Genius. Perfection. Magnificence. All words that have been applied to Zelda games past. Bringing the series to the next generation has undoubtedly been a formidable challenge, especially as Wind Waker's direct predecessors are none other than Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask - the games that carried the Zelda series triumphantly into 3D and completely reinterpreted the Zelda theme in their own unique but equally effective ways. Nintendo often staggers under the burden of its fans' heaped expectations, and with Zelda it looks as if it might trip up and fall altogether. The fans didn't want their memories of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask tarnished by an entirely unique but inferior sequel, but they didn't want to be presented with a mere shadow of former titles' glory either.
Above all, though, they didn't want too radical a change, which might explain the absolute outcry that has been ringing in the industry's ears ever since Zelda's 'new look' was unveiled. Videogames series often change, but few have made as radical and controversial a transformation as this franchise in recent years. Having tantalised gamers with clips of a hyper-realistic battle between Link and much-loved evil carrot-man Ganondorf on the pre-release GameCube trailer, Miyamoto chose to unveil something utterly different to the expectant crowds at E3 2001. And for the most part, they didn't like it very much. 'Oh my God, what on earth have they done to Link?' was the cry on many people's lips, mine included. Nintendo was bombarded with petitions and complaints from worried, confused and downright furious fans, but, as always, it paid not the slightest bit of attention to its clamouring public. For once, however, we should all be thankful that it didn't listen.
'The graphics are not all that is different about Wind Waker. Everything else has changed a bit as well'
For the graphics are not all that is different about Wind Waker. Everything else has changed a bit as well. Everybody would have been happy with a graphically improved Ocarina of Time. Miyamoto could easily have got away with it. However, as we all know, that's just not the way he does things. Instead of churning out an update, Miyamoto has gone all the way with Zelda: The Wind Waker and, bravely, created a full-on evolution. Zelda veterans will be holding their collective breath for the first twenty minutes that they spend with Wind Waker, hoping and praying that it won't disappoint them, either by drastically changing a perfect formula or by providing but a pale imitation of past Zelda greatness. Somehow - and it truly is a miraculous feat - Wind Waker manages to avoid doing either. It's both true to its heritage and suitably different to justify calling it the next step forward for the Zelda series. Worried Zelda diehards can breathe a sigh of relief, as it's as immersive, as engaging, and as utterly wonderful as ever before. Welcome to the next generation, ladies and gentlemen - I can assure you, you'll love it here.
The obvious differences, graphics aside, are plain to see; there's a new Link, a new setting and a new storyline. The kingdom of Hyrule has faded into distant legend, as has the Hero of Time, his Master Sword and the evil power that he vanquished with it. The new hero's flooded world is a vast, nameless sea, peppered with plenty of islands to sail between and explore. As the Waker of the Winds, the new hero continues Zelda games' musical tradition by controlling the elements with his baton, the Wind Waker itself, changing the winds to aid the world and enable him to sail the vast ocean on his mysterious talking boat, the King of Red Dragons. Wind Waker's plot is the richest and most complex yet to grace a Nintendo game, filled with twists, turns and constant surprises.
In addition to this, however, there are significant changes to the universally-lauded formula of Zelda games past. The balance of action and brainwork has been shifted slightly. There's slightly more freedom to divert from Link's quest and explore his world, sailing around the islands at will in between visiting the dungeons. There is more travel due to the game's seafaring premise, and with it comes a richer sense of discovery. There are about fifty islands and even the smallest has its own hidden surprises with which to reward eager explorers. The largest are veritable goldmines of opportunity, bursting with people, side-quests and hidden mysteries. The compulsion to explore, play and delight in your surroundings is utterly irresistible. It's that compulsion that has always made Zelda games so very special and, thankfully, it remains an integral aspect of Wind Waker's enjoyability.