Many people — I think you will agree — are creatures of habit. We go about our lives and develop little personal rituals that help get us through each day, aiding us with a sense of comfort and dependability.
We customarily drink from the same coffee mugs every day, or make sure we brew up at the same time each afternoon. We walk the same routes to work and the same routes home (though the two aren’t always the same), listening to the same music playlists as we go. Once a month perhaps, we eat out — from that place that we like that does the great ribs — and while we try to bring ourselves to try something new from the menu, we always get those same tasty ribs. Rather than fall into monotony, we enjoy the familiarity and can often feel a little uncomfortable when something changes, seemingly out of the blue or for no good reason.
So it was hardly surprising that when Nintendo revealed a new graphical style for The Wind Waker, it was met with mixed feelings, to say the least. As with many things expressed during the Online Era, reactions were from all over the map — they ranged from quivering kawaii-induced ecstasy to bloodcurdling murderous outrage, with banner wavers from every degree in between.
There were those applauding the usually formulaic Nintendo for trying something new and fresh; while traditionalists criticised the decision, claiming that it took away from the seriousness of the series and saw it as proof that the company had entirely sold out long term fans for younger markets.
In all honesty, I struggled to get fired up about it either way.
At the time I associated cel-shading with what I deemed ‘sub-par’ games, so to see my beloved Link doodled and coloured in was a little underwhelming at first glance. But then, perhaps not wanting to allow myself to feel disappointed with something I’d been so looking forward to, I reminded myself that whatever style it was delivered in, that this would still be a Zelda title, with new twists, turns, puzzles and everything else I loved about the franchise. I decided to reserve my judgement until I could get my hands on the game itself and absorb it in a living and moving sense, alongside a musical score and the buzz I always associate with a playing a new game for the first time.
When The Wind Waker finally fired up on my Gamecube on launch day, I have to admit I fell in love with it immediately. It was clear that there was so much more to this title than the art style; there was a childish romanticism about the story and characters that was reminiscent of chasing imaginary dragons with swords made from sticks, and a sense that this tale was being played out on a grand scale, more far-reaching than ever before. There was a real sense of adventure in the game — a feeling of exploring a wider world rather than simple navigating a series of levels.
In the years that have passed, I’ve developed a soft spot not only for Toon Link, but for cel-shading in general. I’ve come to feel that by eschewing an ultra-realistic style, the game itself, rather than the graphics, becomes the focus of the project, whether that the be gameplay, plotline, characters — whatever. I know a great many people who disliked the cartoony style back then, and who continue to dislike it now, and I’ve never made any real effort to change their opinion on the matter — as far as I see it, it’s a matter of personal preference.
That being said, The Wind Waker taught me the lesson that first impressions are not always what they appear and that, in spite of how clichéd the message may have become in 2016 — beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.
What were your first impressions of Toon Link when he was first introduced?