Link is back in Nintendo’s signature The Legend of Zelda franchise. I’m going to cut to the chase right now, Skyward Sword is a good “Zelda” game even great. The problem is we have been spoiled with games like Batman Arkham City, Uncharted 3, etc that are action packed and throw you in the action right away. Zelda takes a while before the real adventure starts and the game’s action isn’t as nail biting as shooters or brawlers. Another hard sell is people without a Wii or Wii Motion Plus. Zelda is an adventure game designed to be lengthy and always has. If you are fine with that and even if you need an additional investment for Wii Motion Plus Skyward Sword is well worth your time.
Skyward Sword acts as a prequel to Ocarina of Time introducing the origin of key symbols of the franchise. The legend of the goddess tells of a great evil emerging from the earth to take the ultimate power. The goddess used her powers to seal the evil away while sending a piece of the surface along with the remaining humans and the ultimate power to the sky. This land is now known as Skyloft, a peaceful place where people travel on birds called Loftwings. Link eager to become a knight participates in the Wing Ceremony. Upon earning the right to become a knight Link and Zelda take a flight together to celebrate but are caught in a black tornado. Link wakes up back on Skyloft to find out that Zelda is missing on the surface. Link meets Fi an agent of the goddess of legend claiming that Link is the chosen hero and has to take her sword to purge the surface of the great evil.
The first act focuses on the relationship between Zelda and Link. They are both members of the Knight Academy and are childhood friends. They share great looking scenes and you actually get to know Zelda. Zelda has often been a minor character (if present at all) often used as a means to an end. Spirit Tracks did something interesting to change the dynamic. Zelda’s “dead” spirit travel with Link throughout his adventure. They needed to work together and Zelda was developed as a character. Occasionally Zelda knows Link prior to the start of the game but is often pushed aside. Wind Waker had Tetra as a reincarnated Zelda but she was unaware and largely a female pirate. Zelda doesn’t travel with you in Skyward Sword but she isn’t sitting on her thumbs waiting for Link either. She has a significant role throughout the game and isn’t forgotten about which is more than I can say about your bird.
Skyward Sword requires Wii Motion Plus. If you don’t own one like myself (long story) before buying the game then you will have to buy a new Wiimote with Motion Plus built. You might find the attachment used but it’s unlikely.
The combat mechanics are designed to take advantage of the technology at hand. Many enemies are only vulnerable when struck in specific directions: diagonal, horizontal, vertical or stabbed. Also enemies with weapons are able to block dynamically forcing you to slow down and prepare to strike appropriately. The motion controls well when performing swinging motions but are off especially when swinging wildly. Controlling the Wiimote with your wrist will give you poor results. At first I didn’t want to stand and play but after hours of playing I got into the combat and stood during big fights. The Wiimote becomes out of sync but it’s an uncommon issue that fixes itself.
Zelda games and gadgets go hand in hand. Most items are familiar like the Slingshot, Bombs and the Clawshots. One of the new items is the Beetle that you control remotely. It flies to places you cannot reach opening paths or disabling enemies. Items are selected in real-time and there is a slot for key items assigned to “B” and pouch items assigned to “-“. The controls for the key items can be confusing as “B” is used to select, put away and choose items. Some items can be put away by swinging but not all. Aiming doesn’t rely on the sensor bar but on the Wiimote’s position. Where you are holding the Wiimote before aiming will be your center point but can easily recenter the camera.
Despite the big push on the enhanced motion controls there is an emphasis on puzzles. On your way to dungeons and in dungeons you will be challenged mentally. Early on puzzles are not difficult but in the third region there are things called timeshift stones that turn back time within a certain radius. These stones can be moved and creates cleaver and challenging puzzles. Later in the game the dungeons require exploration on top of the puzzles recreating the familiar Zelda experience. Link walks faster and has a dash. There is a stamina bar that is used when dashing, performing spin attacks and climbing. The stamina bar plays a role when traversing parts of the regions.
Skyloft is the only town in the game and acts as hub to buy/upgrade items, do sidequests and progress the story. Most items can be upgraded with treasures and rupees as payment. Upgrades are not required and I’m largely convinced that you can beat the game without a shield but are they are handy. There is little to explore in the sky. There are some islands with minigames or sidequests but the sky is mostly empty.
Most of the game takes place on the surface. There are three regions that are accessed from the sky. These regions play out like extended dungeons that introduces new mechanics, environment and inhabitants. There are few moments of peaceful strolling as the game throws exploration, puzzles and enemies at you. Dowsing is a new mechanic used to help locate people and objects in the area. It’s frustrating because regardless of distance or obstructions it will locate what you’re looking for even if you’re in a different area. It’s confusing but is also helpful as the region’s massive sizes.
The visual style is a cross between Twilight Princess’s realistic look and Wind Waker’s bright, vivid, cel-shaded look. Skyward Sword isn’t as detailed nor cartoon-ish. It’s no secret that the Wii is no graphical powerhouse and dated. The visual style and character/enemy designs does not look bad though. The environment in the distance will be out of focus and refocus as you approach. That is a good idea in theory but in practise some textures become blurry up close and more detailed textures look bad. Nintendo makes the most with their technology. There are scenes with Fi dancing or Loftwings soaring the skies that look beautiful. The music for the first time was recorded using a live orchestra bringing familiar and new songs that sound great.
The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword is probably the most ambitious game on the Wii. Skyward Sword’s story will take you about 35-40 hours to complete and about two sets of fresh batteries. The plot unfolds and when you think it’s soon to be over there is more to be experienced. Beating the game unlocks “Hero Mode” where you take double damage and hearts don’t drop. The motion controls may take a while to get used to but are enjoyable an more immersive than Twilight Princess’s controls. The game and the plot may feel “been here done that” but I don’t find that an issue. Again, Nintendo has delivered a quality game that lives up to the franchise is longer and has more content than most triple A games well worth $50 and even buying Wii Motion Plus.