The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker | GC (2003)
This candy-coated trip through a waterlogged Hyrule pissed off a lot of gamers when it first appeared. Then they shut the hell up and experienced what may be the most unique Zelda game of all.
The legend: A newly of-age Link dons his ceremonial green garb just in time to witness a giant bird steal his sister. After a failed rescue attempt, Link is blasted out to sea. He's rescued by a sentient boat who asks Link to collect three sacred pearls from three distant islands. Many hours of wind-sailing later, Link unites the pearls and discovers that his soggy world is actually a flooded Hyrule, which happens to contain the Master Sword - a weapon needed to stop a recently released Ganon. Link then sets out to collect shards of the broken Triforce so he can finally face Ganon in his underwater lair. A fierce three-way battle between Link, Zelda and Ganon ensues, ending with the Master Sword plunged deep into the latter's skull.
Master swords: The cel-shaded graphics seemed, at first, like the biggest misstep the series could have taken. After Ocarina's ominously bleak look at the future and glimpse at an adult Link, a Saturday morning version of Hyrule was the last thing gamers expected (or wanted) to see. The pissing and moaning continued well into the game's release, but when the dust settled, it was the graphics that helped make Wind Waker a truly ageless adventure.
Ocarina already looked horribly dated by 2003. Twilight Princess, while striking today, will also age poorly. Wind Waker, on the other hand, with its emotive character designs, vibrant colors and silky smooth horizons, will always retain its signature style. Enemies die in a swirl of gorgeous purple smoke, wind currents wisp through the air like strokes of a paintbrush, waves crash over your boat with a colorful spray... this is a world that will carry on. And then there's Link himself, cute as a button and armed with a much more versatile combat system than Ocarina offered. The general weapons and items list is the same, but seeing all the new equipment brought to animated life made many of them seem totally new. A brilliant detachable camera aided in battle too, as you could easily scope out your surroundings without hitting the damn lock-on button repeatedly.
Then there's the vast, vast ocean. On one hand it made the world seem wide open and inviting yet isolated and cut off at the same time. It was a refreshing experience... at first.
Best Moment: After hours of sailing, you realize the ocean is magically floating above ancient Hyrule, possibly a re-imagined Ocarina-era Hyrule.
I AM ERROR: After hours and hours of sailing, you just wanted it to be over. A special song from the weather-shifting Wind Waker could teleport Link from place to place, sure, but by that point we were already longing for a traditional overworld. Then, when the game seems nearly complete, you're sent on a rather long fetch-quest, scouring the ocean for bits of broken Triforce. What's the payoff? Black-and-white battles against the same bosses you've already beaten. Not quite the blockbuster ending we'd been hoping for. Good thing the Ganondorf scrap was cool as hell, otherwise we'd have left Wind Waker with a bit of sea sickness. Oh, and then there's the Tingle Tuner. We are so glad GBA connectivity is dead.
It's a secret to everybody: At its first unveiling, Wind Waker was met by countless dropped jaws and confused faces. People were expecting another "mature" take on the series as promised by a 2000 demo reel. Instead, they got a cutesy Link winking at the camera - Wind Waker was the first official Zelda title to not appear in cartridge format (what's a CD-I?). So, in lieu of a gold cart, it came on a gold disc - Wind Waker is often referred to as "Celda" - This is yet another Zelda game to receive a perfect score from revered Japanese magazine Famitsu - Despite all late-coming praise, Wind Waker's reported sales fall short of most other Zelda titles.
Hero of time? Five years later and still no true Ocarina successor. Instead we received a charming adventure that shook things up while keeping them familiar. Another fantastic achievement, but not the greatest of all time. 9/10