E3 2011: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

QUICKTAKE: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword introduced Link's newest adventure at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, but this year, some new playable levels were available at the Nintendo booth to show off some different layers of gameplay. Fans of Twilight Princess (Link's debut on the Wii) will immediately feel at home with the series tried-and-true blend of action, exploration, and puzzle solving. New gadgets and Wii Motion Plus-supported combat add some welcome new variety to the series, which is looking as pretty as it ever has.

You'll need to swing your sword in different ways to penetrate enemy defenses.

THE DEMO: On tap were three different sample levels, each focusing on a different style of play. There was a sample dungeon level (simply called "Dungeon") which consisted of a central hub-like area with branching pathways. Battling monsters in the dungeon was a bit more interesting than previous Zelda games, due in large-part to the Motion Plus-based sword (and bow) control. Instead of just wildly flailing at enemies, I needed to pay attention to the enemy stances and attack patterns, and swing my sword appropriately to penetrate their defenses. I also played around with a new gadget called a "beetle," which is a mechanical flying bug that link can launch and control to do things like trip out-of-the-way switches. Link also has the ability to sprint using a recharging stamina meter, making it easier to get around the level quickly. The next level on-tap was an arena-based boss fight against a humanoid "demon lord." The swordplay in that section really drove home the new depth of the combat system. In the protracted, one-on-one fight, I had to use combinations different sword swings to connect with my foe, based on his current stance or attack pattern. Though the dungeon and boss fight were fun, the final playable level called "Bird Riding" served up a flying race that proved to be the freshest new addition. Mounted on giant griffin-like birds, I raced against other AI competitors to catch a golden bird with a prize around his neck. DETAILS: Skyward Sword isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, but the implementation of Motion Plus-based sword control adds some nice flavor (and a bit more challenge) to the combat. The tilt based controls for flying both the beetle gadget and the bird during the race level worked well, and were a lot of fun--swinging the Wii-mote sharply downward made the bird flap. Combined with a limited boost ability, flying to catch up to the golden bird was a quite enjoyable (if somewhat imprecise) experience. As a fan of the series, my brief time with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword already has me excited for my next trip to the land of Hyrule. Watch the Shacknews E3 2011 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. You can also subscribe to it with your favorite RSS reader.