I'm calling it now; if you didn't like Wind Waker from a game design perspective, you're probably going to hate Zelda U. If you loved Wind Waker, you'll probably love Zelda U even more. There are so many things to compare that it even takes me by surprise.
Point 1: Epona is the King of Red Lions
The most obvious thing is Epona. Epona controls almost exactly the same as the King of Red Lions does in WWHD. The difference is that while the King had a swift sail to speed up, you must repeatedly mash the A button to speed Epona up. I think it's great that Epona now controls like the King, because the worlds are built in such a similar way, but repeatedly needing to mash a button to maintain a faster speed bothers me. It seems like they got rid of the absolutely horrible stamina meter for dashing, which makes it infinitely more tolerable, but my point still stands; don't punish your player for wanting to traverse your world in a faster way. I know that the game is still trying to maintain believability in the way a horse works, but this is a game and Epona is a game mechanic. Don't screw up a game mechanic for immersion.
Point 2: Hyrule Field is the Great Sea
A complaint that I'm seeing a lot of is that the world seems empty. While a lot of people offer many different counterarguements to this, I feel like mine is a bit different. The world is built to mirror the Great Sea. If you look at it that way, it makes sense why the world seems spaced out more. There are key points of intrest, encountered in regular intervals during, and then there's downtime where you're kind of just traveling. That's just like sailing in WW. There are watch towers, just like in WW and, while I thought it was just a coincidence when I saw one at E3, I now feel that it is functionally serving the same purpose; pacing. In WW, sailing from place to place would be regularly broken up by serveral things. Whether it was a watch tower, a raft, a submarine, or a mini-boss, there was always something to do. Zelda U sets it up similarly. Enemies seem to only congrigate near these areas.
The Beemos-spider-like enemy now seems to me like this game's version of the Giant Octoroks. Now that we know that Epona controls like the Kind of Red Lions, it's pretty easy to imagine how these battles could work out. You L-target the enemy to orbit around it, and then aim and fire your arrows at it, very much like the Giant Octorok fights. I'm hoping that there will be a great diversity in these mini boss fights.
Why it works
Now while I keep comparing this games land to the Great Sea, there is one big difference; you aren't restricted in what you can do out of the boat in the Great Sea. In Wind Waker, you have seconds to swim to where ever you want to go, or you will drown and be sent back to your boat. You also can't fight in any capacity while swimming. By contrast, in Zelda U you are completely unrestricted when you're off of Epona. This means that it is easier to forgive the downtime of sailing because there's nothing better you could be doing. You're on water. With Zelda U, every area with reletively nothing to do feels like a missed opportunity for something eventful to happen because at any time, you can get off youre horse and do anything. Instead of riding a horse and doing nothing for three more minutes at a time, the world could have been designed far denser on land. It could have been filled with enemies and caves and all these different things.
But then you wouldn't need Epona. A denser world means more fast travel disruptions. That would make traversing with Epona a pain in the ass. Also the world would need to be much smaller as it's unrealistic to expect a world as massive as Zelda U's to be as dense as a game like LttP or SS. What Epona does allow for is pacing, gameplay variety, and more pacing. It allows for downtime between dungeons to just enjoy exploring. I stand by my arguement that no 3D Zelda did exploration well aside from Wind Waker. From unlocking parts of the map piece by piece, to finding pit stop islands to explore, to finding submarines (which were that game's version of a mini dungion), to the mini bosses, to the sea enemies, to the ghost ships, to the treasure spots, there was always something to keep you occupied while sailing.
Wind Waker's most unanimously agreed upon flaw is it's Triforce quest. This is a flaw because it turned what was meant to be a passive part of the Zelda experience, that being exploration, into a manditory one. It screwed up the pacing. Now exploration was a job, not a reward. This section is where most of the hate for WW's Great Sea comes from. We all know that this was done because dungeons were cut from the game. If we are left to assume that dungeons won't be cut in Zelda U, then the pacing will be left in tact and stay a positive aspect to the game throughout. It won't be tedious because there will always be something to do just around the corner.
Now for some other things that I hope are added from Wind Waker:
One is the way you unlock peices of your map. Now I know that we've already seen Zelda U's map, but perhaps we'll be able to unlock more detailed looks at different areas. The reason this was such a cool mechanic in WW is because it put a completionist spin on exploring. In the beginning, it just feels like you're getting a nice forshadowing on whatever island you're exploring, but once you've collected a good amount, it turns into a habit, which then turns into a near obsession as you near completion of a map. It also helps you keep track of areas you've been to and areas you have not. You're always aware of when you're near an unfamiliar place, and that tiny incentive of filling that one map square soon turns into a 20 minute detour of island exploring. It's an prime example of good game design. It encourages the most important aspect of Zelda in a passive way, and I hope a similar mechanic returns in this one.
I want to see the return of treasure spots. Maybe places on the ground can be marked with a glowing "X," and you can go to the spot and use the mole mitts to dig up treasure chests. It was just another great way to give you something passive to do while traveling and give the sense that you're on a journey instead of simply traveling from point A to point B.
I want the structure of islands to be brought back. They would obviously not be literal islands, but places of even slight importance should hopefully all be marked in someway on the map, so that you know where you can find something special. This was easy in WW because you knew that every square had at least something of intrest. That should be the same in Zelda U. There should be regularly spaced out places interest spaced evenly throughout the map. The importance of each place may obviously vary, but that feeling that you're never more than two or three minutes away from an interesting place should be kept.
I guess the final thing that I hope is kept are the traveling merchants. This should be obvious, but with a world this big, you should never be far from a place to resupply.
What do you guys think? Did you think that WW's overworld was barren and are upset that Zelda U is following that same formula? I'm sure not. I thought that WW's overworld was the exact opposite of barren, so finding out that this was how they are handling this Zelda gets me so excited! This feels to be the Wind Waker 2 that Aonuma was planning on making before he changed it to Twilight Princess, and that makes my infathomably happy, as Wind Waker is, to me, the greatest game of all time!
Well, this is new.