Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker holds an odd position within the Zelda series. It was berated by many when it was first shown for its 'Celda' graphics, but has gone on to become one of the most beloved entries. While the debate about the best Zelda is destined to be as timeless as Link's quest, Wind Waker usually sits fairly comfortable amongst its stable-mates. Presumably this, and the fact it is neither too old to require too much work nor too new to result in cries of 'cashing in', is the reason that Nintendo chose to give it a bit of spit-and-shine and release it on the Wii U.

We could argue about the semantics of whether The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a remake or a HD-remix, and trust me it has been argued ad nauseum, but for better or worse it is the same Wind Waker that was released on the GameCube ten years ago. Sure it looks nicer, and there are some minor adjustments, but the plot, gameplay and pitfalls all remain.

The story in Wind Waker takes a break from the norm in some regards. Link has a sister, whose kidnapping is the crucial plot point that sets him on his path to herodom, and he meets up with Tetra, a female pirate boss that has a fondness for winking. Of course, if you've played the original you know the twists that the story takes, but we won't spoil them for anyone that has not played it.

Wind Waker HDWind Waker is littered with weird and wonderful characters. Zelda games have always had unique non-playables, but Nintendo seemed to use the art style to provide more exaggerated characters. Coupled with Link, the original Socially Awkward Penguin, Wind Waker is perhaps the funniest game in the franchise's history.

Seeing as Wind Waker had some elements removed due to time constrains (I had actually forgotten how easy obtaining the third pearl was), which were allegedly incorporated into Twilight Princess, some fans had hoped that Nintendo will have added this back.  If you are one of those fans you will be disappointed to hear the game is exactly as it was ten years ago. And yes, that means the sailing too.

Nintendo must be given credit, they really did make a vast open world with Wind Waker. However, it feels sparse rather than spacious. I remember not being particularly bothered as a teen when I played through Wind Waker for the first time, but as an adult playing it again it felt more tedious. It would be one thing if you could leave the boat sailing while you do something else, but you get attacked by random enemies and cyclones that it feels like being back in school where the teacher would randomly ask you a question to make sure you were paying attention.

Thankfully, Nintendo has included a faster sail that you can obtain (which isn't influenced by the wind, so you don't have to keep changing the direction), but you do so about half way through the game, at which point you've already had to make at least two lengths of the world. According to long-time Zelda director Eiji Aonuma, this reason it is obtained so late in the game is to ensure players appreciate its size first. I think "appreciate" is perhaps not the best word in this case. Yes, the Triforce quest becomes easier but that is the latter half of the game.

Wind Waker HD

The other major addition is the Miiverse integration, whereby players can literally put messages into a bottle and set them off into the sea (apparently in this game, the Miiverse is the sea). It's a neat little add-on, and bound to amuse fans, but unfortunately as we had the game prior to the opening of the Wind Waker HD Miiverse we were unable to test it out.

Other little elements have been added or tweaked, although Nintendo doesn't make a big song or dance about it in-game. When Link gets the PictoBox (camera), he can use it to take some selfies, complete with choosable facial expressions. The numerous buttons on the GamePad also allow for items that you hold to be thrown with A, or placed down with ZR (whereas normally both actions are done with A). It's a handy addition, but it took me longer to realise than I'd care to admit.

Audiophiles will be glad to hear that the music has been improved upon.  The same tunes we all know and love are still there, but the quality and arrangements have been improved to take advantage of the greater opportunities both reflection and heightened capabilities offer.  

Wind Waker HD can be played with either the GamePad or Wii U Pro Controller and aside form the obvious screen difference, it handles exactly the same (except oddly, the camera control is inverted by default on the Pro Controller). Of course, the GamePad changes how you interact with Wind Waker HD somewhat. Accessing items no longer requires pausing, although it is advisable if you're in the middle of a battle, and even if you're using the Pro Controller the map is displayed on the GamePad meaning you can keep track of your orientation on the vast ocean easily. In addition to this, you can control the baton using the touch screen (or the right analogue stick) and use the gyroscope during first-person aspects (such as shooting arrows).

Of course, the 'HD' awkwardly tacked onto the end of the title is not there without reason. Nintendo has really spruced up not only the visuals, but also shortened the in-game animations so that the game plays much more quickly. Wind Waker HD expands the GameCube original to widescreen, brighten the colours and add a whole lot of light bloom, perhaps too much. The improved textures really stand out when you compare the original with Wind Waker HD.

If you've gone into our forums lately, you will have seen that even though the game hasn't been released it has been discussed and debated at lengths; is it a remake or a graphic tune-up? Was enough added? Should the missing dungeons have been put back in? Is it worth the RRP? Does Tingle look more alluring in HD? (answer: hell yes!) The passion for Wind Waker, and the Zelda franhise as a whole, is clear.

Nintendo has a lot to live up to with Wind Waker HD and in many regards an impossible task at hand - to please a diverse fanbase that want different things.

Those who just love Wind Waker and want to relive it with gorgeous new graphics will be over the moon when it is released. Wind Waker HD is still a hell of a lot of fun to play and the improved sailing and animation takes out a lot of tedious elements of the GameCube original.

Conversely, fans that were expecting a lot more to be added will probably end up disappointed. There are new elements, some more obvious than others, that help tighten up the overall experience and they've been discussed above. If you were looking for any major changes to the gameplay or narrative then Wind Waker HD may disappoint you.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is as much fun to play as it is time-consuming to say. This really is one of the finest Zelda titles (in my opinion, before the rankers get hot on my tail) to have been released and the changes have improved things. If you loved the original and want something to keep you occupied until the bespoke Wii U Zelda title arrives, you can't go wrong with Wind Waker HD.


N-Europe Final Verdict

It's The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, now in HD...

  • Gameplay5
  • Playability4
  • Visuals4
  • Audio5
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



A wonderful graphic style updated with HD visuals
Fantastic audio
Still as fun to play as it was ten years ago
Faster sailing!


Although you're stuck with slow sailing for quite a while
Full price RRP is arguably steep

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