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THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: THE WIND WAKER
GAMECUBE Overall Score - 10/10

You don't need to read this review. If, for some reason, you haven't already bought The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker then stop reading and buy it right now. Go on! If you don't have a Gamecube yet then you can pick up a tasty Limited Edition Platinum Gamecube complete with a lovely new copy of The Wind Waker, for under 130. In fact, my brother bought my Gamecube from me just so he could play it (and I bought one of those tasty platinum Gamecubes for myself!) Anyway the point is, go and buy this game. If you're really determined to discover why The Wind Waker is so amazing before you buy it, then read on and I'll tell you.

The Legend of Zelda has a proud heritage and those of you who've played one of the Zelda titles in the past, particularly the two N64 classics, know just how special it is. Truly, The Ocarina of Time was a genre-defining game that has been emulated countless times since its release but only bettered by its sequels. You see, The Wind Waker is the game with everything. It's got a grand storyline, a sister to be rescued, a powerful weapon to be forged and an evil villain to be defeated. It's got tricky dungeons with all manner of puzzles to solve and obstacles to negotiate. It's got a range of wild and imaginative foes to face and an equally diverse range of weapons to battle them with. It's got magic, hand to hand combat, sailing across a vast ocean, islands to explore, secrets to discover, people to meet and help, treasure to be found. And that's hardly scratching the surface. All of this content is presented with the most charming and lovingly created graphics and sound I've ever seen that will capture your imagination and wow you at every turn.

You play a young boy called Link (although you get to name him whatever you like in your game). Link lives on Outset Island with his sister and grandmother. There are legends that tell of an age long ago where an evil force attempted to corrupt and conquer the land of Hyrule but the Hero of Time, a young boy in a green outfit, foiled his plans. However, the evil returned and this time the Hero did not come back to fight it. Nobody knows what happened to the ancient land of Hyrule but on Outset Island it is traditional when a boy reaches the age of the legendary hero for him to wear the clothes of the hero on his birthday. And it is here that we join the story and you are presented with the famous green clothes and hat. Dressed in your new garb, you are on the lookout tower when your sister spots something in the sky. A giant bird is flying towards the island carrying a girl in its claws and a pirate ship is in pursuit, attempting to shoot the bird down. The bird drops the girl into the fairy forest on top of the island's hill and you must go and see if she needs help, but first you need a sword to defend yourself with.

One of The Wind Waker's strongest points is its open-ended gameplay that consists of a huge range of essential and unessential tasks to complete. When the game begins your sister tells you that your grandmother has a present for you at home but you are free to roam the island as much as you want and talk to the other people that live there before going to see her. Quite quickly a range of puzzles and information is presented. One helpful lady tells you how you can lift and throw pots to smash them and find the goodies inside. A man needs help cutting the grass but you have nothing to cut it with - yet. Another man is obsessed with pigs and asks you to attempt to catch one to put in the pen he's built up on the hill, where his wife is eagerly awaiting her new pet. There's a little kid with a huge string of snot hanging out of his nose that follows you around and another kid who asks if it's possible to reach a certain place by jumping to it (which gets you familiarised with the automatic platform jumping in the game). Then there are two brothers; one is a great warrior who will train you in the art of swordsmanship and his brainiac sibling will give you lots of useful information about how to manipulate your environment and discover goodies. Anchored near the beach is a trader who will sell you bait and weird looking pears. The bait can be used to attract pigs and catch them unawares, whilst the pears allow you to possess the body of a seagull and fly around the whole island! And this is just the beginning. There are many more secrets on the island that you won't even realise are there until later in the game when you have the right items to reveal secret entrances and find hidden treasures.

The cartoon style graphics are immediately striking - they are so lush and beautifully rendered and both Link and his sister are really cute, the way they sway when they're talking with their big eyes and sweet facial expressions. Although this was initially a very controversial move, the graphics in Zelda are the best I've yet seen on the Gamecube. They might not have the stunning realism of games like Metroid Prime and Resident Evil Zero but because they are in a cartoon style and quite simple in their design, a whole new world is revealed. The amount of facial expressions Link has throughout the game is amazing and many of them are very comical, such as the determined look on his face when he's walking into a strong wind or climbing a ladder and the sneaky expression as he stealthily sidles along a wall. The animation is perfect and all of his movements are as smooth and natural as a Disney cartoon. This goes for all the characters and enemies, the animation is incredible and goes beyond anything you've seen before in a game.

Looking around Outset Island, the place is bright and colourful with a few houses and lots of grass. Each individual grass stalk blows separately in the wind, the waves swell and fall out at sea and the water laps the beach very realistically. Sand crabs scuttle along the sand and bury themselves if you get too close. Little touches, such as the way leaves and grass stalks disperse when you chop them with your sword and the splashes at Link's feet as he runs along the shore are just amazing and you'll keep seeing newer and greater effects as the game progresses.

Anyway, back to the story. Once you rescue the girl from the fairy forest (who turns out to be the captain of the pirate ship) your sister is kidnapped by the great bird and taken to a far away island called the Forsaken Fortress. You must find yourself a shield before the captain reluctantly agrees to take you to rescue your sister and you set sail, completing a couple of challenges below decks before your arrival. It's night now and the Forsaken Fortress looks ominous and gloomy with its dark, stone walls and bright searchlights scanning for intruders. The pirates won't get too close, so they load you into a cannon and fire you over to the fortress! Sadly you hit a wall, your sword flies up to the top of the highest tower and you fall down into the water below. Climbing onto some steps, you must now sneak your way up to the top of the tower to reclaim your sword.

This introduces a style of gameplay that's new to the Zelda series, namely stealth. This is the one part of the whole game where you are defenceless and must not get spotted. You must put a barrel over yourself and sneak past the guards and you must climb the searchlight towers and use a handy stick to beat up the creatures using the lights so you can retrieve your sword without being seen. And if you thought the graphics on Outset Island were good, the Forsaken Fortress will blow you away. Firelight flickers on the walls and floors from burning torches, some of which are hanging from ropes that you can swing on to jump between ledges. When you first see the rope animation you just won't believe it, the movement is totally natural and seems completely real. The bizarre, boarish guards walk around, sniffing for intruders, as well as using their lanterns to scan the area and these are the ones you must avoid. The sight of a barrel on a little pair of legs walking along and then dropping to the ground when a guard turns your way is hilarious! There are a number of puzzles in the fortress but the emphasis is on stealth and when you finally retrieve the sword you find your sister, but are then whisked away by the giant bird and dropped out at sea.

The next thing you know, you awake on an unfamiliar shore. You are in a small boat with a dragon-like sculpted head piece, which turns around and talks to you - the expression of shock on Link's face is classic! The boat tells you that it can help you get your sister back, but not without a new sail and so your quest begins. You are now on Windfall Island and it's a bustling town with shops, games and many people to speak to. There is so much to do here, with a lot of people to help, secrets to find, treasure to discover and more. There's even an auction that takes place every night where you can bid for useful items and a game of battleships that you can play. Most of the characters are larger than life and quirky, just what we've come to know and love in past Zelda games. I won't go into too much more detail or I'll be here all day, but you will be back to this island time and again, each time solving a new puzzle. You'll also find a certain man who is dressed as a fairy and goes by the name of Tingle - he comes in very handy later too, thanks to his unsurpassed mapping skills.

Once your business on Windfall Island is complete, you set sail for Dragon Roost Island. Here you meet a race of winged people, whose normally placid dragon is very angry and has desolated the island. The effect of ash and smoke blowing all over the barren, rocky areas is so stunning that you just won't believe your eyes. The lava effects you encounter later are just as amazing too. It is here that you will encounter your first dungeon. An integral part of Zelda games are the dungeons, which are multi-level areas that you must negotiate and explore in order to unlock access to the boss lurking somewhere within.

Most dungeons introduce at least one new item and the first one you get is the grappling hook. This can be used to throw onto overhead beams and swing across otherwise impassable gaps. When you first see how the rope arcs into the air and the grapple on the end wraps itself around a beam, you will gasp. It's just such a smooth, natural and stunning effect. And it's not in any way necessary, it's just one of the many fantastic graphical touches that this game is simply bursting with. Other items you'll find include a Decu leaf, which you can hold overhead and use to glide through the air, a bow and arrow, a packet to carry bombs in, metal boots that keep you anchored in heavy winds, a boomerang that can target up to five enemies at a time and many more. Each must be used to solve a range of puzzles in the dungeons and this tremendous variety keeps things fresh.

The biggest original aspect of The Wind Waker is your usage of the wind. You soon learn how to change the wind's direction using a mystical wand that is the Wind Waker of the title, which you must use to sail where you want to go. You have a sea chart that is gradually filled in as you visit the many islands and there are 49 in all to discover! Some are big islands with lots of puzzles or a dungeon to explore whilst others are islands that you don't have to visit at all - but all have some sort of secret to discover. There are fairies on some islands that will give you gifts, such as increasing the capacity of your bomb bag, arrow quiver and money bag. On others there are dungeons full of monsters to battle with and treasure at the end. There are also over 50 charts to discover, most of which are treasure charts that reveal the location of sunken treasure near to the islands and a few more that tell you the location of other things, such as the heart containers you can find to increase your health, locations of enemy submarines containing treasure, locations of all the fairies and so on. For finding treasure, your boat can use your grappling hook to pull up treasure chests and reveal what's inside.

When you are out on the open sea you are completely free to sail wherever you like. The day gradually changes to night and the weather can range from clear to very stormy. The motion of the waves and the way not only your boat rises and falls, but the waves as far as the eye can see, is absolutely astonishing. It's the best water effect I've ever seen, better than the super-realistic attempts made in jetski games for example. When the sea gets stormy the waves become bigger and bigger and you rise and fall. There are sharks, huge octopuses and giant flying creatures lurking out at sea too and you must defend yourself when you find them. Your boat has a cannon, which you can use to blast sea creatures as well as the pirate ships that attack you with their cannons. The addition of the sea and the freedom to sail to any island you please is truly brilliant and it makes this game the biggest Zelda game yet, adding loads of variety to an already incredibly varied game.

There is still so much more to tell you about. Each dungeon you enter looks different and features a unique layout and puzzles, meaning that they don't get boring. The epic storyline relates back to The Ocarina of Time far more than you will at first realise, with a few great twists and revelations as you progress. The incredible graphics are backed up by a range of supremely catchy tunes, some menacing and moody, some cheerful and friendly, depending on the location and situation. The sound effects are all there and all perfect - the clang of sword on stone, the patter of Link's feet, his various grunts, cries and yells in the heat of the moment, the rush of the wind coming past. You'll learn songs that change day to night and songs that control the wind to whisk you away in a tornado to warp to another location. There are well over 50 characters to meet and interact with, probably over 100 in all. The dialogue is quirky and witty, there are puzzles and tasks around every corner, each island holds one or more secrets; it just goes on and on.

There is even some great Gameboy Advance compatibility if you own a link cable - you can turn your GBA into a Tingle Tuner, a device that lets you keep in contact with Tingle, who will help you with your quest. He can even allow you to walk on air for a few seconds, making some of the tougher dungeons that much easier to get through.

As if all this wasn't enough, you also get the full original N64 version of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time along with the never before released Master Quest version of the game - that's three of the best games ever for the price of one! The N64 classic, whilst graphically showing its age a little, still looks good and the gameplay is just fantastic. In this you are accompanied by your fairy, Navi, and must set out to save the land of Hyrule from the evil Ganondorf, who has kidnapped Princess Zelda. Again, there are towns to explore and whole new races to discover - including the strange, plantlike Decus, the mountain dwelling Gorons made of solid rock and the fish people known as the Zoras. There are huge dungeons to explore and conquer and you must travel seven years into the future where you are an adult, changing things in the past to affect the future, enabling you to progress to places your couldn't otherwise reach. You also have your trusty horse, Epona, to ride speedily around the land of Hyrule and your Ocarina to whisk you to various warp points. Truly this is an epic, engaging and absolutely enormous game that in some respects is arguably the best title of the Zelda series.

The Master Quest version is identical to the original in every respect except for the dungeons, which have the same look and number of rooms but are much tougher with more enemies to fight, trickier puzzles and different room layouts. In fact, most feature a couple of puzzles that cannot be completed or chests that cannot be reached until you have gained items later in the game and returned. It's a much tougher version of the game and every self-respecting Zelda fan will take the time to play through the Master Quest version at least once. There are also a number of videos previewing some exciting up and coming new Nintendo titles, just to round the package off.

There are a couple of criticisms I would level at The Wind Waker. Although in its own right the game is near perfect - it's only when you compare it to the previous Zelda games that it is perhaps slightly disappointing in places. The dungeons don't seem quite as huge or tough as those in The Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask and there aren't quite as many of them. The addition of the sea aspect is brilliant, but it would have been nice if some of the islands were a little larger. It can also be quite tedious sailing around the place as it does take several minutes to get between islands and you can only warp to certain islands. With the great music and amazing graphics it's never no fun at all but the novelty does wear off.

Also, the way you must conduct your song and wait for it to be repeated just to change the direction of the wind (which you will do literally hundreds of time before you are done) is a bit long-winded (pun intended) but at the same time this relaxed pace is part of the charm of Zelda. The worst part is in the Nintendo Gallery, where you can take photos of any character or enemy from the game and have a fully 3D sculpture created. You can store three photos at once in your camera but the sculptor will only make one figure at a time and so just to give him three photos you must go into the gallery, give him a photo, go back out, play the song of passing twice as it takes him the whole day to do it, then repeat this another two times. It is very frustrating and wastes a lot of time for those of us who want to get every figure! Like I said though, these are very small flaws in a massive game and where Zelda falls short on its predecessors it more than compensates with its innovation and beauty.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is aptly named, as it is a gaming legend that is worthy of the name Zelda in every way. The cartoon graphics are the most fluid, gorgeous, lovingly crafted masterpiece I've ever seen in a game, with atmospheric music and realistic sound completing the experience. The game itself is absolutely huge, tremendously varied, with almost fifty islands to explore, open-ended gameplay, challenging dungeons, treasure and secrets hidden everywhere, dozens of characters to meet and interact with, a talking boat that takes you across the seas and a wand to control the wind. This is the best game yet on Gamecube and one of the best games of all time -simply put, it is a crime of great severity for anyone who in any way likes playing games not to buy this and complete it.

Reviewed by Geoff Holland for AceGamez (All Rights Reserved).


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