Over the last year I’ve been playing Zelda. A LOT of Zelda, actually. Wind Waker, Ocarina Of Time, Majora’s Mask, A Link Between Worlds, Oracle Of Ages, and Metal Gear Solid 3 on the 3DS. That’s not a Zelda game, I just hate it so much I want to grumble for the rest of this paragraph about how awful it is. Ugh.

And though I have great affection for Zelda, like many Nintendo properties I think it could use an injection of fresh blood, not just remaking it periodically with alterations at the fringes, like putting a woollen jumper on a decaying sheep and hoping nobody will notice. All ideas lose their lustre and charm the more we are exposed to them, and concepts that seemed good at the time can age poorly or be supplanted by better ones.

Admittedly, it’s an exercise in futility to demand change from Nintendo (or at least the good kind of change, such as NOT reducing Mario to an infinite runner and compromising on elegant and nuanced design), but I’m going to demand that change anyway. In an age flushed with reboots, reimaginings and remakes, it’s not hard to concede that another one could make its way forward and even achieve some success. This is my hypothetical Zelda game that’ll likely never get made, despite the fact I’d want to see it.


This is the first thing you work out, because good design should complement and serve a basic narrative. And whilst it’s not usually done that way round in the industry, this is a fantasy and I’m going to indulge myself a little more before we finish.

First of all, we throw out Link being a character with no personality. Wind Waker proved that he’s more likeable when he emotes realistically, rather than trying to be a blank canvas for the player to project onto. Emotionless Link doesn’t work now and never really did, the idea was just so inoffensive that nobody cared too much. Maybe we keep Link being silent for this game, because a voice might be jarring at this point, but that doesn’t mean we don’t give him obvious drives, hopes, desires, fears and complexities. After all, the hero’s journey demands a proper hero at the centre, not a training dummy on marionette strings who has no more investment in what’s going on than the average deku nut.

Which brings the question of what exactly Link wants to achieve. Well, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – we’ll go with the classic explanation and say that Ganondorf is being evil, so Link has to hit him with a sword until he stops. But “generically evil” isn’t enough of a reason for somebody to commit atrocities, so we ask ourselves another question: why is he doing this?

Well, it occurred to me that we never really see things from Ganon’s perspective, not properly. There’s certainly not much of a personal motivation to defeat him, as he usually has only a couple of appearances in each game, once at the beginning to announce that he’s there at all, and once at the end for the boss fight where you kick his ass.

Which is where my central story concept originates from – I would structure a narrative in which Link, Zelda, Ganondorf and an extra fourth friend (no, not Tingle) grow up together as children and genuinely get along, before the Triforce then shows up and ruins everything by gifting each of the main three heroes a third of its divinity. Zelda gains great wisdom and understanding from her segment as per usual, whilst Ganon is hit with the Triforce Of Power and promptly goes megalomaniacally insane from its influence, unable to function stably now that he’s been hit with the power of a god.

See what I mean? My Ganon would be a good person corrupted by an object that was not intended for mortal usage, hence why his close friend Link has personal investment in stopping him and separating the two. It’s like the second Sam Raimi Spider-Man film, but with a gold triangle instead of a robot octopus. Ganon isn’t evil at his core, but the Triforce has warped him into a monster, making him both more frightening and more tragic all in one go, especially considering his new insanity would cause him to attack his friends for their pieces of that golden triangle.

Which brings me to the last point – Link is NOT the receiver of the Triforce Of Courage. Everybody thinks he has it, including himself, but what I’d actually do is send it to that fourth friend I mentioned and reveal the truth in the third act before the finale. Because it would make Link’s acts of heroism all the more heroic, as he’s not backed up by magic and he’s not a chosen one. He’s just a guy who stepped up to do the right thing, and that was all that was really needed. Link, the unnamed new character and Zelda work together to bring Ganon down, and rest is all details and plot points to be finalised later.

Who would that fourth friend be? Well, I was thinking of a younger kid who looks up to the rest of them, the symbolic representation of innocence and purity that lies in the balance. The game is about trying to save civilisation, but we see that struggle represented in the confused emotions of a younger friend, who embodies the battle of good, evil, power, courage, wisdom and more, deciding where his loyalties are owed. Exciting stuff.

Which leads us to the question of where to put this epic saga. The grand, sprawling majesty of Hyrule Kingdom? Well… No. Not exactly.


Here’s something else to make the diehard Zelda fans bluster a bit. I would confine my story to one city, and one city only, with maybe a bit of land around the outside as and when plot demands it. Probably Hyrule capital, as the existence of Zelda herself suggests that her castle has to be in the area, but it doesn’t have to be there if we decide to reincarnate her like they did with Tetra.

Because if there’s one thing these games have always done well, it’s oddly emotive and endearing NPCs and random townsfolk. When Ganon blows up everything in Ocarina Of Time, the only part that made me sad was seeing the bustling market square turned into a lifeless ghost town. I couldn’t really care less what happens to the fields and plains outside, because nobody lives there except Maron, her lazy father, and their entrepreneur field hand Edmund Blackadder.

So double down on the city and personality of everything within it, making the whole thing feel like one vast but diverse settlement that all connects to each other. Make various districts, regions and locations that are visually distinctive, and include a likeable melting pot of all of Hyrule’s races. Maybe the Zoras live around the river, just next to Gorontown and its Hard Rock Café, arf arf. We should be establishing from the beginning that for all its faults, the city is something good, something that needs protecting and deserves these efforts to restore it.

The point of this is that when said city is threatened, the audience gives a damn and feels invested. Ganon promises to blow up the world in a lot of these games, but considering you never stay in one place for more than ten minutes, it’s hard to care about any of it. Having the whole map feel like Link’s home – albeit a very big and messy home – means that there’s a sense of community, and ideally enough of one to make the audience shout “hell, no” when a demonic boar comes threatening destruction.


Well, right from the start it just makes sense to boost Link’s basic agility, increasing his climbing and jumping skills, as well as giving him the option to sprint. This is a city full of rooftops to be run across, alleys to hide in, crowds to duck through and drainpipes to climb, and Link is some simple urchin who would know how to scamper around an urban landscape. Enhance the ability to parkour across the town a bit and now it’s a vast, three-dimensional map that’s simply fun to traverse on its own terms. And not only that, but we can make it even more fun with the reintroduction of a couple of old toys from Zelda lore.

Those toys are the hookshot and the deku leaf. For those of you who don’t know, the latter was a Wind Waker item that functioned mainly as a parachute, slowing and controlling your fall whenever you leapt off something. So clearly it has an obvious function in any game where roof tiles are the new pavements. I don’t want to see my innards getting scooped into a barrel by some grimacing guard every time I slip on a drain gutter and take a tumble.

The hookshot is equally self-explanatory, a retractable grappling hook that historically has allowed Link to rappel up surfaces or drag enemies towards him. Here it would fit the mechanics like a glove, allowing you to swing over gaps, launch up the sides of buildings, and be used as a more central weapon in combat, but more on that later.

And none of that snapping to first person in order to aim it, OK? We can do that on bows and arrows, but here the emphasis is flow of movement and not stopping if you don’t have to. Take influence from Arkham Asylum, with the little symbol popping up on hookshot-friendly ledges when you get close enough to them.

And then there’s the puzzles, and right away I can think of something I’d do to change those: integrate them more cleanly into the world around them.

What do I mean by that? Well, one of the things I liked most about Majora’s Mask is that the time-travelling puzzles made sense within the context of the story. You find out that an old woman got burgled last night, so you hop back in time to prevent it from happening with your new knowledge. That all holds up within the established ideas of the world and doesn’t feel like the game is intruding on the story and setting.

But most puzzles in Zelda games don’t feel that natural. There is no real reason the water temple would have several buttons to change the tides, as well as moving platforms and spikes that lead to a chest holding a key that opens a door on the other side of the building. And don’t think you can get away with just calling these labyrinths “tests of courage,” either. In my Zelda game, the puzzles are either based on navigating traps set by somebody who genuinely doesn’t want you to progress, or more focused on plausible problems within the context of the world around you.

Finally, I’d make my dungeons and my open world a little less distinct from each other. Not cut out the dungeons altogether, but don’t make them an entirely separate pocket dimension. In the urban context it makes sense that most of them would be located in buildings, so why not have the option to access them through different entry points? Not as some mandatory thing that you do because you can’t complete the dungeon otherwise, but because you’ve found out from an NPC that you can deactivate certain traps and get a good sniper position if you try going through the higher window first.

I’d also make dungeons shorter and much more common, maybe a dozen brief rooms each, with most of them being optional and containing various new abilities. With time, all dungeons get frustrating, claustrophobic and run the risk of being repetitive, so we break up the monotony before it can ever sink in.

Notice how I very specifically DIDN’T say power-ups just then, I said abilities. Hacking your way defiantly through some secret labyrinth should unlock new attacks, or fresh options in combat and exploration. It should NOT just make the weapons and moves you already have become more powerful. Link is a small child going up against the hordes of darkness – it makes sense that he’d be fighting intelligently, utilising a bag of tricks scavenged from various hidey-holes around the capital.


Which I guess brings us to combat mechanics proper, and if there was anywhere in the Zelda games in need of a tune-up, this was it. First of all, Nintendo can sort out the targeting system, for god’s sake. Just make it how every other game in the universe does it, locking on and switching between enemies with the right analog stick. I’m sick of trying to engage in combat with some ravenous beastie, only for the Hero Of Hyrule to advance nervously on some dozing caterpillar far beyond it, all because the programmer doesn’t know the correct etiquette for target-lock.

And as mentioned, I’d also increase the utility and importance of the hookshot, maybe using it to replacing the shield altogether. Remember, my Link is a nimble, light-footed rapscallion that won’t block an enemy attack if he can avoid it altogether, and in my mind the shield would be a heavy, unwieldy thing that comes with suitable penalties. But by using the hookshot in tandem with the sword, I’d like to see the player drag enemies around with the chain, disarm them of weapons, throw them into other foes, trip them up, and maybe work with environmental objects in order to get that edge in combat. How cool would it be to organically swing over some goon’s head, only to pull down a damaged wall with the same item and squash him with the debris?

I’d also remove the aspect where you stun-lock most enemies easily. For a while in the 3D Zelda games it’s been pretty simple to get the edge on most bad guys by rattling their heads with the Master Sword until they die, but that won’t fly in mine. Ramp up the AI intelligence so that they know how to deflect a sword blow AND recover from one too, so it’s less about knocking down various armoured weebls than it is about looking for the opening or opportunity. A lot of enemies won’t even leave easy ways for you to attack them in the first place, making the environment essential for success.

Same principles apply to bosses, which admittedly is something Zelda has usually been pretty good about. My choice of bosses would be a rogue’s gallery of monsters, mercenaries and minions, all of which have legitimate backstories that explain their actions. Which is why upon defeating them that Link doesn’t just kill/desummon/explode the bastards, but hands them over to the city guard for a just trial. After all, this city is meant to be something good, right? It knows how to treat criminals with respect.


So there we have it. Rather more experimental than most Zelda games, but I think there’d be real potential in something like this. Originality and reinvention associated with old products is often approached with disdain by hardcore fans, but if Nintendo are going to keep making these games, I’m going to ask that they acknowledge the times we live in to some degree.

Did you think this premise sounded solid? Can you think of anything you’d add or subtract from Zelda games as a whole? What games would you also like to see tackled in this way? Stay tuned for next time, where we’ll be looking at refining a certain sneaky-stabby franchise that’s now coming back after a temporary hiatus – and no, it’s not Assassins’ Creed.


Wind Waker is an odd creature, isn’t it? After the comparatively serious one-two console punch of Ocarina Of Time and Majora’s Mask, the Zelda franchise decided to lighten the tone somewhat, changing to a cel-shaded cartoon aesthetic and making Link a dopey young sprout of a kid who seemed much more real that his previous incarnations, even though he looked more like a drawing in the margins of a schoolbook than ever.

And though the critics liked what they saw, the western audience seemed a lot less happy. But then again this was the early 2000s, where gaming was still desperately trying to prove it was mature by adopting a thirteen year-old’s impression of the concept. No niceness, no fun, you hear me? All that stuff is for babies. Give me more WWII shooters, and another GTA game to back that up.

Thankfully it’s now generally accepted that Wind Waker was actually really good, hence the rerelease on the Wii U. And because somebody had a birthday recently (hint, it was me), I suddenly had a brand new console on which to try this HD remake. And good thing too, because Wind Waker is probably the best Zelda game I’ve played, full stop.

Part of why is that Link is much more human and characterised than any former version we’ve seen, except perhaps that god-awful TV Link with the goofy voice. This green-suited kid is still silent, but with an emotive face that portrays a variety of expressions, even in gameplay. And this time he’s not setting out to fulfil some ancient prophecy, oh no. Instead, a condor with a lot of kick-ass tattoos has stolen his little sister, and Link ain’t going to let that fly just because it’s on the endangered species list.


“Hi, big brother! Sure is a great day for not getting kidnapped!”

And so he grabs a sword and hops in the nearest boat in order to save her. Because since the last game, Hyrule has had a slight problem with damp. Actually, let’s not mince words – it’s an archipelago now; a scattered mass of small islands with the roiling ocean between them, and so much sunken treasure that it’s a wonder the economy doesn’t collapse every time somebody goes crab fishing.

And everything spirals out from that point. Little Linkette’s kidnapping turns out to be a small part of a far larger web of events, in which we see all the traditional faces come back. Ganon, Tingle, the Deku Tree, Zelda… Actually, let’s talk about the Princess for a moment, with the mandatory spoiler warning thrown up for the next couple of paragraphs.

Because for a while it seemed like nobody had invited Zelda to the party, as she’s the only one who doesn’t get a mention for almost half the game. And the narrative role of determined-female-friend/sort-of love-interest-but-not-really was more than adequately fulfilled by Tetra, a young pirate captain who seemed far more likeable than Zelda had ever been. No traditionalist to be found in me – I was welcoming the change and the disappearance of a tedious character along with it.

Except that Tetra turns out to be Zelda herself, a literal reincarnation of that original character who has her royal persona re-emerge when you all find the sunken remains of Hyrule Castle. And like that, Tetra suddenly became a lot more boring. I don’t mean that I found her inherently dull afterwards, I mean it felt like the writer didn’t care anymore. The second Tetra reappears in that familiar pink dress with the Triforce on her hand, she barely had a word of appreciable dialogue until the very end, where she throws it off and goes back to piracy. I guess we know Zelda’s true gift now – not the ability to defeat Ganon, but the power to kill every scene she’s in.


It’s the only game where the boat can sing sea-shanties for you.

Speaking of killing power, the combat has had a little bit of a tweak. Not a huge amount – few Nintendo properties are brave enough to go nuts enough to reinvent anything, even the bad ideas – but there’s a little bit more polish here. Link now has a counter-attack, where pressing A just before a goon hits you causes the Hero Of Hyrule to roll around and stab his foe in the butt. Good stuff, and the reintroduction of all the old items doesn’t hurt either. The targeting system is still a nuisance, as the game clearly has better ideas about what you should be aiming at, but on the whole it’s perfectly serviceable and usually fun.

Which is more than most people were saying about the sailing element when the game first hit stores over ten years ago. The idea is that the big open ocean of Hyrule lies before you, and you have to use the titular Wind Waker device to change the angle of the wind and use it to push the sails in your boat. But like many of Link’s toys in the past, this legendary item of the gods is unceremoniously dropped in your lap simply when the game decides it’s time for you to have it, and the same applies to most of the game’s weapons, including the all-important Light Arrows which show up in a box two rooms before the final boss fight.

But I’m getting distracted. The sailing is fundamentally a Good Idea, such a Good Idea that I felt the need to capitalise it, twice. Because the danger was always going to be that the ocean itself would be boring, and the act of travelling it would become boring by extension. Wind Waker skips that problem admirably, making this sandbox a hotspot of weird locales that makes it all too tempting to put off story quests and just head for the next island on the horizon – and there is ALWAYS another island on the horizon.

So the world feels big and ripe for exploration, and though I would’ve liked to have a few more hub towns (where all the most interesting stuff seems to happen), there is a simple joy in filling your map with every island the game has to offer. Sure, there’s a point where the actual act of steering the wind starts to become more of a chore, but when that happens Nintendo offer up a sail that changes the direction of the breezes automatically. And if you’re the kind of hollow-eyed, joyless gimboid who would rather be efficient than think about fun, then a) there’s a ton of e-sports competitions for you to enter, and b) Nintendo have provided an option for fast travelling across the map, where you don’t have to endure a single exciting adventure. Lucky you.

And of course there are puzzles, which feel intriguing in the sandbox setting but get overused in the dungeons – the usual case in Zelda games, quite frankly. But for what it’s worth, the puzzles here are generally taxing and fast-paced enough not to get dull, even when you’re having to bounce beams of light around as normal.


Sadly, there is no fire hose/bug spray combo. Pretty design, though.

Oh, and what mention of Wind Waker would be complete without due praise given to the audiovisual qualities? Shirking angular polygons in favour of this game’s cel-shaded design was a decision routed in good common sense, with more than a little artistic elegance added into the mix. Whilst Link’s face does occasionally border on the terrifyingly inhuman when he has to express rage or frustration, the characters do generally look cute and the world does feel quaintly endearing, cribbing on a combination of Japanese and Polynesian influences, at least by my estimation. And when you hit the water with the wind in your sails, a triumphant orchestral soundtrack springs into life to give that real feeling of celebratory glee. Pretentiously phrased, but no less true because of it.

Look, I said it earlier: this is the best Zelda game going, at least by my experience. Everything about it seems to be excited and filled with life (bar the curiously bittersweet finale), and the places where it experiments are the places where it tends to shine, so you’re not likely to get this experience from a different entry in the series. If you have a Wii U, this should already be on your shelf. It’s earned its right as a classic.


The Wind Waker is a game about striving for greatness, and manages to match that sense of scale and importance whilst retaining focus on the most human versions of the characters we’ve seen. Give it a go, because it’s unlikely to be topped any time soon.