Hopes were high that the all new, controversially cel-shaded instalment of what is arguably Nintendo's best loved games series would deliver an experience to console the people who were so mortally offened when main character Link shed his 'realistic' look in favour of a bolder, more recognisable appearance. If you loved previous Zelda games for their charm, sublime control and staggering wealth of things to do, you shouldn't be disappointed with The Wind Waker. The new graphics are initially shocking, but after about 5 minutes they melt their way into the experience and you'll never imagine how you got by without them. They're beautiful throughout, and they give the game oodles of character and beauty that will have you grinning from ear to ear. Link is wonderfully expressive, with his giant eyes reacting to his environment in lots of funny little ways, such as the sadness when leaving his home village, the delight when he defeats a boss and the brilliant suspicious look when he sidles along walls, Solid Snake-style. The controls are even more refined than in the N64 games - real-time battle flows elegantly by simply bashing away at the B button, the direction you tilt the control stick making the difference to how you strike your sword (a short tutorial eases you into it nicely), with the ability to shield and jump out of the way of oncoming attacks being right where you need them. It's fluid and very intuitive - and the way each strike you make alters the music (kind of like Rez) is a great touch to make combat even more of a joy. The sound in general is fantastic - some brilliant music to acompany the various villages you explore, as well as remixed themes from the old games. Music in the set pieces is often very moving, and gives the game a brilliant theatrical atmosphere. Getting from the beginning to the end won't take as long as in previous Zelda's, but the world is so huge and expansive it's not hard to find a host of enjoyable side-quests to dissolve the hours away. The game's many characters have individual personalities, and usually a problem or two to go with it - being the helpful young chap that you are, you can help these people out by talking a theif into turning good, delivering letters, taking photographs and even collecting pigs, being rewarded with much-needed cash and Heart Pieces. For those who look for it, there's a stunning depth to this game that can keep you occupied for ages, even when the story has reached it's dramatic end. The narrative side of the game isn't as strong as most RPGs, but for a Zelda game it's quite beefier than usual, with more plot-changing set pieces and interesting characters than before. The initial aim is to rescue Link's sister, who was abducted by a giant bird who also tried to kidnap a pirate girl, Tetra, who looks just like her before it was shot down. The pirates help Link to get to where his sister is being held, but it's not long before it becomes clear that there's more to this than a bird with a penchant for stealing young girls. Pretty soon you're travelling the world in a talking boat, trying to stop a familiar foe from finding the three pieces of the Triforce and causing devastation. Zelda fans will probably be clearer on the story, but it's explained well enough for newcomers to enjoy as well. The Wind Waker is a beautiful, enormous, charming and brilliantly playable adventure with the potential to take weeks of your life. The only problem with it is the sailing - simple journeys from one place to another across the vast sea take several minutes, and can be quite boring, with some annoying ocean-dwelling enemies showing up now and again to slow your progress. Also, changing the direction of the wind (via the Wind Waker conductor's baton from the title) can be a pain when you only want to travel a short distance, but you can't sail that way because the wind's against you. These are really only minor flaws though - the overall experience is so brilliant and absorbing, you'll barely notice. The best Nintendo game on Gamecube so far, hands down.