There is no other series in gaming that receives consistent praise from critics and fans alike with each and every entry. Overall, Zelda is one of the most influential, revolutionary and excellent series in gaming. With the highest rated game of all time, Ocarina of Time, in the midst, some may think it is tough to live up to that legacy. Instead, each new game improves and sharpens the Zelda formula, but still never captures that original magic of the first 3D outing for the series. This entry is no different in that regard: it is not perfect, it is probably not the best Zelda ever made, but it is still amazing. If you consider yourself a Zelda fan, you are either playing this now or have already played it. If you are a fan of gaming in general, then you should play this game as soon as possible. It is a magnificent journey.
The story from this game is one of the most involved and revealing in the history of the franchise, and answers just as many questions as it raises by the end. Want to see some more insight into the relationship Zelda and Link share? Check. Want to see a bit more background for his famous green tunic? Check. Want to see the history of the Master Sword itself fleshed out more? Check as well. By the end of the game, you will have plenty of other questions you might not have even considered before playing, but such is the charm of a series as long and involved as this.
The game starts out with Link enrolled in Skyloft’s Knight Academy. The day of the ceremony is rapidly approaching, and Link needs to get ready. Without revealing too much, Zelda ends up in distress and needs our hero clad in green to rescue her. This in and of itself, is the same basic template we have seen time and again, but things quickly change and become a lot more interesting. This may very well be the best video game story Nintendo has ever created, and even without voice acting, the characters are more emotional than you could have ever imagined.
By the end of the game, emotions will be running high. There were multiple cutscenes that pulled at my heart strings, and I honestly felt a real connection to the characters, Link included. Facial expressions convey their emotions without being too cartoony, the dialogue is written extremely well, and all of the characters have memorable personalities. This was the first time that I found myself playing a Zelda game, and actually feeling invested in what was going on. Usually the story in a Zelda game can lean toward the predictable, but this time there are plenty of twists to keep you coming back for more. Not only will you want to keep playing to see what the next genius puzzle or enemy you face might be, but you will keep playing to see what happens next.
The innovation doesn’t stop there though, because the graphical presentation is beautiful. It is a great blend between the simpler visuals seen in Wind Waker, and the more mature visuals of Twilight Princess. This style fits the tone and theme of the game perfectly, and really is fantastic. At first glance, it seems a bit dated, and it is in a lot of ways, but the more you play the more you love it. By the end of the game, there will be plenty of moments you can look back and really be impressed. Since the cutscenes are done with written dialogue, you can choose to not advance a conservation and literally sit there and take in the sights. This is obviously not an intended mechanic…but I highly recommend it, especially during some of the final moments. One of the other great things about this new art style, is that when certain portions of the environment and the game get far away in the background, they look like an impressionistic painting. This effect works great, and adds a lot to the game.
All is not perfect however, especially with the graphics. The bottom line is that it is time for us to see an HD Zelda. The majority of the visuals have plenty of jagged lines when looked at closely, the textures are a little muddled when compared to other games with a similar style on other platforms, and there will be plenty of moments that you will be left wishing this game was in HD. All of the environments and characters would be so much more detailed if that were the case…but they are not. Since that isn’t the case, what we have to work with on the Wii in Standard definition is great, but not perfect. There is plenty left to be desired, unfortunately.
Now, getting back to the almost flawless: the gameplay. This title marks a revolution for the series specifically, but also for video games in general. Twilight Princess was a comparably fantastic game, but it was not developed from the ground up as a Wii title. This time we have a Zelda game in our midst that has been in development for half a decade as a Wii game. Nintendo has done an amazing job of making it feel like a truly interactive experience that integrates Wii Motion Plus controls perfectly, without feeling gimmicky or forced.
Nintendo has utilized the Wii Motion Plus in such a way, that we finally have a Zelda game with accurate 1:1 sword controls. In plain English: Link moves his arm and sword to mirror how you move your arm and Wiimote. Want to give a nice thrust to stab an enemy in a tiny spot? Thrust your Wiimote forward like your fencing. Need a good horizontal swipe to chop a Deku Baba mouth in half? Give your Wiimote a nice sideways swipe! Combat is filled to the brim with these split second decisions, and it never gets stale. You will have to maneuver your way around the armor, shields and blocking of almost all of the enemies in the game, and it is that much more engaging and challenging because of it.
These excellent controls don’t stop with just the sword, (although they are by far at their best there) as they carry over into every item in the game. Hold your Wiimote carefully as you stalk insects with the bug catching net, masterfully aim your bow and line up the perfect shot, crack your wrist to crack your whip, the list goes on and on. All of this means that instead of button mashing, or swatting loads of enemies all over the place, each and every situation and encounter is much more intimate and exact. The improved controls allow for a much more engaging experience than any other game in the series.
Among these changes to the fundamental way you play the game, there are a slew of other additions as well. Link now has the ability to engage in a complete upgrade system using collected treasures, and these upgrades encompasses virtually every item in the game. This is especially important for shields as different elements affect different types in different ways, and every shield has it’s own durability meter. A similar system with insects and potions is in place as well, in addition to a whole litany of new potions. Also, as has been shown since the very beginning, Link now has a stamina meter that governs most every action in the game. Going hand-in-hand with that meter, Link has also gained the ability to sprint for short durations. Now adventuring includes the improved and more specific controls of each item, but also the management of a resource other than just your hearts.
The Wii Motion Plus, as a technology, does have it’s limitations however. The gyroscopes and accelerometers are not perfect, and this is apparent throughout the entire game. Thankfully you can easily center the cursor at any time while playing, which does solve a lot of the problems, although with an added annoyance. Additionally: the motion sensor itself tends to be a bit too sensitive at times. For example: if you want to thrust quickly, and you move your arm back in preparation for the thrust, if you did it at a slight angle instead of rearing straight back, you might trigger a horizontal slash. Furthermore, given our innate tendency to rev up any slash before we do it, when sliding your arm to the left in order to prepare to slash over to the right, you might trigger a left slash by accident. Ultimately, this boils down to me giving you this one tip: take your time when attacking, and be as deliberate and involved as possible. Wrist waggling will usually not get the job done here, so get your entire arm behind each attack in order to increase Wiimote accuracy.
One of the main things that really sticks out for this game as opposed to other entries (without ruining too much) is the structure of the game itself. All other Zelda games (for the most part) are characterized by the characters, dungeons, weapons, etc. but also by whatever overworld there is in the game. Whether it be the various incarnations of Hyrule Field, Termina Field, the vast oceans of Wind Waker, or what have you: players love to explore the world. Skyward Sword takes a wholly different approach, and offers a unique take on the Zelda formula.
Rather than have a large overworld connecting multiple different areas of the game, Nintendo instead has a quasi overworld that is sort of explorable, where the main hub city of Skyloft is located. Then there are the different areas you can reach from here, and each of those areas in and of themselves are very detailed and explorable. What this means for the format of the game, is that you are constantly going deeper into environment. Each environment is just as lengthy and full of puzzles (sometimes even more so) than the dungeon you are trying to get to. This has two effects for me. First, it makes the dungeons themselves more memorable since the experiences tend to be more focused and intriguing, while still remaining as brilliant as ever.
Real talk: this might be the best compilation of dungeons in a single game, ever. Many of the boss fights rank among the very best as well. The second thing this does for me, however, is make me miss having a single unified overworld. I would have rather explored various different connected areas, rather than exploring the same few areas more deeply each time. This is not a bad thing per se, just an evolution that still needs a little bit of fine tuning.
Moving on to the sounds of Skyward Sword, all I can say is: “Wow.” The soundtrack ranks among the best in the history of the franchise. The music for each area is distinctive and beautiful, but not overly repetitive or annoying. Every area of the game is just as easily identified by its music, as it is by the actual environment. Link has a musical instrument in this game as well, and each song you play becomes a cutscene-worthy event in and of itself. As you play, you will hear familiar tunes in a new light as this is the first orchestrated game in the series’ history, and it shows. They could not have done a much better job with the musical score of the game, which is impressive given the high bar for the franchise that has been set by it’s predecessors.
Overall, you would be doing yourself harm as a gamer if you did not play this game as soon as possible. It easily ranks among the very best this generation has seen, among the very best of the storied franchise, and at the very top of my list of Wii games. Skyward Sword finally brings fully implemented motion controls to a massively grand adventure, and is so much better because of it. This game was built from the ground up with the Wii in mind, and it shows. Skyward Sword alone has some of the best moments in the history of the Zelda franchise (an amazing engrossing story and cutscenes) along with the very worst (extremely annoying fetch quests that seem to unnecessarily pad the game’s length.)
The bottom line is this: if you like games, you should play this. The sum of its parts, and all things considered as a whole, make this a beautiful masterpiece. True Zelda fans will notice a huge amount of fan service with explanations for things you did not realize were mysteries, and nods toward past games in the franchise. This is the defining game for the Wii, and is the ultimate culmination of Nintendo’s original vision for the console: a revolution.
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game purchased for the Nintendo Wii.