Second Helping - Rob's Take
I have a confession to make; a deep dark secret which I have hidden from many of my gaming brethren for years, and especially from Tom, who will probably consider this to be tantamount to blasphemy.
I didn't like Link to the Past.
There, I've said it; and I might as well also say that I didn't like any of the other 2D Zelda games, either, right up to Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, both of which I got bored with after around an hour of play. Come to think of it, I wasn't fussed about Majora's Mask either; so it's fair to say that while I hold Ocarina of Time in incredibly high esteem as one of the most perfect gaming experiences I've ever had, I'm not the world's biggest Zelda fan.
I've been looking forward to The Wind Waker since it was originally announced, however. Like many of you, I was disappointed by the move to cel-shading - this two-dimensional runny-nosed tyke wasn't the heroic Link of Ocarina of Time, dammit! - but became a believer when I got to see the game in motion. Now I've had the game in my hands, though, and I'm not just a believer - I'm well on my way to being a high priest of the faith.
Tom has already explained in great depth how the mechanics of the game work, and there's little point in me covering that territory again; so allow me to wax lyrical a bit about how it feels to play The Wind Waker, and why you'll be missing out on one of the best games of the year if you don't.
In simple terms, Miyamoto has done it again. He's taken a very simple game - a puzzle-based dungeon-crawling action game - and applied a liberal dose of game design genius to it in order to make it into a stellar example of how interactive games can be magical experiences, even for people a bit too old for Disneyland. As Tom has already described, the puzzles in the game are perfectly pitched - never obscure, never frustrating, but yet always immensely satisfying to solve. Equally, the control system generally feels just right; it has its glitches and hiccups, but is still head and shoulders above most third person control systems, and it never feels like you're fighting the game mechanics more than fighting the enemies.
That in itself is enough to recommend the game to anyone, but as with so many Nintendo games, it's the little touches which really make The Wind Waker special. Each character, enemy or even plant or animal in the game has been modelled with loving care, attention to detail and most of all, humour; and the world around you is alive with these tiny little touches. Nothing feels static; the game lives and breathes, and at every level the fantastical environments and creatures feel consistent and solid. None more so than Link himself, who is in constant motion - he fidgets, he looks around, his facial expressions change, his eyes follow the motion of interesting objects - and somehow, from all these little things, a likeable character emerges from a few cel-shaded polygons with no dialogue of his own. That's real videogame magic.
Come Sail Away
One thing that myself and Tom disagree on is the sailing aspect of the game, which effectively forms the world map in The Wind Waker. Now, I confess that I'm a bit biased here - no, not because I like sailors (shut up Bramwell), but because I do enjoy sailing, and I simply found messing around with Link's boat, summoning up winds with the Wind Waker and sailing to new, unexplored bits of the map fun. I've done that for several hours now and the joy of it hasn't worn off; that said, your mileage may vary, and I do seem to be in the minority over this particular aspect of the game - which is a bit of a shame, since for those who don't enjoy it, it's probably the single biggest problem with the game.
For my own part, my only real bugbear with the game is the first "pseudo-dungeon" you encounter, which I found excessively confusing - there are many different paths to follow through it, most of which you don't even need to explore, and you can sometimes find yourself attempting to do a nigh-on impossible segment repeatedly because you don't realise that you're actually meant to be anywhere else. I understand why this is, but it's still a little annoying - a little more hand-holding at this early point in the game wouldn't have gone amiss.
That aside, I love The Wind Waker. It's simply a stunning, magical game; the opening sequence, though incredibly simple and even clichéd, was enough to send little shivers down my spine, and the first time that the cause of the evil spreading in the world is revealed is quite a perfect example of the fantastic timing and direction which permeates the game. The obvious comparison for the game is Ocarina of Time, and there's no doubt that it's the spiritual successor to that; but in fact, when I try to think of parallels for The Wind Waker, the game which springs to mind most often for me is ICO, a game which achieves many of the same things as Zelda but goes about them in quite a different way.
Believe me when I say that that's a compliment; ICO remains, in my estimation, quite possibly the best videogame ever made. The Wind Waker is certainly different, and perhaps not quite as good as ICO in some ways; but it's still a fantastic game in almost every way, and for me - perhaps because I don't find fault with the sailing sections, like many people do - there's no doubt whatsoever that this game is one of the very few that deserves a 10.
10 / 10