The Definitive 50 GameCube Games: #4 The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The series so far: The Definitive 50 GameCube Games.

The first glimpse we had of the Zelda series for GameCube came from Nintendo’s Spaceworld event in 2000. The brief clip shown included realistically styled versions of Link and Ganondorf battling it out, and left Zelda fanatics salivating.

But when the actual Zelda game in development on the system was revealed one year later – many of those same fans were thrown into fits of rage.

What was this cel shaded Link, what was this “Celda”? They had “kiddified” Zelda, we were sure of it! Nintendo had doomed themselves yet again! I sent many vitriolic emails to Nintendo about that one – but thankfully, they didn’t listen, and we got The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

It’s Link’s birthday, and on his quiet island home, a very special one that warrants the donning of a green tunic in homage to the Hero of Time who vanquished evil so long ago. Unfortunately, celebratory plans are cut short when a rascally band of pirates come to shore tracking a bird who has nabbed their leader: a young lady who claims her name is Tetra.

Link, in his spiffy new outfit manages to track Tetra down, but the bird winds up hauling off his sister Aryll instead. To make up for bringing the bird to Link’s home island, Tetra and team agree to take Link to the Forsaken Fortress where his sister is being held.

It turns out Aryll and Tetra are just two of several girls who have been captured by a resurgent Ganondorf on a mission to find the heir of Hyrule.

Unfortunately, Link is cast off into the great sea before he can rescue his sister and left for dead before his rescue by – I’m not kidding – a talking boat, the King of Red Lions. With his new companion, Link sets out to track down the three Pearls of the Goddesses and the Master Sword itself in the hopes of finding a means to defeat Ganon. Of course, this being a Zelda title, that mission is only the beginning, with many other quests in store.

Wind Waker‘s whimsical cel shaded graphical style was truly something new for the Zelda series, and actually improved characterization by making the title’s heroes and villains powerfully expressive. The caricatured looks Link and others give really breath life into the watery world of Wind Waker. As well, environments are richly coloured and clean, while lighting is eye popping. All together, Wind Waker looks like Link to the Past in three dimensions.

Wind Waker‘s gameplay shouldn’t be a surprise to Zelda veterans. Link’s basic moves remain largely unchanged from what was established on the N64, and yes, you’ll still be exploring labyrinthine dungeons filled with monsters and puzzles, but there are some refreshing tweaks.

Combat is altered by the new ability to pick up and fight with enemy weapons. Parrying is introduced, with Link able to deliver devastating blows to enemies with a well timed tap of the A button. Link’s arsenal beyond the sword is also smartly adjusted. With the grappling hook, for example, players can actually hang and swing from certain ceiling elements.

What really sets Wind Waker apart, however, is its vast ocean over-world. Rather than exploring one big interlocked land mass, Link and the King of Red Lions are out on the high seas, with the Wind Waker baton controlled wind behind them. The openness of Wind Waker was a return to the more exploratory roots of the Zelda series – you never know what each new space on the map might hold.

Zelda fans don’t know what they want. Despite early protests that the series was headed for cataclysm, Wind Waker turned out to be one of most enjoyable of all Zeldas, and quite possibly the most charming game in the entire series.

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