Fiona and I were in the supermarket yesterday, and we were just about to walk right past the
videogames section when I decided to go and see if they at least had the "coming soon"
promotional boxes for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The official UK release date
for the game was today, the 3rd of May, so I assumed they might at least have some promotional
Brilliantly, they had the actual game for sale a day early; the limited edition 2-disc
version, with Ocarina of Time and Master Quest. Needless to say, I bought it, and played
it until about 2am today.
Thus, since it's compulsory, here are a few thoughts on the game. Warning: some gameplay/items
spoilers below, but no plot spoilers.
We've all already heard too much of this debate, so I'll keep my contribution nice and short.
Initially, based on screenshots, I hated it. I then got a DVD of footage from E3, and realised
it flowed well enough in motion. Yesterday, initial impressions were that it was simplistic but
cheerful, and that essentially remains my opinion - as for Mario Sunshine.
The big plus (and complete
justification IMHO) for the cel-shaded style is that it goes a hell of a long way towards eliminating
pop-up, and the need for gratuitous fogging etc. The continuity from islands out to sea and then to
other islands is wonderful, and the telescope lets you see just how much is being rendered at any
moment. So, I have no complaints about the style. I also happen to think it makes things easier to see,
which is always a particularly good thing in 3D environments.
Meat-and-potatoes Zelda. Not as innovative or bright as Ocarina, but with pleasing reprises of its
many themes. High points here include the daytime ocean theme, the intro-sequence's medieval music,
and the considerably more threatening "minor enemy approaching" incidental music.
The music does the job, and stays faithful to the series. I wouldn't buy the soundtrack (I do have
the Ocarina soundtrack on CD).
A pleasant progression in effects, taking into account the cel-shading. I really like the purple/black
smoke which slain enemies dissolve into, particularly the way the cloud swooshes back into the centre.
The storm of embers on Dragon Roost Island is nice, and the hidden chests are lovely once revealed.
Best of all have to be the facial expressions, and the way characters' eyes follow the action, or look
towards whomever is speaking. Link's expressions are often genuinely funny; I particularly enjoy his
"sidling" face, with its suspicion and grim determination.
Audio effects are noticeably more realistic, interestingly. There's a lovely clangy quality to swords
striking hard surfaces, unlike the slightly bouncy 'tink' of previous games. The 'da-da-da-DA!' fanfare
which plays when you find a new item is much more gutsy and enthusiastic, and the almost-omnipresent
wind effects really do add depth to the environment. Gliding from Forest Haven over to the Forbidden Wood
is almost as terrifying with your eyes closed as with them open!
But by far the most wonderful aspect of the effects, and perhaps my favourite part of the game as a whole,
is the way in which striking an enemy plays a musical note, which increases in pitch the nearer you are to defeating
the enemy. It's a sort of metallic, chiming orchestra-hit; a really tight and crisp little punch of sound.
Before playing the game, I'd have laughed at anyone who said this, but it seems to really add a huge amount
to combat. I can't quite explain why, but it's gigantically satisfying to deliver multiple-hit attacks and
hear those notes mounting up, towards the final step-down double-note sequence which indicates defeat. It's
also a brilliantly elegant way to indicate how much energy a foe has remaining without adding yet another
indicator to the screen. As far as I recall, this "sonic energy-bar", for want of a better name, has never
appeared in a Zelda game before. I can't help but feel that, like Z-targeting (or indeed L-targeting, as it
is now), it's one of those innovations which will stick. I do hope so.
Controls and camera
Try playing Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask on an N64, then play this - notice how stiff and springy the
N64's analog stick feels in comparison to that of the cube. The cube's controller goes easy on your fingers,
and the C-stick is really a necessity for 3D games' cameras. Link is every bit as smoothly responsive as before,
with turning and movement speed being readily and fluidly controllable.
I did notice occasional trouble with
convincing him to start sidling, and when on ladders if you roll the camera very high above you and then back
down, the controls reverse even if you haven't let them go, leading you to sometimes reverse your direction on
the ladder for a moment before you realise, but those are minor things.
One nice tweak is that, when you throw something, the camera now swings around to show you where it goes
(keeping Link in the field of view, of course).
The fact that Wind Waker is set on a series of islands gives rise to one of the main complaints which the
videogame press have about the game; namely, that the plot necessitates much ploughing across the ocean,
doing nothing much for several minutes at a time until arriving at your destination. That's a fair point;
you do spend a fair bit of time looking at your boat cutting through the waves, and it can be dull. These
points only last a few minutes at most, and there's always something to look at, half-seen off on the horizon,
but that doesn't change the fact.
The thing is, I can live with that for the reason that I find the whole visiting-islands concept much more
adventurous than just running up and down Hyrule (or Termina) Field. There's something about stepping onto
new shores, then sailing off again after performing whatever tasks were required, that just epitomises the
lone adventurer for me. It's a highly individual thing, and many people feel differently, but I find the
basic island-hopping structure very appealing, which leads me to readily tolerate, and even enjoy, those
"long" minutes crossing the ocean.
Well, it's a 3D Zelda game on the GameCube, another child of Miyamoto, and a sort of sequel to Ocarina of Time.
Of <em>course</em> it's good. The press point out that the dungeons are smaller, and that's probably true in
terms of total room-count, but the far, far bigger actual scale of the areas more than makes up for this.
There are lots of lovely new little touches, even not including the various points mentioned previously. For example,
you can now pick up certain barrels and put them over yourself, in order to hide. You can then creep around, like a
barrel with legs, setting the barrel down over yourself completely whenever you stop moving. Much has been said of the
ability to transfer your mind (and thus control) to birds, statues and the like, which is also an enjoyable innovation
(think of the Summon Trapper spells in Eternal Darkness).
The grappling hook (the new Hookshot) offers much more flexibility; you can come to a stop in mid-swing, slide up or
down the rope or change direction, and start swinging again. The boomerang now lets you lock onto up to five enemies
or items before throwing, which is a <em>great</em> feeling. Warp-tiles are replaced with bubbling pots which you jump
into (naturally, the pots start off covered with planks or rocks or such, so that you must first reach a warp-pot manually
and unblock it, before you can use an earlier warp-pot to reach it directly). Where there are multiple warp-pots in a level,
jumping into a pot warps you to the next one, and so on.
There's also a brilliant new sword technique to use, which looks wonderful during a fight. Enemies seem more vicious, and
very willing to attack even if you're currently engaged with another. Importantly, enemies now drop their weapons after
taking a sufficient beating (not just when they're defeated; they actually drop their weapons during combat), and you can
pick them up and wield them within the same area. A new primary item is the Deku Leaf, which when wafted blows great gusts of
wind, repelling airborne enemies, triggering some mechanisms, and generally aiding in solving puzzles. When jumping or falling,
you can also use the leaf as a makeshift glider, albeit at the expense of magic power - and yes, you can catch thermal currents
to gain extra altitude!
Pigs replace chickens as the livestock of choice (complete with the same unpleasant attitude after being attacked repeatedly...),
and the assorted characters seem more eloquent and complex. The houses are certainly larger (at last, houses which you can actually
believe they could <em>live</em> in for an extended period of time), and the side-quest hub island (Windfall Island) is on a similar
sort of scale to Kakariko Village, but with the more extravagant architecture of Clock Town.
One down-point I'd have to mention is that the dungeon bosses are markedly easier than before. I suppose it's up to you whether or
not that's actually a bad thing, but rest assured that they're generally more visually impressive and frightening than before,
All in all, a solid and thoroughly enjoyable expansion to the gameplay developed throughout Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. As with
Mario Sunshine (though perhaps not <em>quite</em> as much), it's fun to just bugger about the place, ignoring the primary quest in
favour of exploring the environment.
A thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience, and certainly recommended. Definitely worth the asking price, and essential for Zelda fans -
Wind Waker doesn't disappoint.