Released in November 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is already viewed as one of the best Zelda games, one of the bet Wii games, and an exquisite close to the Wii’s life as Nintendo’s primary home console.
This isn’t going to be a long review, but I’ll break it up into categories mainly so that I can keep my own thoughts in order. At the end, I’ll give it some sort of score … I’m not exactly sure how I’ll handle that yet.
This is a Zelda game, so you’re not going to see anything that new here. You do have an overlay of the Wii Remote on the side of your screen so that you know what is mapped to what, but you can turn it on-or-off to varying degrees, which is quite nice. It does obscure a good amount of your screen, so after you get used to the control scheme a little more, you might want to turn it off.
One thing Skyward Sword has is a lot of cut scenes of varying length. It can be a short cut scene such as falling off of an island or a longer one that is used to really flesh out some of the story. Nothing, that I know of, is pre rendered but they are there and it is an integral part of what makes the game feel a tad more epic than some in the past.
Of course, it also means that some of your time is used watching cut scenes.
This is really where Skyward Sword differentiates itself from Zelda games of the past. The Wii Motion Plus is required and is used to great effect to challenge you to use few sword strokes to take out differing opponents. There is an encouragement to not just “waggle” the Remote around like in Twilight Princess or smashing buttons in the past. You’ll want to be deliberate with your slashes and thrusts in order to make sure you are not wasting energy.
Overall, it is very effective and works seamlessly. You will want to be cognizant of times when it isn’t registering correctly and calibrate the Wii Remote, but I probably had to do it an extra three or four times through the 40+ hours I played the game. I don’t consider that excessive.
You also use the Remote’s ability to register that you are twisting it for controlling both your swimming and flying, which can sometimes seem a little fiddly. That part took the most time and was the most frustrating. Otherwise, the controls are responsive and almost perfectly tailored for the Wii.
Only Wind Waker could be considered more stylized than Skyward Sword. This game strikes an awesome balance between Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. Colorful and vibrant, but based on reality, it is a style direction that, to me, seems uniquely tailored for the Zelda universe. Extremely well done and makes for some breathtaking environments for you to explore.
Now, this is not the Playstation 3, so nothing is in HD and you will see lower-quality textures and a few spots where there is a slowdown in the frame rate, but we are talking about the Wii here. You didn’t buy a Wii for HD graphics (and I’m hoping the Wii U can really bring Nintendo into HD gaming), so I’m sorry if you are disappointed.
Overall, probably the most beautiful Wii game you will be able to buy, which is fitting because this might be the last Wii game you are ever going to buy.
You will finally find the first orchestrated song in the Zelda series in Skyward Sword. It’s the main “Sky Theme” (or whatever it is called) and it is good. The soundtrack is, of course, top-notch but also subdued at the same time. Some old standbys will be back, but there is a lot of new music in this game.
The sound effects are great as well, but there is nothing here to really talk about that hasn’t already been said about a Zelda game before. The new thing was the orchestrated piece, and while only used sparingly (compared to many other new games), it is a step in the right direction.
Once again, no voice acting, so stop griping about it. If you were expecting it, I really don’t know what to say to you.
Story and Gameplay
I mentioned above that this story feels more epic, and it does. I can’t really put my finger on exactly why, but I think it is all of the references to what is the “future” (or past Zelda games), and how this game tries as best it can to set up why things happen in the Zelda universe the way they do.
You interact with some unique characters along the way and get to know a few of them rather well (if you so choose). You explore the sky, heading down to the earth in only pre-defined areas but they are huge areas to explore.
You explore a vast forest, travel underground, get hounded by zombies, explore volcanoes, take to a sand sea (literally), and travel through time. Each area isn’t so much like Hyrule Field of the past where you just try to get to the next temple than a temple unto itself with unique puzzles and abilities you will need to master.
Many of the puzzles force you to use more than one of your items so you consistently come back to old items where in the past you might have just as well discarded them from your inventory to free up some space.
Overall, it is like The Legend of Zelda Plus. Everything you remember, plus some more goodness on top. I’m not really going to get more into the story because it would ruin some of it for people.
It’s Zelda. What more is there to say?
This is an origin story, and because of that, I like it even more. This isn’t Phantom Menace origin story, this is more Batman Begins.
Take that as you will.
Can we finally get a fast text option for scrolling text, or an option to turn off help prompts from our companion (this time Fi). Most of the time it is okay, but sometimes you would rather just toss Fi out completely. One option would be for voice acting and then subtle subtitles for her help so that you could keep playing while she drones on about how to push a block.
The fast text is another one that should be reexamined. Text is slow, there is no doubt about it, and being able to either zip through it or skip sections completely would be greatly appreciated. The twentieth time I visit the Potion Lady is not the time to be telling me how to buy a potion.
The Trials, oh The Trials, could have used a little more variety. They are pretty much the same mission four times over just in different locals. Luckily, after the first, at least you know what you are doing, but some more variety there would have been nice.
There are some smaller gripes as well (and Phil could probably list many of his own), but they are really nothing. Also, nothing above really takes away from the game at all, but I needed to find something.
First off, just go and play it. I still hold that this is a most excellent game, and as always your-mileage-may-vary, but I think you still need to play it if only so that you can see what motion controls can really be like and what they can ad to the gameplay mechanics for a given game. I can only hope that the general gameplay mechanics will be copied in many other adventure games because I really think that they translate well, even with the rudimentary Wii hardware.
Go and play it. Try and enjoy it because I’m going to probably be raving about this game for a very, very long time (so you are going to have to bear with me). Where does Skyward Sword sit in the overall history of Zelda games? I can’t make a definitive statement on that yet, but the fact that my mind is “OK” with Skyward Sword being mentioned as the greatest Zelda game ever has me encouraged.
Ocarina of Time was the unquestioned best Zelda game ever for many people, including myself, and Skyward Sword, at the very least, approaches that game without hesitation. If you’ve enjoyed the 3D Zelda games at all, you owe it to yourself to at least play through it at some point in your life. I recommend it sooner rather than later.