Link’s A-Waker-ning

If you’re a fan of video games and you haven’t been in a coma since January, you’re probably aware that Nintendo have announced, subsequently hyped, and recently released an updated remake of one of the most popular Zelda games, ‘The Wind Waker’, for the Wii U, in beautiful HD and some tweaks here and there to make the game even better. Let’s do a quick recap on the original, shall we?

Released in 2003 (unless you lived in Japan and got it in December 2002,) The Wind Waker is one of the most highly-acclaimed video games in the Zelda series, a series known for consistent and reliable high quality. The game took a big risk, but it paid off, and the risk was called ‘cel-shading’. With a newer, younger Link, and a beautiful new world to explore in your trusty ship, it captured the hearts of many gamers, and even a decade later, it’s still referred to as the most artistic and creative, if not the best, game in the series.

Like all good expansions in video game series, what won over the crowd to The Wind Waker’s way of thinking was how it preserved all of the factors that made previous Zelda games good, but combined them with exciting new additions. Even the risks that weren’t well-received by all were respected; the sailing was thought by some to be a little tedious, but there was no denying the depth the expansive map brought to Link’s journey through the biggest Zelda world yet. Some thought the younger Link would be unsuitable for the role of ‘Hero of Time’ passed down by his predecessors, but the more excitable and expressive version of the hero captivated players nonetheless. Even with fewer dungeons and bosses than many other Zelda games, few can deny the overall grandiose of the finished product – there’s a reason that none of the bosses in the game were seen on ScrewAttack’s list of the series’ worst.

A new game brought new plot and new tools too, as gamers were intrigued by Tetra, the stern but fair pirate captain with more personality than every previous generation of Zelda put together, and the harsh but well-meaning companion and part-time sailing vessel, the King of Red Lions. Along with gameplay-changing additions like the Deku Leaf to help Link float through the air, a grappling hook to swing to areas the hookshot wouldn’t have been able to reach, and the titular Wind Waker itself, with the power to compose and control the forces of nature, it’s easy to see why The Wind Waker is such a fan favourite.

The cel-shading deserves another mention too, as it’s one of the game’s strongest attributes, and in a game like The Wind Waker, that’s something to be proud of. For a game’s graphics to stand up years after release is impressive. For a game’s graphics to be so good that the game becomes the most prominent example of how positive the graphical techniques used to present it can be is incredible. For a game over a decade old to still be considered one of the most visually-appealing games ever made based on the art direction it took is unbelievable. The Wind Waker’s graphics are almost revolutionary in the world of gaming.

So take that game, one of the greatest ever made, and improve it. Add methods of sailing faster, modify some of the plot-crucial quests that people found a tad irritating, and turn the graphics up to 11, and surely the result will be so beautifully magnificent that playing it for more than two hours will make rainbows bleed out of your eyes, right?

Well, this is why the blog is a rant. Having nothing but respect and admiration for ‘The Wind Waker’, being a gamer whose favourite series if ‘The Legend of Zelda’, if I had a Wii U, plain and simple, I would not buy the HD remake of ‘The Wind Waker’.

(On a quick tangent, you know what I would buy? Nintendo Land, I tried that round a friend’s house and it was hands down the best local multiplayer game I’ve ever played – I especially liked Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day – and the Octopus dancing and F-Zero racing made for some of the most entertaining single-player experiences I’ve had in a while. But enough about that, let’s get back to The Wind Waker, or more particularly, the HD remake.)

At first I thought the reason I wouldn’t buy a remake of ‘The Wind Waker’ is that I’m just not into remakes – my money’s pretty tight at the moment and I wouldn’t want to spend it on a game that I already have, albeit the primitive version. However, soon afterwards I remembered that I’m currently 124 hours into Pokémon Heart Gold, and… I’m really loving it. So clearly remakes aren’t that big a problem for me, although there are lines I wouldn’t cross. I have Ico and I have Shadow of the Colossus and I love them both, but I wouldn’t buy the HD collection of them for the PS3, partly because I don’t have a PS3, but partly because, well, I’ve already played them. A remake has to have notable additions in order to be worth a purchase the second time around.

Without making this blog entirely about Pokémon Heart Gold, let me go over some of the things it did differently. It took away the limits of your phone book, letting you call dozens of people instead of 10, it added the Battle Frontier and a Safari Zone, it let you get the numbers of gym leaders and call them for rematches, it added legendaries like Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Mewtwo, and Latios/Latias, it added Pokémon from the third and fourth generation, brought over new moves and new items from the more recent generations, and it leveled up some of the easier trainers in the game – the final trainer has a Level 88 Pikachu! Sure, I beat it with one ‘Earthquake’ thanks to my Quagsire, but the point remains.

What I think really makes the game work is that Pokémon is a game with tons of replayability. Truth be told, there was nothing majorly different from Pokémon Gold on the Gameboy Color; at its core the game was the same, but when I played that for the first time I used a team that, barring Pidgeot, was completely different to the team I used this time around (Meganium, Quagsire, Ampharos, Arcanine, Dragonite and the aforementioned Pidgeot.) My friend had been talking about Pokemon and I was feeling nostalgic, but I’m too afraid of change to do something drastic like start my copy of Pokémon Platinum of Pokémon White, so I went with Heart Gold, and it’s been fantastic. I love it!

But there are no alternate teams in The Wind Waker, and barring sidequests and upgrades, it’s essentially a linear path from start to finish – not that there’s anything wrong with that, that’s how Zelda does things. But if the linear path remains the same, not much can be gathered from replaying it unless you’ve waited 5 or so years and you want to go back to it again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally up for replaying games from time to time – I’ve beaten Resident Evil 4 roughly 14 times, and Eternal Darkness 5 – but I like the adventure of exploration, and I’m not just talking about games like Metroid. Contrary to the ‘afraid of change’ quip, I like to try new things, if only in the world of gaming. Given the choice between playing a good game I’ve played before or a new game of any quality, I’ll go for the new one every time.

So what this blog comes down to is the changes that were made in the updating of The Wind Waker before it was rereleased. Regardless of my negativity, they are all good additions to a good game, so I’ll be honestly admitting the positive points behind each change before I say why I don’t think it’s enough to make the game worth buying again So let’s hear some of those changes, shall we?

1) Improved graphics

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Why this is good: Of all the changes that could’ve been made to The Wind Waker, I would never have expected a graphical update to be one of the important ones. Nintendo handed in their Zelda homework and got it back with a big fat A+ on the front of it, and they’re not happy with that. They want an A++. They want to improve the graphics beyond physical capabilities, and for that streak of bizarre perfectionism, I have only appreciation.

That being said, even with the cel-shading, and even with its reputation as one of the greatest graphic designs in video game history, The Wind Waker still can’t escape the technical limitations of the time period it was made in. Anyone who knows me knows that I love my GameCube unabashedly, and Twilight Princess and Resident Evil 4 prove that it could compete with the PS2 and Xbox when it came to graphics. But for the graphics of a GameCube game to still be technically competitive today is frankly absurd.

So if you take one of the most critically-acclaimed games ever designed when it comes to graphics, and redesign it for today’s console market, which, let’s face it, isn’t going to make any substantial improvements to graphics in the foreseeable future now that every bog-standard game is still expected to look like Uncharted, then you may have just allowed The Wind Waker to become not just great for its time, but great for all-time.

Why this is not good enough: While I’m a big fan of the ‘bizarre perfectionism’ behind the idea that The Wind Waker could possibly need a graphical update, it’s the same kind of perfectionism that results in a student spending 5 hours typing their opening paragraph to an essay again and again, just because their teacher told them it was 9/10 material, and they don’t want to hand in anything less than perfection. Which, by my standards, is mostly impossible.

I guess why I’m not too happy with the notion of upgrading a cel-shaded game is that in my opinion, cel-shading’s greatest attribute is that it’s… well, timeless. It’s not guaranteed to always work – my favourite FPS game, XIII, used cel-shading but it was done rather lazily and as such it’s still a bland game from a visual perspective (although I should mention it has an above-average story, solid gameplay, and you can carry more than two sodding weapons at the same time so it’s still worth playing.) But The Wind Waker is a game that I’d say was successful in achieving this timeless graphical greatness.

So why bother updating it? Don’t get me wrong, it’ll look nicer in places, but from an artistic perspective – which was the perspective The Wind Waker was the strongest from in the first place – there isn’t really a great deal of difference. Cel-shading to me isn’t about HD, and it isn’t something that can be portrayed in screenshots; it’s about the constant movement of the world around you, the lighting effects, the changes in colour as grass trembles in the wind and the waves ripple away from your boat. Even though the game is regarded as somewhat cartoony, the effect of all of these interactions gives the game a level of detail that seems to be immersive to many and to me, it adds an unexpected touch of realism.

All in all, I can’t complain too much because leaving the game exactly as it is would nullify the decision to remake it even more, but trying to improve the graphics to one of the most graphically impressive games of all time comes off to me as futile at best and pointless at worst.

2) Quicker Sailing

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Why this is good: When other game companies make a mistake, they react in the same way that a five year old reacts when someone catches them stealing from the cookie jar, or a politician reacts when they’re caught firing a crossbow at poor people – deny it, ignore it, and hope that it goes away. Luckily, Nintendo are a few steps ahead of the hypothetical crossbow-wielding politician, and as such they have done what many would not have the courage to do, and acknowledged that they made (*audience gasps*) a mistake.

Fans have been debating for the last decade whether or not the sailing in The Wind Waker was a step in the right direction, but this solution should satisfy both parties. Didn’t like the sailing? Now you can sail twice as fast, and you don’t have to use the titular Wind Waker to change the direction of the wind every minute. Liked the sailing? Well, just don’t use the ‘Swift Sail’, the item that lets you sail faster.

Even though this effectively nullifies one of the biggest complaints about the original game, I’m genuinely more impressed that Nintendo would even dare to do this – as I said, changing something like this is almost an admittance that things weren’t perfect the first time around, and few companies would have the guts to consider admitting this. Well done, Nintendo.

Why this isn’t good enough: Before we got onto the opinionated part, I want to point out that rather than revamping sailing entirely, the design team just added the ‘Swift Sail’ which is possible to buy at an auction the second time you visit Outset Island. I played The Wind Waker twice, but I treated the auction house the same way I treated fishing mini-games and never really bothered visiting it more than once. My memory’s sketchy but I think I was outbid on a Heart Piece once and it soured my opinion of the place.

Also, this is just a nitpick, but the fact that the Swift Sail lets you sail without changing the direction of the wind rubs me the wrong way. It’s less annoying, yes, but it almost halves the number of times you’re actually going to use the Wind Waker. I’ve been playing Skyward Sword for a few weeks now and I use the Skyward Strike frequently, and the Ocarina of Time played a big role in Ocarina of Time, so why make the subject of the game, the artefact it was named after, much more irrelevant in its completion?

Overall, what I don’t like about this change to sailing is that even though it was disliked by many, including myself at times, the original sailing, slow-paced thought it may have been, was an essential part of what I would call the ‘Wind Waker’ experience. The option to remove or modify an essential part of a game makes me feel uneasy for reasons I’m not quite sure of. Plus, at the end of the day, making a sail that goes twice as fast doesn’t solve a problem, it just halves one.

3) Wii U Control Scheme

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Why this is good: You know Resident Evil 4? I liked Resident Evil 4. Apparently, quite a few other people liked it too, because when it came out on the GameCube and PS2, millions of people bought it. Then, amongst other re-releases, it was released on the Wii, and obviously nobody bought it because they’d already played the GameCube and PS2 versions. Except that didn’t happen and the Wii version went on to sell nearly 2 million copies. Is that because those 2 million people missed it the first time around, or because controlling a third-person shooter with motion controls was different enough to warrant buying the game again?

Or is it because changing the controls of a game is rather dramatic when the control scheme moves from ‘ordinary controller’ to ‘motion controls’ and therefore you go from wiggling a joystick to aiming at the actual screen? My guess is the latter, and in The Wind Waker HD you can aim all sorts of projectiles at enemies using the gamepad. Plus, as always, you can use the gamepad to keep playing the game even if the TV’s busy; an incredibly handy function in a family home.

There are plenty of little additions to the basic controls too – you can now move while you’re aiming the bow, hookshot, boomerang or grappling hook, a prime example of a feature you never needed before but once you get the hang of it you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it – and the sailing controls are improved because your sail and cannon no longer need to be equipped every time you use them

Why this isn’t good enough: I was playing Kid Icarus the other day when I got tired of playing the game in a conventional manner. 2 buttons and a D-Pad just wasn’t working for me, but luckily, I ran into a door-to-door salesman selling official NES replacement control methods, and for the low, low price of £75 plus postage and packaging, he gave me an extremely rare copy of ‘Kid Icarus: Feet Edition’. Now I can play the game with my feet!

The NES cartridge looks the same, although someone has stuck an authentic-looking ‘foot-friendly’ sticker on the side, and they’ve done the same with the controller. The game is the same of course, but this new and refreshing way of controlling it makes it worth paying for a new copy of the game and new controller on a new console that the salesman deemed ‘Foot-friendly’. I’m totally living – you know, I’ve just reread this paragraph and even though it gets ten out of ten for sarcasm, I can’t actually tell what point I’m trying to make. Let me try this again.

I understand that playing the game with the Wii U gamepad might feel more comfortable to some, and I don’t want to ridicule them for finding a new method of playing the game that they enjoy; that would be really snobby of me and I don’t want my sarcasm to come off as an attack on them. But my point is that even with a different control scheme, it’s not like the game is any different. You still accomplish the exact same tasks with the same tools, and besides, I’ve never heard any complaints about the controls that The Wind Waker had anyway. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have been improved, but the improvement isn’t notable unless it’s much, much better than the original, and the original game had a solid, functional control scheme. So the alternate control scheme is good, but as the subtitle of this section states, it isn’t good enough.

Or, to alter a somewhat common saying, if it’s not broken, I won’t notice if you’ve fixed it.

4) Improved the Picto Box

WindWaker4

Why this is good: Even the most loyal dog can get fleas from time to time, and although I’ve been waiting to use that as a metaphor for my experience playing Skyward Sword (a 9/10 game that could’ve been 10/10 without those pesky fleas) then it also describes a lot of otherwise excellent games that are plagued by a few small problems. I’ve also been waiting to use the word ‘plague’ to describe the sidequest in The Wind Waker known as the ‘Picto Box’ quest.

The Picto Box quest is Nintendo’s attempt to mix Zelda with Pokémon Snap, giving Link a camera and having him take pictures of characters and sights so that a photographer gives him the Deluxe Picto Box so he can take more pictures of characters and sights and have them made into figurines so that he can have them made into figurines so that he can have the made into – The Picto Box is really, really boring and I never got very far with it because I was overwhelmed with an urge to preserve my sanity.

So this is the section labelled ‘Why this is good’, so let’s get to the improvements. In the original game, you had to use the Picto Box to take some specific pictures of specific people at specific times to get the ‘Deluxe Picto Box’, which was a pain in the rear. In the new version, the Deluxe Picto Box is easier to you get due to minimization of the tasks you need to complete. Also, rather than only holding 3 pictures at a time, you can now have 12 pictures at a time, and once you take a picture, you are instantly told whether or not it’s a quality picture worth keeping to sell/make a figurine. And even after all of that, you can submit or download Pictographs of difficult/possible to miss targets by using Tingle Bottles to connect to the Wii U’s online services! All in all, undeniable improvements to a large quest that few enjoyed. What’s not to like?

Why this isn’t good enough: Even though I can’t fault the improvements made to this entire quest of the game, the context of the improvement is flawed beyond repair. You see, a good improvement takes something good, and makes it excellent! Or at the very least, it takes something average, and makes it good!

Improving the Picto Box quest is taking something that sucks, and making it suck a little bit less.

This would be a good place for a reminder or disclaimer that this is my opinion and if you liked the Picto Box quest then good for you and as a fan of The Wind Waker then I’m genuinely happy you enjoyed it, but I honestly don’t see how it even has a place in a Zelda game. You know what’s good about Zelda games? The fast-paced combat against enemies and bosses? The exploration of dungeons and new puzzles you encounter and solve with a growing arsenal of tools? Or maybe unwinding with a challenging mini-game that provides you with a helpful but not mandatory upgrade!

Well, screw that! I want to undergo the most boring possible excursion in the history of the entire freaking Zelda Universe, and wander around snapping pictures of random characters in the hope that I get some more rupees for them. Or maybe some figurines, which are very, very useful in the game, because if you don’t have them, you don’t have any figurines. And that’s terrible! Tales of Symphonia had a boring sidequest to make figurines of characters, but all it required were pellets you could get from fighting enemies, and it was one of about eleventy billion sidequests in that game. It wasn’t the main one, like it is here.

I’m sure I’ll be proved wrong in the comments, but as right now, a decade after the original game came out, I’ve been to a lot of places on the internet and seen discussion after discussion on video games. I have never seen anyone say that they wholeheartedly enjoyed the Pictobox quest. You want to improve it, Nintendo? Remove it from the game, blindfold it, lead it outside, give it one last cigarette, tell it to count to 10, and shoot it in the back of the head when it reaches 7.

5) The little touches

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Why this is good: At the start of ‘The Wind Waker’, Link’s wallet can only hold a miserable 99 rupees, but in the HD remake, you start off with a wallet that can carry 500, marking a significant improvement! And speaking of money, people who say ‘time is money’ should be satisfied as almost every animation in the game that used to take an abnormally long time has now been sped up! Picking up a treasure chest from the ocean happens roughly four times as quickly as it used to, and using the grappling hook takes half the time too.

There’s also less mandatory treasure-chest fishing, even with the game’s long (and depending on your opinion, mildly tedious,) Triforce quest. Instead of finding 8 treasure charts leading to 8 chests with 8 Triforce pieces, 5 of the chests you find the charts in now simply contain a Triforce piece, saving a lot of unnecessary hunting time!

There’s also Hero Mode, unlocked from the start, in which enemies do double damage and there are no random heart drops to replenish your health – a must-play for the masochists in the Zelda fanbase. Then there are the tiny little touches that make the game better; getting hit in your boat no longer knocks you overboard unless it was a big collision, and tools like the Deku Leaf and Cannon for your boat now show translucent indicators before you drop from them/fire them that show you where you/your bombs will land. All in all, I love little improvements in games, and The Wind Waker HD is chock-a-block full of them!

Why this isn’t good enough: … I think this would be a good time to lead into the conclusion of the blog. Not because I’m running low on comebacks, but because I can only explain this so many times.

The two subtitles for each point aren’t named ‘Why this is good’ and ‘Why this is bad’, but ‘Why this isn’t good enough’, and that’s the key word here. It was asking a lot of Nintendo – probably too much – but as a game I really enjoyed, I guess I was hoping that The Wind Waker HD would leave me screaming ‘Go out and buy it! Buy it now, everyone! Even if you’ve already played it!’

Instead, I was surprised by how underwhelmed I was with the final release, even with all of its numerous enhancements, because I cannot recommend to anyone that has already played the original game to buy, at full retail price, a new version of a game they’ve already beaten.

Can I recommend it to people who haven’t played it yet? You bet! Have you not played The Wind Waker yet and heard good things about it? Do you like adventure games with a perfect blend of puzzles, combat and exploration? Then pick up this game for the Wii U, because you will not be disappointed – you can even bask in the knowledge that you’ll be playing the superior version of the game, the best yet, with improved quests, beautiful graphics and hundreds of small but helpful additions.

But at the same time, reading through the list of additions myself left me feeling empty and unsatisfied, since each one couldn’t persuade me that it would be worth buying the same game twice. By the end of the list of changes, I was sarcastically thinking to myself ‘Wow, the animation for the grappling hook is a second shorter than it was before? Well that’s totally worth spending £50 on a new version of a game I’ve already played, beaten, and still have!’

So in summary, is The Wind Waker HD a good game? No, it’s not good, it’s bloody brilliant! It’s artistic and immersive and energetic and… fun! But my problem is, the first Wind Waker was also artistic and immersive and energetic and fun.

When it comes to a game like ‘The Wind Waker’, frankly there just isn’t enough there to be improved that would justify purchasing ‘The Wind Waker: Slightly Better Edition.’ If you’ve never experienced The Wind Waker before, be sure to check it out, but otherwise I can’t honestly say I think of it as anything more than a polished port of the original. Think differently about the game? Feel free to tell me whatever you think makes it worth buying! Anyway, on that note…

Thanks for reading!

-The Dopefish

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