“I just hope this is a cruel joke”: 15 years of The Legend of Zelda, The Wind Waker

The tenth Zelda game caused controversy when it was first announced, but is now one of the most beloved of the series. If you haven’t played it yet – why not? 

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In the *** Official Zelda Bitch Thread*** started on 23 August 2001, posters on the gaming forum IGN fumed about the new Legend of Zelda game.

Unveiled at Nintendo’s SpaceWorld convention in 2001, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker caused an almost immediate uproar. “Just when I was saying that nintendo caters to old school gamers, they go and make zelda look like a frigging puppet show for 5 year olds,” wrote one gamer on the site. “I just hope this is a cruel joke,” said someone else. Another simply wrote: “The new Zelda looks great.... for me to poop on!”

Fifteen years on from its Japanese release on 13 December 2002, Wind Waker is now one of the most beloved Zelda games. It has an aggregated score of 96/100 on Metacritic, was the fourth game to ever receive a perfect score from the Japanese magazine Famistu, and is now one of the few 15-year-old games that are worth playing for more than just simple nostalgia. The cel-shaded graphics that caused the initial upset on gaming forums like IGN (many critics thought the game looked childish) are now the reason Wind Waker looks as if it could have been released just yesterday.

Compare, for example the Wind Waker’s timeless graphics (left) with those from another GameCube game released in 2002: Tiger Woods PGA Tour (right).

No one, today, really needs convincing that Wind Waker is a great game. Its impact is evident in the fact it still makes headlines in 2017, with people celebrating an incredible glitch found by a fan in April this year. Critics of the cel-shading (who nicknamed the game “Celda”) were quickly forced to swallow their words when the game’s incredibly open world, mammoth number of side quests, and beautiful soundtrack proved it to be a fantastically enjoyable experience. When the HD version was released on Wii U in 2013, it triggered a 685 percent increase in sales of the console.

So what is it that makes the game so great – and what makes it still worth playing today?

There is much that could be said about the technical innovations of the game, but I want to stop that short with: angry pigs. Since the third Zelda game, A Link to the Past, the protaganist Link has had the ability to anger Cuccos (Legend of Zelda’s version of chickens) into pecking him ferociously. But Wind Waker took this further. Expanding the scope of farmyard animals you could torment into a murderous rage, the pigs featured in the game (6, at my count) can each be provoked into headbutting you to death.

Rather than simply being a silly bit of fun (it is so fun though), this little feature is emblematic of the greatest thing about Wind Waker. Many games at the time were filled with buildings you couldn't enter or things you couldn’t interact with, but the Wind Waker game has an endless possibility of paths you can take. You can hurt pigs, sure, but you can also sail to as many or as few islands as you want, finally get punished for breaking people's pots, attend a few auctions, and shoot a jumping Fishman with arrows to cure his bad back. In a year when the latest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, was universally praised for its vast open world, it's hard not to see the endless seas and islands of Wind Waker as a before-its-time precursor to today’s gaming brilliance.

After 15 years of rapid innovation in the industry, Wind Waker is still just as enjoyable a game today as it ever was. Provided they can get their hands on a GameCube (the only authentic experience, don't @ me) I hope today's children will give the game a go. With it's enjoyable story, memorable characters, and angry, angry pigs, Wind Waker had everything you could want in a game 15 years ago – and has everything you could want in a game now. 

Amelia Tait is features editor at Shortlist.com, she was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer, and tweets at @ameliargh.