Back when Nintendo first unveiled their plans for an HD remake of Wind Waker in yet another exciting Nintendo Direct, I was psyched out of my mind. In fact, I almost felt guilty about it. Why should I allow myself to get so fired up about a remake of a game I played for the first time only a few years ago? And as much as I wanted to see the Great Sea in high-definition, I had to admit Wind Waker's visuals were not sorely in need of a makeover.

Thankfully, all that guilt is a thing of the past. Wind Waker HD has exceeded my expectations, both in terms of gameplay and visual splendor. Forget all the trailers and pre-release screenshots, because your computer monitor simply doesn't do this game justice. The impressively enhanced graphics are enough to make every island, dungeon, and boss battle a joy to rediscover. Admittedly, I recently mistook a screenshot from the GameCube original as an HD pic. Not only is this a testament to how timeless Link's cel-shaded world is, but to the quality of WWHD's genuinely superior graphics as well. When compared side-by-side, believe me, the difference is impossible to miss.

While the graphical overhaul is what players will notice right out of the gate, the gameplay itself doesn't feel at all out of place on the Wii U. Rolling every which way, breaking every pot in sight, and tossing those adorable little pigs into the ocean feels as natural, if not more so, as it did a decade ago. The entire experience—as should be expected of a remake—feels familiar, though without showing its age.

One surprisingly significant upgrade that players probably won't hear too much raving about is the new touch screen controls. Before the advent of the Wii U GamePad, it was necessary to hit the pause button and reassign items each time a dungeon puzzle or enemy encounter called for a new weapon or tool. Although it was still best to pause when swapping items during combat, the overall convenience offered by the GamePad helped maintain the immersion throughout. And with the Wind Waker only a push of the D-Pad away, I found the system as a whole to be far less cumbersome.

The benefits of the GamePad don't stop there, either. Dungeon maps and Wind Waker songs are available when appropriate, which is great, but the sea chart is what really takes the cake. Whether sailing the open waters, investigating a suspicious island, or tackling another dungeon, a chart of the entire ocean is constantly available on the lower screen. The ability to sort through my treasure charts or re-read every fish hint at my leisure, which was often while sailing, made more of an impact on the exploration than I anticipated. However, this seemingly trivial feature is only half of what makes Wind Waker's oft criticized sailing more of an adventure than a chore this time around.

The much-publicized swift sail item deserves the attention it gets, enabling the King of Red Lions to sail at twice his usual speed. I'm part of the camp that didn't mind Wind Waker's sailing to begin with. I rather enjoyed the downtime, and thought it was quietly relaxing when not being assaulted by Peahats and cannonballs. Now that I've gotten my hands on the swift sail, it would be difficult to return to the original. This simple fix makes Wind Waker's entire world more accessible and appealing to explore without sacrificing its size and scope.

The only downside to the swift sail is how you get the darned thing. After clearing the first dungeon, you need to head to an auction house on Windfall Island. There you may find, among several items, the swift sail. I spent over an hour trying to get the swift sail to appear instead of a heart container or a treasure chart. Even worse is that this will likely go straight over the heads of inexperienced players, as the only in-game information on where to find the swift sail is provided by one of the fish.

I previously wrote about why I thought Wind Waker HD was worth Nintendo's time and resources to produce, and one of the reasons cited was Hero Mode. In Hero Mode, you take twice the damage and can only heal with potions and fairies. While Hero Mode won't be testing the mettle of veteran players, switching it on does bump the challenge up to a more comfortable level.

Everything that made the original GameCube classic great remains intact, such as the vibrant and expressive character animation, enthralling combat, and rewarding exploration. Wind Waker HD's use of the GamePad may not fulfill the controller's potential as an innovative game-changer, but it's hard to imagine this remake being as amazing without it. Like a writer smoothing a rough draft, Nintendo has addressed nearly every flaw of what is arguably one of Link's greatest adventures.

My Score: 9.5