A review of Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker

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When Legend of Zelda:  the Windwaker was released it must have seemed like something of a departure for the series. Cartoon graphics, rather than the complex images of Ocarina of Time, and giving Link and Zelda backgrounds, families and friends must have seemed like a risk for the studio. Fortunately, it worked out brilliantly, creating a re-imaging on the classic series that has now got its own sequels on the DS.

Windwaker is set long after Ocarina of Time, after Hyrule has been replaced by a series of islands in an aparently endless sea. On one such island, each young boy passes a manhood rite  where they wear a green uniform and undertake actions to help others. This is based on the story of the “Hero of Time” from Ocarina of Time, which is told at the beginning of the game. Link is one such boy, living wth his grandmother and sister until it is time for his trial. All is going well until his sister is kidnapped and he joins a group of pirates, lead by Captain Tetra, to rescue her. On his quest he obtains the magical baton, the Windwaker, which allows him to control the wind. This is a vital power is a world where sailing is the only transport. Of course, this is only the beginning of the adventure…

Graphically, Windwaker has been done with cel-shading, producing highly stylised and in places almost cartoon-like images. However, this stylised feel works well, creating a unique feel for the game. The facial expressions and poses convey the characters well. Although the game is text-based the script is excellent and more than makes up for the lack of voices. The music provides atmosphere rather than being outstanding, but similarly contributes to the game’s feel.

In many ways the Windwaker appears it appears to be aimed at a diffeent audience to the usual Zelda games. The puzzles seem simpler, and the game controls are easy and intuitive. Although there is a strict plotline, playes are generally free to ignore it and explore the oceans, finding sub quests, sunken treasure hidden islands and more.

Rather than one land, the world of Windwaker is a set of small islands scattered across the map, and most of the game is exploration. With sea monsters, hidden treasure and new islands and quests to reveal, there is enough here to keep exploration fans happy for hours, and the temptation is always there to abandon the main story and spend a while simply looking around. The downside of this is the time it takes to get from location to location for specific quests within the game, especially in areas where you have already found the secrets. Fortunately you can find a fast transport method once you have the right tune for the Windwaker.

The puzzles are fairly simple, although some precise positioning may be required for sunken treasure and there is nothing in the game that should really challenge an experienced RPG player or Zelda fan, but the storyline and characters are enough to hold your interest, as are the large areas to explore. In total it lasts about twenty to thirty hours if you aren’t rushing, but can keep you entertained for far longer if you try to find and complete all the subquests.

As a Gamecube game, Windwaker can also be played on the Wii. For anyone missing long classic-style RPGs or exploration games on that console, this is definitely worth getting.

There are two versions of Windwaker available. The basic release just contains this game, but the collector’s edition also contains a bonus disc with Ocarina of Time and Master Quest ported to the GameCube, and so is definitely worth looking out for if you are a Zelda fan. The collector’s Edition was a limited release, is now fairly rare, and will only be available preowned but as it is effectively 3 games for the price of one, it is worth paying more for if you can obtain it. As always, all three will play on the Wii.

In all, Windwaker is a game aimed at younger RPG fans, but suitable and entertaining for players of all ages. It goes without saying that Zelda fans should take a look at this rather unique installment to the series, but the game would also be enjoyed by exploration and puzzle fans, and acts as a good introduction to RPGs. It can be enjoyed by most players and if you missed it on the Gamecube it can be played on the Wii providing it with a degree of longevity and a whole new audience.

In summary Windwaker is a unique exploratory RPG which stands out above the crowd as a re-imaging of a classic series and the foundation of the new Zelda series on the DS.

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