2011-12-01

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – A Great Celebration, A Fitting Swan-Song

by Yo Snyder

The Wii is dying. Everyone knows it. There’s a new console on the
horizon, software for the system has all but dried up, and sales have
dipped throughout the past year. However, here at the sunset of the
Wii’s life-cycle, Nintendo has offered up one last glorious game to
remind us all of the amazing potential the system had. Plus, it seems
only fitting that one of the system’s final games should also be one
that celebrates the long history of one of gaming’s premiere franchises.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a great way to say goodbye
to and discover anew Nintendo’s little white box and its motion
controls. Should you buy this game? Absolutely. We’ll spend some time
going into great details as to why as we explore the adventure that
awaits you in future articles, but here’s a brief overview.

First let’s talk about the controls. When the Wii debuted, one of the
first things that popped into everyone’s mind was how cool it would be
to use that controller as a sword. Well, five years later at the end of
the Wii’s existence, we finally get to experience what that would be
like. Does it work as well as we always imagined? Mmmmm, for the most
part. There are a few times where combat devolves into “waggling” once
again, but there are plenty of moments where precise movements are
required. There are battles where the enemies quickly parry my every
attack and it does feel like I’m engaged in an actual sword fight. The
controls are precise and responsive, rarely misinterpret my motions, and
help make the game a much more immersive experience. This is pretty
much what I thought combat with the Wiimote would be like all along, so
better late than never, I guess.

A better use of the motion controls comes outside of combat. You can
toss bombs or roll them like a bowling ball. Kiss her, you fool, kiss her!You can fly through the sky
on the back of a giant bird. You can guide a flying mechanical beetle
to help you get items, discover secrets, and more. You can even interact
with puzzles and use the controller to help unlock doors. The
integration of the Wiimote in intuitive and sensible ways in this game
is done very well. Nothing feels forced but it all just makes sense, the
game is all the more enjoyable because of that. Again, it may have
taken till the end of the Wii’s existence, but here we have the full
realization of how the motion controllers can change and improve the
gaming experience.

The other thing worth noting is the game’s graphics. They fall somewhere in between the cartoon aesthetics of Wind Waker and the grittier, more realistic look of Twilight Princess.
My favorite part is how the game handles draw distance. Things that are
way off look like some sort of painting by Georges Seurat, you know,
that guy that would make paintings with a bunch of dots? (Okay, I didn’t
know that either, I had to look it up.) In any event, that’s what stuff
in the distance looks like, but as you approach the horizon, objects
slowly resolve themselves into more distinct shapes that still retain a
brightly colored, painterly quality to them. It looks kind of like the
art currently being used in The Flash. All that to say, it looks
great and makes the best of the Wii’s hardware power. The graphics may
not be photo-realistic, but they are some of the best visuals around on
any system due in great part because of the unique art design.

Finally, there’s the great story and enjoyable characters. Truth be
told, I felt more of a connecting with Zelda and Link and the other
characters in Skyward Sword than I have in any other Zelda game
I’ve played. That’s due in part to the greatly emotive character design,
and in part to the the solid story telling of Skyward Sword.
There may not be any voice work, but the characters are still very
expressive and have unique personalities. A lot of emotion is conveyed
with nuanced character expressions, a few meaningful sounds, and some
solid writing. All of that adds up to me caring more about finding Zelda
beyond the just “it’s what the quest is all about” motivation. There
are also plenty of intriguing moments for long-time fans as the game
slowly unravels some long-standing mysteries about various origins in
the series. Good stuff.

Zelda isn’t perfect, of course. The realm of Skyloft where you begin
the game and functions as your hub world feels a bit sparse and the
controls are great but at times a little finicky. Still, these minor
quibbles and a few others don’t dampen the experience at all. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
is a great celebration of the rich history of the series, and a fitting
swan song that delivers on so much of the promise the Wii gave us way
back at launch.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 7 – The
visuals in this game are gorgeous. The art design plays a large part in
that, but many scenes look like paintings come to life. Smooth
animations, expressive faces, and unique settings make for a sumptuous
visual feast in this game.

Sound: 6 – No voice acting, and some
of the grunts and other noise makes as Zelda traverses the world sound,
well, a little girly to me. However, a beautiful score, classic Zelda
audio cues, and great sound effects for everything from combat to flying
through sky help enhance the experience.

Controls: 5 – The
Wiimote finally becomes a sword in your hand, and it works pretty well.
Enemies are smart and will routinely block your attacks, making every
victory feel well-earned and satisfying. You really have to think about
your attacks in this game. The integration of motion controls in other
ares is also really well done. Occasional “waggling” and the few times
when things don’t quite do what you want do occur, but not all that
often.

Gameplay: 6 – There are some interesting new elements that
mix up the gameplay this time around, such as sprinting. However some
may feel the world too small, the hub world too sparse, and the fact
that you have to visit areas multiple times boring. I didn’t mind these
things that much as I was constantly discovering something new.

Story:
6 – It’s a well-told tale that can be surprisingly emotional and
provides some great backstory for long-time fans to discover. Wasn’t a
huge fan of the villain, but a solid yarn nonetheless.

Content: 5 –
There are some scary elements, lots of bloodless action, and lots of
spiritualism with talk about a goddess, and some magic as well. But as
the rating says (which is E10+), for kids above ten, with a little
discussion, there’s nothing to worry about here.

Score: 6 – When deciding between the two big adventure games of this season, Skyrim
and Zelda, I had to go with Zelda because although dragons are cool,
I’m a bigger fan of Zelda. I haven’t been disappointed with that
decision. The scope of the adventure in Skyward Sword may not be quite as vast, but it’s been extremely satisfying, and most importantly, a lot of fun.