Developer: Nintendo / Publisher: Nintendo / Platform: Wii U / Release Date: October 2013 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated [No Descriptors]
First of all, put on this song in the background while you read this. We’re going to run a little something of a test — a user experience test if you will.
In January, Nintendo offered microscopic details on its brand new, high-definition The Legend of Zelda title– born and bred on the company’s struggling home console, the Wii U. However, since that game is months if not years away from your grubby paws, Nintendo also announced what many weren’t expecting — a high definition remake of the cell-shaded Gamecube classic, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, aptly naming it The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD.
I had a chance to spend some quality time with the first 15 minutes of the game, and it should go without saying that this plays and feels like the Wind Waker you played — it’s just prettier, sleeker and more adorable in ways that you can’t help but enjoy as a nostalgia-driven Zelda nerd. Heck, if you like things that are cute, give this game a moment of your time.
The demo began in the beachside treehouse where Wind Waker placed you in the shoes of Link nearly 11 years ago. You’re with your adorable sister, where you experience some brief and charming conversation, and you view the new world through a spyglass. It’s clear that the extra processing power of Nintendo’s next-gen console is being used in full-force here — the matching ocean waves and sunny skies are warm and tastefully animated, and seemingly extend infinitely into the horizon. It’s astonishingly beautiful, but it doesn’t lose the Wind Waker style and definition in the slightest.
While this is all familiar, it’s at this moment where the Wii U additively enhances the Wind Waker experience beyond that of aesthetic upgrades. Similar to mechanics implemented in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, your view through the spyglass can be controlled through the Wii U gyroscope, and can be viewed on the Wii U Gamepad.
In fact, the game implements a number of Wii U-specific features that help differentiate it from its standard definition counterpart — touchscreen inventory management and wand control, equipment button mapping, and, unclear until now, full off-tv support with the Gamepad screen. I toyed with these features frequently in the demo, and suffice it to say they all work tremendously. Aiming is smooth and fluid — it doesn’t feel forced, and you can even ignore it entirely and apply the traditional analog stick approach if you so choose.
Nintendo also pitched us on what they’re calling the “Tingle Bottle” feature, in which players from Miiverse can send message to you (yes, in your single player game) through messages in a bottle that wash up on shore, as well as in other places around the game world. We never saw this feature in action, so we’ll have to wait until Nintendo showcases it before dreaming about it for too long.
And though the game looks absolutely stunning in its increased resolution environment on a high-definition television, Link and his world still absolutely pop to an astounding degree on the Gamepad — so much so that I pictured (and pointed out to a Nintendo representative) a vision of myself enjoying the long-distance sailing of Wind Waker from the comfort of my porch swing with an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk nearby. Don’t judge, it’s exactly what you’ll do too when you try it.
And if you don’t like it, then slap it on that 90″ wide screen your rich uncle bestowed upon you last Christmas. But hey, the option is there — and Nintendo is sticking to their every-first-party-game-will-have-this-feature guns.
By and large, we’re talking about an HD enhancement to Wind Waker — nothing has changed from a major gameplay, narrative or character standpoint (with some tunings here and there to adjust pace, the game’s designer Anouma has mentioned) — it’s just a beautiful upgrade to an already beautiful (but gently aging) Gamecube swan song. And though we lack any indication from Nintendo that more news will break soon regarding the forthcoming return-to-roots Zelda game for Nintendo’s home console, I’m certainly looking forward to re-experiencing one of the most charming and well-paced Zelda games to date in October 2013 when it releases, and I even more anticipate letting it fill the gap until a fresh new adventure for Link drifts into sight.
And you know what else? Link is still absolutely adorable in this barrel.