Genre: Role Playing Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Classification: M Release Date: 24th Nov 2011 Platforms:
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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the latest title in the enormously popular Nintendo franchise, which began life on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1986. The Legend of Zelda games have always had several elements tying them together - you always play Link, you always rescue Zelda and you do so by questing through dungeons using equipment you get along the way.
While all of the games have things in common, itís what they do differently which sets them apart - and sets legions of fans defending or abusing one game in favour of another. Unfortunately, the series has stagnated of late - with recent titles like Spirit Tracks for the Nintendo DS and Twilight Princess for the Nintendo Wii and Gamecube suffering from strange design choices and a lack of substance.
So itís good news then, that no matter what you say about Skyward Sword, no one could call it a carbon copy of any previous Zelda game. Set before Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword has two different areas - Linkís homeland of Skyloft above the clouds and Hyrule - infested by monsters beneath the clouds. The airborne setting isnít the most apparent difference in Skyward Sword amazingly - that difference is without a doubt the control scheme.
You very quickly learn not to waggle while playing Skyward Sword - it is by far the best implementation of the MotionPlus to date. Just as waggling your sword in an enemyís face would be pointless in real life, it is a waste of time in a game with 1:1 motion control. Combat begins fairly simply - your enemies having clearly defined weak spots - but ramps up significantly as the game progresses when enemies become more crafty and their weaknesses become harder to spot.
And so the baffling paradox of the Wii MotionPlus appears. When the controls work, they really work, but when they donít the really, really donít. One enemy can only be defeated if you feint from the right and then slice from the left. If your batteries are not 100% full however, or you havenít recently calibrated the controller, or sometimes when the planets simply havenít aligned, you might as well waggle your sword in their face for all the good it will do.
One of the biggest impediments to your sword wielding ability however is you - and it highlights a fundamental flaw in a game with a 50 hour lifespan and a motion sensitive controller. With the standard wiimote, playing a game for any long period of time was no problem, but with the MotionPlus attachment, every move you make affects the game. You canít relax on the couch, you have to remain alert. Depending on your physical ability, you are going to reach a point where your swings become too feeble to be worthwhile.
Linkís steed in Skyward Sword is a Loftwing - a giant bird. Flying about on your Loftwing is intuitive - hold your Wiimote flat and tilt it side to side to turn, forward to dive and back to pull up - the biggest problem is the Skyloft area itself. It somehow manages to be much smaller than Wind Waker and at the same time it has much much less to do.
The Wiimote+Nunchuk setup poses more problems, since Nintendo has once again decided against allowing you to control your jumping or your camera. You can indirectly control your camera by tapping Z to centre it behind Link, but thatís it. Twenty five years of advancements in third person action games and you can't control the camera or jumping.
While both seem egregious on their own - especially the camera - coupled together they make for a cavalcade of comedy as you slightly misjudge your angle and Link jumps into oblivion. You then tap Z several times as Link refuses to face the correct way, until you finally get it. Nintendo does attempt to prepare you for the frustration youíll inevitably feel if you arenít extremely cautious with every jump however, with a set of stones found in Linkís home town of Skyloft. Here if you make an error in your rapid succession of jumps you will be picked up and dropped back in place by a friendly knight, who tells you to be careful.
The friendly knight doesnít sound so bad, until you find out that you canít speed up text, you canít click through dialogue and you canít just walk away from someone. And because Nintendo apparently believe toddlers are going to use Skyward Sword to learn how to read, the dialogue speed is so slow. And everybody has something to say.
The friendly shop keeper wants to tell you the specifics of that wooden shield you want to purchase every time, and the idiot potion maker will tell you his hilarious secret any time you happen to visit him. Itís probably supposed to give a sense of life to the world and add character to the population - instead it makes any trip back to Skyloft a terrible trip of boredom induced trauma.
Unfortunately there are some people you canít not talk to - the robot girl living inside your sword being one of them. If youíve played Ocarina of Time, youíll remember how incredibly annoying Navi was - constantly butting in with Hey listen! or Hey! or just stopping you every thirty seconds to tell you about a twig you found or an animal you spotted.
Nintendo apparently believe people enjoyed that, because Fi - the aforementioned robot girl - does the exact same thing. Someone tells you you canít proceed unless you collect specific items - and before you have a chance to move, Fi pops out of your sword to tell you exactly the same thing. Fi is apparently under the impression that Link is kind of slow-witted - and his being a mute must support her theory - and stop him from interrupting her
Time travel mechanics have become a staple of the Zelda series and the use of time travel in Skyward Sword is by far the best yet. While you wonít start to see it until you are a fair way into the game, the dungeons which utilise it are by far some of the best dungeons in any Legend of Zelda game. Travelling forward and backward in real time, enemies disappear before your eyes as you attempt to solve each dungeonsí puzzles.
The other dungeons are some of the best available in any Legend of Zelda game, which makes the various filler style nonsense you have to go through between each dungeon a chore at best. While you will occasionally see something unique, most of the time youíll roam around Hyrule doing fetch quests to progress.
Collecting quest items is a minor inconvenience compared to the actual collectibles scattered throughout the land - used to brew your own potions and upgrade your items. While the implementation of a crafting element into Skyward Sword seems neat on the surface, itís simply too much of a hassle to actually bother with - unless you happen to have the required ingredients when you go back to town. With the exception of the shield, the upgrades are just too insignificant.
Though Link and Zelda have never been exactly the same from each game to the next, the changes in Skyward Sword are much more dramatic than ever. In Skyward Sword, Link is training to become a knight in his hometown - the island of Skyloft. Zelda is his childhood friend and they both obviously have feelings for each other. Skyloft is suspended in the air above an impenetrable bed of clouds and when Zelda is dragged into a tornado and thrown to the land below the clouds, Link discovers the Master Sword and goes off to save her.
Yeah, it sounds improbably generic - and not just compared with previous games in the Zelda series. In fact, when the game first began it seemed like a joke - you have to rescue your Loftwing from your childhood rival - a bully named Groose and his sycophant friends. Groose is a big tough guy - except around Zelda, who both scares him and makes him swoon. This is hardly the place for tired JRPG cliches.
The thing is though, the entire starting sequence - rescuing your Loftwing, winning a race against Groose and his pals while they cheat, Zelda switching back and forth between decisive and demure and gaining the Master Sword as you travel into the unknown to save her - all of it is like a big psych, like Nintendo is daring you to keep playing. ďWhatís that?Ē You can hear Miyamoto asking, ďYou want to play this game? Well how about a long winded cutscene featuring the most cliched characters in JRPG history?Ē
Once you make it through the first dungeon however, the game begins to change for the better - and the more you play, the better it gets. While anyone who has played the first hour of Skyward Sword would look at me in disbelief, it actually has the best story to ever feature in a Zelda game.
Seriously. The introduction of the antagonist Ghirahim and the relationship between Link and Zelda are excellently laid out and the story contains a few twists and turns you will never see coming. It makes the entire experience feel more worthwhile - especially after the bafflingly cliched beginning.
Fans of the Zelda games will definitely consider The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword to be the game of 2011 - but even people not familiar with the series will find something to like - even if itís just finally realising what itís like to have an actual sword fight in a game. Skyward Sword does a lot of things right, but it does a lot of things wrong too, so it would be hard to suggest it as a must buy. If you arenít a fan of The Legend of Zelda series, Skyward Sword wonít change your mind - but for everyone else itís well worth a look.