[one_third]Fired out of a cannon into the Forsaken Fortress, Link has naught but his wits and a barrel to hide in to survive The Legend of Zelda’s best stealth section yet.[/one_third]
By the time The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released, Nintendo had decided a half-hearted stealth-based mission was not on the cards for the franchise anymore. Alongside the dramatic visual shake-up, The Wind Waker introduced the most complex form of stealth mechanics the franchise would ever see, and proceeded to use it for one lone stealth segment. It was a natural culmination of Nintendo’s previous efforts, and the distinct visuals gave the developers an expressive style that allowed for heightened reactions and clear, readable signals from enemies.
The scenario was stronger, the ambience significantly improved, and the mechanics more defined, giving Link’s foray into stealth on the GameCube a lasting impression. This was Nintendo undoubtedly trying to make what was now a reliably-occurring segment in each game into something more complex. Though it wasn’t perfect, or as well-defined as a true stealth game, it remains the very best effort to put stealth-like gameplay into a game not designed for it.
For Outset Island, build up is what’s important, and the game maintains Nintendo’s usual excellence in designing tutorials that don’t feel like tutorials. Their success depends on teaching whilst developing Link and his sister’s relationship in the background, making Wind Waker’s earliest moments feel just as valid as Link conquering his first dungeon hours later. When Link’s sister is kidnapped by a giant bird at the end of the tutorial, it gives not only a narrative reason to push Link off the island but also supports the shift towards implementing stealth mechanics in the first place.
When Link and his pirate company finally catch up to his sister’s captors, they quickly realise that simply storming the enemy’s stronghold, the Forsaken Fortress, is out of the question. Without any clear way to get inside of the fortress unscathed, they decide that the best option is to fire Link out of a cannon (!) and over the walls. In doing so, Link loses his sword in transit. With that, the first rule of the scenario is established – Link can no longer directly attack his enemies.
The odds are stacked against him from the beginning. To make matters worse, searchlights travel across the grounds of the fortress, seeking out any would-be intruders. Thus, the first two objectives are introduced, and they’re directly related to each other – find a way to switch off the searchlights around the fortress and head towards the top in order to reclaim Link’s sword and rescue his sister.
To make the journey seem more achievable, Link is now capable of moving and hiding inside a barrel to dodge searchlights and armed patrolling guards in a manner that would make Solid Snake proud. Whilst remaining out of sight has always existed as the most important aspect of Zelda’s stealth mechanics, the inclusion of an item that assists Link with hiding that isn’t a big cheat like the Stone Mask is a welcome addition to the formula and changes the way a player approaches situations.
Numerous details have also been added to the way enemies move and react to Link’s presence. If the enemy spots Link whilst moving in the barrel, a loud drum roll will burst out and the enemy freezes in place as it looks at you for a second, giving you a moment to stop in your tracks – it’s all very visual and easy to read in comparison to the invisible sight lines of The Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask.