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Score: 9 / 10
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Release Date: November 20th, 2011
The Legend of Zelda has been going strong for over 25 years now. The classic tale of an adventurer rising up to save Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganon never disappoints. Such a long run also puts the franchise at risk of becoming stale, though as of yet that has been avoided with top notch presentation and variation to gameplay. Acting as a swan song for the Wii, Skyward Sword attempts to prove the franchise still has something going for it.
One Triangle to Rule Them All
Each new Zelda game likes to put its own spin on the tale, and for this game it involves taking to the open skies. You once again assume the role of Link, whose relationship with Zelda unfolds at the game's beginning through investigation into Link's missing bird. Things go well after they rescue it, until a mysterious force kidnaps Zelda. Link gives chase with the help of Fi, an entity claiming it is his destiny to set out as the hero from the skies. It evolves into the typical narrative; Link is the destined hero, Zelda is in trouble, and Girahim is looking to use Zelda to awaken an ancient evil. Acting a prequel to Ocarina of Time, the game has some typical elements that fans of the series are accustomed to at this point, but real emotional investment stems from growing up with the series and not stellar writing or dialogue. Though it is a treat to see the origins of many elements from OoT.
Ditching the land and seas of previous games, Skyward Sword is centered around the skies. Skyloft acts as the central city with the overworld below. Taking a page from Wind Waker, you can fly to several small islands and dive down to the world below the clouds for bigger areas of exploration; ranging from deserts to forests to volcanic lands. Much like previous Zelda games, you will revisit these areas as you progress, unlocking them further with each new item. The feeling of flying through the clouds to new destinations proves enjoyable at first, but tiresome as the game wears on and forces you to travel back and forth between destinations.
Visually, the game is what you make of it. The game uses an artistic style similar to impressionism. The blotchy overtones and shading can look impressive for the Wii one minute, and horribly textured the next. Though the animations during the game's cutscenes are spot on, you can't help but feel as if this is a game being held back by the hardware. Areas are revisited time and time again, enemies are recycled with new colors, and you even fight a couple of bosses a few too many times. Despite the dated look, the visuals have little impact on the overall experience.
Each Zelda game of late has featured a companion, and Fi ranks among the most annoying. She will constantly talk to you, reiterating what a person just said or stating the obvious like, "I am 90% sure we are in a volcano", while I am running around lava. The constant reminders from her couple with the fact that if you turn your console back on to continue your game it assumes you forgot what every component does and feels the need to halt the combat and show its placement in your inventory. Without these reminders and pop ups, the game would have been at least 5 hours shorter.
The biggest change in gameplay lies with the Motion Plus. Swinging the Wiimote vertically or diagonally registers as such on the screen, and are used in a number of situations. This makes combat akin to a puzzle game, in striking a direction your enemy is not currently blocking. This is used not only in combat, but to unlock various doors, rotate and solve puzzle keys, and aim from a first person perspective to use the bow and other items.
The heavy reliance on Wii Motion Plus is a double edged sword. On the one hand, when the sensor reads you correctly it works great. First person aiming is simple and responsive and every swipe is accounted for without a hitch. Then you have the situations where the game does not cooperate. There was an instance where a boss required a certain diagonal slice to register a hit, but my flails and feeble attempts would perform a horizontal slice instead. This happened more than once, and became so much of an annoyance, that much of my combat evolved into deflecting attacks with a shield to gain an opening in lieu of slicing correctly.
With every item in your disposal making use of the Wii motion controls, there were times that I yearned for a classic controller. Direction and position are everything, and the occasional misread occurs a bit more than I would care for. To be fair my horizontal slices would read horizontal, but took effort to read which direction the slice originated. You become accustomed to the control scheme after a time and are able to compensate for any issues. The same cannot be said for its use in swimming and flying, as the motion control just can't beat the feel of analog stick in platforming.
That being said, the combat in the game is more challenging than previous titles, and it's a welcome change. Baddies will block and wait for your mistakes to seize an opening, or strike quickly. Simply waving the Wiimote like a madman will get results eventually, but is not the most efficient method to dispatching enemies this time around.
It was hard to keep track of how many official dungeons were in this game, as much of the world below the clouds acts as one giant dungeon. You will constantly be tasked with solving various situations for each area to progress. It is as if getting to an actual dungeon in this game requires you to solve a dungeon.
The Legend of Zelda is infamous for dungeons that stick with you after completion. Though the initial batch are a bit lacking, some of the later dungeons are very well designed. There is a healthy mix of simple solutions and complex head scratchers. The satisfaction of solving a room and obtaining a needed item motivates you to press forward. You have the standard water, fire, sand temples but much have that needed twist to keep them unique. In the Lanayru Mining Facility you have crystals that open up bubbles in which time is altered to the past, and their use in puzzles and platforming is very intriguing.
As mentioned above, the enemies are much more challenging, but the bosses are much less so. Despite the enjoyable first boss, the rest ended up being quite simple. Many evolved into using complete pushovers, with a simple "stun them with the item you got" and "slash their face off while they are down" approach. To go from the superb boss battles of Twilight Princess to this feels like a bit of a downgrade. There are still some exceptions to this like Koloktos, in which you literally take off his arm and beat him to death with it. But of course, the final boss of the game proves a hefty challenge and was another big highlight of the combat.
Sky Hero Swag
Items in Zelda are always a treat, as each game in the franchise provide a unique arsenal to assist in combat and platforming. The most used in the early half of the game was the Beetle, a small projectile that you could fire and then steer around to cut down enemies or scout an area. With a few upgrades it became an efficient item for not only seeing what was ahead but assisting in solving puzzles as well. The Whip is another new addition, capable of producing a vine to swing on, pulling a far off switch, and even snagging an item from a guard. There are a few other interesting additions, with the return of the classic bombs, bows, and slingshot.
Zelda has always been much more action platformer than RPG, but a new upgrade system shifts the spectrum. Link can now upgrade his equipment using components that are found throughout the game. This became an addicting element, as components are plentiful in their discovery, whether found in a chest or dropped from an enemy. The lingering feeling of just needed a few more components to make your bow stronger is ever present, and you will find yourself going out of your way to gather what is needed.
If the main quest is getting you down, there is plenty of side content to pursue. The local townsfolk (all 12 of them?) have mishaps and troubles they could use assistance with and at varying times will signal for aid with a thought bubble above their heads. Most of it evolves into fetch quests, but the rewards are worth the effort. Aside from simple tasks are plenty of min-games, pieces of heart to track down, and Goddess Cubes in the world beneath the clouds that open up locked treasures above. It's a healthy mix of activities, and can be a welcome distraction from the main quest line. Just be prepared to do some traveling, as a warp system in this game is absent.
Skyward Sword was not the incredible thrill ride I expected, but one that keeps the formula interesting. Fetch quests and repeated visits to the same place over and over again will wear you down, but the intricate dungeon design and fresh take on combat will more than make up for it. It's not the holy grail of the franchise, but clocking in at around 40+ hours with a Master Quest replay, it is more than enough to hold you over until the next title. If you own the Wii, this is a no-brainer purchase to dust off the console again.
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