The Legend of Zelda is one of those franchises that will be forever remembered. When I teach my son about gaming, it will be up there with other pioneers as a series that makes this awesome hobby so great. With the Wii, a lot of gamers have been waiting a long time for the next chapter in the series. Twilight Princess was a nice gesture (let’s not forget that it was truly a Gamecube title), but Skyward Sword is the game that can make or break motion controls for core gamers. The end result is the best experience on the Wii to date, and quite possibly, one of the best Zelda experiences you will ever play.
For the first time in franchise history, Nintendo is giving you a glimpse at the origin of Zelda. Skyward Sword takes place at the beginning, when Link and Zelda are childhood friends and before the world of Hyrule is as we know it. Storytelling has always been a side item for the Zelda games, until now. Nintendo has amped up their design to deliver emotional cut scenes, and even without proper voice acting, you’ll likely latch onto these characters and develop feelings for them. You’ll empathize with Link’s quest and see the bond between him and Zelda develop. Nintendo has done a fantastic job of conveying emotion with facial expressions and animations. This is, by far, the best Zelda story ever told.
I want to be honest upfront. I am not an advocate of motion-controlled gaming. In fact, I was one of the people lobbying for Skyward Sword to be playable with a classic controller. However, after spending countless hours adjusting to and learning the nuances, I can safely say that the Wii’s control scheme makes Skyward Sword the fantastic experience that it is. Nintendo has always been the king of their own design, and the latest adventures of Link sets the standard for the way these controls were imagined five years ago. The first time you encounter an enemy that forces you to swing your sword in a particular direction or angle and you defeat them, the sense of satisfaction is unparalleled.
For those on the fence, Skyward Sword changes the idea behind Zelda. Sure, the standard puzzles and dungeons are still here, but the motion controls have advanced the series to a new level. After playing and getting used to them, I never want to play a Zelda game without them. Puzzles are intertwined with the items you collect and the ways you can use them with the Wii remote. One small example is the bombs. Before, just tossing them or setting them down would solve most puzzles, but now you can roll them just like in Wii Bowling, opening up a whole new plethora of puzzle solving options. This is just one of many examples of the implementation of motion control. The entire game is built around the idea, making past iterations seem elementary in design.
Couple that with the idea that the game is perfectly paced, with combat that requires thinking and strategy as opposed to simply flailing a controller around, and you have one cohesive experience. Speaking of combat, adding motion controls has also changed the game here. Enemies are now tailored to offer up a challenge to those that run in swinging their sword violently. Instead, you have to plan out your attacks based on angle and where enemies are blocking. Frustration can get to you, and you might start flailing your remote, but I assure you, patience and practice are your two best friends. Once you come to grips with it, you won’t want to play a Zelda game any other way again. It just feels right with the one-to-one motion for sword controls.
Of course, there is always more to Zelda than simply combat, and Skyward Sword is no exception. Skyward sword is broken down into areas below the city in the clouds you start off in, known as the surface. Here, you will uncover various regions and temples that serve as your playground for the 30+ hours it will take to conquer the main game. In typical Zelda fashion, you will collect new items and weapons along the way that also open up new paths and areas, just like in the classic games. Temples, or dungeons as I like to refer to them, are now more confined and brilliantly designed to keep you constantly using all the items at your disposal. Skyward Sword is perfectly paced, and will have you playing for hours at a time without ever venturing into the realm of tedium.
Now, I know I have been gushing over the game, but that doesn’t mean my time with it was hassle free. For instance, I ran into several occasions where my Wii remote simply wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. I found myself dying at random locations or falling off the level because the camera system was being fickle. There is also too much backtracking and tedious fetch quests that simply feel like they are there to extend the playtime of the adventure. None of these things are a deal breaker, but they crop up often enough to warrant a mention. The good ultimately outweighs the bad, and Skyward Sword remains the best Wii game released to date.
Visuals in Skyward Sword are definitely a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have the lack of processing power on the Wii. Some of the textures in the game are downright horrendous, and flat areas that are supposed to represent natural terrain simply look terrible. Then, you stop and admire the art direction, architecture and level design and realize this game is absolutely brilliant in that aspect. Each locale is littered with unique design, and enemies are varied, making encounters both familiar and unique. The game straddles a fine line between excellent design and poor processing power, but in the end, I loved the locales and variety found within.
Sound is in the same boat, with simple grunts and groans substituted for dialogue along with familiar sound effects, but the score is phenomenal. The breathtaking main theme is fantastic, and hearing the Zelda music performed with a real orchestra sends shivers down my spine. Every area has a theme that sticks with you, and each temple a unique selection. The music is up to the series’ standard and is a joy to listen to.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is reason enough for core gamers to dust off their Wiis. You may hate motion control, but once this game clicks, it is genius. If you are a Zelda fan, you cannot miss this game. It is simply the best Wii game yet, and definitely up there as one of the best Zelda games I have played in years. Nintendo continues to keep the series relevant after 25 years, which says enough in and of itself, but when it can make a believer out of me for motion controls in core games, that speaks volumes.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.