Game Review Hub: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Platform: Wii (Requires MotionPlus attachment)
Developer: Nintendo EAD, Monolith Software
Estimated Length: 25 hours
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most beloved series of video games of all time. Fans of the series would cite great puzzles and some of the best dungeon design your television has ever seen as reasons why the series is held in such high regard. In that sense, Skyward Sword does a great job of following in the footsteps of its predecessors, it even manages to add a few original ideas to the tried and true Zelda formula, though some of those things I could have done without.
Skyward Sword starts off like most modern Zelda games, there is a sequence of tutorial and expository scenes where you are introduced to the controls and the basic ideas of the story. In this game you find yourself on a floating landmass called Skyloft, where you live with some interesting characters, including Zelda. The game takes its sweet time filling in the back story of the world and the characters, and even includes a mini dungeon, all leading up to Zeldas inevitable kidnapping. I don't know if I am simply misremembering other games in the series, but it seemed like the beginning of this game took incredibly long to get going. I had to wade through plenty of meaningless dialogue and play through basic tutorials so that I had several hours of playing in before I hit the first dungeon or any interesting gameplay.
After all of that exposition, you are finally able to set out on your quest to save Zelda. That was the point where I was reminded that I was playing a Zelda game, and why that is such a great thing. This game has some of the best dungeons and puzzles I have ever seen in a Zelda game. You will find many of the traditional Zelda troupes, such as bombs and a slingshot. The puzzles that take advantage of these items do not deviate very far from what other games had. Shoot the switch to activate a mechanism, throw a bomb at the rocks that are blocking the path etc. However later in the game we are introduced to some new items, like a whip. Not only is the whip used to pull out of reach levers, it also enables you to swing from beams, and even pull some flying enemies out of the sky. Things like that made the middle of the game feel really original and exciting.
The worst problem that I had playing this game was the result of the developers relying too much on the Wiimote. In spite of the fact that this game requires the Wii Motion Plus attachment, which is supposed to increase the accuracy of the motion controller, I had a lot of problems getting it to respond correctly. Attacking with Links sword requires the player to slash with the wiimote, and the direction of your slash is supposed to correspond to the direction that link slashes. The developers used this feature when designing many of the enemies and puzzles. Early in the game you will encounter a deku plant (like a piranha plant in Mario) which will open its mouth either vertically or horizontally. The only way to damage it is to slash across its open mouth with your sword, but because the Wiimote would often misinterpret my actions, I sometimes struggled to get past even the most simple enemies.
I will point out that I did not have these problems with the controls every time. In fact there were large stretches of the game where the controls worked perfectly, and it actually felt really good. Being able to control whether Link does a diagonal or horizontal slash, or even thrusts the sword forward was pretty cool. You are also able to defend with a shield which is brought to bare by flicking the nunchuk forward. If you time this action to an enemy attack you can perform a shield bash, which will temporarily stun the enemy and open them up to attack. These simple motion controls worked almost without fail, and were very satisfying.
Skyward Swords world is comprised of floating islands which can be accessed by flying on a giant bird, which you acquire early in the game. These islands serve as the places where you do many of your side quests, and the game is full of upgrades and heart containers like any of the Zelda game. One new addition to this game is the upgrade system which consists of various plants and bugs which are collected and used to upgrade shields an items.
Early in the game I found this system to be interesting and I set out to catch as many bugs as I could. Later I was disappointed to find that in spite of my bug catching abilities, I did not have the right materials to get the upgrades that I wanted. I spent some time looking at the upgrades available to me, and found that most of them were fairly useless anyway. For example, you can upgrade the slingshot so that it shoots a spread of 3 seeds rather than one. That would be great if the slingshot was worth a damn as a weapon, but I only use it as a tool to activate switches, so that upgrade would have been useless to me.
Overall this system seems like a missed opportunity to me. They could have used these upgrades as a way to block off some side quests by requiring additional functionality from your items. This would have encouraged me to spend more time searching for items to unlock the upgrades. But due to the fact that the upgrades served little purpose to me, I ended up using my items to fix my shield and brew some potions before a difficult boss battle, and I never upgraded any of my items.
Another point of contention that I had with the game was the strange pacing of the story. During the first few quests of the game, you unlock access to three areas of the world; a forest, a volcano and a desert. For the rest of the game you are continuously sent on quests which require you to go to each of these areas once, find an item or person, and return to your quest giver. Standing in the shadow of a game like Ocarina of Time, which has you traveling to dozens of different areas in your adventure, makes Skyward Swords seems less grand and fantastic. While the areas that you do visit are well designed, and include some interesting NPCs, there was just not enough variety to stand up to the other games in the series.
I don't want anyone to think that any of these things spoiled the game for me. Once you enter one of the games dungeons, and the controls are cooperating, this game is everything you want from a Zelda game. The boss battles are some of the most original I have seen from the series in a long time. They do not tend to rely so heavily on the motion controls, and while they include some familiar mechanics, such as throwing a bomb in an enemies mouth, or reflecting a projectile back at your attacker, there are also many new and unique battles in store for the Zelda veterans out there.
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Legend of Zelda fans know what to expect from their Zelda games, amazing Boss fights, great dungeons and plenty of gadgets to play with. Skyward Sword delivers all of those things, and in those areas it can compete with the best games in the series. There are a few problems with controls due to the Wiimotes lack of precision, but in the end it is worth dealing with those problems to see this game to its end. Skyward Sword also does some unique things with its story, and does not stick to the traditional Zelda plot. The final boss is one of the best in the series, and after you defeat him there are a few story revelations that no Zelda fan should miss. I wont get into spoilers here; go see for yourself.