I remember 2010’s E3 and going into sensory overload at the multitude of information waiting to be digested by the press. It was then The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was announced. The line of people waiting to play the demo was massive as it spanned the entire length of the main showroom floor (at least it seemed that way). As much as I wanted to play it, I figured I would have a better chance of obtaining the game than getting a chance to play right then and there. So imagine my delight Christmas morning when I opened Skyward Sword. Was it worth the wait?
Skyward Sword, once again, resets the overall plot of the series. This time, Link and his posse exist on a floating island, miles in the sky. Massive birds take them anywhere they wish and will catch them with a whistle blow. It is here that Link is a student at the academy, waiting to be promoted to a second-year knight. Shortly after he earns the promotion, he and Zelda go out for a victory ride. She is kidnapped, and Link discovers that they are the ones who are to resurrect the land far below. So will Link be able to rescue Zelda, and will they be able to heal the scarred lands?
Let’s get straight to the point: No one really cares about the plot. Sure, Zelda this time around has a bit more personality as she’s a bit of a tomboy. However, Tetra from Windwaker takes the cake on that end. Link’s new “fairy” is a computer AI that feels like it was the rejected lover for a sarcastic super computer. The worst part is that the overall sense of history is ... gone. The lore is flat.
The beautiful graphics both soothe and compound the problem. The game takes a very high resolution cartoon art style. Thus, it is able to get away with creating some very interesting characters and returns the series to its roots. Grass blows in the wind, windmills turn and there is a sense of speed with the wind ripping around Link and his bird mount. Areas are diverse as they range from a desert wasteland, lush forests and volcanoes. However, the game’s character design sometimes falls into the realm known as “the uncanny valley.” For example, Zelda’s father has a massive unibrow that doesn’t make him look human.
Gameplay is also a mixed bag. The game requires the Wii Motion Plus. Whether that means the $20 attachment or a new Wii-mote is your choice. At the beginning of each session, the game calibrates the controller. OK, fine. Other Wii games that do this use the Motion Plus. From there, you can swing Link’s sword in whatever direction you want. This gives the game a very visceral feel and takes quite a bit of getting used to. The B button is used for secondary items, and Link can carry other necessities in an item pouch. Bombs and vases are thrown or rolled with a flick of the wrist. Some of the items aren’t as cool as previous equipment in the series. As much as a boomerang trumps a flying beetle, Link shouldn’t use the same equipment for an eternity right?
Anyway, the problem is that the controller becomes unbalanced and will not respond in the direction it is swung while aiming. Thankfully, this can be corrected by pushing down on the D-pad. But should this even happen? The way that the Motion Plus is touted is that of a massive upgrade to the Wii-mote, so I feel that this shouldn’t even happen. Second, Link is especially clumsy as he’ll jump and climb over things if he has any momentum. I’ve fallen into the clouds so many times that it isn’t even funny. And why, oh why, can’t he summon his mount during those circumstances instead of having to dive off a pier? This brings me to my third and biggest complaint.
For the first time ever, Link now has a stamina meter. Once it’s used up by running, he’s out of breath for a short period of time. This makes certain fights a bit more challenging than they need to be. It is also compounded by the addition of item endurance for shields. Link’s most trusted companion, something that has been relied on heavily since the dawn of the 3-D era, has been downgraded to a third-rate item. Over use it, and it will not be available when needed. Yet, if you don’t use it frequently enough, he’ll suffer damage. Destroying certain enemies also is tougher than it needs to be. So it brings up an important question: Why use a shield when it’ll eventually break on you? Even having a potion that remedies the problem doesn’t truly fix it, nor does the neat inclusion of enhancing it.
I think the biggest problem is that it doesn’t feel like a true Zelda game. I don’t care about the end villain; that’s not the problem. The problem lays in its level design. Each area is essentially set up as one big linear dungeon. What’s exploration needed for as you systematically clear each room with a map instantly available upon entering? Boss fights are almost identical to previous enemies, so there’s little surprise. Heck, it doesn’t even pretend to be “epic” by having multi-tiered battles. And the littlest thing I miss the most is the day and night cycles. Who’d thought of that?
Despite all of my other issues toward the various domains, the game takes the cake with its music. I can describe almost perfectly in word: awesomeness. There are sweeping orchestrations that are heard when flying. There’s soothing water music while Link’s near a waterfall. The peaceful fairy fountain music returns as the title screen music. And, of course, how could this not be a Zelda game without the famous “I’m holding a really cool item over my head” music. The coolest part about the game is that it is paired with a 30-minute music CD with a strong overview of the series.
Ultimately, I am completely ambivalent about Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I have obtained some enjoyment as flying and diving is downright cool albeit difficult to control. When the controls work, the game flows well and adds an unexpected level of enjoyment. And the best part is the music. On the other hand, the game deviates from the norms that players expect from a series: the lack of a united world, emphasis on linear progression, regression into “old areas” and uncanny character design. Whatever the reason, I have the hardest time getting into this game for any period of time. Every other game off and on the system holds my attention better. I cannot describe it. This is a series that I have devoured growing up, spending hours upon hours prowling the lands of Hyrule in the names of Adventure and Justice. This game doesn’t scratch that itch. And it leaves me feeling bored. Am I really that jaded?
For a game that people are going to spend anywhere from $50 to $90 on (this is including either a new attachment or Wii-mote), I expected a lot more from Skyward Sword. However, when one removes the series’ title it is a strong — perhaps one of the best action games available on the Wii. That is something to raise one’s sword skyward for and nothing to be ashamed of.