Scott Hardie | March 29, 2003
So I've spent some time this week playing the latest Zelda game. I've been playing for about 6-7 hours (just reached the Deku Tree), and I'm ready to praise some elements and bitch to high heaven about others.

For many game players, the Big Deal about this game is the cel-shading. The game is designed to look like animation, like an interactive cartoon. The main characters' faces look like animé with those big googly-eyes, but most the rest of the animation is the puffy, disproportionate style favored by "Ed Edd 'n' Eddy" and "Ren & Stimpy." The people have torsos the size of Honda Civics but walk around on little stick feet; was there a polio epidemic in this world? But really, as much as has been made about this visual style, what's the big deal? The coolness factor wears off in thirty minutes, once you get used to it and realize it's just Zelda 64 with a brighter color palette. I guess I've always underestimated how important graphics are to most game players, but really, the cel-shading is no big deal. (Though I will give high praise to the vast open chamber of the fire dungeon; walking in there for the first time is amazing.)

The game is a lot of fun to play, rarely difficult to figure out and almost never difficult to control. (The ease of use of this game's grappling hook puts Metroid Prime's to shame.) I would be completely in love with it if not for one terrible flaw. In all the previous Zelda games, the most fun element has always been exploring this giant open world almost from the beginning. That's the strength of the series, and up till now they've been wise to play to it. I'm sure you get to explore the giant open world of Wind Waker at some point, but I'm at the third dungeon already and I have yet to do so. Every time I try to veer off path, that fucking talking boat of mine says, "Sorry, can't go that way yet!" and turns me around. It makes me want to throw the controller through the screen. I don't want to go to the next fucking destination, I want to play Christopher fucking Columbus and see what's out there past the horizon. This is a severe irritation early in the game, and I hope it goes away before too long.

And one last gripe: The game makes itself way too easy. I mean, it's easy enough just to play through it, but before just about every major thing you do, a character gives you a bright red hint saying what to do next, instead of allowing you the joy and/or challenge of figuring it out for yourself. Plenty of other games have had this problem, even the very grown-up Metal Gear Solid 2, but it's worse here because the game's already so easy.

Until I beat it, I can't say for sure how good it is, but so far it's a lot of fun with an almost supernatural degree of polish. Prior to playing it, I didn't take it to be a major game in the Zelda series, because of the cel-shading gimmick and because the storyline differs from other Zelda games. (Ever noticed how the first Zelda game for each new system is just a retelling of the first game?) But those are just the result of a new series producer trying some variety; the underlying game is the same as the predecessors and just as much fun. I know a couple of Zelda fans reading this who have no interest in Wind Waker, but to them I recommend it.

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