The ninth completely original (discounting re-releases and the like) game in Nintendo's epic Legend of Zelda series was released in March of 2003 by Nintendo for the Nintendo GameCube. Discounting the bonus disc included with this game for pre-orders, this is the first Zelda game for the GameCube.
Nintendo has this habit of re-inventing the plot of its Zelda games between every game. The first game introduced the now-familiar formula: big evil guy Ganon captures good princess Zelda as a part of some scheme to gain control of the all-powerful Triforce to enslave the world. Our hero Link arises and defeats him, alternatly gaining the Triforce for himself or not, depending on which version we're talking about. The first one (The Legend of Zelda), A Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time all follow this formula to some extent. Each of these also has a game which is its direct sequel: The Adventure of Link, Link's Awakening, and Majora's Mask. There are also the newer Game Boy games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, which are more similiar to the first Game Boy title than anything else, with some plot elements from Ocarina of Time. However, they aren't really sequels to anything else, and stand on their own.
Discounting those new Game Boy titles, which were made by Capcom in association with Nintendo, The Wind Waker marks the third game in an unbroken line of plot which started with Ocarina of Time. This is somewhat unprecedented for the Legend of Zelda series, and it's entirely probable that any future game would continue this coherent plotline.
Without giving anything away, the plot of The Wind Waker is like this: the events of the previous game (a great evil seeks to conquer the land, yadda yadda yadda, a great hero defeats it) happened so long ago that they have become legend. But that's beside the point: you, this kid Link, have just had your little sister kidnapped by this giant bird. Oh no! Better save her! Of course, things carry on from here, and the stakes rise much higher. I will say one thing (potentially a spoiler, but, whatever): This guy is in the game.
Is it just me, or are a lot of new games taking on a tropical and/or ocean world theme? The world in The Wind Waker is a huge ocean with many islands scattered about. Very early on, you acquire a boat and the ability to change the direction of the wind. The boat, oddly enough, talks, and gives you hints as to what you should be doing next. The game follows the time-honored Zelda tradition: there are various dungeons which contain a specific mix of items and things, and these items allow you to gain access to the next dungeon. If you've played a previous Zelda game you should be able to get a handle on things fairly quickly, and if you haven't, well, you're in for a treat.
This is the most controversial Zelda game since Ocarina of Time (which first brought the series into 3D). This is due to the unique graphical style the designers decided to go with, which uses cel shading to make it look like a cartoon. Many members of the community were offended by the childish graphics, saying that this was not what Zelda was all about. Regardless of the fact that what Zelda is about is good gameplay, that the effect is executed flawlessly and completely, and that the game looks stunning, many people still complained that the series was dead, that they would never trust Nintendo again, and so on and so forth. It's really quite tiresome.
If you are one of the people who oppose the graphical style of the game, I say play it for more than just a couple of minutes. I guarantee, you'll think it's not so bad as you probably think. And if you're familiar with the earlier games in the series, or with the cartoon show, the look of this game is actually quite perfect. Still images can't show how well things are animated.
The game, difficulty-wise, is probably about on par with Ocarina of Time. It is as fun as any other Zelda game to simply play. The game seems somewhat shorter than Ocarina of Time, though this may be my imagination. The levels are fewer in number, but, as with Majora's Mask, they seem longer. As I seem to remember, there are five levels in the game, much less than Ocarina of Time's eight, though one more than Majora's Mask's four (these numbers don't count each game's final level, though they probably should). All told, this is a must buy for the Nintendo GameCube, and would be reason enough on its own (maybe with Metroid Prime as well) to buy the system, especially for a Zelda fan.