Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

After months – nay, years, of being induced to waggle filled after waggled filled game on Nintendo’s Wii, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had to do a lot to impress me with its controls. The good news is this game does that and more; Skyward Sword is not only the best Zelda game I’ve ever played, it is also the best game on the Nintendo Wii, period.

A bold statement, Mr Curtis you might think. Yes, there’s been some good games on the system such as the Mario Galaxies, Donkey Kong and others, but until now has a game fully used the Wii’s motion controls in such an intuitive way as Skyward Sword does. This is the game the Wii was built for, and it is a crying shame that the full implementation of the Wii’s technology comes now, in the Wii’s twilight stage. It just shows how much potential there was there, and I would of loved to see more titles tackle the unique gaming aspects of the Wii by using the controls as well as Skyward Sword does.

Seriously. These controls are so good, you won’t want to play a Zelda game without them ever again. They’re simple to use, integrated seamlessly into the gameplay and are above all as accurate as you could possibly want them to be. Want Link to raise his sword to the sky, then slice to the left? Simply move the Wii remote in the required way, and Link will do the rest.  It feels natural, easy and rapidly becomes a joy to play. This is especially good news as you’re goin to be using these motion controls for the entire adventure, so it really is great that they’re integrated so well otherwise Skyward Sword could of turned from the masterpiece it is into a waggly mess. Thankfully, this did not occur.

Big Sharp Sword + Accuracy = Great Pain

The premise of Skyward Sword should be similar to anyone who’s a Zelda fan. Cast once again as another incarnation of Link, you live a blissfully mundane life of going sleepybies and flying around on big birds in a floating town called Skyloft, where you’re best friends with a lovely young lady named Zelda.  Naturally this peaceful, pleasant existence gets rapidly interrupted and Link is cast headfirst into an epic adventure that spans time, space and sprawling locales filled with enemies, treasure chests, handy items and the hearty thrill of the quest.

At it’s core, Skyward Sword honestly isn’t that different from all Zelda games that came before it. You’ll still navigate dungeons, solving puzzles and ultimately forge ahead to the end where you’ll likely get a new item, and a boss key. The way the game differs instead is in the implementation of such a stellar motion control scheme; this means the title ultimately becomes a much different beast from anything you’ve played before due to the fantastic accuracy the Wii Motion Plus provides.  You may remember that Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword’s Wii predecessor, also used motion control back in the early days of the Wii. This, however, was a port of a Gamecube game and was only sharpened up with a few gimmicks, whereas Skyward Sword was built from the ground up with Wii Motion Plus in mind, allowing Nintendo to craft a game that uses accuracy to great effect by implementing a number of new items, fantastic sword-fighting mechanics and  as a result they’ve possibly ultimately created the very best Zelda game of all time. I know that’s a bold statement, but for me, Ocarina of Time has been nudged aside by Skyward Sword’s brilliance.

Take for example, the way Skyward Sword presents Link’s sword. With the wave of the Wii Remote, Link will unsheathe his sword, providing one of the core experiences of the gameplay. I can confirm right now that I experimented, at length, with the accuracy of the Wii Motion Plus by moving the remote around my body, and I was absolutely staggered by just how well the game tracked where I wanted my sword thrusts, slices and other attacks to go. It really does work extremely well, and this is as far away from Twilight Princesses’ waggle sword play as is possible.

Slicin’ and Dicin’

The swordplay isn’t just a gimmick either. Link’s enemies have also had a significant revamp designed to make the game more challenging, as you will indeed have to calculate where you attack an enemy as they will routinely block your moves. This means that the swordplay becomes that much more enthralling almost instantly; I’ve lusted for an accurate, swordplay game for the longest time and finally Skyward Sword has stepped up to the plate and delivered the goods, leaving with me with compelling fighting mechanics that keep you playing for hours upon hours, exploring every nook and cranny of Skyward Sword’s world.

What a world it is. Skyward Sword is absolutely huge and, while you’ll occasionally have to revisit an area you’ve been before, each time you go back new paths and exploration options are opened up, meaning that it never gets boring. In fact, you actually get two distinct areas to explore, the first being the region of Skyloft, way up in the clouds. Here the people live in ignorance of the surface world, winging between floating islands on their giant birds and living out peaceful lives in the clouds. Link, once you’ve mastered the game’s beginning can then explore this world as well, finding many a surprise along the way. In addition to this, Link will also find himself visiting the surface world regularly, discovering a place that is full of danger, adventure and many unique game mechanics. Both of these areas ensure that the game is vast in size, giving the determined RPG veteran a great amount to see and do for over 40 hours of gameplay, and probably closer to 50 if you fully explore and invest time into all the sidequests. Pretty impessive, no?

The one, major gripe I have with Skyward Sword is the character that accompanies Link. Named Fi, she’s a mysterious being that acts as Link’s completely state-the-obvious guide, often proclaiming the most stupid statements I’ve ever heard on a pretty regular basis. For example, she’ll routinely appear to tell you that she predicts a 90% ability that the door you’ve just seen in a cutscene leads to the next area. Well….duhhhhh. It’s almost like Nintendo wanted to ensure that anyone could play this game, but there’s simply no need for Fi’s insistence that you are a moron and are incapable of making decisions on your own, particularly when you’ve just seen an explanatory cutscene. She’s no Navi, that’s for sure, and just feels completely unnecessary. Thankfully most of the time she slumbers in your sword, but when she pops up it might be the ideal time to not listen as she’s about as much use as a piece of fungus that isn’t edible or has no discernible benefit to human society.

Fi’s presence is just about the only majorly negative gripe I can think of though. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find anything derogatory to say about the game other than Fi’s daft advice. The rest of the title is a superbly crafted gaming gem that you’ll love to play; it’s both challenging and inventive at almost every turn, meaning you’ll get a gaming experience that doesn’t hold you hand too much providing you ignore Fi, while also satisfying your brain and implementing a stellar control scheme that you’ll have to use in order to progress. One of the most impressive gameplay mechanics I saw within the title is the idea of using Time Shift stones which will transform an area to a different time period within the stone’s radius, opening up paths where they’ve eroded over time, or simply transforming the world before your very eyes. These sort of mechanics, of which there are many, are then built upon as the game progresses and used in increasingly intuitive ways, making the game a constantly evolving experience.

Flying Your Bird is an Important Part of the Experience

Graphically, Skyward Sword also stands up as probably one of the best on the Wii. It has a unique art style that feels perfect for Zelda’s world and while obviously not as vibrant as an HD game, the Wii’s capabilities are used to great effect and provide a colour-filled world that is brimming with personality.  As I’ve previously said, the world is massive and sprawling, so it is great to see Nintendo taking real time to integrate unique visuals into the game that work really well for the Wii system, crafting a world that feels innately Zelda, yet somehow new and dynamic. Enemy and NPC models have also had a major overhaul when comparing the game to Twilight Princess, and cutscenes now move with a lot more fluidity, emotion and less-stiff characters than before. Of course no-one actually speaks; tis not the Zelda way. Instead everyone is given personality through some great writing, and even without voice acting, you will find yourself drawn into the plot and want to save the day. Indeed, Link and Zelda’s romantic interests is much expanded upon in this title, giving you just that extra incentive to want to save her again and despite Link’s insistence of saying absolutely nothing, even through subtitles, you’ll see the emotion in his face and his silly grunts that he does. While some may be itching for Link to speak I don’t feel like it would be appropriate; he’s always been a mute, and this allows the game to insert their own thoughts as they see fit. For example, some of my thoughts when Fi popped up where, ‘Seriously woman. Go away.’ or the ever popular ‘ARGHHHHHHHH! *Thud of Head on Wall*’.

The other characters do very much make up for Fi’s annoyance though, and Zelda feels like she has more motivation for her action than previous incarnations have. I feel the story ultimately benefits by moving away from the whole Princess Zelda tradition and placing Link and Zelda together from the start as childhood friends, furthering the connection between the two and giving you a reason for Link to pursue his friend and (let’s face it) love interest.  There’s also a wide array of NPC’s ranging from the furiously-peddling airshop owner to Groose, Links’s stupid-haired rival who also fancies a bit of Zelda action as soon as possible. Skyloft itself and the world below are also brimming with personality, meaning they become almost a character themselves because the locales are so diverse and interesting to explore.

As I said at the start of the review, Skyward Sword really does show how much the Wii’s potential has been squandered. Too few games have truly taken advantage of what this system can do, and Skyward Sword proved to me that the Wii isn’t just a gimmick. Instead the title changed my perspective entirely of what motion control can do while also making me equally sad that nothing else has really tried implementing something that uses the motion controls as well as this game does.  I cannot even convey through words just how much fun I had playing Skyward Sword, but rest assured that the thrill of accurate swordplay, intuitive game mechanics, a sprawling world to explore, countless secrets, brand new items that use motion controls in clever ways and perhaps the most in-depth Zelda game ever have left me feeling very satisfied indeed with what I have experienced.

This is the very best the Wii has got to offer. Dust it off and buy this game immediately.

Score: 9.9/10

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