The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review

The Legend of Zelda continues in Skyward Sword, a game that manages to mix old with the new and craft "a triumphant achievement" that fans of the franchise need not miss.

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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.

Motion control feels much more polished in Link's newest adventure, than Nintendo's previous effort.

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.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 11, 2011 12:01 AM

    Billy Berghammer posted a new article, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review.

    The Legend of Zelda continues in Skyward Sword, a game that manages to mix old with the new and craft "a triumphant achievement" that fans of the franchise need not miss.

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      November 11, 2011 12:25 AM

      unf too much shit to play

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      November 11, 2011 12:29 AM

      Another Zelda? Wii? Yawn...zzzz...wake me when Nintendo does something new for a change.

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        November 11, 2011 12:37 AM

        To be fair, there has been nothing really new this year. Most of the games people were/are excited about were/are just sequels.

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        November 11, 2011 4:45 AM

        Seriously. Where is my Gears of War 4?

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        November 11, 2011 6:18 AM

        That's like waiting for your mom to finally get those new tits.

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        November 11, 2011 6:24 AM

        [deleted]

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        November 11, 2011 6:31 AM

        I would say the new combat system is enough to not make this "Another Zelda"

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        November 11, 2011 6:34 AM

        [deleted]

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        November 11, 2011 6:53 AM

        I thought completely reimagning how you interact with combat in a Zelda game (turning encounters into miniature puzzles in a series predominantly known for its puzzle design) was New Enough, but I guess I was wrong. Pre-order canceled.

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        November 11, 2011 7:01 AM

        Hey, another uninformed comment on the Internet!

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          November 11, 2011 10:00 AM

          Yeah, you're right. It MUST be "uninformed" if you don't agree with it.

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        November 11, 2011 7:16 AM

        Pshaw, go teabag some noobs in MW3 and leave the fun games to people who don't hate life.

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        November 11, 2011 7:17 AM

        I want a new zelda that blows me away OOT style. Until then - I agree with the yawn.

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          November 11, 2011 7:30 AM

          How do you know this isn't that game? What does it have to do to blow you away "OOT style?"

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            November 11, 2011 7:34 AM

            A more important question: how can he agree with the "yawn" when he hasn't even played the game yet? Everything in this review and others I've read/watched (expect an avalanche of reviews as the day goes on) says that Nintendo really changed things up in SS. So these "yawn" comments, especially in light of the fact that no one but journalists have played the game, are ignorant and uninformed at best.

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              November 11, 2011 7:38 AM

              If SS is that "different" Zelda game then good. I just very much doubt it and I'm annoyed they put it on the aging Wii. Good games held back by major graphical limitations and a control scheme we're all tired of

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                November 11, 2011 7:46 PM

                So basically you're just a negative person in general? So its only a good game because of its graphical representation, but if it looked better it would be a great game? I dont understand how that works.

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            November 11, 2011 7:36 AM

            Well first of all be on a new system? The wii is done, I can't play games that are terribly aliased in this day and age. Even the N64 looked smoother if you ask me. Trying to make me look into the distance when it's a blurry mess is awful. So no Zelda until the new system thanks.

            It has to be 100% new and original. OOT was a giant leap forward compared to the SNES now wasn't it? Much like Mario 64 was to Mario World 1&2. They were fun because they were new and fresh. You were doing things you couldn't do in the 16-bit iterations.

            Mario sunshine was BS. It was just Mario 64 with an annoying device. Then came Galaxy and wow, gravity! To me it was fresh and unique. It even harkened back to the simpler level design but in a good way.

            Twilight? Pfft....Majora's Mask with a facelift and annoying wolf section. Yawn. Actually pardon me, Maoria's was more unique because of the time stuff. So it actually went backwards.

            Show me something very new and unique. Change the item system. Change the quest system. Change how dungeons work. DO SOMETHING.

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              November 11, 2011 7:40 AM

              This is the thing I don't get about gamers judging Nintendo: people accuse Nintendo of churning out the same old games every few years, then they get pissed when they try something new like Mario Sunshine, Majora's Mask.

              I mean, what do you want? New? Old?

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                November 11, 2011 7:50 AM

                A modern LTTP type Zelda game with "campaign-spanning" co-op, not done in the usual arcadey manner, but where both the characters and gameplay are integrated in the story.

                Something to do and experience together over a summer.

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              November 11, 2011 8:03 AM

              I don't think you're being fair at all.

              OOT and Mario 64 were mainly new and original because it made the jump from 2D to 3D. Almost all of the mechanics and gameplay revolved around this change to 3D. Comparing those to SS would be like expecting it to be in 4D or something.

              Regardless if you liked the water cannon in Mario Sunshine, it was new and innovative. It provided different mechanics than you saw in Mario 64, similar to the gravity in Galaxy. Again, same thing with TP with playing out as a wolf. Some of these obviously weren't as drastic as the jump from 2D to 3D, but just because you didn't care for it doesn't mean they weren't attempting to change things up.

              Do you expect every sequel to be as new and original or does this just apply to the Zelda series? Are we to find similar posts when Uncharted 4 comes out?

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                November 11, 2011 8:06 AM

                Also, if you did read the reviews - they seemed to have changed up quite a few of things such as dungeon design, boss battle mechanics, puzzle structure, etc instead of shoehorning in some of the stapled Zelda traditions.

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              November 11, 2011 7:47 PM

              So basically you want a Zelda game...that isnt Zelda?

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            November 11, 2011 8:31 AM

            [deleted]

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          November 11, 2011 10:47 AM

          IGN is calling this the greatest Zelda game ever.

          So maybe you should give it a try.

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        November 11, 2011 10:07 AM

        "wytefang", champion of originality.

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        November 11, 2011 7:44 PM

        Another Wytefang post? Yawn...zzzz....

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        November 12, 2011 11:23 PM

        Aww man. Zelda despite the complaints is still my favorite console game series of all time. It's one of those series just still delights this jaded old heart of mine.

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      November 11, 2011 1:52 AM

      I'd like to play this, but the Zelda games have gotten too 'kiddy' for me to play these days. I don't mind the art style so much, but the characters and themes feel like they're made for an eight year old. I couldn't play Super Mario Galaxy for this same reason. I'm not saying my games have to have blood and tits in them, but something that isn't goofy and dumbed-down would be nice.

      It's like the difference between Toy Story and Teletubbies. Nintendo is sliding towards the lower end of that spectrum these days.

      Also I found the WiiMotion stuff to be awful. Doesn't feel intuitive at all.

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        November 11, 2011 2:00 AM

        But SMG was not an easy game, was it? You could get the 70-odd stars to see the end credits without too much trouble, but getting all 120 of them meant doing some extremely challenging levels. The third level you unlock (Sweet Sweet Galaxy? Can't remember) for example is way beyond what most 8 year-olds are capable of.

        Nintendo have made a (fairly) easy path to the end to cater for the wider audience they have now and moved the experienced-player-difficulty sections to optional parts of the game. I suppose it means you now have to play a lot of easy levels, but they were so well-designed and so inventive I didn't mind at all.

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          November 11, 2011 3:02 AM

          Not disputing the difficulty, but the presentation is definitely geared towards kids. Here's another example: The Professor Layton games. They're obviously made for kids or pre-teens, but they're not 'dumbed down' like many of Nintendo's games.

          Either that or someone is seriously missing their target audience haha.

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        November 11, 2011 4:54 AM

        You've obviously never penetrated past the surface of a Zelda game. Your loss.

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          November 11, 2011 8:18 AM

          It seemed inevitable I'd get defensive replies. I really liked the original, and A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time (though I was much younger then), and Twilight Princess. I didn't care for Wind Waker for the same reason. Maybe I'm just getting older. I'm not saying anything about the quality of the game; it just doesn't seem to be designed for my age group.

      • Zek legacy 10 years
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        November 11, 2011 6:21 AM

        Galaxy 1 and 2 are amazing games and if you passed them up for being too "kiddy" you're missing out big time. Those games have an amazing atmosphere.

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          November 11, 2011 6:30 AM

          This. So many gamers judge a game's sophistication by surface-level details. It frustrates me to no end.

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            November 11, 2011 6:40 AM

            I have a friend who is a bro gamer through and through. He refuses to play any games that he quickly labels as kiddy.

            Even when I showed him that beautiful new Level-5 JRPG he wants nothing to do with, since it looks like a cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aAs-vZ4rZE

            >:(

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              November 11, 2011 8:29 AM

              I really like Tetris, but if Tetris was entirely in Hello Kitty theme, I wouldn't play it. Does that make me a bro gamer?

              There's a reason products are marketed at specific demographics. People usually know what they like.

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                November 11, 2011 9:13 AM

                I think it depends. Do you hate Hello Kitty, or does playing it make you feel childish? Is it really so bad that you can't look past it?

                For me, if the game play is there I typically don't care about the presentation. The same thing goes for the quirky Japanese games that obviously weren't marketed specifically to me. The super cheesy characters and terrible voice overs don't make it better by any means, but I'm not going to completely stop playing it just because it's silly.

                There are obviously limits to this, where if it was completely over the top cutesy Hannah Montana game that awarded me in sparkles and lollipops I would probably have a hard time looking past it. However, Zelda is no where near those levels and actually is a pretty serious game despite many people's first impressions.

                I still think most bro gamers are self conscious and don't want to be seen playing these games. Also, it's easier to justify being a 'gamer' if you are playing 'serious' games such as CoD and the like.

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                  November 11, 2011 10:47 AM

                  I don't hate Hello Kitty, but you can't deny that it has a target audience: little girls.

                  I won't ever buy a backpack that has Hello Kitty on it, even if Outside magazine says it is durable enough to summit Everest. There's a line there.

                  When Super Mario Galaxy started up, the sounds (grunts?) Mario and Peach vocalize, and the presentation made me think: This is not made for me. It's made for my son.

                  The fact that certain people in this sub thread are getting angry at me makes me think I've struck a chord. If they really didn't care they wouldn't be upset. The responses I was hoping for were, "Despite the cartoonish experience, Zelda isn't dumbed-down or childish" in contrast to say, Wind Waker.

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                    November 11, 2011 11:01 AM

                    So you're argument boils down to who it's targeted towards and that's it? If it's not clearly marketed to you or your demographic - you're not interested at all? Regardless of how fun it is?

                    I'd say that's pretty telling of a bro gamer, yes.

                    Also, who cares? If it's fun, why does it matter who it is targeted towards? This gets back to my previous point about people feeling self conscious in regards to their gaming habits.

                    Finally, what did you expect Peach and Mario to say there? Their grunts, yippees, hooahs and such have been a staple of the mushroom kingdom universe since it started.

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            November 11, 2011 8:22 AM

            This is like someone telling me to watch Anime because it has sophistication. I don't care how sophisticated it is, it isn't for me. I have no interest in that stuff.

            The way the game is presented definitely effects how it will reach the audience. Here's an example. I enjoy the Professor Layton games. Some of those puzzles are hard as fuck. Yet the story and characters are obviously designed for a teenager. That doesn't quite jive. So something is going on here - either teenagers are far smarter than I give them credit for, or the game designers are not properly targeting their audience. The most likely answer is, I'm getting older and dumber. lol.

            • Zek legacy 10 years
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              November 11, 2011 9:34 AM

              You're being childish. Just because it doesn't have anything that's inappropriate for young kids doesn't mean it's not designed for adults. It's age agnostic. Galaxy's amazing full orchestral soundtrack was not made to appeal to 10 year olds. It's just an incredibly high quality game.

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                November 11, 2011 10:41 AM

                Childish...? Really?

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        November 11, 2011 6:31 AM

        [deleted]

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        November 11, 2011 7:29 AM

        [deleted]

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          November 11, 2011 8:16 AM

          I did play and enjoy Twilight Princess. Loved the boss battles. Skyward Sword didn't seem to be in a similar vein, though.

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        November 11, 2011 10:09 AM

        They a fabular, meaning like in a fable, and as such timeless.

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        November 11, 2011 3:11 PM

        Welcome to growing up? Things you used to love as kids are meant for kids?

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        November 11, 2011 7:51 PM

        Psst. When the first Zelda came out, you were probably 8 years old, but I would assume you are not 8 years old anymore.

        The Zelda games are pretty generalized when it comes to the demographic it's marketed to, it doesn't inherently market to 8 year olds or the "young kiddy crowd" but it certainly will provide a game they can enjoy.

        At the same time though the gameplay is broad and general, one could say even, agnostic, enough for people of all ages to enjoy.

        A game doesn't have to involved death, rape, murder and nightmares to be fun. It's what you make of it.

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      November 11, 2011 4:47 AM

      Awesome. I'm excited to hear what they did with the sound. From the orchestrated music to the more serious tones you hear throughout the game. Glad to hear they are changing it up a bit in that regard.

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      November 11, 2011 4:57 AM

      Excellent review, Billy. I was especially glad to hear that the game can be played comfortably from the couch. I was looking forward to the Wii Motion Plus controls, yet rather nervous about how much effort I'd have to exert to ensure the game comprehended what I wanted to do.

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      November 11, 2011 5:04 AM

      That was a nice review. Might have to check it out.

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      November 11, 2011 5:13 AM

      Holy shit, the soundtrack is knocking me on my ass. I cannot wait for this game. :D

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      November 11, 2011 6:08 AM

      I will play this in a few months, after I emerge from Skyrim.

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      November 11, 2011 6:13 AM

      I got sick of Twilight Princess because it felt like for every 30 seconds of gameplay I had to sit there and learn a new technique, listen to someone ramble on, follow onscreen prompts, hand holding, etc

      FUCK OFF AND LET ME PLAY. In OOT I felt like I was largely in control with minimal guidance, even from the start. Twilight felt like I was being dragged around non stop for the first hour or so. I never bothered beyond that.

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        November 11, 2011 6:20 AM

        Are you kidding? You get a "HEY! LISTEN!" constantly till you're out of the beginning forest area.

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          November 11, 2011 6:21 AM

          A A A A and she shuts up. In twilight no no, I have to dig here. I have to jump there. Some more talking. Oh look over there, lets move your camera for 30 seconds. Some more talking. Midna this, shadow that,

          I was so bored with the game I started critiquing the lack of AA and shit textures. I don't know to me it was garbage compared to OOT.

          I enjoyed the DS game far more.

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            November 11, 2011 6:28 AM

            TP did have a lengthy tutorial, and took longer than usual to pick up - but if you never made it past this section then you missed a hell of a good game.

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              November 11, 2011 6:37 AM

              Yeah, it's because of the whole wolf thing and it was a launch game for the Wii so it's not like there was a set pattern yet for the control scheme.

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                November 11, 2011 7:16 AM

                Hey I didn't tell them to put the wolf shit in, and the "wii" isn't much of an excuse given it barely even used the waggle. I actually didn't even mind the controls.

                I just felt the game was boring. I finished the first dungeon and explored and outside and whatnot, but really....I lost interest. I just felt like it was a giant hand holding experience rather than the classic exploration style.

                This wasn't on my current console either, so my save is gone. In order to start it up now I'd have to go through that giant tutorial shit again. No thank you.

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                  November 11, 2011 7:20 AM

                  The "hand holding" does stop and the dungeons get progressively better (the next to last one is probably my favorite out of every zelda game ever). They should have cut the initial tutorial down though, given they basically had to double it for the wolf stuff.

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                    November 11, 2011 7:29 AM

                    I have a hard time playing games that constantly tell you what to do every step of the way. I feel like instead of playing I'm just following directions. Seems like there are way too many games like that today. Leave me alone and let ME figure it okay?

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                      November 11, 2011 7:32 AM

                      This I agree with, mandatory tutorials ftl :(

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                      November 11, 2011 7:33 AM

                      Twilight didn't do that, though. It got you started--as most games tend to do--and then you were free to explore, just like any other Zelda game. And believe me, this is coming from a die-hard OOT fan. I didn't prefer Twilight to OOT (and MM to OOT, actually), but I thought it was a great game.

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                      November 14, 2011 7:14 AM

                      avatar_58, I'm with you man. I can't stand sitting there reading/watching a game play instead of actually playing it. Probably why I never could get into it myself, even though I've tried like 3 times :(

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              November 11, 2011 7:28 AM

              I really wished I picked up the GC version of TP, but the game got a whole lot better after the tutorial but the Wii controls were just balls.

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            November 11, 2011 6:32 AM

            [deleted]

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              November 11, 2011 10:29 AM

              it has definitely gotten worse though since OoT

              though maybe I should replay OoT at some point to actually verify that...

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        November 11, 2011 7:52 PM

        Twilight Princess was pretty awesome once you got passed the point where you had to do all the dog shit.

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      November 11, 2011 7:48 AM

      this makes me very excited all over. i'm sad, though, because i promised my family i wouldn't buy anything for myself because my birthday is coming up. luckily we're doing the family thing on the 24th & 25th, so if i don't it by then, i'm picking it up myself.

      shit... this is gonna be the first zelda game i didn't buy on launch day...

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      November 11, 2011 8:34 AM

      I played Minish Cap for GBA and came away feeling it was the worst possible introduction to LoZ.

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        November 11, 2011 9:29 AM

        Minish cap was a good game, but I would definitely recommend a Zelda game that was actually made by Nintendo as your first forray into Zelda, either OoT, LA, or ALttP.

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      November 11, 2011 8:39 AM

      Did they finally add voice acting? That was the tedious thing about the newer Mario and Zelda games. If you're going to be throwing walls of text at me you might as well get a voice actor for it and make it more engaging to the player.

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        November 11, 2011 8:40 AM

        [deleted]

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        November 11, 2011 8:55 AM

        [deleted]

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        November 11, 2011 9:00 AM

        Nope, and at this point they shouldn't.

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          November 11, 2011 9:39 AM

          I can see keeping Link mute but everyone else could talk.

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            November 11, 2011 10:16 AM

            I think that'd make it even worse. A good recent example of that is Rage. Especially during the introduction. The character didn't look mute, he simply looked retarded and lifeless.

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        November 11, 2011 10:33 AM

        [deleted]

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          November 11, 2011 3:30 PM

          It is when you are mashing A through the pages of exposition where the characters are just standing there idle watching you read.

          It was why I couldn't finish Super Paper Mario which had amazing writing but there was just so much of it every 5 feet when you talked to anyone.

          It works for Gordon Freeman, why not Link?

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            November 11, 2011 9:19 PM

            I'm with you on reading text in the zelda games.. mostly because they give you like 1/3 of a sentence at a time inbetween hitting A... but you still need to finish Super Paper Mario! That game was so much better than I expected.

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      November 11, 2011 8:54 AM

      Nice review, thanks "Plan B"!

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      November 11, 2011 9:23 AM

      How's the cover system?

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        November 11, 2011 10:16 AM

        I hope the whole cover system thing dies out soon. It really limits options more than expands them.

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      November 11, 2011 10:32 AM

      [deleted]

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      November 11, 2011 10:53 AM

      Do I need to buy a MotionPlus attachment or something?

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      November 11, 2011 5:53 PM

      hmm this has me interested, we all know wind waker was pretty much the best zelda out there and TP was pretty bad.

      The reviews really have me interested.

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        November 13, 2011 12:35 AM

        Speak for yourself, bub. I'd take Twilight Princess over Wind Waker any day.

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          November 14, 2011 4:52 PM

          Agree with Ridley. To each their own, but in terms of story, characters, etc, it seems to me that Twilight Princess is superior to WW. For me, personally, it's the best installment.

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        November 13, 2011 10:26 AM

        LttP was the best Zelda.

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          November 14, 2011 7:51 AM

          ^^^^ lending my support here! Nintendo is apparently thinking of doing a remake of that for the 3ds, or a newer blend of that same formula. Either way, I think I'd prefer that over this Skyward Sword stuff, but I'll wait until I play it.

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        November 14, 2011 3:15 AM

        Wind Waker is far from the best Zelda. Go back to the Reddit circlejerk over that mediocre installment.

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