than not seem to feature an open world, it feels a bit empty. Granted, the Great Sea is divided into 49 squares, and every tile on the map is home to an island or some other feature to discover and explore, but the distances between them (and the slow nature of travel until you can get the new fast sail) make travelling a bit tedious. I managed to completely fill out my map more through a completist’s compulsion than a desire to see what else the ocean had to offer.

WW3

But that’s a handful of dull hours out of forty excellent ones, and when you’re deep in the bowels of a multi-level dungeon, using your latest piece of gear in a novel way to get past a meticulously crafted puzzle, or methodically taking down an enormous screen-filling boss monster, none of that matters. The Zelda series has always been about those dungeons, and here they’re as good as they’ve always been. It speaks volumes about Nintendo’s almost-timeless game design sensibilities that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD can be re-released ten years later and still be one of the best games I played in 2013.