Playing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker creates feelings that are reminiscent of nothing so much as Saturday morning cartoons: comforting in their simplicity, yet gesturing toward the complexities of life through motion and symbolism. Eventually they draw you in, urging you, with bowl of cereal balanced precariously on your knees, to approach the set; to pass through the screen; to bathe in thousands of red, blue and amber dots; and to step into a world where, unlike reality, the loss of innocence isn't inevitable.
The story of Wind Waker builds on the mythology started years ago on the first Nintendo console system. Zelda games have always put players in charge of a green-clad elfin hero named Link as he quests through a fantasy world, restoring order by solving puzzles and vanquishing enemies. At the start of the newest game, players learn of Link's past exploits, and are then transported into a fully-interactive cartoon, where they take charge of another young lad with pointy ears who is about to inherit the hero's mantle.
As with any great work of art, the pleasure comes less from the story, and more from the manner in which it is told. This time around, Nintendo has created a game world that simultaneously features the two-dimensional wonder of a cartoon, while containing the wealth of details of an actual space. The look is astonishing, from the dark purple clouds of smoke that puff up when an enemy is destroyed, to the flat but undulating seawater skimmed with foam. Link's eyes, shifting over the environment and giving players clues as to what to do next, are as expressive as any live actor's.
It would be pointless and impossible to detail the epic storyline, which takes Link sailing across the ocean and places him in confrontations with some of the most lavishly illustrated monsters ever animated. The game's puzzles are challenging and ingenious, and solving them is as rewarding as any gaming experience I've had in months. Two players can play together, using a GameBoy Advance to access special features. And an optional quest at the game's conclusion sends players back through Wind Waker's intricate world. It is a place as wondrous as the illusory worlds of childhood, and as filled with challenges as reality. Bravo Nintendo.
Publication date: 03/27/03