“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” – New Best Game Ever or Just Another Let Down?
There’s been a lot of talk about whether The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is actually as good as reviewers say it is. Coupled with some extra scathing reviews (which are, oddly enough, still concluded with overall scores of 9.1 and above), all the buzz has made some pretty solid questions for gamers—particularly those who never owned a Wii or sold theirs a long time ago.
“Do I buy a Wii / buy a Wii again for this game, like people are saying I should?” or, “Do I actually walk to the Wii section of Gamestop again for the first time in 5 years?” “Do I shell out the extra cash for a Wii Motion plus?” “Is one game worth all of this?”
The simplest answer: yes.
To complicate it a bit more: Unless you don’t like Zelda games, are too determined to hate Nintendo, or shudder at the very thought of the kind of quirky visual style Zelda games foster, then you, as a gamer, should own The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Because it is the experience that Nintendo promised us back in 2006 with the Wii. And despite other efforts to attain the title, this is the very first, true, and truly awesome, motion controlled game.
And, just to specify for you, no, I’m not a fanboy—while I do like the Legend of Zelda series, I’m discerning enough of a player to realize flaws when I see them; the gameplay for Wind Waker was kind of a “Gotta catch ‘em all!” nightmare (“Gotta get all the sea charts! And take pictures of everything! And, what’s this? The Triforce is split into a bagillion pieces!?! YES!”), and Twilight Princess’s story was largely a shameless copy of Ocarina’s (not completely, but mostly). In short, I’m the kind of hardcore fan who questions.
And although it’s got its flaws, Skyward Sword is not a game that should be left out of any self-respecting gamer’s collection.
What It Does Right
The Story — Right off the bat, I was worried the story for Skyward would be as disappointing as Twilight Princess’s, a worry that wasn’t at all calmed when I started the game and found a dragging exposition. But the action picks up the moment the exposition is over and so does a sense of awe and wonder that’s carried through the rest of the game. For returning fans, there is a ton of fan service—this is, after all, a prequel to the entire Zelda series. But as it is the first chapter on the series timeline, new players won’t be missing much outside of the occasional inside jokes and… well, other… things.
The overall feel? Actually legendary; Nintendo isn’t shy about reminding you that this game is a celebration of Zelda’s 25th anniversary, but they took that feeling of history and made it such a solid theme that a plot twist, area, item, character, or concept is likely to make you feel like you’re watching an ancient tale unfold as you play.
The Gameplay — It goes without saying after that introduction that gameplay is Skyward Sword’s strong suit. But there’s no simple way to explain just how great it really is.
For starters, there’s the fact that although Skyward is possibly the longest Zelda game of all time, puzzles in the last dungeon still tripped me up because they were still asking me to do things I’d never done before—after 60 hours of gameplay. Put simply, it’s the rare anniversary game that implements all of its anniversary game challenges into gameplay instead of making them a separate mode. And at the center of all of that gameplay? The best motion controls you’ve ever experienced for a hardcore game. Seriously, we’re talking controls made with the Motion Plus in mind from the get go, not with it tacked on as a gimmick; you control where Link walks with the analog and use buttons to talk to people, examine objects, and ready items. For nearly everything else, you literally go through the motions.
To boot, never has a game kept its overworld gameplay as fresh and varied in my experience. To specify, I didn’t say “sandbox” gameplay because this is not a wide opened world; there are boundaries to where you can go, but what’s between those barriers is all fun and incredibly intriguing and what you can do within them is so surpringly wide-open that you won’t mind the invisible rails you’re on. The result is a surprisingly… Mario 64-esque feel. And a surprisingly classic Legend of Zelda feel; I’ve really enjoyed the other 3D Zelda games, but riding on horseback and exploring wide-opened fields aren’t as close to original Zelda gameplay as Skyward’s closer quarters and dense network of secrets in every area.
Generally though, you can think of Skyward Sword’s gameplay like this: in the average game, there’s always an element you get extremely tired of because it’s pivotal to gameplay; in Bioshock, for example, you probably got tired of fighting Big Daddies. In Arkham City, you at least might have gotten tired of looking for Riddler Trophies. But imagine a game that didn’t have an element like that because there were lots of well-balanced elements of gameplay to keep you engaged. Whether you’re searching for treasure, sub-questing for someone in Skyloft, or taking on a new dungeon, you’re not likely to feel like anything’s especially tedious. This is perhaps particularly true for returning fans because of the lengths Nintendo went to to mix things up; with additions like Treasures, Item Upgrades, and Medals, expect to be confused when a task that would’ve always led to a Piece of Heart leads to something else that unexpectedly feels just as rewarding (even if it’s Rupees [which are finally well-balanced]).
The Nearly Everything Else — The music is finally orchestrated and ranges from mythical to the kind of haunting, unfathomable distance of loss; I know, I know—shit just got real meta, but you’ll understand when you’ve experienced all of Lanaryu Desert (not since the Eccho the Dolphin has a song in a video game been so subtly heartbreaking). Although the graphics aren’t perfect, the watercolor filter will take your breath away often and always lends itself to the mystique of the experience. All of the boss battles are ridiculously awesome (especially Koloktos!). The townsfolk are some of the most memorable and likable yet for the series. And there are about a hundred other small things that I just can’t explain here for space limitations.
What It Does Wrong
Fi: More Annoying Than Navi Ever Was — Although Navi was annoying, she never made me want to tear my eyes out. After the tenth time Fi told me to do something three times in a row in three different ways, I was ready to give up on the game. Doing this was her major contribution to Skyward’s extremely slow beginning, along with occasionally forcing you to learn and utilize different gameplay features that help you figure out which door you’re supposed to go through next (among the two in the room you just entered). Fortunately, these features (map markers, asking Fi for help, and dowsing) are completely optional after they’re introduced and eventually wind-up being godsends later on, when you actually need them. Still, even though I eventually liked Fi, here’s to hoping the series convention of the assist character doesn’t make it to the next installment.
Wii Motion Plus or Minus — Wii Motion Plus is definitely a far cry from the original Wii Remote. However, while the one-to-one with Link’s sword and the rest of his items works beautifully, the Motion Plus will fail you on occasion. This mostly happens during optional sub-quests and trials where items with weaker motion controls (like your musical instrument) are put to the test, however, so these snafus don’t affect gameplay often. There will, however, inevitably be the time when you’re trying desperately to stab a boss’s eyeball(s) and Link takes out his shield or swats an armor-clad leg instead.
The NeverEnding Stooooryyyyyy! — While I love a long game, I have to acknowledge that Skyward is pushing it. While the plot is expertly crafted (there are three acts just as there are three of many elements in the game [mirroring the Triforce]), it begins to turn into a bit of a comedy act later on as Link is put through test after test to prove that yes, he definitely is the hero of legend. I was still entertained and the finale definitely delivered, but there is a chance that your “Cool! There’s more!” may turn into “Oh yay… There’s more.”
The NeverStarting Stoooor—You Get It — I mentioned it before, but a warning is in order; this game’s exposition is unnecessarily long and very slow-going. Just expect it and hang in there if you decide to buy Skyward—the other 99% of the game will keep you captivated.
Where the Hell Is My Happy Mask Salesman!? — This is definitely a series fan complaint, but only the tiniest bit of Zelda’s particular brand of creepy made it into Skyward Sword. Maybe I’m weird for missing ReDeads and almost all of the previous games’ major focus on graveyards, but, hey, I do. That weird creepiness is what made Majora’s Mask awesome!
For four years, my Wii has been a pretty brick that sits next to my 360.
For four years, I looked at it and shook my head, wondering why I went through so much trouble to get it.
For four years, I hated Nintendo for failing to give me the gaming experience they promised me.
For four years, I worried that The Legend of Zelda would never be more than a series of Ocarina of Time pseudo-remakes.
Now, if only from this one purchase, I feel completely justified in buying my Wii and I hope that Nintendo continues making hardcore games just like Skyward Sword.
Although, hey, even if they don’t, at least Skyward Sword has a plus game.
Buy It — Unless you absolutely need Link to have a scar, a beard, and be a hardcore space marine, you’ll really enjoy this game!