Nintendo has had nearly a year's head start over Sony and Microsoft in releasing their next-generation console. Since it's launch, the Wii U has not sold very well, due to a combination of bad marketing from Nintendo, failing to differentiate as a seperate console from the original Wii rather than just a tablet accessory, a lack of original games, and developer comments being lukewarm. Nintendo consoles are known for Nintendo's excellent first-party lineup, but is The Wind Waker HD worth braving the sea of the Wii U for?
Looking at the box for this bundle, it makes you want it. It has a montage of various characters from The Wind Waker, and the gold colors that The Legend of Zelda is known for. Sadly, after opening the box, you'll see that there's no custom design on the actual console itself, only the controller. The other box contents are the same as the Premium Wii U set: A controller stand, a controller charger, a controller charging dock, a sensor bar, support feet for orienting the Wii U console vertically, and an HDMI cable. The console itself is very small, not much larger than the original Wii, and significantly smaller than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. The controller, or the GamePad as Nintendo refers to it, is the piece that has a Zelda theme. It looks very similar to the design on the Legend of Zelda 3DS that was released in 2011, with various gold designs, Hylian letters, and the eagle with a Triforce:
The screen is the same 6.2', 854x640 resistive screen as the other Wii U gamepads. It also features a microphone, a stylus, a camera, a headphone jack, an infrared transmitter/receiver, and a small NFC area under the left joystick. For what appears to be such an unwieldly controller, it is very light and very comfortable to hold. Five or six hour session with it felt no different than using controllers for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, or Nintendo 64. I actually found myself using the option to play everything on the GamePad far more often than I thought I would. It's really quite nice to use. While lower resolution than even a 720p TV, the DPI is significantly higher and everything looks very crisp. I was skeptical of it, but there were no latency problems in either the screen or controls. I think Nintendo is really onto something great here.
Like the Deluxe Set Wii U, the storage on this is the same configuration: 32GB of onboard flash memory with the option of SDHC card expansions or the option to use external USB hard drives. Oddly, the most enticing part of this bundle, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, is not included as a physical disc. Rather, you are given a download code for use on the Nintendo eShop. The download ends up being relatively small 1.7GB, but it does lack the feeling of having a physical copy, in addition to locking the game into the eShop with some of Nintendo's less than ideal practices, which I will get into later.
When the console is turned on for the first time, you'll be guided through a setup process to get connected to the Internet, set up a Nintendo Network account, set up a Mii, and import any data from the original Wii. At this point, the option to import a Mii from a 3DS is also an option. After you get connected to the internet, an update must be applied. I was disappointed to see that again Nintendo has made their console WiFi-only by default rather than also adding an RJ-45 jack. 802.11n isn't exactly slow, but every room in the house has multiple Ethernet jacks, so we prefer to use that when possible. At launch, there were horror stories of updates taking many hours to download and install. While not as badly afflicted now, an update still needs to be applied out of the box, and it took about half an hour. Quite frankly, a new bundle like this should not have to undergo such updates out of the box. On the plus side, Nintendo did have the foresight to add commonly used video applications to the Wii U stock. Out of the box, there are apps for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and Youtube. All four work as they would on other devices, and are capable of being viewed on either the GamePad or the TV the Wii U is hooked up to. And unlike some other consoles I could name, you don't need to pay a for a premium subscription service to access services you're already paying for.
I've had a Wii since early in it's life, and the system got a lot of use in both retail packaged games and Wii Shop games. I had quite a few games to transfer: Super Metroid, Super Castlevania IV, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Lords of Thunder, Kid Icarus, The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Sin & Punishment, and Sonic The Hedgehog 2. The process for this is very clunky and time consuming. A Wii U Transfer tool must be downloaded from the Wii Shop channel on the original Wii. From there, a transfer wizard on the Wii U preps an SD card. The SD card is then put into the original Wii, which transfers the data to the SD card. Then the SD card is inserted back into the Wii U. This whole process took me about an hour, but your times will vary based on how much data and how many games you have to transfer.
The ugliness doesn't stop there. Rather than integrate with the rest of the console, there's a specific Wii app that is accessed to use all of the Wii software and games. This menu must also be controlled by a Wii Remote or Classic Controller; the GamePad is not supported. This reeks of sloppiness on Nintendo's part. In 2013, there's no reason to have any seams in the experience. The games from the Virtual Console should be treated as regular Wii U channels and disc-based Wii games should be able to be launched from the disc channel the same as a Wii U disc. There were no significant architectural changes in the Wii to the Wii U, so this isn't a technological hurdle, it's entirely clunkiness based in Nintendo's own incompetance. Bizarrely, Nintendo recently released an upgrade that allows the Wii channel to be used on the GamePad, but only by using the GamePad as a display; the user must point a Wii Remote at a propped up GamePad, a use case I cannot see anyone using seriously. They fail to recognize an actual problem with this.
Their online efforts are also half-cocked. Nintendo Network is finally universal and finally does away with the annoyance of Friend Codes. But any purchases made under a Nintendo Network account are tied to the account, which is tied to the console it was made on. If that console ever breaks, the games cannot be redownloaded without Nintendo's intervention like they can on Steam, Xbox Live, or PlayStation Network. This again shows a fundamental lack of thought towards the system on Nintendo's part. People upgrade, consoles break, consoles get stolen....it's just not a good system in 2013. Scott Moffitt, Nintendo's Vice President of Sales and Marketing has made comments that indicate that this is changing, but I must review what we have now and not what Nintendo has promised or indicated. Nintendo Network will be a B-tier service until the accounts are decoupled from the console they were created on, have integration with previous Wii purchases, and 3DS integration. Neither The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD nor Pikmin 3, the two games I purchased have any online capabilities, so I cannot directly comment on how online multiplayer performs. However, Nintendo's clunkiness in other areas lead me to believe that the experience would be less than perfect.
Despite these issues, I really do like the console. One of the greatest things about consoles now is their easy ability to be updated. The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, original Wii, and even the 3DS have gained features since they launched. Given Moffitt's comments, I do believe it will be fixed, but he did not give a timeframe for when it will be fixed. This sullies the other great things about the console. The GamePad is a great concept, and I've had fun with it on The Wind Waker, Pikmin 3, and others. I expect that many developers will find fun things to do with it like they did with the original DS. Nintendo also has some great games on the horizon, such as Super Smash Bros 4, Monolith's X, and Sega's Bayonetta 2.
At the same time, I do somewhat worry about the console. Despite the upcoming lineup, the console itself will have huge competition in the form of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Both of those consoles will be running octo-core AMD Jaguar CPUs with AMD GCN GPUs. The Wii U is using an older version of IBM's POWER architecture in a tri-core configuration. The GPU is running a variant of AMD's older but proven RV770, the chip used for the Radeon 4870 and other cards. While by no means a slouch, and many times more powerful than the Radeon X1900 equivalent in the Xbox 360 and the nVidia GeForce 7600GS equivalent in the PlayStation 3, it won't hold a candle to the Radeon 7870/7850-ish equivalents in the other consoles, and it lacks GCN's compute performance. Given AMD's constant selling of GCN as the perfect solution for semi-custom chips in consoles, phones, tablets, servers, and anything with a screen, I can't imagine AMD didn't try to steer Nintendo towards GCN and use of Bobcat cores for the CPU, Bobcat being the predecessor to the current-generation Jaguar. I wish we lived in the parallel world where Nintendo went with the still-cheap but more powerful solution of 4 Bobcat cores and GCN units. They would fare a much better chance of having multiplatform titles as a standard rather than an afterthought as we saw with the original Wii.
So, with the console out of the way, we get to what excited most people about this bundle: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Originally released in 2003, The Wind Waker was the first Zelda game for the Gamecube, and was very controversial for its use of cel-shaded graphics, especially after the 2001 Spaceworld Demo, which had a more realistic style. It had popular sentiment against it at the time, which was further compounded by various gameplay direction decisions. The biggest complaint was how the sailing mechanic worked: It was painfully slow moving across the Great Sea, which was a mostly empty replacement for the previous overworlds. Nintendo stated that Link sailed as fast as was possible while still allowing the Gamecube to render things on the horizon.
Ten years later, we can play The Wind Waker on hardware it deserves. By default, Link sails significantly faster than in the original release, and there's an item called the Swift Sail that gives him a Char Aznable effect: paint it red, go three times faster. In addition, the Swift Sail will always have a breeze behind it, eliminating the tedious task of constantly changing the direction of the wind that plagued the original. Sailing in The Wind Waker HD feels much more like riding Epona in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and Twilight Princess than the chore it was in the original. Being a remake of an older game, the GamePad doesn't have much use other than an extra screen for your map and an inventory screen, which isn't a bad thing. You rely on maps very frequently in The Wind Waker, and this is another action Nintendo took to reduce how tedious the game felt. The Wind Waker itself is also permanently assigned to the up button on the D-Pad, and the sail, bombs, and grappling hook are automatically assigned to the other directions when sailing, greatly freeing up your assigned items for more important items like the bow and boomerang.
The story is entirely unchanged. The prologue starts with a story of how a great evil took Hyrule, and the people expected the Hero of Time to save them, but the hero did not appear. In response, the gods flooded Hyrule, and people took refuge on the mountaintops that became islands of the Great Sea. Link, a child on Outset Island, finds his sister kidnapped by a very large bird, and gets into a run-in with some pirates led by a blonde girl named Tetra. Link embarks on a mission to save his sister, taking him to every corner of the Great Sea.
The game looks beautiful in HD. Everything is much smoother, and the various smoke and fire effects look very crisp. The original did a great job of rendering things on the horizon, and the HD remake increases the draw distance. The music appears to be unchanged, but this is a good thing. The Wind Waker had great tracks such as Dragon Roost Island and Ruined Kingdom. The game is also less tedious in changing the Triforce quest: In the original, you had to locate eight maps, then bring them to Tingle, who would decode them for very large amounts of rupees, and then the player would embark to find where the pieces of the Triforce of Courage can be salvaged. Here, only three of them require such action, the other five have the Triforce pieces where their maps were in the original, and are obtained without extra travel or paying excessive amounts of money to Tingle.
In addition to the game, the bundle also comes with a download code for a digital version of the Hyrule Historia, a book of artwork and behind the scenes looks at the creation of the Zelda series. It's a cool perk, but I really don't think the best way to view it is on the Wii U. Nintendo and Dark Horse did a phenomenal job on the physical version, publishing a very well made book that's a pleasure to read and hold in your hands. It's a bonus, but I feel any hardcore Zelda fan would be doing themselves a massive disservice by not getting the physical version.
The only real complaint I have about the game is Nintendo's bizarre insistence on accelerometer controls for certain items. By default, the bow, hookshot, boomerang, and grappling hook are controlled via the GamePad's accelerometer, meaning you have to tilt the GamePad to change where these items aim. It's bad enough when you're playing it on a TV, it's even worse when you're playing the game only on the GamePad, which I did by about a fifty-fifty split. Nintendo did the same thing with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS, where the slingshot, bow, hookshot, and boomerang were accelerometer controlled by default. Like Ocarina of Time 3D, I immediately changed the settings over. These controls simply don't work anywhere near as well as an analog stick or a Wii Remote. When playing the game, I highly advise switching the controls immediately. Another nitpick actually isn't with the game itself, it's on Nintendo's method of publication: you do not get a physical disc in this bundle. Rather, you have a download code that redeems to a copy on the eShop. Gamecube discs topped out at 1.5GB, and despite being remade in HD, the download totals out to just over that, so you will have plenty of onboard storage for The Wind Waker HD and other items. But it's another thing to add to the to-do list of getting the Wii U set up, and it leads back to Nintendo's outmoded stance of games being tied to User ID's that are tied to a console.
If you're looking to buy a Wii U, this is the bundle you should buy. Despite being billed as a “Limited Edition”, they're in plentiful stock at every retailer I've been in that sells video games. The Wii U has a solid announced lineup in addition to titles like an original Legend of Zelda and Metroid title that can can comfortably assume are in the works. There are a lot of party games that make very good use of the controller. But the console strikes me as a work in progress. Nintendo has a lot of work to do to overhaul their online system, change the way purchases are tied to accounts, and implement 3DS integration, if that's even a blip on the to-do list. Many have made comparisons to the ill-fated Virtual Boy with the way the Wii U is selling. Then again, that was also said of the 3DS, which had a slow start but is now a console with a great library. It's also a lot of time to get the Wii U set up, even more so if you're importing your purchases from an original Wii, and then there's the time it takes to download the game that's a part of the bundle. But these are really two products, so I assign two ratings: The Wii U gets a three out of five for being a fun ride but with many kinks that need to be sorted out, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD gets a five out of five for being a great improvement on an already enjoyable game. I had barely touched my Gamecube copy since I beat it nearly a decade ago because it was such a tedious game to play that I didn't really feel like replaying, unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, and others. The remake fixes every gripe I ever had with the original and gives you an exciting first glimpse of The Legend of Zelda in HD.
Summary: The Wii U is a good foundation, but Nintendo has work to do to make it better. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a great remake and great improvement on the original. The Wii U is a good foundation, but Nintendo has work to do to make it better. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a great remake and great improvement on the original.