4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Developer: Nintendo EAD
My personal pick of the best of the Zeldas. I came to this fairly near the beginning of my Zelda-love, with only Link’s Awakening under my belt, so the controversy of the new art style and the lack of a Hyrule overworld was singularly lost on me. (I did manage to track down the special edition that included a port of Ocarina of Time, so I played that first before moving on to this.) Additionally, I’d just started buying the wonderful magazine NGC and they helpfully laid out the protracted Triforce hunt near the end of the game that seemingly did most people in, so I never had any problems with that either. So maybe my particular circumstances helped bias me towards the game, but you know what? I don’t care. Wind Waker is one of the best games ever made and I’ll fight you if you say otherwise.
Link’s sea voyage depicts the joy of exploration better than any other game – only Fallout 3 really comes close, but even that is left behind. Using your telescope to spot an island in the distance, unfurling your sail and setting off – while the glorious “Great Sea” booms from the speakers – and marking off another square on your sea chart once you get there is as delightful a gameplay experience as there is. The cel-shaded graphical style is jawdroppingly beautiful, the characters are among Zelda’s most memorable (special mention to the grumpy battleships-game runner – “Sploooosh. Sploooosh. Kaboooooooooom!”) and the setpieces are spectacular. It’s so good I’m seriously considering buying the HD remaster when I pick up a Wii U, despite my GameCube copy still working perfectly well. And I never do stuff like that.
MAGIC MOMENT: finding the submerged Hyrule Castle, frozen in black-and-white. Then returning colour to it and waking up the suspended enemy hordes while you’re at it. Thrilling and heart-in-mouth tense.