I first played Wind Waker back around it’s release, after trading a regular copy I bought with a friend for the Collector’s edition (which came with an upgraded Ocarina of Time, to boot). Being the first main series Zelda game for the Gamecube, I wasn’t sure what I was in for, particularly after the slightly misleading tech demo Nintendo offered at Spaceworld 2000. What I played was perhaps the best game I have ever had the joy of exploring, with a fantastic soundtrack and visuals that, in my opinion, will never look dated.
Whilst the plot is nothing new or exciting (bad guy wants to take over the world, and in true Zelda fashion he needs the Triforce blah blah), the very lovable cast of characters made the game a genuine thrill to take part in. From sailing the very expansive open seas — in the back of a talking boat, no less! — to interacting with the inhabitants of the various islands scattering the overworld, there was always something to look forward to, or a new ally (or enemy!) to discover.
The combat was a reworked model from the N64 (and now 3DS) games, giving Link more fighting skills than ever, mostly in the form of powerful counter attacks. This eventually lead to the best final boss battle in any game, as players were forced to use any and all of the tricks they had learned to be victorious. The enemies were also re-imagined from earlier games, and I would argue that the Re-Dead enemies are at their creepiest in this iteration. These assholes wait until you get near them before SCREECHING at the top of their lungs, paralysing you so they can chew on your head. Charming.
I am not above admitting that Wind Waker had a few faults. For one, there was limited fast travel, so sailing the seas, as amazing as it was, would take up a large amount of time. Furthermore, a middle section of quests were seemingly designed solely to increase play time, and were criticised so heavily that they were eventually removed for the 2013 re-release.
Although the game was controversial upon release for it’s “child friendly” cel-shaded graphics, Nintendo obviously knew what they were doing, as the game still looks great to this day. The updated re-release for the Wii U was, in my opinion, a step backwards in graphical quality, as the game was washed out with bloom effects.
Ocarina of Time is widely considered to be the ‘best’ Zelda game, but Wind Waker will always be my personal favourite. The exploration, combat, music and particularly cel-shaded graphics made it easy to get into, and even easier to choose as a favourite. And of course, that final boss battle was just so damned good.