Few games have the right to be called a masterpiece. While I would say that the original The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker can fit into this group, it is not without some caveats. Sailing between islands takes too long, the Triforce quest hinders the final act of the game, the game is too easy, and I wish I could spend more time hanging out with Tingle. All of these are legitimate complaints (except the last one) that are easily overshadowed by the game’s many other qualities. But they were always still there. That has changed with the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Nintendo has gone about fixing all of those problems (except the last one), and then decided to go even further. What we now have is an HD re-release that took a flawed masterpiece and made it into a game that, even ten years after it initially hit shelves, can undoubtedly be called one of gaming’s best.
The core gameplay of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has held up amazingly well. No changes were made to the usual Zelda formula in this re-release, and none had to be. You still travel the vast ocean searching for small islands that dot the seascape. On those islands, you still perform the same acts of heroism and bravery while fighting the forces of evil as Link, the “Hero of Winds.” What has changed is how effectively you do all of those things. By adding Wii U Gamepad support to Wind Waker, Nintendo has created one of the most streamlined gaming experiences I have ever had. Having the ability to swap weapons and items on the fly from the Gamepad is a revolution that I hope future adventure titles learn from. The game’s map can also be displayed during normal play, and it changes that feature from a helpful tool into an essential aspect of the game that enhances the player experience in many ways.
Aside from just adding Gamepad support, Nintendo meticulously altered key aspects of Wind Waker to either streamline or improve it in subtle ways. Looking at all the changes made is like reading a fan’s wishlist. You can now get a “Swift Sail” that is two times faster and keeps the wind at your back, so no more stopping just to alter the wind direction. The Pictograph can now hold twelve pictures and immediately judges them as you take them, so no more missed boss figures due to poor framing. A Hero Mode, with no heart drops and enemies dealing double damage, has been added to increase the difficulty significantly. The endgame Triforce quest has been shortened and made far less burdensome by taking out five of the eight Triforce charts and replacing them with the actual pieces instead. Although the quest does still drag the endgame, it is a welcome change that doesn’t totally impact the game’s previous structure. These are just some of the bigger changes though; when you really dig down, you find so many tiny things that Nintendo improved that it is staggering.
The addition that I initially thought would be the most useless were the Tingle Bottles, added to the game to replace the Tingle Tuner. Basically, the Tingle Bottles function as an isolated Miiverse. Any player can place a message or picture in a bottle, and it is whisked away to someone else’s game for them to find. I assumed this would simply be used for jokes or random messages, but in reality it has created a tight knit community of Zelda fans.
There are jokes and some hilarious selfies, and they are all wonderful to stumble across during your grand adventure, but the biggest thing that this addition has done for me is make the Pictograph side quest one of Wind Waker’s main attractions. Outside of the Forest Haven is an island with a hatch that you open later on in the game. Inside, you won’t find any hieroglyphics, countdown timers or poorly managed plot lines. You do find an extensive side quest that can take up a majority of your game time if you let it. Using the game’s newly enhanced Pictograph, you are tasked with taking a picture of every single creature in the game and bringing it back to be turned into a highly detailed figurine. On my original playthrough on the Gamecube ten years ago, I skipped this mission simply due to the frustration it could cause. With the Tingle Bottle, this has become my major obsession thanks to the sense of community that the picture sharing has created. This simple alteration has changed a formerly tiny aspect of the game into a major feature in and of itself.
Of course, the biggest change from the original Wind Waker is in the visuals department. Upgrading to high definition can give a game a huge boost in the quality of its visuals, but with Wind Waker, it has been truly remarkable. The art style, using “toon shading,” was already fairly timeless, but the upgrade to HD has brought it up to a level where its beauty can really shine. The resolution isn’t the only visual improvement either. Nintendo went in and totally reworked the lighting for the game. They added bloom lighting, which is an overall plus, creating harsh sunlight in tropical environments and emphasizing the darkness found in the game’s many dungeons. However, this is one of the very few areas where this re-release stumbles. The charm of the original art style was that the game looked like a living cartoon, and on a few rare occasions, the new lighting mechanics break that hard-earned illusion. It is a small issue, but an issue nonetheless.
Other than that tiny misstep, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a true masterpiece of gaming. What changes have been made for this release have been almost completely for the better. Considering that the original was such a triumph already, this is a must buy for anyone who hasn’t experienced the wonderful world of The Wind Waker before. If you have played the original, then know that while there were no major additions like new dungeons or quests, the things that have been added or changed have made this quite possibly the greatest 3D Zelda ever made.