The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Blade raising adventure
Score 9  Clock score of 9
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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was my primary reason for buying a Wii at launch. It left me feeling disappointed and greatly annoyed. Five years later, beating The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on my second Wii (after selling my first just days after beating Twilight Princess) leaves me with nearly the opposite effect: I loved it and am slightly giddy to write a review about it before the end of the year.

I was definitely not feeling the game a few hours in. Twilight Princess’ first hour is awful and Skyward Sword’s is arguably worse, and the ramp up feels tedious. My list of annoyances was longer than any kind of enjoyment I was getting out of the game, but once the game does ramp up, it does it incredibly successfully.

So as the Wii’s last hurrah, Skyward Sword leaves a great impression, here’s my review of the latest Legend of Zelda game, released in November. This is our second full review of the game, following Nate’s from last week. I re-read his review in preparation for my own, and have to say I agree on basically every point. So hopefully this review won’t be longer than it needs to be, but if you have some time, do read his write-up.

I’m going to start with both the high and low point of the game: the controls. Skyward Sword is built around the Wii Motion Plus, and the game literally lives and dies by the sword. Most of the time, the game controls tremendously, with near one-to-one sword action and responsive array of items at Link’s disposal. But there were plenty of times where the same controls began to fail and I was close to whipping the Wiimote across the living room.

Controlling the Master Sword nearly directly is impressive, seeing Link wave the sword around in the air as you flick the Wiimote is a sight to behold. Slashing is near perfect, with most issues arising due to sword-handler error. Stabbing with the point of the sword only seemed to work properly about 25% of the time, but only comes greatly into play during one boss fight (and a frantic fight it was).

Somewhat disappointingly, most enemies require you to get just one good hit in on them before they’re vulnerable to a flurry of uncontrolled slashes. I understand this was probably implemented to reduce frustration, but most fights will be reduced to Twilight Princess-style waggle before long. Skyward Sword’s best battles are easily the ones where you can’t just go crazy on the bad guy.

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword Skeleton

Controlling Link almost has an Assassin’s Creed-like feel to it now, you can sprint for short distances and jump up higher walls than Zelda veterans are used to. It feels like the series was injected with some much needed adrenaline to keep things interesting, but the extra speed also plays into most battles and puzzles.

Shield control is tied directly to the nunchuck, but this may be the first Zelda game where the shield is almost wholly pointless. It’s useful for deflecting deku nuts, but the only other enemy I used the shield on were the carnivorous deku baba plants, which I found out at the end of the game the shield wasn’t even necessary to kill them. This is a waste, in my opinion, as the shield is pretty responsive for being assigned to the nunchuck, and there is a decent durability and upgrade system in the game that is underutilized because the shield is so underused.

The rest of the weapons and tools are pretty standard Zelda-fare, outside a few exceptions (and most of those are found in Minish Cap or Spirit Tracks), but the Motion Plus gives them a few new twists. Most surprising is that the pointing-at-the-television style of aiming is gone altogether (as in, the game doesn’t use the sensor bar, as far as I can tell), replaced by Motion Plus sensitive aiming. This means when shooting the slingshot you don’t need to be concerned with careful pointing at the screen, and can just sort of aim from where you were pointing when you started aiming.

It’s a bit hard to describe without seeing it in action, but I both liked and didn’t liked Skyward Sword’s aiming. I liked how I wasn’t tied to the whims of the sensor bar, which has never seemed to like me much, but on the flipside, not having a static object to point at means you’re doing a lot of manual centering. Centering is simple to do (press down on the D-pad), but when you’re doing it nearly every time you pull an aiming weapon out, it quickly gets obnoxious.

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword eye

The final noteworthy aspect of the controls are related to flying the Loftwing. Nate uses a useful analogy of comparing it to carefully opening a doorknob while cracking a whip, basically saying flying requires big broad actions to try and go somewhere and tiny actions to actually go there. It’s also a really dull experience, which can probably be more blamed on the incomplete feeling of the overworld than the controls.

And hey, flap the Wiimote to gain altitude. If you don’t know this, the first few hours of the game will be tremendously frustrating and you’ll want Link to finally just fall through the clouds and go splat.

Speaking of going splat, leaping off the Loftwing or jumping from a high cliff sends Link into an exhilarating dive that is fully controllable, skydiving Link is awesome. Except when trying to skydive onto Link’s floating island in the sky, then you’re treated to an immersion breaking load screen and you land in a generic spot that’s sort of close to where you intended to go. It’s jarring and completely removes you from the moment, reminding you that you’re just playing a video game and not on some grand adventure (also reminds you that you’re on a console with 88 MB of RAM).

The biggest problem is that you want to land at a specific point, say on a floating island that seems like it should obviously be accessible by skydiving, but when actually trying to land there, you’re magically transported to the ground below it. This is the single most annoying aspect of the game, in my opinion, and pisses me off just to think about it. The limitations of the Wii are obvious at this point in its lifespan.

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword

But there are so many other great things about Skyward Sword, including an actual attempt at a story. Zelda is not just some princess-in-distress (at least most of the game), and is actively involved in the plot, doing her own mysterious thing that makes sense in the end. It still isn’t much to write home about, but after the disaster that was Twilight Princess’ story, I’m glad to see Nintendo changed things up. On the other hand, they also made a villain that likes to lick Link’s ear, so there’s that.

The dungeon design is back at its peak, with some truly original ideas tossed in. There are some stunning standouts, but most interesting is that the dungeons themselves go by relatively quick with sprawling areas surrounding their entrance. Some of the challenges outside the dungeons are tougher than inside, transitioning the classic Zelda dungeon romp into the future.

Another welcome update gives Link an item bag to carry around various optional items, and the ability to upgrade items and tools. There are also multiples shields available to buy along with half a dozen different potions. This is all enabled by a fun bazaar found in the middle of town that is completely functional and usable, everything Link needs on his adventure can be bought or upgraded there, Skyward Sword is starting to feel like a modern game.

I’d like to note the best part about the bazaar is how the same musical number changes when moving vendor to vendor, with different instruments playing and the tempo becoming upbeat or slow. My favorite version was from the item upgrader, fun stuff.

While we’re talking about music, Skyward Sword continues the tradition of featuring a musical instrument as a semi-major plot point, this time starring a harp (a rather appropriate, heavenly instrument). In the past, you had to learn notes to specific songs, but with the harp, it’s simply a strumming device showing off the Wii Motion Plus. I found strumming to be very fussy and until I figured out the trick to hitting the beat, very frustrating. It just feels so underused, too, like it was tacked on late in development because there had to be a musical instrument. I think the game would have been better without the harp.

Another thing Skyward Sword would have been better off without is a boss you’re forced to fight three repetitive times. The battle wasn’t even interesting or fun the first time and just reminds me of the obnoxious tower sequences in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. There’s also a dungeon that is reused, but thankfully it’s the only one, I was really fearing for the worst for a while.

Finally, the graphics: they’re gorgeous and feature just the right amount of blend between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Animations are impressively drawn and the world of Skyward Sword is just so much more expressive. I’m not going to say that every console Zelda game should look like this, but... maybe they should.

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword Bombs

Overall: 9

The best console Zelda game in nearly a decade (yes, Wind Waker is almost nine years old), and a most-definite worthy entry into the series. Skyward Sword receives some excellent upgrades to the classic formula, while still successfully bearing the huge weight of its predecessors. I believe the game is far from perfect, but it’s just too damn excellent at what it does right that glancing over its flaws is easy.

And yes, I made it through the entire review without complaining about the lack of voice acting for non-Link characters. That's how great this game is.

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