Dec 112011
 

The Legend of Zelda series is one of the few constants gaming geeks of just about any age have in common. Even me, at my incredibly young and virile age of 30, have played nearly every game in the Zelda series, except for the unspeakable ones. From the very moment I guided Link to the pedestal holding the Master Sword in A Link to the Past I wondered, “Just how did this sword get created? Who put it here? Where can I get a cute green outfit like that?”. After years of those questions (well, most of them anyway) floating around in the collective gamer consciousness, Nintendo has finally promised answers would be revealed in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. This newest entry into the the lore of Zelda and her champion Link delves into the ancient history of Hyrule in order to bring the mystery of the Master Sword, among other things, to light.

Gameplay

Combat
One thing Zelda games have always focused on is combat, and Skyward Sword stays true to this ideal. For the first time in the series, Nintendo has put the MotionPlus controller to use for sword swingin’, bow aimin’, bomb throwin’, and more. If you perform a downward slash with the Remote, Link mirrors this move perfectly with his sword. An upward diagonal slash to the right yields the same results, whereas in Twilight Princess sword movement was limited to either upward horizontal or vertical movement. So, what’s the point of all this new fangled technology? Well, enemies in Skyward Sword are the smartest enemies you’ve ever had to help Link battle. They will block your moves if you just run at them slashing wildly, so it is best to look for an opening and attack with at an appropriate angle they will be vulnerable to. This adds an unprecedented and welcomed layer of strategy to combat that has historically been a button masher or waggle fest. The only drawback to this is you will occasionally have to recalibrate the controller while you’re playing, but this is a simple feat that can be accomplished in-game with a couple of button presses. It is rare that you will need to recalibrate outside of the mandatory calibration when the game starts.

Link manages to make Uggs and leggings look heroic.

Swordplay isn’t the only aspect of battle that has benefited from the addition of MotionPlus. Instead of just hurling or placing bombs, there is now to the option to fling them overhead by holding the Wii Remote upright and flicking it, or you can roll it like a bowling ball by pointing the remote downward and flicking it. When indulging your inner firebug with the later method, you can even twist your wrist a little to give the bomb a curve. On-screen indicators show the bomb’s path and where it will land, taking out the guesswork. There is a brand new item called the Hook Beetle that wouldn’t have been possible without a MotionPlus enabled controller. It is a small mechanical beetle that you can pilot remotely by tilting and twisting the remote to match the angle you want the beetle to fly at. It has a large set of pincers it can use to cut ropes and vines, gather items,and much more once it has been upgraded. It was especially useful to fly ahead in an area you’re unfamiliar with to see what kind of obstacles and enemies awaited you. Occasionally you will have to re-center the reticule by pressing the down arrow on the Wii Remote d-pad. This seemed like a small price to pay for the an item as cool and useful as this.

Upgrade System
Skyward Sword, many equipment pieces have legitimate upgrades available to them, offering significant boosts in performance, or even completely new features. To perform the upgrades, you will need enough Rupees to pay the fee as well as an assortment of seemingly random junk like tumbleweed, or hornet larvae. The rarer pieces of these upgrade materials are sometimes found in treasure chests, but a majority of them will drop from monsters when you defeat them. For those seeking to maximize their equipment, many hours will be spent doing things like venturing to the cheery Faron Woods to stalk adorable little birdies to capture for their feathers, or trudging through the treacherous sinksand of the Lanayru Desert in order to get that last piece of tumbleweed needed for an upgrade. It is a rather shallow system compared to similar methods of upgrading gear and equipment in games, but it is just enough to give Skyward Sword the little push it needs to break away from the more stale elements of the Legend of Zelda formula.

Lord Girahim...the trangender demon lord villain of Skyward Sword.

Fi
If you ever played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time you are familiar with the concept of Navi. She was a fairy that traveled with Link on his Journey and served as a sort of guide. She would give you tips on the environment around you, give clues about enemies’ weaknesses, and was notorious for being generally annoying by screaming “HEY, LISTEN” and “LOOK” frequently during the adventure. Navi’s counterpart in Skyward Sword is the spirit known as Fi, who serves many of the same purposes Navi did. She will give you hints to nudge you on the way, remind you of your objective, and also reveals enemies’ weaknesses, but she does much, much more than that. Fi keeps track of playtime, and also gives you the ability to “dowse” for items, people, or locations using Link’s sword. She will allow you to select what you want to look for, then you may switch to a first person point of view where a purple reticule will point you toward your objective. She manages to do all this without being annoying in the slightest, and left me wishing that Navi could have taken a few lessons from Fi on how to be a good hero companion.

Exploration
Half the fun of playing a Zelda game is getting a really good look at the world you are trying to save. When you first start up Skyward Sword, that world will be a small one comprised of islands floating in the sky over an impenetrable layer of clouds. To travel between islands, the people of the settlement known as Skyloft ride on the backs of giant birds called Loftwings. Piloting Link’s Loftwing makes excellent use of MotionPlus. Bank the birdie left or right by twisting the Wii Remote in the appropriate direction, and climb or dive by pointing up or down. Flap the Loftwing’s wings by flicking the Wii Remote in order to gain some altitude, and hit the A button to get a quick burst of speed. All of this took a moment to get used to, but probably due to the fact that this finely tuned of a control scheme has yet to be seen in a game before. A slight variance on these controls is used for swimming underwater, but after so much time spent piloting the Loftwing, swimming seemed like second nature.

One thing that HASN'T changed is the crazy boss battles you will experience.

Music plays a key element in your exploration of Hyrule and the floating islands above it. Song has always been an important element in the Zelda series, having players do different things like toot an ocarina or conduct an unseen orchestra with an enchanted baton. Skyward Sword plops a harp in the hand of our hero, but the way it is utilized is very different than other instruments have been implemented before. Instead of remembering strands of notes or conducting patterns, Fi will remember each song for you. When you get to a part of the game where your melodic skills are needed, you will simply need to strum the harp in time with Fi’s singing. This is a task easier said than done, due to the obtuse manner in which the game tries to relay the rhythm you should be strumming. Thankfully there is no penalty for retrying a song, and the spots where they are necessary are few and far between.

Another new gameplay element that will affect your exploration is the addition of a stamina gauge to Link. You can now press A to make him sprint for a short period of time, or run a few steps up a wall to grab a ledge. You can also flick the Wii Remote to make him jump up a ladder faster, or shimmy across a ledge at an increased rate of speed. Even some advanced sword techniques, such as the spin attack, are linked to the green stamina gauge. Once it is depleted, Link will be left out of breath for a few moments and will move very slowly so it is important to plan when you will be tapping into that extra source of energy. There are green fruits that instantly restore stamina placed in strategic locations, as well as a potion that slows the stamina gauge’s drain. There were times when it felt like this made the game too hard or complicated, but in all reality it is just another way that Nintendo’s development team tried to make the game more “hardcore”.

Watching enemy patterns will be crucial to your success.

Presentation
Visuals
One thing is for certain, Nintendo has never been afraid to mix up the visual style of this, one of their successful and longest running franchises. The most controversial of these style changes occurred with the release of Windwaker, when Nintendo decided to go with a cartoony and animated look Skyward Sword brings us a similar look, but with a more grown-up and edgier feel. Characters are modeled in a nice hybrid of cell shading and typical 3D polygons, and happen to be some of the most facially expressive characters ever seen in the series. Environments have a very interesting “painted” look to them, and places in the background will appear more “brushed” than environmental elements that are closer to the player. Even more than the style of art, the color of the art sets Skyward Sword apart from the other AAA titles of this year. Rich and vibrant colors, covering nearly the full spectrum will grace your screen which is a stark contrast to the brownish-gray, sepia tinted effect that plagues most next-gen titles. Both of these aesthetics combined nicely to give us a game that is artistically appealing and unique, and offers a nice break from the games that focus solely on photo realism.
This development team for this game was all about introducing small, never before seen tweaks, and that methodology didn’t change even when it came to the soundtrack. Skyward Sword boasts a fully orchestrated score that has some of the highest quality gaming music ever heard. The main flying theme is majestic and brings on appropriate feelings of soaring, while dungeon themes pull back and create more of a creepy ambiance. Each song is remarkable, perfectly written, and fits the mood they were intended for ideally. There is no attempt at voice acting in this game, except for Fi’s beautifully harmonic gibberish, and that’s okay. Link being voiceless allows him to be more of an avatar for the player in the game’s world instead of a character whose traits are set in stone.

Wrap-Up
If you dove into this lengthy (probably 50 hours for most players) adventure expecting all your questions about the continuity of the Zelda timeline to be revealed to you, you will be in for a major disappointment. Sure, plenty of mysteries will be uncovered but plenty more will be woven into the canon of Hyrule’s lore. Wii MotionPlus support is implemented beautifully, giving players a chance to guide Link through his adventures more keenly then they ever have before. The addition of things like an item upgrade system will give long-time Zelda fanatics the added depth they’ve been clamoring for, but nothing is so new or intense that those setting out on their quest with Link for the very first time will have no difficulty diving off the back of their trusty Loftwing, through the clouds, and on to the ground below to rain their steely wrath down on the hordes of monsters that stand between him and Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

ProsCons
Great story, gorgeous graphics, stunning sound, and nearly perfect controls.The controller and IR pointer occasionally need recalibrated, but that's a small price to pay for the increased accuracy and complexity of combat Skyward Sword offers. Musical aspect of the game was a disappointment, but it is easy to overlook when you consider the wealth of phenomenal material packed into this game.
VerdictIf this is the first or tenth time you've trekked through Hyrule you should play this game if you have a Wii. If you don't have a Wii, you should buy one.
Rating
100%

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