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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review

by Billy Berghammer, Nov 11, 2011 12:01am PST

It’s hard to believe Nintendo fans had to wait five years for their first true Zelda game on the Wii. Sure, there have been plenty of ways to get a Zelda fix since Twilight Princess, but it’s been a long wait for Link’s console return. While I admit I was a bit apprehensive about this motion-focused Zelda adventure, after my 45+ hour quest, I am pleased to report that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is absolutely well worth the wait, and one of the best Zelda titles to date.

Skyward Sword begins in the quaint airborne town of Skyloft. Link awakens on the day of the Wing Ceremony, where his skills with Loftwing (the giant guardian bird) are to be tested in order to get closer to becoming a knight. On his victory lap, soaring through the clouds with his fair maiden at his side, a tornado suddenly swoops in, knocking Link off his bird and whisking Zelda mysteriously away. It’s up to Link to travel to the world below the clouds to find out what happened to Zelda. Even though it’s a familiar setup for longtime fans of the series, there’s quite a bit that is new and different in Skyward Sword.

Skyward Sword relies heavily on Wii MotionPlus for controlling a multitude of Link’s actions, and although Twilight Princess had motion control shoehorned in, it feels much more polished in Link's newest adventure. Unlike Twilight Princess’s haphazard waggling, many of the world’s nasty inhabitants will need specific swipes and blocks to dispatch. Though Nintendo has made great strides in motion tech with the WiiMotion Plus, there were a few times where a required gesture wasn’t accurately tracked. This caused me to make a much more pronounced motion towards the screen, which delivered the desired results despite being slightly more awkward. While many mechanics are dependent on gestures in Skyward Sword, you can still thankfully play the game easily while sitting on the couch.

The traditional Zelda game structure has also been refined and remixed. Link actually has stamina now, so sprinting and climbing vines or ledges can only be done in bursts before resting (or nabbing a stamina fruit). Shields now take damage and will ultimately break if blocks aren’t properly executed, but they can be upgraded in Skyloft’s bazaar, as can other items.

More importantly, the way the world is laid out is quite different. Instead of having to go through different environments and dungeons front to back, the majority of Skyward Sword takes place within three regions on the surface: Lanayru Desert, Faron Woods, and Eldin Volcano. In each of these regions, there’s an overarching theme in which the land has a number of different elements or rules, and how you use Link’s abilities and items will help you progress.

Franchise vets are all too familiar with forest, desert, and volcanic locales, but the development team has created multiple, unique takes on these staples for environmental and dungeon challenges. My new favorite is in the Lanayru Desert where I encountered timeshift stones and orbs that emit an era of a past time within a specific radius. Dilapidated machinery, fallen enemies, and other entities that were previously not interactive are now operational. Even better is boating around in the Sand Sea, as my vessel carrying a timeshift stone transformed the surroundings into a beautiful ocean. From crazy mine-cart rides, and super tense tear-gathering trials, to some extremely devious puzzles, how Nintendo mixes and matches familiar and new in this game will keep even the most experienced player challenged. Miniboss and Boss direction should also be commended, and while I don’t want to spoil any, they’re all new and definitely unique, due to motion-controlled encounters.

While there are hours upon hours of questing and adventuring to be had and so much new injected into this game, I still craved more variety in Skyward Sword's environments. Even though challenges were mixed up quite a bit, and new areas opened within these regions, multiple return trips made some of the end game tedious. Though fetch quests have come to be expected in Zelda titles, Nintendo really needs to consider how these are presented, or simply nix a good chunk of them. Trekking through a wicked pre-dungeon, only to be asked to seek out one more item begins to taste like padding in a game that is already quite robust.

In the style of impressionistic paintings, Skyward Sword’s art direction is quite fantastic. From the lush forest of Faron Woods, to the contrast of past and future of Lanayru Desert, to the simple beauty of Skyloft, every region has a distinct look. Although it’s not hyper realistic, it has a unique flavor that is quite reminiscent of how Wind Waker played with cel-shading. But even more impressive is the addition of orchestral music to the Zelda franchise. Hearing real instruments performed by an orchestra makes the soundscape more engrossing. Familiar tracks blended with new melodies are going to make Zelda music fans very happy.

Skyward Sword is a triumphant achievement in the Zelda franchise. Even with my minor quibbles, some of the series’ better moments are to be had in this expansive world. With a touching story, some of the Wii's best motion-control action, and intricately designed environments and dungeons, Skyward Sword is an experience that is not to be missed.


[This Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review is based on a retail version of the game, provided by the publisher.]

Billy Berghammer is the Founder of Planet GameCube, and former Game Informer Online, G4TV, and EGM editor. Currently he’s a freelance editor and video game consultant, and frequent guest on Weekend Confirmed. Follow him on Twitter.





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