Out of all the Zelda’s they could have updated for the Wii U, it’s pretty clear why Nintendo chose The Wind Waker. Ocarina of Time’s had a few upgrades already, so another version of that would be a bit cheeky... Probably. Everyone knows we’d all still buy it. Meanwhile, Twilight Princess’s art style might not lend itself too well to an HD update without a giant overhaul, and Skyward Sword’s still only a couple of years old, though the thought of that in HD at some point is pretty tantalising. Of course, the latter couple of games are heavily dependent on motion controls too, which isn’t the best way to sell Nintendo’s snazzy Wii U GamePad now is it?
It certainly helps, then, that Wind Waker hasn’t aged at all in the ten years since its release. Despite the initial fracas that met with its unveiling (good to see that ‘gamers’ have cut that kind of kneejerk reaction stuff out since that time, eh? Oh wait…), it’s proved all naysayers wrong, and people look back now with nothing but fondness. Some even declare it to be 'the best Zelda'. It’s proof that focus groups and trends will never outlast good old-fashioned vision, artistic intent and innovation. Twilight Princess already looks dated. Wind Waker, though? It’s always going to look like an interactive Genndy Tartakovsky cartoon. A little tidy up here, and some nice bloom effects there, and you’ve got a game that looks more than good enough for a modern release.
It’s also extremely sweet and funny. Link’s massive cartoon face gives him a lot of opportunity to emote - which he does at every opportunity - the best being the wearied Bruce Campbell-esque sideways glance as he sidles along a wall. Link never had more character than he did than during this adventure. It’s almost as good as Majora’s Mask as far as odd villagers to meet and help out are concerned too, like one individual in an Elvis costume doing a funky dance on Windfall Isle.
Wind Waker often breaks the fourth wall as well. Carlov, the man that owns the Nintendo Gallery in-game, bemoans the fact that his club is losing membership, because he hasn’t done anything ‘cool’ in a while. It’s a nice, self-deprecating reference to how the console race was playing at the time, with Nintendo losing customers to Sony with their ‘cooler’ console. You could accuse Nintendo of many things, but not being self-aware isn’t one of them.
Then there’s Zelda herself (spoiler alert for the next paragraph so scroll on down). For the first half of the game at least she’s a lot of fun; a feisty, bossy, no-nonsense hardass. It’s a shame Nintendo wimped out and she reverted to type part way through with the lame ethereal Princess stuff again, but the fact they were willing to mess with the formula even a bit was encouraging.
It’s not escaped anyone’s attention that ever since the ‘realistic’ iteration, in this case Twilight Princess, was given a more lukewarm reception, the Zelda franchise has continued down the fun, cartoony route started with Wind Waker. The Cube's final and the Wii's first Zelda offering was excellent, obviously, but it just all seemed so… dour. It’s not as easy to go back to as Wind Waker is. Compared to that game, where phasers were set to ‘fun’, Twilight Princess was trying to do everything and anything to please the Ocarina crowd, and lost something in the process. It's much more laid back brother is a funny, joyful game full of daft characters and subquests. Tailing the thief on Windfall Isle as Link pretends to be a cat in order throw her off the scent springs to mind. Though a fuller, more complete game, Twilight Princess seemed like a step backwards, or sideways.
Skyward Sword definitely had more in common tonally and gameplay-wise with Wind Waker. It had that watercolour art style, more memorable characters like Groose (seriously, name someone from Twilight Princess right now… you can’t, can you?), and a town full of villagers to help out. It even had the same travelling merchant, with the same wild ‘thank youuu’ sound sample. Then there are the DS games, one of whic, Phantom Hourglass, was a direct sequel to Wind Waker. The upcoming Link Between Worlds on the 3DS fits this whole concept as well.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to us, then, that when the next ‘big’ Zelda is unveiled, it too takes a leaf out of Wind Waker’s book. Obviously it won’t be exactly the same, but don’t be astonished if aesthetically it stands out from the crowd, much like Skyward Sword did. The last thing the Zelda franchise needs now in its lifetime is some Skyrim influenced ‘epic’ with a Lord of the Rings look.
After all, The Wind Waker is the perfect game to use as a foundation for future iterations. A unique setting (Skyward Sword appropriated this too with its aerial exploration), a world full of odd characters to interact with and actually help out, dungeon design that makes you feel like a right clever clogs for sussing them out and a timeless look. A Zelda game doesn’t need to ape a Peter Jackson film to feel like an event.
There's also room to change up the characters. Why not go the whole hog with Zelda and properly dispense with the damsel nonsense? Obviously she shouldn’t turn into Duke Nukem or something, but her incarnation in Wind Waker was as good a start as any to creating a more modern, less antiquated Princess.
Some moan that Zelda games are all the same, but that’s nonsense frankly. Though they all share a similar formula, they’ve shown various degrees of change and evolution throughout the years, whether it is through day/night cycles, cel shaded graphics or motion controls. With Wind Waker as a launchpad, that’ll only become even more prevalent in the future.