Zelda speedrunning is always changing. Long-sought skips have been found in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Ocarina of Time has been completed in under ten minutes. Now, a new combination of discoveries might push The Wind Waker speedrunning to a new milestone, bringing its completion time to under an hour.
One well-known Zelda speedrunning trick is called the “barrier skip.” The Wind Waker infamously features a massive magical barrier in the sunken ruins of Hyrule that normally blocks players from reaching the final dungeon until special conditions are met. For a long time, it seems impossible to break through this barrier. This changed over the last four years: In 2016, a player managed to break through the barrier. It took about a year after that for a consistent means of performing the trick to be discovered. Since then, additional methods to pull off the skip in both the HD re-release and the original GameCube version of The Wind Waker have been found. The methods differ depending on which version of the game a runner uses. For the initial version of the trick on the WiiU release, the barrier skip required gathering enough speed to burst through the barrier. On the GameCube, players can shoot enough arrows that there’s no more space in memory for the barrier to load.
A new method for performing a barrier skip in The Wind Waker has recently been discovered, alongside the ability to avoid collecting the grappling hook item, which also shaves off time. It seems quaint in concept but is difficult to execute. There are two parts to the barrier: a field slightly outside the barrier that knocks Link backward, and a massive invisible wall behind that. If runners use a trick to bypass the initial knockback field, they are able to find a specific spot in the barrier where dropping a bomb allows them to slip on through. This is because dropping a bomb pushes Link forward, and if the runner is positioned just right there is a small gap—about the size of a pixel—where the momentum from dropping the bomb is enough to push Link through the barrier. It’s straightforward, although it requires intense concentration and proper position from runners.
That’s cool, but it’s a development made more important by the revelation that runners don’t need to get the grappling hook anymore. It used to be that the grappling hook was needed to acquire important items for a speedrun, such as the Deku Leaf, and for climbing up the last room of Ganon’s tower. That’s not the case anymore. There’s a long sequence of events that lead up to skipping the grappling hook and finishing the game, but the video below by Any% world record holder Linkus7 breaks things down in more detail.
An essential component of skipping the grappling hook is a glitch known as “zombie hovering.” Zombie hovering has been an important technique in The Wind Waker for some time. Whenever Link dies, there is a short moment when players can perform actions such as jump-slashing or backflips. This can be used to raise Link into the air after a jump slash. If the runner mashes the B button, the game thinks they’re performing another jump-slash, and Link rises upwards. With enough button presses, it’s possible to hover as high as you want. The only catch is that if you want to land, Link needs to heal before he touches the ground or else (because he “died” before the hover started) the death animation will play. Over the years there’s been a variety of ways that runners have avoided this. On the GameCube, it’s possible to use an item called the Tingle Tuner, which allows players to buy and use items like potions off their Gameboy Advance in real time, to heal Link. In other cases where zombie hovers were needed, runners would lure enemies to specific positions and kill them so that they could collect a health-restoring heart while in the air.
For the zombie hovers involved in skipping the grappling hook, there’s no need to restore health. When runners first use a zombie hover to float up to where the Deku Leaf is found in Forest Haven, they can simply save and reload the game after collecting the Leaf. It’s a bit more complicated in Ganon’s Tower, where skipping the grappling hook requires another hover. Here, runners can hover upwards at a specific angle and drop a bomb to activate a warp pot. There are possible alternatives, some of which avoid a zombie hover, but they are not as consistent. Knowing runners, they will undoubtedly find the best approach.
The two developments mean that a new milestone could be on the way: completing the speedrun in under one hour. Linkus7’s currently world record as of writing is one hour, four minutes, and fifty seconds. It was achieved one month ago. Older runs—many of which now belong to a category called Any% No Actor Unloading, which didn’t use the previously-mentioned arrow trick to unload the barrier—took over three hours to complete.