Originally published on Pixelitis.net on Dec. 14, 2011.
+ Charming story | Satisfying gameplay | Phenomenal soundtrack
- Occasional pacing issues | Overworld could have had more potential | Motion controls aren't perfect
Since the official reveal trailer of the game back at E3 2010, I was stoked for the newest entry in the Zelda series. My experience and love for Zelda goes as far back as 1994, when my child self was introduced to the wonder that was A Link to the Past. Since then, I’ve always gotten giddy for a new big Zelda release.
You may hear talk on the internet about whether Skyward Sword really is the best Zelda game yet. I personally feel that it’s certainly up there. Despite some noticeable issues, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a masterpiece and quite possibly the best Wii title to date.
Skyward Sword essentially surpasses Twilight Princess in every way. Whereas Twilight Princess was in actuality a Gamecube game with Wii controls added after the fact, Skyward Sword was developed from the beginning with the Wii remote in mind. Rather than take the approach of Super Mario Galaxy where motion control was used sparingly, Nintendo fully embraces it here. Nearly every weapon in the game needs to be controlled via some kind of movement on your end.
This may be an issue to those who simply can’t embrace motion control gaming. To those skeptics I say to give the game a try anyway. Most of the motion controls work pretty well, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some problems.
Let’s start with the good: the sword combat in Skyward Sword is incredibly satisfying. You can swing your sword in 8 directions in addition to stabbing, and it all registers rather well. Link has a few other sword moves, including the classic sword spin as well as a somersault/backflip slice and the skyward strike, which requires you to point your sword/Wii remote up to charge it. From there one can slice in any direction to make a sort of beam shoot out from your sword.
What’s nice about combat this time around is that it’s no longer just about mashing a button until the enemy dies. There’s a lot more strategy involved too, with certain enemies requiring a bit more thought in terms of where you swing or stab your sword in order to actually hit them, otherwise your sword will simply bounce off their defenses. The shield, which is controlled via the nunchuk, allows you to time shield bashes in order to leave the enemy temporarily stunned. I simply enjoyed how much more involved the combat was. Nevertheless, with easier enemies, I still found it just as easy to “waggle” like a maniac, but for more challenging encounters, waggle will simply not do.
Most of Link’s weapons this time around require motion control in some way. You’ll be using the remote in order to throw bombs overhand or roll them underhand, the slingshot, clawshots and bow all require you to aim with the pointer, and the new mobile beetle that you use for numerous puzzles and scouting is controlled by turning and twisting the remote. All the new additions to Link’s weaponry are fun to use and are thankfully not useless after the dungeons you find them in (I’m looking at you, Twilight Princess).
Every motion-controlled aspect of this game relies on the Wii Motion Plus. Unfortunately, its technology shows its flaw here as it requires your cursor to be recentered occasionally. This is done with a quick press of down on the d-pad, but you’ll find that the cursor will get off-center quite often. I’m not too sure why certain functions such as aiming with the bow or slingshot couldn’t just utilize the sensor bar, but that’s how it is.
As the game’s subtitle suggests, Skyward Sword features an overworld that’s up in the sky, with dozens of floating islands littering the playfield. Think Wind Waker’s island-scattered ocean albeit much smaller than that. Link’s hometown is a big island known as Skyloft, and it serves as your main hub for the entirety of the game. Link’s main mode of transportation in the skies is a loftwing, which you control solely with the Wii remote.
Flying takes a little bit to get used to, but once you get it down it’s actually quite fun. I can’t say the same for the swimming segments, however. Twisting the remote around for Link to turn and dive felt more like a chore than an intuitive experience. Add the fact that when swimming above water, you simply use the analog stick, and you wonder why the motion was added here at all.
Getting onto specific islands in the sky (as well as the land down below) requires you to fly over them and jump off your bird. At this point you begin skydiving. Let me tell you that skydiving in the game is always a thrill. The fact that the remote vibrates as you push against the wind resistance only makes it all-the-more exhilarating.
With that said, I wish Nintendo could have done more with the overworld in the game. Sure, it’s populated with a number of hidden secrets, sidequests and minigames, but I felt like it could’ve used a lot more and it is in no way as in-depth or vast as Wind Waker’s ocean overworld.
A problem I’ve personally had with the past few Zelda games is that they’ve simply been too darn easy. I’m happy to say that Skyward Sword breaks this mold by offering a lot of challenge in both puzzles and combat. While most enemy encounters aren’t all that difficult, I actually found a few of the bosses quite challenging. While some of them may have been a cakewalk, others pleasantly surprised me with their changing attack patterns and the heavy damage they would inflict on me. I quite literally had 6 or 7 hearts left and all 5 of my fairy/potion-stocked bottles used up when I defeated the final boss. Now that’s the sort of challenge I’ve been hoping for in a Zelda game!
Players will be surprised to find that this game actually has some more RPG-like elements than previous titles. While it may not go as far as Zelda II’s experience points, it manages to incorporate weapon and item upgrades. By collecting the various treasures and bugs throughout the game’s locations, one can supe up their shield, enhance a potion and even add little quirks to their weapons. It’s not as robust as other systems, but it’s a welcome addition.
With treasure and bug-collecting however, there comes a problem. For whatever reason, the game finds a need to explain every little trinket via a text box every time you collect it. Even after loading a save in which you’ve collected tons of bugs, you’re still going to get that blasted text box explaining what you have just acquired as if it’s your first time seeing it. It’s curiously similar to the annoying blue rupee glitch from Twilight Princess, although more prevalent and hence a million times more frustrating.
Visually, the game is a perfect blend of Wind Waker’s colorful art style and Twilight Princess’realistic elements. Next to Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles, it’s easily one of the most visually superior games on the Wii, even if that doesn’t say much for the game’s outdated 480p resolution. Nevertheless, the noticeable jaggyness isn’t bothersome thanks to the visually-appealing environments.
Skyward Sword’s environment is one not previously seen in a Zelda title. Sure, there’s the familiar forest, volcano and desert areas, but you’ll find some radical differences in some of these locales; the most notable being the addition of technology. There are robots in this game and other mechanical workings that you wouldn’t expect in such a title, and these new aspects actually end up enhancing the game and made for some of the most enjoyable puzzles.
Skyward Sword‘s story is significantly more engaging than many of its predecessors thanks to its charm and characters. While Link remains his own self in terms of silence and lack of development, Zelda has easily become one of the most fleshed-out, lovable characters in a Zelda title. The fact that she is no longer a simple damsel in distress and that she actually has an intimate relationship with Link made me care about her much more.
There’s even something to love about Link’s jerkoff rival Groose, whose behavior may surprise players later on.
The villain, Ghirahim also surprised me with his psychotic personality. The flamboyant demon lord would usually appear calm and collected, taunting Link and even being a tad creepy at one point, but once he’s riled up he’s as nasty as nasty can be.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same positive things for Link’s spirit guardian, the robotic Fi. I understand that she was made to be this kind of soulless helper, but she simply doesn’t have the kind of likability of past partners such as Midna, the King of Red Lions, and Tatl. Much like these guardians, Fi provides hints and combat advice, although I’ve found that she tended to state the obvious way too frequently and when I truly needed a good hint for a puzzle, she didn’t prove herself all that helpful.
Skyward Sword marks the first time a Zelda game has been fully orchestrated, and I think it’s an overdue welcome. To put it simply, the game’s score is fantastic and enhances the overall experience. It’s wonderfully epic and varied, and in typical Zelda fashion, it is very dynamic, with several changes and variations occurring depending on what is happening on-screen. Some of the more dramatic music actually gave me chills during certain moments.
Link always utilized some sort of instrument throughout the series, and with this title it’s no different. Link eventually gets a harp which one plays by just swishing the remote like one would stroke the instrument. While it’s not as fun as the classic ocarina, nor are the melodies you learn for it all that memorable, I really appreciated how playing the harp at any point would actually make it so that it played to the background music of your location. It’s a neat and very typical Nintendo thing to do.
Skyward Sword is a very interesting beast when it comes to its formula. Some may claim that it doesn’t deviate enough from the common tropes found in Zelda games. Yes, it starts off with three dungeons, and is still followed by an additional batch (among several fetch quests). However, much has changed, so it’s hard to classify what a dungeon really is in this title. Rather than having the varied areas in the game serve as simple pathways to that big, expansive dungeon, the areas themselves can oftentimes boast their own puzzles, enemies and other obstacles.
You’re still collecting pieces of something to progress to the next big obstacle, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s enough new and exciting aspects to this game to show that it’s not just another Zelda title. This one still feels quite fresh and even when you’re revisiting previously completed locations, you end up finding something completely new and unexplored.
The game’s progression isn’t without some pacing issues. Though some reviewers may dismiss accusations of “padding” the game’s main quest in order to lengthen it, part of me seriously considers some of the latter parts of the main quest to be padded. In total, the game took me 49 hours to finish with 99% of the sidequests completed. There were lots of fetch quests and backtracking, however looking back at it now, many of these quests were diverse enough and introduced new locales within already visited areas.
Most important of all, even though I may have initially groaned when the game took me on its next collect-a-thon quest, I found that it was fun regardless. The sidequests themselves were likewise varied and many had their fair share of fun minigames and diversions.
Ultimately, where Zelda innovates the most is in its combat, controls and its clever mechanics and puzzles. Despite the issues I’ve previously mentioned with the Motion Plus, it doesn’t change the fact that Link’s sword is a joy to wield and adds a strategic element to combat that’s sorely missing from many action adventure titles in this day and age. The game’s bosses were a huge joy for me and the puzzles wowed me with their brilliance. Their placement in the game’s areas preceding the dungeons was a change I had not expected but was really content with.
As I reached the end of the game, I realized that I didn’t want it to end. Skyward Sword is chock full of charm, clever game design, and wonderful battles. Amidst a few hiccups, the game shows that motion control has a place in core games. It’s going to be difficult to go back to a 3D Zelda game in which all you have to do to conquer an enemy is to mash “B” ’till it’s dead.
With Skyward Sword Nintendo has proven that great things can come from the Motion Plus. It’s a shame that it wasn’t embraced by more developers.
With all this said, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has become one of my favorite games of 2011 and it’s definitely a close pick for my personal Game of the Year. I sincerely hope that Nintendo continues to rework and innovate the Zelda franchise in this way.