Here we go, another Zelda game; puzzles, bosses, exploring, fighting. You know the drill. Or do you? I never intended to review Skyward Sword, because I thought everyone would buy it and love the shit out of it and we’d all happily talk about our favourite parts and hold hands. Much to my disgust and surprise as I scan the twitterverse and look at sales trends, it seems gamers have let this one slip away. With some time and perspective now I can see why. A lot of games these days make you think, and Skyward Sword does that. The difference here though is that you also have to act.
Skyward Sword is a weird game. It’s lazy and closed off; it won’t play itself. If you want to get anywhere, you have to pick up the controller and ENGAGE. It’s the concept that started video games, and it’s the only reason they ever existed. If you want anything in this game to respond, you have to poke it. Skyward Sword is a naive attempt to put the focus on the actions of the player, and it completely tears apart the passive nature of recent blockbuster games like Skyrim and Mass Effect. Zelda is an AWAKENING. Skyward Sword will have you feel like you’re actually CLIMBING things, and actually wielding a sword. It all comes together thanks to the MotionPlus controller, and it WORKS!
Firstly, the sword. It will do whatever you want [Editor’s note: Not quite, but far more than most other games dare to, let alone succeed at]. Moving the controller around moves the sword around. Simple, but this is the FIRST TIME it’s ever happened in a game like this. It doesn’t just affect the gameplay, it IS the gameplay. You can swing at any angle you like, you can twist the sword how you like, and the enemies and puzzles that await you in this magical world will all require this new-found finesse. If you waggle mindlessly like a retard and complain that it’s not working, then you’re too dumb to be writing reviews; get off my internet. This game doesn’t have a WIN button.
Zelda has always been about solving puzzles, using items, and taking advantage of the varied gameplay of the world to advance. Skyward Sword takes it up a level with just how interactive it is. This is a continuation of the design in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, where the initial “hardcore gamer” backlash began for the Zelda series. Stylus-exclusive controls annoyed some gamers because it made their precious hands tired, but it opened up a lot of new gameplay possibilities. Skyward Sword does the same thing with the accuracy of MotionPlus, allowing interactions that weren’t possible before, in ANY game.
When you walk into a dungeon, it’s intimidating. There are structures that don’t make sense and pathways that look confusing as hell. It’s like someone has thrown shit all over the place and you’ve got to piece things back together. It becomes a lot less intimidating when you wrap your head around how much you can DO with these new game mechanics. Skyward Sword takes advantage of the most advanced control mechanics available, and the puzzles are even more brilliantly designed as a consequence. Nintendo knows the dungeons are intimidating, as Link looks slightly hesitant every time he steps into a new place. He presses on however, why? Why is the game designed like this? Because Link is the HERO OF TIME. Yes, you’re PLAYING AS A HERO, REMEMBER? Intimidation is what’s for lunch, and the only sauce you’ll get on that crybaby sandwich is what’s dripping from your ass.
When you play a dual-analog console FPS, you’re moving your thumbs to simulate running and shooting. In Skyward Sword, you’re swinging to swing, tilting to tilt and thrusting to stab. The important part here that actually makes it fun, it’s not just the MOTION that makes things happen, but the accuracy. This is not a Kinect game where you can win without even doing anything; you have a huge level of control over what you’re doing. EVERY action is fun: sprinting, flying, doing a nunchuck roll off a cliff, even switching items becomes natural with this control scheme. You aren’t following a menu; just flicking in the direction you’ve placed the item. It feels like you’re taking something out of your pocket.
Look at this, it’s beautiful. I had to capture this cool pointless moment because it’s what the game is about; exploring your abilities. I rarely find swimming in games much fun, but I love doing it in Skyward Sword, and leaping out of the water is unbelievably satisfying. This has the best swimming in a game I’ve ever played. It’s Super Mario-levels of responsive control, and it’s almost immersion-breaking that Link can swim so good.
This game is for KIDS: curious people who have not had their worlds shaped and defined by other people. People who will poke things without fear of getting in TROUBLE. There are some interesting characters in this game, funny and charming, but they won’t give you any complex conversations or backstories. Your best friends on this journey will be your dexterity, your memory, and most importantly, your curiosity. Unfortunately, these things don’t come bundled with the game. Most people are born with them, but for some it’s an arduous task to bring them out, and the effort simply won’t be worth it. Look forward to my review of Final Fantasy XIII-2 if you’re one of these people.
There are a few things that stop the game being perfect, firstly I want to mention the battery warning. Whenever it goes down to one quarter you’ll get a message. In my experience there’s still about 10-12 hours of battery left at this point, but the reminders are constant, and annoying enough that I swap and recharge my batteries immediately JUST to get away from this message. Secondly, Skyward Sword still features the classic Zelda problem of TOO MANY RUPEES. Treasure is worthless in this game, there’s no excitement in finding a treasure chest anymore, it’ll just contain a collectable you already have 20 of, or some rupees that won’t even fit in your wallet. My last complaint contradicts some of my earlier praise; the game isn’t that difficult. It’s “difficult” in the sense that unmotivated / uncoordinated individuals won’t get very far, but the progression of the game is made painfully easy by how many hints you get. Skyward Sword is more linear than any other Zelda game, always making sure you know where to go. It feels like a half-hearted attempt to cater to crap journalists. Don’t bother next time, Nintendo. They already decided this game was crap before playing it.
Skyward Sword gets the most important things right, and the journey itself is remarkable. It’s engaging from start to finish and some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a game. It’s so accurate and responsive that it doesn’t really need enemy Z-targeting anymore; fitting for the series that introduced it to videogames. We’re past that now, there’s one thing consistent with the Zelda franchise: it’s always moving forward, and this level of interaction is unprecedented. It makes you think “I can’t do that,” then gives you a way to do it. Want to be a hero? Want a videogame that rewards you for being alive? Play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It’s the best.
12 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
Grub, I’m holding you to that Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review. In fact, I am fully willing to help you make a asinine chat log about that, because unlike you, I have barely played the game and I think my reaction to the shit you will suffer will be entertaining.
Oh, and awesome Skyward Sword review is awesome.
Good words sticking up for interactivity and the honest-to-goodness merit involved in being the hero. I’ve had difficulty engaging myself in other games, at all, following this Zelda.
I’ll disagree about your view of the game’s apparent linearity (outside of dungeons), because, that’s really how it plays out by default, and hasn’t changed much since Ocarina of Time, so it’s par for the course. Since I have some influence over my game experience, I avoided some of that default clutter; outside of the forced text boxes, the majority of the hints are optional, but your statement implies the opposite and doesn’t elaborate. I recall the game stating things after cutscenes/events even tho I figured them out during the event; or maybe an objective gets reiterated then revised due to new information, but I don’t recall directions/instructions being significantly emphasized and repeated. I KNOW hints are out there, but on a voluntary basis (and made sure to avoid it). Over the course of game through defeating the final boss, I never dowsed; I aimed to complete each dungeon in 1 hour or 1.5 hours; never upgraded potions; and put a reasonable effort to avoid using fairies and health potions at all – merely personal challenges given my enthusiasm and my prior experience going into this new adventure.
I think the problem stems from the difference with past games, where we once had to manually talk to NPCs -again- following the puzzle-solving jingle to hear them acknowledge your new opportunity or change in objective before they send you off (otherewise you were just free to run around without receiving any further comment). This time, the game is sure to state the change(s) that took place with mild cinematic closure before returning control to you. But I read somewhat fast – but my reading comprehension isn’t that good – but I pickup the key info the first time around – and the text doesn’t stay on my screen for more than a moment anyway – so the continual reminders seemed too insignificant to dwell on, whereas you might have been reading its presence too hard (I’ve witnessed a friend who reads the boxes fast, misses the clues, gets stuck, yet complains about being given reminders and statements of the obvious). But like you implied, certain players need leashes and handrails to get anywhere.
I’m not talking about the dowsing at all, I never really used it either. In fact I prefer the free-look because there’s no crappy purple fuzz around the screen when i’m looking around in awe. There’s a boss fight where NPCs will interrupt the fight just to tell you where the weak spot is, that took all the excitement away for me. Also this game has a different way of “pushing” you forward like you said, the forced dialogue saying “GO HERE NEXT”, whereas previous Zelda’s often let you walk around and dwell on things for a moment which I liked, because Zelda games are cool places to hang out in. It’s like having parents whispering in your ear while you’re at a party.
BTW the graphics in this game don’t get nearly enough credit, it’s one of the best looking games ever. The overview shot of the woods is mind-blowing, and the environments have an amazing solid / complete feel to them.
Glad to hear you enjoyed the game. It does seem to be a pretty polarizing release though I can’t say that fact is all that different from the other console Zelda’s since OoT. I for one found it enjoyable but somewhat underwhelming. The motion controls for combat and items used similarly to the sword (net, whip etc) worked perfectly fine for me outside of the occasional issue with thrusting. In other places though I find it hard to argue with the detractors that suggest it adds nothing but limits precision. When it came to free falling I’d have rather just used the analog and when it came to rolling I’d rather just use a button. Not because I’m lazy or afraid of change but because, unlike the sword fighting and certain items…the motion does nothing a traditional method can’t and that’s just not the proper use for motion controls IMO.
All that said the controls aren’t what left me feeling underwhelmed as Zelda games go. Ancient Cistern was the only dungeon I genuinely liked (though to be fair…I LOVED it), the art style felt neither here nor there, the mini games where a let down, the sky was more empty and boring than WW’s sea ever was and there never seemed to be much sense of exploration that, to varying degrees, all previous Zelda’s have provided. Still a darn good game, just not up to the level of the other 3D Zelda’s IMO.
It’s cheap and shortsighted write off the limited value of The Sky – a compact and QUICKLY-travelled hub – while never addressing the actual overworld below, where the majority of the “praised” gameplay and exploration took place. Playing so many Zeldas before this is always bound to spoil the mystique of “exploration” the next time around – that’s a natural result of being OLD.
Celda and Toilet Princess need be shat on more for doing far worse via empty-overworld and handholding-dungeon designs. Players got their dose of exploring a ‘whole lot of nothing’ two previous games in a row, so I’m greatful this time was focused on Gameplay of the Hero and made mandatory instead of minigames. Wii has enough minigames.
Maybe I was fortunate, and in the minority, to play SS the right way and got a very different experience out of it? My Zelda joys come from being a problem solver – consistently figuring out what to do and where to go before being told to do so; all the extra info was merely old news that didn’t affect me – gotta find more Hero Stuff to do.
Need more Motion Controls, too. Falling/flying/swimming are fine; these are non-suspended actions taking place in fluid media; these and other [fully tracked] motion controls definitely do what sticks and mice and crutches and training wheels and swim floaties typically guard you from: simulate your inherent lack of control in particular situaitons, meaning you’re called to DEAL WITH IT.
Imagine that, we get enjoyment from different things in our Zelda games.
The vastness of Wind Wakers great sea was a plus for me, if I could change anything it would have been more interesting islands to explore once you got finished sailing. The sea itself was fine. Why? Because you’re sailing a flooded world, not a fishing pond. The sense of adventure and breadth where readily apparent, I didn’t need a fun side quest or quirky character every few feet to hold my attention. Feeling like I was setting out on a truly epic ADVENTURE was far more satisfying than getting to the next dungeon ASAP so I could push the story along. Nothing in the sky or on the ground in SS gave me that sense of a grand world full of mysteries and secrets like every Zelda since the original has to one degree or another.
Again, I don’t feel the game was bad by any means, quite the opposite. I simply feel reality lies between the haters who wanted to nitpick everything that wasn’t how they wanted it to be and the fanboys who strive to defend it’s every facet and insist it could do no wrong.
Finally if “that’s a natural result of being OLD.” is meant to imply some sort of nostalgia bias…please. For everyone who is biased for nostalgia someone is a prisoner of the moment so it’s six of one half a dozen of the other.
What I implied by “OLD” is the familiarity with the series’ cues and mechanics, so going thru the routines potentially affects the level of surprise and on-hand information towards subsequent actions. My interpretation of the unknown “just around the corner” or beyond-the-whatever is my frame of reference for exploration – and I found plenty.
But I get it – you’re just bummed out that the game didn’t rely on scattering a bunch of holes/caves/grottos to uncover throughout the world to consume your time and play the beloved “unlocking” jingle over and over.
Maybe fans should ask Nintendo to rehash Ocarina of Time a third time to remedy the issue.
Bah, I can see that we’re getting nowhere here. Even if it’s not what I wanted from my Zelda I can respect the fact that you enjoyed a more focused experience that put greater emphasis on dungeons, puzzles and combat than it did on openness and exploration. If you can’t return that favor and merely belittle my tastes for being stuck in a rut and afraid on new things then I guess I’m done with this discussion.
Getting nowhere – I believe that’s all you do in Zeruda. GLORY be the day Sorcery arrived to show you children superior tech that extends the limits of human expression. I have a one-piece specifically worn for my own play sessions – maximizes pelvic range and grip.
Many people complain that Fi interrupted the gameplay too much, the areas were repetitive and the controls were bad.
So in other words, Fi is like MGS4 cutscenes in Zelda sidekick form (and her dialog is shorter then a typical cutscene in MGS4), and that the controls and areas are on par with a typical first person shooter that is not Borderlands 2?
God fucking lord, I mean seriously… Fi was not that bad…!!
I loved Fi’s presence in the game… her design, her foreign mouth… a marked improvement upon Navi’s all-too-impatient “Hey!”-ing…
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Great review. I have been baffled by the criticisms of this game. I’ve found the gameplay to be excellent and the game itself is beautiful and it is captivating to play. Not sure why it is so easy to complain about this game, but I think it is fair to say that most people should probably go back and give it a second chance.
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