The Legend of Zelda was the very first game I’d ever played 25 years ago, so when the 25th anniversary of the series rolled around, I knew I had to get my hands on it. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was released last week and it gives us the heavy emphasis on puzzles and problem solving mixed with the sword-smashing action we’ve come to love. This holiday season is a great time to be a gamer.
It’s always been tough for me to tell chronologically when each Zelda game takes place, but from what I’ve picked up, I believe Skyward Sword to essentially be a prequel to the entire series. The ending foreshadows some of the things to come and shows us how the Master Sword and Ganon come to be.
Essentially you’re told that hundreds of years ago, there was a battle to control the power of the Triforce between demons and the inhabitants of Hyrule. A goddess known as Hylia used her power to create a floating city in the sky called Skyloft to keep the Humans and the Triforce safe from the demons below. The game begins with Link yearning to become a knight of Skyloft, and during a celebration, Zelda is pulled to the ground below. Link then gains the Skyward Sword and heads down to save his friend, and in doing so discovers that he is the Goddess’ chosen hero to stop the reincarnation of the demon from long ago.
The game took me roughly 44 hours to complete and that included what I believe to be most of the side quests. I didn’t really care for these though because I was much more interested in progressing the primary plot and acquiring new gear so I could discover the hidden things I wasn’t able to reach in previous zones. Overall, I found the story to be pretty entertaining – not great, but good enough to hold my attention.
As far as the graphics are concerned, well, it’s the Wii – they are bland, aliased and standard def. BUT, the art direction of the game is amazing and actually reminded me of a painting at times with bright vivid colors as opposed to the “realistic” art direction of the previous Zelda title. To me, Skyward Sword’s visuals were the offspring of a wild sexual encounter between Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time.
Link is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack on his adventure, but there really isn’t any voice acting. That’s not a problem in my book, but this means there is going to be healthy servings of dialog sequences and unfortunately, they take FOREVER to get through. When I’m simply running back to town to fill up potions, I want to do just that. I don’t want to sit through 60 seconds of unskippable text dialog before and after the transaction. I want to get back to the goods of this masterpiece.
Skyward Sword was built from the ground up to utilize the WiiMotion Plus control system. This was my first experience with WiiMotion Plus and I’ve got some mixed feelings around it. Based on how you hold and swing the controller, Link will swing his sword in different directions, be it side swings, thrusts, upwards, diagonal and even spins and finishers. You can even punch the nunchuck forward to block attacks with your shield. You have to utilize these moves to defeat your foes cleverly, as they will attempt to block your moves and you’ll have to correct with the appropriate swing motion and timing. Nintendo actually did a wonderful job implementing this functionality into the title as the controls handle mostly-responsibly with close to a 1:1 motion to movement ratio. Gone are the days of limp-wrist flicking the controller to swing your sword to victory. In Skyward Sword, you actually need to use larger arm movements than in Twilight Princess.
But with this is where I started to wish I had a dual thumbstick controller at times. I eventually got used to flailing my arms around in what I can only hope looked like a controlled fashion, but gripping the nunchuck for extended periods of time was just uncomfortable and sometimes even painful during boss fights that required proper timing with my shield. This really isn’t a flaw with the game per se; there were just SOME points where I think I’d rather have a regular controller.
A great selection of items and gear including longtime favorites like the bow and slingshot have returned, as well as a slew of new gear like the whip and flying beetle. In the Skyloft Bazaar, you can upgrade your items with components that you’ve collected in your adventures, making them more effective or adding additional abilities. You can also fill your bottles with potions and even upgrade those with bugs you’ve caught. There are a variety of shields as well that actually degrade over time from taking damage and will eventually break completely if not repaired. I found this to be a neat feature that constantly kept me on my toes. Nothing was worse than having a boss destroy my shield, leaving me to suffer their wrath mercilessly.
While the combat is entertaining and the motion controls keep things interesting, I think the greatest feature of Skyward Sword is it’s brilliant dungeon designs – each is unique and just fun to explore. All of your items and equipment will be used to their fullest extent in each dungeon to solve the puzzles and lead you to the inevitable boss battle. The puzzles get you thinking, but aren’t brain-bustingly difficult to solve without a walk-through. The boss battles always got my blood flowing and were just challenging enough to break a sweat, but not enough to cause me to rage due to a series of deaths.
A semi-fast travel system has been put in place to allow you to travel between the different zones in the game, but this involves returning to the sky and flying on a giant bird that over time got repetitive, boring and not all that fast after all. It was neat the first few times, and when there were actually missions that took advantage of the mechanic, but flying to town to pick up or upgrade gear, then returning to the ground took longer than I would have liked.
In the end, I loved my play through of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The art style was beautiful, the motion controls most of the time were pretty fun, the puzzles were just challenging enough to keep me entertained, and the layouts of the dungeons are some of the best I’ve explored in a long time. There were a few hiccups here and there that I didn’t care for, but overall I found this to be a great game. Now let’s see Nintendo create a high def console with some processing power to bring the Zelda games to the next level.
Release Date: November 20, 2011
Commentated Gameplay: http://www.youtube.com/ZGRWhyUDead
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