If Jesus was this cute and addictive, we'd all be Christian.
I never once balked at "Celda." For those of you unfamiliar with this epithet, "Celda" was the insulting nickname the l33t gaming crowd gave to Zelda: Wind Waker upon seeing the first few screen shots. I can almost hear the fat comic book guy in the background bemoaning it as the "Worst Zelda ever!" (That title, I understand, goes to the CD-i Zelda game which apparently three people played. I'd argue #2 was the worst one, having not touched the obselete CD-i console since it came out in the early 80's). Yes, Zelda (Link too, actually) is cel shaded, meaning he's largely� actually, I have no idea what cel shading entails. He looks a bit cartoony, if that's any help. And, because all the other Zelda games apparently have been super realistic, you can see why this would be an issue.
Ok, actually, no you can't. It's a video game. It's never been realistic. Link went from an 8 bit clump of blocks to a high polygon number figure, now he's kind of a cartoony sprite. I'd say he's doing alright for himself. The aesthetics of whether or not the new Link will be like the new Coke I leave to forum trolls. I think it's great that one of the most famous video game characters got himself a new look. And the game he's looking shiny and new in kicks butt.
The plot: To tell too much would be spoiling it, but there's a legend here that does need recapped. The first order of business is that the star of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, is NOT Link. He is an ordinary little boy from Outset Isle (har! Clever!) who, as he reaches the age of whatever age he is, has to wear the ceremonial green tunic and elf hat of the famed Hero of Time. So you can name yourself whatever you want to, because you're just some kid. Sure, there's supposed to be some heroism involved here, and there may or may not some destiny, but you're just you. I may slip up and call the main character Link from time to time, though.
Link apparently was a no-show. Some time ago, Link defeated Ganon, who had come to claim the land in eternal darkness. Link has done this so dang many times, however, it's hard to figure out exactly which time they're referring to. Link saved Hyrule from Ganon in The Legend of Zelda, prevented his return in Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link, then took some time off to defeat the wizard Agahnim in Zelda 3: A Link to the Past, then apparently dreamt up his adventures with the Wind Fish where he again fights Agahnim. Then he saved Hyrule from Ganondorf (not Ganon) in Ocarina of Time, but by defeating Ganon, he erased the future where Ganondorf had taken it over. Then he fought some crazy mask god thing who was hell bent on crashing the moon into the world in Majora's Mask. I'm sure I've left out at least one or two other games. As you can see, there's no great amount of consistency in the Zelda canon; it's not even clear if the games are in any semblance of order, because Link is younger in Ocarina of Time than he was in Zelda 2. Still, this much is clear: At some time, after Link defeats Ganon, Ganon comes back, and the Hero of Time, who was prophesied to return, does not. The Hyrulian people pray to the gods for aid, and that is the end of the story. Nobody knows what happened to them, and nobody knows what happened to Ganon. Guess who makes a return in this game?
It's not that much of a spoiler, but it would appear that the version of Hyrule that got lost was the more recent one (the N64 Ocarina/Majora one). The people that survive the cataclysm that trapped most of Hyrule under the water were scattered far and wide on a few remote islands. Not surprisingly, the aquatic Zora people survived, but not in that form. Very surprisingly, a small handful of Goron survived; they're mountainous folk, so I suppose they suddenly had waterfront property once the oceans stopped rising, but they can't swim worth beans. The Deku apparently do not survive, or at least were nowhere to be seen in this game. Too bad, I thought they were fun. The Kokiri survive, but, like the Zora, not in the form you knew them as.
None of the humans from the N64 games return, in fact, no recognizable characters return. I was sorta expecting the Windmill Guy to show back up. Oh, wait, scratch that. Tingle, friggin' Tingle, returns. I guess the balloon on his back saved him. I shot Tingle's ass out of the air whenever I encountered him in Ocarina of Time. And, I'm sure you'll be heartbroken to find out, absolutely NO talking fairies survive. The Great Fairies, sure, but no "Hey! Listen! HEY! HEY! HEY!" fairies make it. Sometimes, the Gods get things right.
OK, ALL DONE SPOILING!
Still, despite this obvious falling down on the job (maybe this was while he was off fighting some other boss? Mario sticks to Bowser, because as soon as he goes off to play with Wario, Bowser levels some city in the Mushroom Kingdom. Let that be a lesson to you: Keep your number of arch enemies down to a manageable number), every boy of a certain age gets dressed up like Link and goes and swashbuckles for a day. When your day comes up, all the crap has to happen. What a lousy birthday.
You and Aryll, your sweet, be-pigtailed sister (she really is cute) live with your grandmother on Outset, and your blissful day of wearing the nutty green clothes are sullied when a giant bird, being chased by a pirate ship, flies overhead. A lucky cannon shot clonks the bird on the head, and it drops a girl into the forest. You, being the heroic kid, get to go rescue her. All the adults (there are 6, and 3 of them are elderly, that's quite the lousy dating pool for a young kid to grow up in) are, like, busy or something. Typical. As soon as you rescue Tetra, who apparently is the young pirate queen of the ship, your innocent sister gets kidnapped by said giant bird. Hence, your quest begins, not to free the land from a nefarious evil, but to rescue your innocent sister before she's crammed down some giant chick's gaping mouth. After you get your shield, Tetra begrudgingly lets you tag along with her ship as they sail to the Forsaken Fortress. I won't spoil it too much by telling you that, yes, you do meet the big evil guy there, and no, you don't get to fight him yet. So your story begins.
Zelda games fit a formula, and this game, ultimately, does not depart from that formula. There's an epic quest that requires you to travel far across the world, visit troubled lands, go to dungeons to gain more items, and ultimately confront the ultimate bad thing. You visit towns and villages, which generally have some problem going on, and your fixing of the problem invariably means you go to a dungeon to get something cool to use, then smack up a boss. Then you go back to the town and get something you need to advance the plot. Not coincidently, the number of plot-important items you need to get are exactly the number of troubled spots on the map.
Of course, that's only a small part of the fun. Beating Zelda games is not the goal. Beating Zelda games with EVERYTHING is the goal. The ultimate measure of your zeal at Zelda ("Zealda", get it? GET IT?!) is the number of hearts you collect. Oh, sure, you get one for each boss you whup, but that's a gimme for following the plot to its natural completion. The real test of your mettle comes from getting heart pieces, which are hidden in remote caves, given away as game prizes, granted as the reward for some great service, or, rarely, just lying around in the open. Only by doing everything, talking to everybody, searching every nook and cranny and listening to every hint, can you walk up to the final boss with all 20 hearts and all four bottles and kick his ass.
Wind Waker takes this natural compulsion to get these damned things and strings it out one step further � with treasure maps. Instead of getting heart pieces directly from every pleased NPC or game emcee, you get a treasure map that corresponds to some place in the ocean where you can dredge up a chest that may or may not contain a heart piece. They know you're going to go for it. It's like putting a dog biscuit on the muzzle of a very well trained dog. Oh, you know the dog wants to eat it. And it did the trick you wanted it to do, so it feels it should get the biscuit. But it'll wait until you say so to drop the biscuit off of its muzzle and eat it. Consider the treasure map the part where the game puts the heart piece on your nose. You can have it� eventually.
Otherwise, it's the same Zelda you've come to know and adore. Like the previous installments on the N64, there are songs to learn and play using your brand new Wind Waker, a conductor's baton, and some of these are functional, some of these are useful only for the plot. There's the same items you know and love (bombs, the bow, the hookshot, the boomerang, bottles), the return of less useful items (the hammer, the heavy boots, Nayru's Love [aka Magic Armor]), and the inclusion of some tepid new items (the Tingle Tuner and the grappling hook). Of course, you're going to get a Master Sword.
Honestly, there's nothing screamingly new about Zelda once you boil it down. Instead of walking or riding Epona from place to place, you sail. That's it, though, it's Zelda, right down to assigning items to buttons and Z-targeting monsters to have a nice cinematic combat. This is not a complaint, mind, just reassuring you that, if you love Zelda games, you'll love this one. If you don't love Zelda games, what the hell is wrong with you? It's not an RPG in a typical SquareSoft sense, but it's a great hybrid of RPG and 3D platformer elements, all balled up into an interface so easy to use you forget it's even there. I found myself being comforted by the familiarity. The difference in style between Wind Waker and its predecessors (and Zelda games have seen quite the evolution, from top-down, to side scroller, back to top-down, then to platformer, and now to cartoony platformer) is fairly striking, but hearing the familiar chime of "You found a secret!" brought it all back.
The Aesthetics: I'll talk about sound and graphics, then get to combat, because that's where this game really excels in aesthetics.
The sounds are oddly mixed. Characters don't speak (you can't speak at all, in traditional RPG style), but they make grunts, honks, and squeaks to pepper their word boxes. Tingle speaks about the most, and yes, you get a sort of "Kaloolimpah!" from him later on. But nobody says anything in words, it's all light moans and grumbles. It's odd, it works, it's not funny like Banjo-Kazooie's sound-effect voice, but it's not intending to be funny. There is some humor in it from time to time; both Tetra and the King of Red Lions (your boat) call you up with �Hey!� sound effects, so I presume that�s more of an insulting nod towards Navi than anything else. God I hate Navi.
Your character makes a lot of noise, as do monsters. Mostly it�s warcries and screams, nothing new for Link to do, but hearing a little boy go �Hu-uup!� while swatting giant pig monsters with a shortsword is a little off-putting. They work, although some of the sound effects are tiresome when repeated a lot. Your character will make a �Cha! Buh-buh-buh!� trembling noise whenever he�s nearly slipped on something, such as when pushed around by the flow of water or wind; that�s annoying the first few times he does it, and since the sound effect is triggered continuously every time he�s knocked around, it gets old real fast. Monsters make an �Uhh?� noise (particularly Molblins, who are show-stealingly cool) when they notice you, roar, charge, chitter, shriek, cackle, and essentially make noises you�d want in your cinematic monsters.
Music, perhaps surprisingly for a Zelda game, is a little meh. There�s a fairly ho-hum battle theme whenever monsters approach, there�s a bombastic �I�m fighting a miniboss!� theme, each major town has its own theme, and each boss has its own theme. But none of them really stand out, which is a real oddity, because music has always been real strong in Zelda games. A large part of my disappointment with this stems from the sheer amount of running (or, rather, sailing) around you have to do in the game; you�re always out in the ocean, meaning you�re always hearing the relatively somnambulant generic ocean theme. There�s no variety in the song; I could forgive that when playing Zelda 1, because, hey, it was nice that a game HAD music back then. Now, I�m less charitable. The medley at the beginning of the game, done on a reed flute and harpsichord synth, is a nice touch; it nods to several of the themes from Zelda 1. But I played that for the first time in the early 80's, I'd like to hear some improvements.
Graphically, the game is spot on gorgeous, as far as characters go. Characters, from random civvies to bosses, are exquisitely detailed, and particularly for monsters, they move just like you�d expect them to. They even went to the trouble of giving monsters facial expressions; Molblins, the bipedal pig monsters (who, yes, carry spears; I had thought they were more bulldog like than piglike, but whatever) grit their giant teeth together as they lunge for an attack. When you force them to drop their spear, they kip up, glance around themselves for the nearest weapon, and then go for it with a mad dart towards it. When you get the grappling hook, use it against one of the Molbins, and steal the skull necklace they wear around their neck. After you snag it, they make a precious look of outraged surprise, and then attack you � their model is now missing its necklace. Molbins aren�t the only well detailed monsters, but they stand out in my book as lovingly crafted. Every character is.
Your character is extremely expressive, particularly with his large, almond shaped eyes. He�s always looking at the nearest important detail, and when that thing is a monster closing around your flank, it forces you to pay attention to him. The eyes also drop hints whenever there's a grapple or hookshot target within range; you the player won't notice it right off, possibly because of the camera angle, but you, the character on the screen will be staring curiously at it. He'll scowl at approaching monsters, he'll make an exasperated expression when hauling himself off the ground, he'll warily eye something foreboding, and generally looks like somebody who's going through all this, so you'll get some empathy with your hero while you're checking to see where the eyes are facing. The face is so expressive that it's almost distracting, but it really adds a dimension to the gameplay that has been otherwise lacking in 3D platformers. You're not just playing an icon onscreen, you're getting feedback from them, and not just in the typical, "I'm hurt and beat up looking" or "I found an item, and here I am holding it up happily!" way.
The other details around the characters are nice, although nothing special. Water looks ok, buildings are relatively boxy, grass and bushes look like you'd expect them to. Starfox Adventures spent a lot more lavish detail on scenery, and given how much time you paced through it, I suppose it was needed. Wind Waker's scenery is just there, and perhaps even a bit jarringly fakey. A lot of the islands are obviously puzzle containing. Each block of water has one island in it, and while some of the islands are important for the plot, many of the rest of them very simply are locations where you pick up loot at after solving a puzzle. One of the islands has a box pulling and pushing puzzle in it; it's the cubist looking island. One island has a bunch of rock spires you need to hop over, it's the one with obvious rock spires with obvious boulders on top that you need to bomb before you can jump on each spire. It's a minor complaint, but it does affect gameplay because you know whether or not the island has any bearing on the plot based on the looks of it. If it's a tiny island that's shaped like something dopey, and hasn't got any real detail on it besides a rock or two and a thicket of weeds, then you can discount it as important. You have to go to pretty much all of the islands to fully complete the game, so it's not as if these islands aren't going to be explored; the "Gotta get 20 hearts!" Zelda purist WILL go to these islands, and they'll look pretty sucky in comparison to the important-to-the-plot islands.
Combat: Ah, combat. Zelda games are as much about combat as Mario games are about jumping on turtle heads. Combat, quite simply, is the best done thing ever in this game. It's both fluid and cinematic, and I'd imagine it's just as much of a treat to watch as it is to play. Monsters range from quick and nimble to large and intimidating, and how you deal with each is a matter of player finesse as much as it is weapon choice. With the exception of bosses, which usually have a single trick to beating them (essentially, use the item you just picked up in that dungeon and smack them with it), monsters can be dispatched in a number of ways. The trick is, monsters have different AIs, and you will get tag-teamed by complementary monster types.
The basics are all the same. If you swat a weapon, be it sword or hammer, or blind firing a bow or boomerang, you'll just hit anything in range of that weapon. When you're being mobbed by critters, or the monster is directly in front of you, that's really all that's needed; a few flurries of sword chops will clean up a herd of annoying, imp-like Miniblins. When you Z-target, the nearest monster to your front will be locked on by your camera, and your character will face them for as long as you Z-target them or they exist in range. Tapping the Z button will toggle between nearby targets. Z-targeting allows you to do a leap attack or shoot at something not on the same elevation as you. The other nice stunt you can do with Z-targeting is circle a monster and wait for your opportunity to counter attack. Darknuts, whose only vulnerable spot is along their back, must be either countered or snuck up upon from behind in order to chop off parts of their armor.
Countering is both finesse and style. When a monster is about to attack, your A button highlights and you hear a little chime. If you hit A at that moment, your character will dodge out of the way and lunge for a decisive attack. Sometimes, you hit something, or another monster gets in your way, and you can't pull off a successful hit, but when it does work, it works with a flourish. You can counter pretty much any attack, but it's only worth bothering with Darknuts, as the time you spend waiting for an opening will allow other monsters the time they need to smack you from the sides or behind.
Where combat really gets insane is when fighting mixed enemies. Keese (bats) and Miniblins (imps) swarm all over you, Chus (blobs, but not exactly the same as Gel or Sol from Zelda 1) are sluggish but often electrified and harmful to touch, Molblins are aggressive, in your face attackers with a fair amount of life bar, and Wizrobes appear out of the thin air, target you with fireballs, and then fade back out before you can close in on them. Imagine clashing sword against spear, trying to find a way to get a giant pig to back off, while being nipped at from behind by gleefully chittering bats, when you hear the warning sound that you're about to be burnt by an incoming spell. Yeah, it's a lot of fun, and it's harried. Combat never gets dull, even when, in a sheer combat festival, you go through 50 rooms of monsters (why, you ask? For a heart piece! Duh!), it�s still a lot of fun.
The only thing combat isn�t is life threatening. Really, there�s no risk of dying in battle in this game. The only monsters that do anything more than tap you are bosses, and you should always tote a fairy with you when fighting a boss. I suppose you could be killed, but the odds are stacked in your favor. It does take the excitement down a peg because of that, but you slaughter so many ravenous hordes of monsters, it may be better that the excitement isn�t heart bursting all the time. The monsters that do actual damage are plenty intimidating (Redeads are even more obnoxious than they were in Ocarina, and they look cool, too, so you�ll enjoy beating the crap out of them).
Final thoughts: If you have a Gamecube, you probably bought it for the upcoming Zelda game, so I really don�t need to sing many praises. It�s a fun, crisp romp, and once you get over its new look, it�s exactly what you�d want it to be. It isn�t very different than what you�re used to, and that may limit the fun somewhat, but there�s otherwise unrestrained fun in monster whupping and trawling for heart pieces. Enjoy!