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CONSOLE: GameCube DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): March 24, 2003 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

Perhaps the first Zelda game to really BLOW?

I have come to love the Zelda series ever since I received the original Legend of Zelda game as a birthday gift on one of my birthdays when I was very sick. In fact, it was that game that perked me up from illness! I remember the joys of traversing the very first dungeon, defeating the nasty Aquarius at the end, and acquiring the first piece of the Triforce! Those were happy times, seasoned with gaming simplicity -- it didn't take a long time to "get used to the controls"; you just had a few buttons to play with. This was the first game that Nintendo sold over one million copies of and they should have been damn proud of themselves. But like any popular franchise, it was doomed to either overuse its license (Capcom is notorious for milking its key gaming series for all they are worth, and then some) or just get so cocky with itself that Nintendo would simply be satisfied with anything bearing the name "Zelda", regardless of the quality standards set by the games preceding it. Although Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker doesn't exactly fall perfectly into either category, it does swing towards the latter.

Now I do realize that making every game in a series better than the last and even more entertaining by comparison is a daunting task. This I understand, and this I take into consideration. However, what I did expect was an enjoyable adventure that would keep me pretty hooked throughout Link's quest, but that was not the case. Surprisingly, this game was given, by various sources, high honours and even the occasional title of "Game of the Year" has sprung up. I am going to make a stand (and accept a few flaming paper bags at my doorstep by doing so) and say that this game doesn't deserve the title. It is merely an average title at best; so many Zelda games get it right, but this one does not.

This particular episode in the life of Link takes him to a strange part of the world where the water envelops the land, leaving only a bunch of pain-in-the-neck islands to visit. To summarize briefly: Link finds a strange girl named Tetra in a forest; Link's sister, Aryll, is kidnapped; turns out it is ultimately under Ganon's rule that Aryll has been kidnapped; must defeat Ganon! Eventually, there is a showdown between Ganon and Link, with Link bearing the Master Sword (as there always is in Zelda games), he's defeated, and everything turns out swell. But this paraphrasing of events leaves one question unanswered: what exactly IS the Wind Waker? Well, I think I'll spoil it and tell you: disappointing as it may sound, it is simply a wand that allows you to change wind direction. Meh? Meh. It has a couple of other functions though, similar to that of the ocarina from Link's 64-bit outings, such as using it to conduct certain tunes that have mystic functions when played in the right spot. This musical feature will appear in all Zelda games until the end of time, I suppose. Still, the Wind Waker is tedious to use after a while anyway.

If you have played this game and think that I am bashing it primarily due to its graphical nature, then you are wrong, my wrong friend! Although the game took a drastic turn from three-dimensional character models to a colourful cel-shaded world, that does not in any way make the game less valid or amusing. Granted, it took me longer to connect with my buddy Link after being so attached to the one in Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask which I had completed earlier in the year. But it's still possible to love the bright-eyed Link, who is now able to make slightly more dramatic facial expressions. One thing I did immediately notice was the general increase in world brightness; where the Nintendo 64 titles were darker and more texture-based, the Gamecube generation of Hyrule is filled with bright colours and the textured surfaces are gone in favour of more basic vibrant colours. The game thus looks cleaner, as should be the case with any game of this particular generation. Clipping is still an issue; you might lose an arm into a wall. Oh well; that's happened to me a few times in real life.

Why I actually thought the game faltered in the fun department was due to the absolutely excessive sailing. It seemed as though about half of my total playing time was spent sailing through the surprisingly expansive water-coated areas. If you thought traveling in the worlds of either Ocarina of Time (N64) or Majora's Mask (N64) was a tedious task, you will clearly have your thoughts rearranged when it takes you droning amounts of your time just to get to a specific island at sea. Thankfully, these journeys are reduced in tedium by the introduction of warp cyclones later on (provided you know how to attain the ability to use them, and the game isn't very straightforward about it). It's not that your vessel (a talking vessel, no less) is too slow; it's that the world is just too grand. Without warp cyclones, it will take you at least 15 minutes to get from one end of the world to the other. Clearly this time could be better spent on land actually getting something accomplished.

However, the actual quest you must undertake ashore is relatively brief; sailing sort of makes up for an ultimately short game. The dungeons that Zelda fans have come to know and love are actually few and far between. You can probably count them on one hand, provided you haven't lose a finger in a thresher accident. And if you have, uh, sorry. The provided dungeons are still quite large and require various skills and items that you obtain regularly throughout the game. The puzzles found within will challenge even Zelda veterans, so there are no worries there. As well, the controls of the game are thankfully well-plotted, although I would like to say for the record that the Gamecube controller was oddly designed, with certain buttons dropped in strange locations upon it, making for the occasional awkward finger jab in the midst of brutal action. I may have found myself pressing the wrong button at times, but perhaps I'm just so used to the PlayStation controller that it has rotted my gaming brain. In any case, fans of the Nintendo 64 Zelda games will find the control scheme familiar -- you are allowed to allocate three items to the C-buttons; the L-button and R-button help you target enemies; etc. Nothing any more complex than the two previous iterations in the series. Of course, sometimes the controls (especially those for using a Mirror Shield to reflect light and other projectiles) can prove to be downright ridiculously rough at times, such as during the final battle of the game, I discovered. I yelled at the television. It was therapeutic.

Side-quests, though unnecessary, do provide some incentive to play beyond the standard quest. Collecting Heart Containers, a Zelda standard since the very first game back in 1986, is still present, although actually finding them is even more challenging now with an even larger world to explore. There are also different specialty items that you can collect for certain individuals, such as Joy Pendants for a school teacher who adores jewelry, in exchange for a nice reward. Other minor side-quests can bring similar rewards.

Oh! And let's not forget the aural aspect of the game, oh-ho! The music in this game is, well, forgettable. (Yes, based on that little introductory sentence, you expected awesome things!) The happy-go-lucky music in the game will be enjoyable to listen to... for a while. The cheery nature will wear off eventually, and you'll be wanting to crank up your favourite Eiffel 65 album and jam instead. Sound effects are much more pleasurable and sometimes worth keeping the volume up. Besides the typical swishing of Link's sword and the crashing of pots, many non-playable characters (NPCs for those in the know) are associated with their own sound effect when they speak and a variety of those are quite hilarious! Have a conversation with any of the talking fish in the sea and you'll get a cool noise every time. And let's not forget the strange man with the telescope: "Ahhh-HO!" Precious. Still, I wouldn't have minded hearing some voice acting as well, but I suppose that's the charm of Zelda games to be vocally barren.

One other point of note is the fact that if you manage to obtain Tingle's special device (you may remember Tingle from Majora's Mask where he was introduced as a 35-year-old creepy fairy who copyrights his own useless magic words), you will be able to employ your Game Boy Advance in conjunction with the game. When you connect, Tingle can give you useful advice and help you find some secrets you wouldn't normally spot, but I actually found the system to be cumbersome, confusing, and unnecessary. I think it was implemented solely to boast the GameCube's connectivity abilities. Nice try though.

Overall, I can say that while there were moments of pure enjoyment, there were far too many moments of ennui that overwhelmed my experience. I'm not sure where the minds of the designers were at the time, but whoever thought spending large chunks of time just sailing in one direction needs to have their job credentials questioned; this aspect alone pretty much kills the rest of the game. As a standalone product, it serves its purpose and can be described as 'okay'. As a Zelda game, it is disappointing (and even a bit on the easy side, save for the final boss which is more annoying than difficult). If anyone was to ask me my top three Legend of Zelda games (or heck, even my top five), this game would not appear on the list, as so many Zelda games have done it better. I have yet to try the more recent offering, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but hopefully it's a little more true to the classic formula: more puzzles, more action, and less mindless sea travel!


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