The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is the latest, and possibly most scrutinized, installment in Nintendo's venerable action adventure franchise. The game builds on the gameplay mechanics introduced by the Nintendo 64 Zelda games, which brought the series into 3D and wrapped them in an impressive graphical package. We've been clocking in some time with an import version of the game, which was released last week in Japan, to see how it turned out.
We've been taking our time in exploring the early parts of the game and have been pleased to find quite a few things we missed on our first pass through. If you opt to take your time and explore your surroundings, your curiosity will be rewarded. We've also been trying out the Game Boy Advance connectivity feature, which is turning out to be more useful than we expected.
The first real area to explore is the island you arrive on following Link's exploits in the pirate fortress. Your primary goal in the town is to find an item you'll need to get your boat going. While it doesn't take long to track the vital piece of equipment down--provided you have enough rupees to purchase it--poking around the island has some nice benefits. The most obvious perk is finding Tingle. Once you come across the tubby fairy and help him out, you'll be able to make use of the Game Boy Advance connectivity feature. While we were a bit skeptical of how useful the feature would end up being, the connectivity turns out to be pretty worthwhile. At the moment, the most useful aspects of Tingle are his bombs, balloons, and potions. The bombs function like the normal bombs you'll find in the game, but they can be used at any time for a price of 10 rupees each. All you'll have to do is use the Game Boy Advance to move Tingle's cursor over where you want to place the bomb, press the B button on the portable unit, and watch your target explode. There are some limits on where you can use the bombs, though--for example, you won't be able to use them to gain access to certain areas in a dungeon. The balloons are a nice crutch when you're trying to reach certain areas, as they'll let you walk on air for brief periods of time, which is just what the doctor ordered for those who are rusty on their platform jumping. Another useful crutch comes in the form of the potions Tingle can buy to refill Link's health and magic meters.
As if finding Tingle weren't enough, the island offers other rewards for exploration, including a shiny new camera you can use to take pictures and a number of minigames. So far, we've seen a nifty Battleship-style game that is pretty addictive and a mail-sorting game that tests your memory.
Our time with the game has also let us get a better feel for the gameplay, which is turning out to be more than just a refinement of the Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask gameplay. There's a greater emphasis on platformer-style elements in the game, although the balance between platforming and exploration still feels about right. The combat is fleshed out quite a bit as well. We're quite taken with the offensive counter move, which is turning out to be a vital part of fights. We're also enjoying the options available to you in a fight once you start to collect more of Link's items, such as the hookshot and the boomerang.
Another finely polished aspect of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker that is becoming apparent is its pacing. The game quickly makes the main goals fairly clear, and whether or not you choose to act quickly or take your time to scour an area for secrets is up to you. The dungeons are challenging but not impossible. We haven't found anything as evil as Ocarina of Time's water dungeon yet, which is a good thing.
The story also appears to be moving along at a decent clip, with some very cool cinemas and plot points that do a fine job of giving you just enough information to draw you in. While it's difficult to say too much about the game's story without spoiling it, let's just say it's highly unlikely fans will be disappointed. The tale has a broad scope that seems to be hitting all the right notes for a Zelda game.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is currently slated to ship this March for the GameCube. For more on the game, check out our video impressions