The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Review

This remake isn't as good as you remember the original being -- it's better.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD overachieves. The holy grail of video game remakes is to provide an experience as good as you remember the original being; Wind Waker HD goes the extra step and is better than you remember.

The harsh reality of remakes is that very often in their attempt to canonize a classic they actually manage to reveal the flaws of the original work, the failings that human memory tends to smooth over. As in: "Wow, was Super Mario Bros. really this hard?" "Gosh, I don't remember Soulcalibur looking quite this rough." "Myst was... kind of boring, huh?" And so forth. When we have a great time playing a video game, we tend to remember the good parts and let our primal instinct to forget unhappiness sand over the bumpy patches. In some cases, we don't remember the flaws of old games because those games did something so new and different at the time that we didn't have enough context to even understand how they failed.

Free-roaming exploration is Wind Waker's bread and butter, and now it's tastier than ever.

The best remakes therefore tend to be the ones whose creators take the time to evaluate them and recognize the parts that could frustrate or disappoint an older, more experienced audience. Whether it's as simple a matter as improving the graphical frame rate or as subtle as refining the camera or fine-tuning the difficulty, these reworkings poke around beneath the hood just enough to make sure the new rendition is as good as our memory says the original was, rather than as good as it actually was... or wasn't, as the case may be.

This new Zelda goes a step beyond simple tweaks. It's not a comprehensive overhaul along the lines of Bionic Commando Rearmed or Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, a new take so radically changed as to resemble the original only in broad strokes. Instead, Wind Waker HD holds true to its GameCube source material in every meaningful way while folding in minor revisions. The graphics have been retooled with higher-resolution textures and new shading. The Wii U Game Pad plays a front-and-center role in the interface. The neglected Tingle Tuner has been swapped out for a far more practical Miiverse-based feature. In short, it incorporates the usual minor revisions and hardware-specific updates you'd expect from such a venture.

It doesn't stop there, though. Without materially changing the game, Nintendo has also taken conspicuous steps to refine all the elements that people found so jarring in the original Wind Waker. The opening mission, with its too-touchy stealth sequence? Now you're given warning before Link is discovered, meaning you won't be forced to constantly start anew due to a minor error. The expansive ocean that comprises the overworld no longer feels so empty and dull thanks to a fast-forward feature. The maddening Triforce quest that bogged down the end game has been greatly streamlined to keep things running at a steady pace.

In short, Wind Waker HD is better than you remember, because -- if you played the original -- you almost certainly remember the game's nagging flaws. Those failings stood out because they seemed so out-of-place in such a masterpiece of an adventure. And now they're gone, just like that.

What a little cutie. A little murderous cutie, apparently, but still.

This isn't to say Wind Waker HD is completely free of problems. Like all 3D-era Zelda games, side quests and mandatory achievements can bog down the pacing. The contextual commands can be quite fussy at times, too (there really is nothing more delightful than trying to interact with a piece of scenery while running only to accidentally roll straight forward and off a cliff). And plenty of fans are put off by the game's revised visuals, which lose a good deal of the older work's charm and visual appeal.

In light of all that it does right, though, these complaints seem fairly trivial. Wind Waker HD incorporates a number of excellent fixes and refinements, but they're built on top of one of the finest adventures ever. In some respects, the original Wind Waker was well ahead of its time; in others, it's a last bastion of great classic game design. Its toon-shaded visuals and vast open world feel more like products of 2013 than of 2003, and some of its most striking sequences -- particularly the palace frozen in time and the stunning final showdown -- remain utterly timeless.

But all of these features are matched by an admirable sense of restraint and respect. Wind Waker was the last Zelda to treat its players like intelligent, functioning human beings, nudging them into the quest and then letting them sort out puzzles on their own. For example, in the first major dungeon, you need to toss vases of water into pools of magma to create temporary platforms of hardened rock. The game never explains this, instead offering small visual hints to help you understand the nature of the water pots and the fact that they react to heat through steam. When you manage to figure out how to advance here, you feel a genuine sense of satisfaction at having deduced your actions. It's a small thing, but a meaningful one -- and Wind Waker is full of similar discoveries, left largely to the player to find on his or her own. Sure, the King of Red Lions butts in occasionally, but generally the game's art does the heavy lifting for you: Link is incredibly expressive, with huge eyes that tend to look toward the next objective or secret to guide those who need help. Would that every Nintendo game these days extend its audience the same respect. Wind Waker really is one of a kind -- a game worth celebrating, especially in its new form.

The Details

  • Visuals: Gorgeous from start to finish, Wind Waker's once-controversial graphics prove to be its most enduring trait. And they look better than ever here.
  • Music: Typical Zelda fare, ranging from bombast to pastoral to weird. Lots of motif tie-ins to previous games, too.
  • Interface: Almost 100% excellent. Particularly notable is the brilliant implementation of Game Pad-based motion controls... they're much better than you might expect.
  • Lasting Appeal: A huge, meaty game... and when you're done, you get to replay it in a lobster shirt.

In many ways, Wind Waker represents a high point for the Zelda series. Its tremendous world, lovely art, amazing combat, and welcome new featuress have yet to be surpassed by its sequels. For my money, Wind Waker is Zelda at its best. But this time, it's even better than before.

4.5 /5

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Review Jeremy Parish This remake isn't as good as you remember the original being -- it's better. 2013-09-18T15:00:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 24

  • Avatar for davidbabb52 #1 davidbabb52 4 years ago
    I cannot wait to play through Wind Waker again! The videos online look stunning.
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  • Avatar for aett #2 aett 4 years ago
    This sounds great, but I played the original at least a few times over the last decade. While the improvements seem really worthwhile, I think that at least one new dungeon would instantly push this up to "must buy" status for me - instead, think that I'm going to wait to purchase this used or as cheaply as possible, since there are a lot of other new games out this season. (And yeah, I know how difficult it is to get Nintendo first-party games at a discounted price.)
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #3 Daikaiju 4 years ago
    I'm glad the remake is as well done and thought out as it is. Mind, I never had a problem with the sailing or the Triforce quest myself. Plus I got a LOT of use out of the Tingle Tuner. I'll miss it.
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  • Avatar for ericsellers #4 ericsellers 4 years ago
    For all those reading this, keep in mind that it comes out digitally on the 20th!
    That's, IIRC, about 2 weeks ahead of the physical version!
    Make sure to nab your copy if you don't mind going digital![you'll avoid paying tax that way too!]
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #5 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    nice review
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  • Avatar for AxiomVerge #6 AxiomVerge 4 years ago
    I'd love to have an HD version of the Metroid Prime series!

    Or even a new Metroid Prime game. :-)
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  • Avatar for TheColorUrple #7 TheColorUrple 4 years ago
    Nice review! You effectively hit on all the things that made playing Wind Waker for the first time earlier this year so unfathomably frustrating. I really wish I had waited....
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 4 years ago
    Tempting, very tempting. Sadly, I’m tight on money available for games for the rest of the year, so no Wii U for me until 2014. Despite that, I’m seriously considering getting this remake at some point, given that it seems they really corrected the glaring flaws of the original.

    @lonecow Yes, using the engine they have built for this game would be clever, although I hope that if they actually do that, they use an art style more similar to Skyward Sword. I just prefer the more realistically proportioned yet still stylized character design of that game. And really, strong art direction is what has allowed Nintendo games to stand out even in the face of HD graphics this generation. Surely they will continue with that path in the future.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #9 Mad-Mage 4 years ago
    The flaws addressed are all things I didn't like like about the original game, but it sounds like there are two things this remake did NOT address Like how there is little use for rupees, which makes finding secrets that lead to chests of rupees I can't fit in my wallet quite frustrating. And also, this game is soooooo easy I never died once the first time I played it. It made finding chests with heart pieces equally unrewarding. Given exploring and finding secret chests is a big part of the appeal of this game, the fact that the chests basally do little to nothing for you was a big detraction for me. I'm a little surprised these unaddressed flaws aren't mentioned in the review.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #10 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    I can't say that this will make me go grab a Wii U, but it's definitely on my list for when I finally do own one.
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  • Avatar for lethalsilicong5 #11 lethalsilicong5 4 years ago
    that's it. i have to get this game now. no excuses!
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #12 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @Mad Mage There's a hero mode where enemies hit twice as hard and you can't restore life without a potion. Sold?
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #13 Kuni-Nino 4 years ago
    It's nice to see Wind Waker getting a lot
    of love again. I don't know how accurate it is to say that the game went unappreciated though. The game reviewed extremely well and sold great for a game that was essentially on an ailing system.

    The art style did push some people away, but in my experience, at least, those same people still dislike its art style. Those that defend it, like me, still have to defend it every now and then. No way it's consensus.

    Being a Zelda fan sucks. Everybody wants different things.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #14 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    I am quite excited for this...and I have played through the original probably...7 or more times...
    Is that pathetic? I am still excited.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #15 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    @lonecow Are you suggesting Phantom Hourglass and/or Spirit Tracks HD? Or a new sequel that happens before/after/instead of those?
    I just hate havng to wait two more weeks for a disc, but I gotta have the Ganondorf statue. Because I'm a sucker for gaming memorabilia.
    Oh, and great review as always, Jeremy.
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  • Avatar for Britler #16 Britler 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Is Hero Mode available from the get go or do you have to beat the game first like with Master Quest?
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #17 Mad-Mage 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Much happier! Thank you. But like the other guy asked, am I gonna have to play through the bleeping game once before I can access it, much like how Master Quest was locked away in the 3DS version of OoT?
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #18 The-Fool 4 years ago
    @Mad Mage ... From what I have read, I believe it is available from the get-go.
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #19 The-Fool 4 years ago
    There is something... strangely satisfying about playing The Wind Waker with Link in his lobster shirt.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #20 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    Hero mode is available from the start, and you can switch between it and normal any time.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #21 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    Glad to hear that they streamlined some of the more annoying elements to the game.

    Wish they added an extra dungeon, but sometimes it's best if they don't tamper too much with the original.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #22 Pacario 4 years ago
    I'm not crazy how Nintendo (and some of the press) is treating this game akin to a brand new release. Sure, the tweaks are welcome, but this is still a ten year old game being sold as if it were a new title. It just seems crass, even if, yes, the game truly is good.

    I would have liked more content--maybe an extra dungeon or two, perhaps even an on-line multiplayer mode. If I recall, Nintendo had experimented with the latter on the DS titles, and it would have made sense to return to this thanks to the Wii U's fancy touch screen controller (the DS games controlled exclusively through the screen).

    In short, this is a perfectly adequate rerelease of a fine title, but it's hardly an inspired one. And for Nintendo, that's criminal.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #23 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    @lonecow Hmm. The only issue I can think of there would be... Oh wait SPOILER, people... Now then, the only issue I can think of there would be that, with Ganondorf defeated, your primary enemy would have to be, well, not Ganon. Granted, it's been done, and even done well, I thought, but there would still be those that may cry foul. A minor nit, really, but a nit nonetheless.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #24 Godots17thCup 4 years ago
    I'll probably get The Wind Waker HD sooner rather than later, largely because it sounds like Hero Mode fixes one of my two biggest quibbles with the game - the other being the notorious Triforce fetch quest, which also seems to have been sufficiently addressed in this remake.

    As much as I loved how surprisingly creative the combat system could allow the player to be (did anyone else ever knock bokoblins to the edges of bridges, just to smack them to their doom with a grappling hook while they were clinging for dear life? I did, because that was AWESOME! Also, I may be a sociopath.), it was contrasted with how, unless you went out of your way to avoid obtaining additional heart pieces/containers, Link was hardly ever in any life-threatening danger in TWW. Once you got beyond the neat little improvisations of battle, most of the enemies had little actual fight in them, so to speak.Edited September 2013 by Godots17thCup
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