The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD review

  • Uniquely gorgeous visuals
  • Iconic adventure gaming that’s yet-to-be truly improved upon
  • Fixes to its few real flaws
  • Some shortened-yet-still-unavoidable fetch quests
  • A few reused boss battles

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker may have had some vocal detractors pre-release, but the years since it came to the GameCube have been remarkably kind. The original high seas variation on Link’s epic adventures is so worthy of all the praise heaped upon it that a remake hardly seems necessary. And yet, here’s Wind Waker HD for the Wii U, full of tweaks and fixes that somehow improve upon arguably the best Zelda game ever made, making this once more a must-play experience.

Wind Waker’s plot strikes a great balance between fresh ideas and tradition. The courageous young hero Link once again takes up the sword and shield to save a kidnapped young girl; only, this time he’s joined by a team of pirates that help him sail the vast ocean covering his world. Link faces many recognizable enemies and has the expected task of collecting magical items in order to save the day, but the overly familiar tropes are smoothed over by some helpful self-awareness.

"...Wind Waker HD for the Wii U [is] full of tweaks and fixes that somehow improve upon arguably the best Zelda game ever made..."

The characters in the game’s world know “the legend of Zelda,” paying tribute to the green-clad Hero of Time that defeated great evil long ago. When the characters know the plot of titles like Ocarina of Time, it allows for some very inventive variations on tradition--changes that shouldn’t be spoiled for those coming to Wind Waker for the first time. The writing here remains some of the strongest in the franchise, not feeling dated in the least a decade later.

Like the plot, the setting isn’t exactly what it seems. When compared to the enemy-filled solid ground of the fields of Hyrule, the massive ocean looks empty, but the seas of Wind Waker are packed with a ton of secrets to uncover. Exploring every inch of the massive ocean reveals the many islands that dot the map, each begging to be explored. The search for those islands has been considerably condensed; players move to important destinations at a much faster pace compared to the original. Wind Waker’s 7x7 tiled map is now placed on the Wii U GamePad, streamlining the search for a specific island dramatically while still keeping the thrill of looking for just the right location of the next treasure.

"...players move to important destinations at a much faster pace compared to the original."

Some of those islands have towns bursting with unique characters, or treasure chests hiding a life-extending Heart Piece, but Wind Waker’s massive dungeons are the ocean’s most important attractions. Solving puzzles and battling monsters over multi-tiered fortresses is the heart of the Zelda experience, and Wind Waker finds clever new ways to cover familiar territory. Forest and lava themes aren’t all that original for game settings (Zelda’s in particular), but Wind Waker’s dungeons get an added boost from inventive new items like the grappling hook and Deku leaf. Even iconic tools like the boomerang get smart gameplay upgrades that have since become a standard of adventure games.

It’s also in the dungeons where Wind Waker showcases its surprisingly versatile gameplay. The sword-based combat was expanded in later sequels, but Wind Waker’s single-button combos and reactive, defensive swordplay remain a brilliantly simple approach to action. And while it’s a simple pleasure, hearing the soundtrack react to each landed blow adds drama to even the most basic of encounters. And when the game occasionally takes away the sword and pushes players into stealth situations, the sneaky sections are an enjoyable change of pace instead of boring or frustrating. Getting that fundamental gameplay right allows Wind Waker room to grow later on.

"...iconic tools like the boomerang get smart gameplay upgrades that have since become a standard of adventure games."

When the original appeared, Wind Waker’s art style had fans up in arms, but the once-rejected look has aged well thanks the timeless quality of the cel-shaded visuals. The Wii U re-release adds an HD coat of paint to the game, but it doesn’t lose sight of how the original’s sparse art was one of its strongest assets. The world now has better lighting and shaders--among other technical advancements--that enhance the core vision for Wind Waker without needlessly complicating the unforgettable look. Whether chasing the setting sun across the waves, or scouring Outset Island, the game has never looked better.

No game is perfect, but the HD redux inches Wind Waker ever closer to that ideal. The game’s pacing had some hiccups the first time around, mainly thanks to a notoriously annoying fetch quest late in the story. That fetch quest is still there, but its challenges are more diverse and it moves along a good deal faster. The speedy fixes first appear in the form of a sail that dramatically speeds up Link’s boat, and it removes the annoying need to continually stop and change the direction of the wind when sailing. These and other, subtler fixes update Wind Waker in necessary ways while maintaining what makes the game special.

"No game is perfect, but the HD redux inches Wind Waker ever closer to that ideal."

Wind Waker HD is proof that the 3D Zelda formula peaked on the GameCube and has yet to truly be improved upon. While players wait for a new Legend of Zelda that utilizes all the special abilities of the Wii U, this HD remake is the best version of the best Zelda game to date. And here’s hoping that returning to Wind Waker gave Nintendo the inspiration to one day top it.

This game was reviewed on Wii U.

More Info

Release date: Sep 20 2013 - Wii U (US)
Available Platforms: Wii U
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Nintendo
Franchise: Legend of Zelda
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+


  • NightmareSteam - January 16, 2015 8:01 p.m.

    @Iarkan since your emulator totally has the faster sail, improved textures, improved music, better triforce quest, and hero mode right? oh wait.
  • lannister - November 19, 2013 1:52 a.m.

    I know people who will scream, so they do not enjoy a game of ugly duckling Nintendo gets 18 while the divine GTA 5 has got "only" 16 ^ ^ Very good test. For cons, the game is playable at Pro Controller? see: &
  • Origibro - September 23, 2013 6:58 p.m.

    I didn't get Skyward Sword but this shiny jump to a classic and refined just might be enough to justify me purchasing a Wii U, I'll wait for a price drop.
  • Nikku7 - September 19, 2013 10:39 p.m.

    I always felt this was the most underrated Zelda game ever. Still my favorite.
  • Rub3z - September 19, 2013 5:25 a.m.

    Man, this game is so good they couldn't even come up with a third reason to hate it. At least say something backwards that's actually positive, like "You'll Hate: The time this game will consume from you life, or You'll Hate: The times you're thinking about playing it and not really playing it." Man, I really hate when I'm thinking of playing a game and not playing it, don't you?
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - September 18, 2013 9:01 p.m.

    What a surprise. GamesRadar's resident Nintendo stan gives Zelda a perfect score.
  • shawksta - September 18, 2013 9:20 p.m.

    If you've been here long, you would have known GR in general loves Wind Waker and the HD remake wouldve gotten a Perfect Score anyway regardless of who reviewed it.
  • udUbdaWgz - October 2, 2013 8:04 a.m.

    that's too bad, since, the original was one of the worst games i've ever played in my life. boring, childish, crappy controls, ultimate dumbing-down, horrid camera, zero innovation. the one thing it did right was the music. yay.
  • shawksta - October 2, 2013 2:31 p.m.

    Ouch, you must have had a terrible experience. Sorry to hear that.
  • Trixtor - November 30, 2013 8 p.m.

    Dumbed down? You fucking kidding me.... You probably think games like AC are the epitome of gaming. A game that you little cant die in using 1 button. The game is a fucking work of art.
  • udUbdaWgz - October 26, 2013 10:44 a.m.

    exactly. even though the original game has a huge list of flaws: boring combat, controls, camera, juvenile puzzles, tedious side quests, empty world and weak story. it looks like this remake might have fixed a lot of the technical issues, but, you can't fix the inherent ones that make wind waker what it is.
  • shawksta - October 27, 2013 2:12 a.m.

    Yeah you cant but hey i guess you have to have nitpicks you dont like, i dont blame you.
  • talleyXIV - September 19, 2013 4:37 p.m.

    Zelda games are great, a perfect score is pretty much to be expected from anyone.
  • supergiraffe - September 18, 2013 5:14 p.m.

    I'm buying a Wii U for this shit this weekend. That and Pikmin.
  • Ultimadrago - September 18, 2013 5:05 p.m.

    Hell yeah!
  • JarkayColt - September 18, 2013 3:01 p.m.

    Wind Waker is one of my favourite games of all time. Glad to see the remake do it justice and that hopefully it will gain a new audience! (IMO, late-game fetchquesting be damned, the most tedious part of the game is actually the Forsaken Fortress section near the start though, where you have to employ stealth. Thought it was borderline terrible to be honest, contrary to what the review says about it being a refreshing chance of pace. But, again, that's just one little portion, the rest is fantastic)
  • Slipperyjoe - September 18, 2013 2:33 p.m.

    Didn't play it when it was first released but I am really excited to play it having just finally finished twilight princess. Just a shame it's releasing so close to GTA 5
  • RODTheMaster - September 18, 2013 1:34 p.m.

    I'm glad to hear they tightened up the pacing of the game, which was no doubt my biggest criticism. I can't wait to get my hands on this!
  • Effinae - September 18, 2013 2:56 p.m.

    I remember playing it until the epic fetch quest at the end of the game. Then I just watched my roommate beat the game since he was in the same spot.
  • Talvari - September 18, 2013 12:43 p.m.

    Glad to hear it lived up to expectations. I like to think of this as a remake / HD upgrade done correct. Not just upping the god damn resolution >.> Fixing flaws and adding small quality of life things here and there always nice to see.

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