In which I am forced to explain to strangers why my daughter now greets any fish she sees by loudly proclaiming “‘Hoy, fry!”
6pm: Halfwit Towers, and I find myself once again crawling under the dining room table with a dustpan and brush, sweeping up any excess beans, blueberries and bread-crusts that happen to have been jettisoned from the dinner table during that past half-hour.
It’s around this time I regret my soft-hearted decision to adopt a human-fearing, ex-stray cat who lost her ears to cancer at the age of two. No, screw that sad-sack. I should have gotten a dog. Dogs are awesome. They’re living waste disposal units. Anything that lands on the floor - be it animal, mineral or vegetable - is fair game. The cat just looks at things disapprovingly then goes back to licking her own arsehole.
Behind me, the telltale, rapid-fire clomp of two size 4F feet shatters the momentary zen of housekeeping. Halfpint is on the prowl. She makes a beeline for the sofa in the living room, stops, and turns her big brown eyes my way, a coy smile spreading across her face.
She plops down on the spot, the impact cushioned by a good inch of size 4+ nappy (diaper for you Americanly inclined folks). She pulls up the covers and gropes around under the sofa with one pudgy hand.
“Piggies.” She mumbles.
I turn back to my task. “I’ve got time,” I think to myself. “She won’t find it immediately; her arms aren’t long enough, and...”
Anyone who owns a Wii U knows the GamePad packs a bit of weight, burdened as it is with speakers, gyroscope, vibration features, camera and that signature touch-screen. So I think it says a lot about how enthusiastically my daughter has taken to my Zelda experiment that she’s capable of holding the thing aloft - not unlike Link himself claiming a new item - with a wide, toothy grin spreading across her round face.
“On.” She says, placing the GamePad on her lap and expertly stabbing the power button with one stubby finger. If left unsupervised for much longer, haphazard screen-tapping will result in Halfpint getting lost in a maze of settings menus even I might not be able to navigate. I abandon my foraging to join her in the living room, sitting cross-legged with my back against the sofa like I’m nine years old; squeezing in a quick dungeon-raid in A Link to the Past on the old analogue TV before my Mum’s vicious soap habit seizes control of the box for the rest of the evening.
I plop Halfpint down on my knee with the GamePad in front of her, and boot up The Wind Waker. The loading splash lights up both the screens in front of us, and as a round of tribal drums rings out via the Wii U’s pseudo surround-sound set-up, the kid takes a sharp breath and a wide-mouthed smile cracks across her face.
This, give or take a few variances, is how each evening tends to play out in the Halfwit household these days. Young children thrive on routine and fulfilled expectations, so it comes as no surprise to me that our sometimes-daily, half-hour sessions with The Wind Waker have been accepted so readily into Halfpint’s daily activities.
Since last I wrote, the kid and I have infiltrated Ganondorf’s foreboding Forsaken Fortress, and learnt the strategic value of a well-placed stealth-barrel - and indeed how to say barrel. We’ve fallen foul of our old nemesis, “Bird”, and washed ashore on Windfall Island, where we had a joyful reunion with the real stars of this 30-year-old franchise, the pigs. An encounter with Tingle gave me an early opportunity to give my daughter a lesson in stranger-danger, and I’ve bitten my tongue as I cursed the motherfudging rats guarding the Pictograph in the depth of Windfall’s prison
Neither the sprog nor I are ready to find out why Tingle was in prison...
Moving swiftly on, we have met “Boat”. For the uninitiated, in The Wind Waker, Link crosses the oceans in a sentient red dinghy with a carved lion figurehead. It’s the vessel seen in the game’s title logo. Yes, it’s batshit insane, and no, it doesn’t end up making much more sense even if you progress with the story. I guess the fact that the boat has a freaking face and can turn around and talk to its occupants is only really unnerving to an adult audience, with all their pesky preconceptions about the capabilities of normally inanimate objects. Halfpint didn’t seem to bat an eyelid at the prospect of the King of Red Lions’ gurning face swiveling around for a chat with Link.
After picking up a sail from Windfall’s resident shyster Inuit, we set out across the Great Sea to visit Dragon Roost Island. However, if my daughter were to tell this story, the destination would perhaps not be as important a feature as precisely who it was we encountered on the way. The trip saw us make first contact with yet another of The Wind Waker’s most ubiquitous characters, the man-fish, who opens every interaction by sneering “‘Hoy, small fry” at our green-clad hero. I can presume who-ever came up with the idea of giving what looks like a demented catfish a paintbrush and letting it practice naval cartography has since been reduced to a dribbling husk of a human being by the cocktail of Spice, magic mushrooms and LSD Nintendo are clearly force-feeding its artists to prompt them come up with these monstrosities. I mean, how else do you explain Birdo.
Anyway, Halfpint freaking loves the man-fish. In order to fill out the map of The Great Sea, you need to track down these little bastards and feed them their favourite kind of bait. There’s one lurking in every square of The Wind Waker’s curiously uniform world map, and sitting through the same animation and introductory dialogue 49 times is an exercise in tedium for most people. For an 18-month-old girl, though, its goddamn cat-nip. I mentioned earlier that young children thrive on routine, repetition and fulfilled expectations; it allows them to understand and get to grips with the action-reaction formula that governs pretty much every interaction we have with both the world around us, and indeed each other. Link scattering bait into waters close to where we’ve seen a man-fish flopping around means that said abomination will come to the surface for a chat. Action, reaction.
Our journey to Dragon Roost Island continues apace. As I mentioned previously, I’m at something of an advantage regarding this particular playthough of The Wind Waker. I completed the game at least twice through a decade ago when it was initially released on the GameCube. What I didn’t remember, though, was the fact that until you complete the game’s first two dungeons, your ability to explore the Great Sea is restricted solely to the islands between major points of interest, as the crow flies. For now, any further encounters with Halfpint’s beloved man-fish would have to wait until the King of Red Lions would let us venture into waters new.
Luckily, there’s enough content available on Dragon Roost Island to keep even a toddler’s hungry eyes busy. For the uninitiated, this particular destination is home to Valoo, a big red dragon perched atop an active volcano, and Wind Waker’s curiously bureaucratic man-bird race the Rito. Google them if you’re interested, but be wary that even these innocent avian freaks haven’t escaped the clutches of Rule 34. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of diversions available on the island once you make landfall, from the pyrokinetic bomb flowers, to the letter-chucking post-sorting mini-game (Royal Mail eat your heart out), and the surly Prince Komali, with his glowing McGuffin-ball.
Unfortunately, Dragon Roost Cavern, the main feature of the island and the game’s first proper dungeon, didn’t really sustain Halfpint’s attention as much as I’d expected. I lost her after progressing through a dried-up hot spring just outside the Rito settlement, where she mistook the falling ash for “bubbles”. You’d think a magma-filled cave littered with bats, goblins and goggle-eyed insects would prove to be more engaging than simply sailing across open water or chatting with nondescript NPCs. Perhaps it was the lure of the well-stocked toybox sitting in the vicinity of the TV. This did mean, however, that I got to relive the warm, fuzzy feeling of conquering a classic Zelda dungeon unencumbered. Halfpint’s attention only really returned once I reached the very heart of the Cavern, where lies Gohma, the giant lava-dwelling spider-centipede creature that seemed to have been busy giving poor Valoo a magma-enema until Link showed up.
Despite my experience with the game, I think my hands must have temporarily turned into hams or something, because Gohma robbed me of more hearts than is considered seemly for a Zelda fan of my tenure. When I finally emerged victorious, I loosened my grip on the GamePad and found Halfpint standing by patiently, one hand on my shoulder in a vaguely concerned manner, the other clutching a pot of pretend-tea she seemed to have prepared as refreshment.
Having calmed Valoo and seized Din’s Pearl from a somewhat petulant Komali, the kid and I set back out onto the open seas. Our next destination: the Forest Haven.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, I attribute part of my success in keeping my daughter’s attention to maintaining a constant narrative. I ask her questions about what she’s seeing on-screen, and explain things that might not be clear to her tiny, 18-month-old mind. Part of this has involved narrating characters’ dialogue in distinctive voices - and I’m pretty sure this is a habit that I’ll very quickly come to regret given the sheer number of characters we’re bound to encounter throughout the game. So far we’ve met:
- Link’s Grandma: Judi Dench. Generic, quavering old-lady voice.
- Sword-master Orca: Clint Eastwood, like gargling gravel and glass.
- Sturgeon: Jim Broadbent (Slughorn from the Harry Potter films) Nasal, scholarly
- Tetra: Keira Knightley circa Pirates of the Caribbean.
- The King of Red Lions: Ian McKellen circa The Golden Compass, although he pretty much always sounds the same anyway.
- Ganondorf: Jeremy Irons, with a slightly shameful Eastern European accent. Blame Breath of the Wild for that one - what with the Gerudos and their voes and savottas and whatnot.
- Windfall Island’s Eskimo-looking salesman/auctioneer: Bargain Hunt and Dickinson’s Real Deal presenter David Dickinson. Anyone from dear old Blighty will know who this is, everyone else needs to google him right now and witness His Tangerine Majesty in action.
- And finally, the Man-Fish: Al Pacino, naturally.
Once our play session is over, my wife and I plonk Halfpint in the bath, ready for her evening wind-down. No true bath-time is complete, however, without toys and reading material to keep the kid occupied. One such accessory that has proven to be a favourite is a foam-filled plastic book featuring pictures of various water-friendly animals. On occasion, my wife likes to ask Halfpint to name each animal, and make an attempt at imitating it’s call.
“What that?” She asks.
“And what does he say?”
“Honk, honk.” The kid responds, matter-of-fact.
She turns the page: “Who’s this?”
“Wengwin.” Halfpint shouts, in approximation of “penguin”
“And what does he say?”
“And who’s this?” My wife says, turning to a picture of a goldfish.
“Fishy.” My daughter announces.
“And what does he say?”
A broad smile cracks across the child’s face. She looks up at us, eyes twinkling: “HOY, FRY!” she yells.
I ignore my wife’s look of mock-disapproval. My heart is too busy swelling with pride.