In some ways Wind Waker does seem like a game that wasn't quite complete when it was pushed out the door - lack of meaningful dry land, a lower dungeon count than the usual Zelda game, and sort of a shoestring ending and credits sequence. I guess it's a testament to the strength of everything else that is present, however, that it's still one of the best experiences on the Gamecube all told, and the best overall Zelda game short of maybe the two N64 ones and Zelda 3.

Criticism of this one usually focuses around "the sailing", but that's not the problem. In fact, the ocean and island design is one of the game's greatest strengths. Yeah, there's an awful lot of water, and sailing from one end of the map to the other takes upwards of ten minutes real-time. However, a teleport spell that can be had roughly halfway through the game negates that to a great degree. Also, the game is absolutely packed with little secrets, distractions and things to interact with. I found the most enjoyable aspect of the game to simply be sailing around wherever I cared to and discovering all the little islands and their challenges. Not to mention, the ocean isn't just this blue flat plain that you sit back and auto-ride through like you're flying from town to town on a mount in WoW. There's a variety of enemies that pop up on you, you're always stumbling across treasures you can stop for, and there's a day-night cycle along with randomized weather that ranges the ocean from clear and calm to stormy and turbulent.

A more accurate criticism is that the mandatory triforce shard fetch quest that happens about 2/3 of the way through the game is tedious and a bit trying. Exploring the sea and acquiring treasure charts is quite enjoyable. Actually using the charts - which just involves going to the place listed, looking for a column of light, then manuevering around and guessing the exact spot by sound (hope you have stereo) every single time - gets repetitive and boring real fast. There's only 8 triforce shards that have to be found this way, but there's something like 36 optional "big treasures", including many of the Heart Pieces, that are also found the same way.

Fortunately, that's only one segment of the game representing maybe a hour or two of playtime at most (of roughly 20-25 total for a first playthrough.) And you're not forced to go treasure-diving one after the other, you can take them at your own pace, mixed in with more enjoyable side-quests.

Links :

* Producer/designer interview confirms the game was rushed
* The technical magic of Wind Waker

Videos :

* Gameplay Video