The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Reviewing the latest game in Nintendo’s long running Zelda series has proved to be difficult for me. When I first began the game I was in awe of the amazing graphics, which are as close to playing an interactive cartoon as you can probably get. I was impressed with the fighting system which seems to be a refined version of that which had been pioneered in the previous N64 Zelda games and I was amused by the quality of the scripting and character interaction. All in all I felt in for another rollicking adventure with everyone’s favourite Elf boy Link.
And yes for the first few days of play I enjoyed it immensely. The game begins with a reminder of another Links heroic actions in the N64 game “Ocarina of Time”, where he travelled through time to defeat Ganondorf and bring light to the land. These deeds have now become legendary. Now in the present day another evil wind has blown across the land, but this time the Hero of Time has not appeared. On one island it is now traditional for boys to be clothed in green when they come of age and they aspire to become heroes like the Link who came before, and by some great coincidence the latest boy to come of ages is called Link.
After a giant bird snatches Links sister, he joins up with some pirates to go and rescue her. But this soon drags him into a larger adventure where he must search for the pieces of Triforce and then face down the latest evil to claim the kingdom through the usual mixture of finding the correct weapons to proceed through the next dungeon until the final dungeon is reached. And plenty of mini-games and side areas which allow you to win extra energy containers to build up Links strength. Combat is achieved by locking onto an enemy with either a sword or more powerful weapon and hacking away at weak spots until they die. Boss encounters follow the usual “find the one weakness and attack” pattern.
Yes this was definitely a Zelda game with many recognisable components to it. Prior games in the series such as “Ocarina of Time” on the N64 are up their with my all time favourite games ever, and for a while I was confident this would be joining them. And yet…
After a while I began to realise I wasn’t enjoying the game very much.
I couldn’t understand it at first. But it was true. I was starting to leave longer gaps between picking up the controller for the next go. I often found myself staring into space as I was playing it and never once did I fall asleep playing the game because I was desperate to know what happened next and continued playing despite extreme tiredness as I have done with wonderful games in the past.
It’s hard to explain why, but for me it IS the cell-shaded graphics that have made this game such a disappointment for me. There is no denying they look beautiful, they are solid, colourful and I saw no glitching or warping anywhere. It’s a solid world to explore. But it doesn’t feel REAL. When I play a game I like to be able to identify with the hero. Link does not speak at all in the game, so any emotions must be conveyed via his face. However sadly his huge, bloated head and large eyes make him look like one of the Powerpuff girls and it is hard to feel any connection with him at all. I also found myself resenting the decision to make him a child again. One of the reason Ocarina of Time is such an amazing epic is that for two-thirds of the game you are an older version of Link, thrust into a much more darker version of your world with genuinely scary monsters and a real feeling of doom and threat.
None of this comes over in the Wind Waker. You begin to feel like a kid, fighting as a kid against the kind of caricatured villains that are neither frightening nor malevolent. So what if the combat system is so refined I can pick a villains pocket and steal his weapons? The enemies are a joke and you can make them more of a joke. But fighting jokes is not heroic, and I never felt as I played that anything truly was a threat. Perhaps the best example is the comparing the ReDeads of Ocarina of Time to the equivalent in Wind Waker. In Ocarina, a ReDead was a tall sinister brown humanoid. If you got to close they let out and unearthly scream and froze Link before jumping on his back and chomping at him. It was genuinely scary. Now rendered in Cell-O-Vision these now resemble “terrifying” little old men, with earrings!
The story also began to drag for me as well. In previous games the worlds you inhabit were solid ones, made up of a central area and surrounded by various lands you could explore and find dungeons in. In this game the whole world is fractured into many islands that have to be visited via Links boat. Not only can travelling between the islands become extremely tedious, but also you never get a feeling of an overall coherent world you are going to be saving. You never feel emotionally involved and without that identification with the hero and lack of motivation to save the world the game basically becomes a drag to play. I did play to the end of the game, but it was more of a relief when I got there, and I found the sub-games to be to frustrating and childish to be worth playing for long.
In a way, Wind Waker sums up all that is going wrong for Nintendo. Many people complained when the first “Celda” images were shown. But Nintendo persisted with its “Nintendo knows best” attitude and released it. Sure it did well at first, but once most of the Nintendo faithful purchased a copy it dropped out of the charts. Unlike games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City where the company listened to suggestions from fans and made an even better game and have been rewarded with a game that remains in the top twenty bestsellers after over a year.
Desperate though Nintendo are to override their “kiddy” and broaden their appeal, it seems insane from a business point of view to then release a game that lets you play a Powerpuff Boy inside a cartoon world. A friend of mine with a Cube who also loved “Ocarina of Time” looked at my copy and said “well I will play it as it’s Zelda, but I wish they had kept him looking realistic”. Even Shigeru Miyamoto himself conceded that returning Link to boyhood has upset a lot of female players. Zelda: WW boosts the option of “connectivity” as well, allowing you to link up a GBA and use it as a “Tingle Tuner”. Connectivity is what Nintendo claim will set them apart from those other silly companies who are spending all their money of Online gaming.
Zelda: The Wind Waker is a supreme disappointment. It looks beautiful, but it’s uninvolving. The soaring, sweeping music of Ocarina has been replaced with non-descript and rather twee concoctions. The gameplay hasn’t moved on since “Ocarina of Time” and it lacks that games epic qualities and feeling of involvement. Sure Link can’t speak in Ocarina, but his more adult appearance and the sense that so much more is at stake makes his adventures there compelling. By the end I felt irritated and patronised that once again Nintendo’s idea of gaming appears to have progressed no further than 1992 and that they seem to think only 13-year-old boys play their games.
Well Nintendo, if you want to make it to GameCube 2, take a leaf out of the other companies books for a change and make a game that I won’t end up feeling embarrassed to play. Treat me like an adult and give me characters I can care about and adventures that stretch me. You did it before with Ocarina of Time (and if you intend to buy Wind Waker, get the special edition with Ocarina on it if you don’t already have it), you can do it again. Until then you may have to be content with selling games to your fanboys and girls and no further, as modern tastes have changed and only those who feel the early nineties were some kind of gaming halcyon day could possibly find the “adventuring by numbers” approach in Wind Waker absorbing and enjoyable.
Rating this game is tricky. It does look gorgeous, and the gameplay is refined with good controls and a good in-game camera. Its lifespan is decent if you do get into the game and if you (unlike me) plan to spend time playing the mini games like Battle Ships you may get a lot more playtime out of it. Yet overall I must give it a lower mark to reflect the fact this is a game I found to deeply uninvolving, patronising, frustrating and in places unbelievably tedious (up to 5 minutes sailing from island to island!). If this type childish nonsense continues to be the “Nintendo difference”, then it’s a difference that will drive me and many other more mature gamers away from their consoles for good.