The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released for the Gamecube in 2003, Link’s first foray onto the console (although,if we’re being pernickety, he had been punching Mario right in his prestigious gonads for a year or so in Super Smash Bros Melee at this juncture). Now much acclaimed and among the system’s most prolific sellers, gamers mocked Wind Waker, like the merry mocking mocksters of mock they can often be, during its development. What was it, then, that attracted the wrath of the internet nerdsassins, and how did it refute their claims?
Most pertinently, there was that anomalous art style. Cel shading, a decade ago, was a novelty -and a beguiling one to developers- that had never been utilised with the panache that the style deserved (“Hey there, Cel Damage! I didn’t know you had resurfaced from the sweaty depths of Satan’s anus! How are you? Still terrible? I thought so.”). It was a notion for experimental new ventures and nobodies to dabble in, not a franchise as revered as the Legend of Zelda. Fine for me too craptacular racing games -I’m looking at you again, Cel Damage. With my righteous middle finger raised- perhaps, but the first unveiling of the Wind Waker? Some thought it was an elaborate joke. Some vowed to boycott the series forever. Some posted a small tupperware box of their own faeces to Nintendo’s HQ in their outrage. All, naturellement, without having tried the game.
Nintendo, as anyone with even a passing grade in Gameology class can attest, have long been beset by a ‘kiddie’ or ‘casual’ tag. Link’s shenanigans in Hyrule are among their killer apps, celebrated ‘gamers’ games’ if you will, and Wind Waker’s toon-tinged appearance was regarded as positively scandalous by some. EGAD! A PREPUBESCENT-LOOKING LINK, TROTTING CAMPLY ABOUT IN A WORLD AKIN TO SOMETHING ON ‘MRS. McNANNY’S BEDTIME HOUR FOR WHINING CHILDREN?’ UP WITH THIS I WILL NOT PUT! That is what these people said.
Conversely, what I say is: nuts to them. Zelda has always been, at its nucleus, a whimsical adventure. Link is not a formidable, muscle-brandishing hero, wantonly dispensing bullets, explosions and dire one liners; leaving his foes leaking blood and sad, sad tears of sadness onto their shagpile carpets. He is not, in summation, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in every damn film the monotone maestro has ever featured in (Jingle All the Way aside, that doesn’t count. Primarily because it sucked monkey nuts). As an ordinary elf-man-thing magnificently rising to a Herculean task, Link infuses all of us with the concept that the ordinary can attain the impossible. Sometimes they have to employ three burly associates to haul their buttocks off of the sofa where they’d been idly scratching their nuts, but they can.
Wind Waker reflects this concept from its inaugural cutscene. A young denizen of the island’s rite of passage: donning the ancient apparel of the hero (stabbing vast dragons and other abominations right in the face optional). As these ceremonial capers demonstrate, this iteration of Link is a dichotomy of ordinary and extraordinary; it becomes incumbent upon a young boy like any other to traverse the land -of which there is little- and the sea -there’s a goddamn ridiculous quantity of sea- to rescue his sister. From, I should point out, a bird that resembled a flying Godzilla and a large, angry man with a terrible ginger beard.
The prevailing aesthetic, then, is as endearingly whimsical as it is perfectly appropriate. Our ever-mute protagonist, Link, has previously been limited to his incoherent vocabulary of HEEEYYAAs, HUUUUPs and EEEAAAGHs. The assorted exclamations of a constipated guy in a public toilet stall, in summation, which do little to ingratiate the elf hero to us. What he sorely needed, I’d venture, was the capacity to be more expressive. In the Wind Waker, his enormous bush baby-esque eyes lend him this opportunity. When traversing dungeons/whales’ rectums/wherever else you happen to be, he will soundlessly track points of interest, items and clues with his frightful and emotive stare-y eyes of staring. The canny player, then, has an almost tangible link –look, ma! I made a pun!– to a mute protagonist, which is a devilishly difficult thing to convey.
As such, the cel shading offers a sense of childlike wonderment, a visual representation of the exploration of expansive vistas that has always been synonymous with Zelda. It is majestic and surreal, evoking the feeling so many encountered upon first riding Epona across Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time. It is the very spirit of the games, condensed into an adorable visible form and fired straight into your eyeballs. I’d tentatively suggest that Wind Waker represents the purest entry in the series, even while I cannot quite define the term.
But what, prithee, of the gameplay? There were also fears that this appealing new aesthetic would be reflected in an appreciable lack of challenge. Critics and players alike noted a more simplistic bent to the dungeons and boss battles. I’ll concede, there is nothing that apes the infernal water temple (the mere mention of which has caused terror-urine to run down the legs of gamers worldwide since 1998) or the Master Quest here. It’s a remarkable journey, but hardly a taxing one.
The Wind Waker’s primary shortcoming is those interminable sailing sections. Nintendo dispensed with that ‘expansive overworld’ feel, instead opting to send us laboriously traversing endless salty lengths of tedious sea with extra sea on. There were, I’ll concede, sea monsters to dispatch with cannonballs to the plums, warps, moblin installations and suchlike, but you can only cruise about in a tiny irritating sailing ship for so long. An impressively convoluted and involved sunken treasure hunting quest was available for more enterprising sailors, and the very nature of the thing showed the scale of this new world; its sparse population proved its undoing.
In summation, it was primarily the 2000 Spaceworld tech demo that caused the initial frosty reception. It seemed to depict an ‘Ocarina of Time 2’ if you will, a more realistic next-generation approach. Such a dramatically toon-tinged u-turn caused much dismay. Nevertheless, the resultant title is both a joy to play and a wonder to see in motion.
Images source: www.gamefaqs.com