Wii U owners have had a fairly dry run of first-party games since the system's launch in November 2012 - Nintendo has released just six titles since then, though notable third-party releases and stellar titles such as New Super Mario Bros. U and LEGO City: Undercover have kept most people busy. Nintendo has promised a more steady stream of games through to the end of the year, and sure enough, no less than nine games are currently slated for release between July and December. One of those titles, due to launch in October and sure to be high on the wishlist of many a Nintendo GameCube nostalgic, is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, which we recently had the pleasure of playing following E3 2013 - and we're very pleased to say the game is coming along very nicely indeed.
Two settings were available to us when we played the demo, each showcasing the game in a different way. The first was Outset Island, set at the beginning of the game with the added ability to hop in the King of Red Lions and try out the new fast sail; with a number of different tasks set to you at the start of the game, this was the perfect opportunity to test the game's controls and spend some time with the touch screen. The second was more urgent, being a boss battle with the Helmaroc King, so that provided the opportunity to jump straight into some action with a few of the game's items, including the sword and the grappling hook.
It's clear from the very beginning of the demo - the first time The Wind Waker HD has been playable - that the game still feels exactly the same as the 2003 original. Of course, it looks different: despite effectively still being cel-shaded, it is now much more vibrant, with much improved textures and gorgeous shading. When you first go to get the telescope from Link's sister, Aryll, you'll have a clear view of the far side of the island - where Link's grandma's house is located - and the improved background visuals are absolutely stunning, rather than being cloudy and somewhat fuzzy as they were in the original. It's clear the greater power of the Wii U has helped to make a significant impact, as the game simply can't look any better than this.
The game's controls also help give it a similar feel to the original; as you would expect, the fact that the Nintendo GameCube controller and the Wii U GamePad have similar configurations means anyone who played the original will have no problem jumping right in, while newcomers will find the controls very easy to grasp. Actions are kept to the A and ZR buttons, while the X, Y and R buttons are used to hold your three items; the GamePad displays the menu, where you can drag and drop items from your inventory onto the X, Y and R icons. The L button is used to target, while the D-Pad stores the Wind Waker and other items for use while on the seas. The right control stick, many will be pleased to hear, is used to control the camera, much in the same way the C-Stick was in the original. Motion controls are available - as we found out all of a sudden when trying to aim the grappling hook - though are almost certainly going to be optional.
On the subject of sailing, a number of considerable improvements have been made in this department. First and foremost, rather than being an equippable item taking up inventory space, the sail is simply equipped by pressing the A button once in the boat (the King of Red Lions) and taken down by pressing the B button. Players will also be able to collect a fast sail in the game this time; this was available in the demo we played and makes a considerable difference, effectively halving your travel time. Another hugely convenient change is that the D-Pad is now used to store items to be used on the seas - namely, the Wind Waker (which can be used anywhere), the salvage crane and the cannon, once you've collected the grappling hook and bombs respectively. The D-Pad is no longer required to access maps as it was in the original; these have been moved to the touch screen.
As we've already noted, the touch screen is used to provide a more seamless experience, as the menu will always be available without the need to pause the game. There are three sections to the menu: Items contains all your usable items, allowing you to simply drag and drop items into X, Y and R boxes to assign to those buttons; Map, as you would expect, contains the various maps you'll use throughout the game; the third section, Bottles, contains messages from Tingle bottles you'll collect in the game. Players will at some point in the game collect the Tingle Bottle - a replacement for the Tingle Tuner - which will allow Miiverse messages to be written and posted out to sea for other players to find in their games. Some sample posts were available in the demo - you can write or draw as per usual for Miiverse posts - and we expect these posts will be consolidated into a special Miiverse community. You might miss the Tingle Tuner, but you'll feel compelled to collect bottles you find on the beach - and you'll find them on the seas, as well.
What we've played of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD so far is incredibly exciting. The way in which improvements have been made to the convenience of things - fast sailing and easy menu access are two major points here - makes the whole experience just as enjoyable, if not moreso, than before. Add to that the stunning new visuals, the great controls and the clever in-game integration with Miiverse, and this could be one of the most enjoyable games in The Legend of Zelda series. Fans of the series who have never played The Wind Waker need to keep an eye on its HD revamp, because it's already shaping up to be a gem.