|Publisher & Designer:||Nintendo|
|Release Date:||November 2011|
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, in addition to being a worthy 25th anniversary tribute to the classic series, might very well represent the swan song for the Nintendo Wii console. Skyward Sword utilizes the Wii Motion Plus controls unlike any other game and is a dream for those of us gamers who always wanted to wield a sword for real...at least in a video game setting. It is the ultimate prequel as well. If you want to learn about the origins of the Hero, Maiden, and Master Sword, you'll just have to play the game yourself!
Overview: Playing through The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was truly a special experience for me. It wasn't just the revolutionary Wii Motion Plus controls or the immersive gameplay that made this game special; Skyward Sword was technically the first Zelda game I had ever played while it was still new and truly state-of-the-art. This might sound like a silly way to begin a Zelda review but you have to realize that I didn't play A Link to the Past until the turn of the millenium or Ocarina of Time until the 3D version was released less than a year ago. Granted, the 3D version was technically new at the time but the core game was released more than 13 years ago...but I digress.
It was actually very enjoyable and kind of cool to play a Legend of Zelda game along with the rest of "Zelda Nation" for once. It was for that reason that I chose to play Skyward Sword before Twilight Princess, The Wind Waker, The Minish Cap, or Link's Awakening (Yes, I have some serious catching up to do!) Maybe it was the gold controller or perhaps the dazzling soundtrack that came with my pre-ordered copy of the game that forced me to fire up Skyward Sword first. Whatever the reason, Skyward Sword certainly didn't let me down.
First of all, simply having an opportunity to play a new Wii game was truly a blessing. 2011 wasn't exactly a banner year for the Wii console with the amount of upcoming releases ominously reminding me of 1993-94 when the NES releases dwindled to next to nothing. Thankfully, Kirby's Return to Dream Land, Rayman Origins (a real under-the-radar gem), and of course Skyward Sword were all released late in '11 and somehow salvaged what was otherwise surely the nadir of Wii-dom.
Back to Skyward Sword though, this game, like the countless Zelda games before it, was surrounded by an aura of extremely high expectations. It was the main topic of discussion for months amongst Nintendo junkies and you felt like, with the Wii in its current funk and all, that Skyward Sword would have to be great to at least prolong the Wii's survival for a spell. Well, after playing through the entire game myself and clocking in 90+ hours of gameplay, I can say that Skyward Sword was an incredibly fun, pleasant journey.
While there are a few new additions/elements in this game such as the sky-based theme and the ability to fly on loftwings through an airy overworld of sorts, Skyward Sword certainly borrows a few key elements from Ocarina of Time such as the precise Z-targeting battle mechanics. The gameplay in general feels a lot like Ocarina of Time at times too. However, this certainly isn't a bad thing. When you have something that works really well, why change it and risk annoying your fanbase? Although there is certainly a learning curve present in Skyward Sword, if you have played any of the post-1997 Zelda games, you shouldn't have too much trouble jumping into the saddle in Skyward Sword.
If there is anything in particular that really makes Skyward Sword stand out from its Zelda brethern, it might very well be the Wii Motion Plus control scheme. You don't simply punch buttons on a controller to move Link around and attack enemies in Skyward Sword; you use real-time motions to either attack valiently or shield yourself wisely. Everything feels very fluid and natural too. Slashing your sword in multiple directions (which correspond to your movements with reasonable precision), lifting your shield to either block projectiles or bash an enemy's head in, and using your special items and adventure pouch goodies feels great in Skyward Sword. It is a very original and rewarding experience to actually stand up and use the controller (with the nunchuck in your non-dominant hand) to move/dodge/fight/fly/swim in this game. Of course, you don't necessarily have to stand up to play this game but I found that standing up actually enhanced the experience at least for me personally.
On another note, many features from previous Zelda games return in Skyward Sword. You still use rupees as currency, you can purchase various weapons, equipment, and valuable potions at the Bazaar located in the heart of Skyloft, and a whole plethora of special items/weapons such as bombs, arrows, and slingshots are back as well! Bug collecting (which was also a feature of Twilight Princess according to my brother) is big in Skyward Sword as well. By obtaining the ultra-valuable bug net from Beedle (look for the flying house with the bell near the Bazaar), you will unlock the ability to catch bugs all over the world! In turn, by collecting bugs, you will then be able to improve your potions at the Bazaar! And some of the improvements are massive too!
In addition to catching bugs, collecting items from all over the world is a very important (and fun!) feature of Skyward Sword as well. By basically snagging everything you can find, you increase your ability to improve your items and equipment at Gondo's Scrap Shop! Not only can you improve shields and bomb/arrow/seed pouches (i.e. make them larger in order to carry more ammo), even special items such as your Beetle can be improved in this manner! This, along with the ability to upgrade potions, really gives you an incentive to scour the world over for valuable bugs...and collectables!
I honestly could discuss so much more about this game. There is so much meat to Skyward Sword just from a gameplay standpoint! You start mentioning mini-games like the Digging game in Eldin Volcano or the mine cart race in Lanayru or the goofy Fun Fun Island cannon game or the ability to use a Skyward Strike on Goddess cubes in order to unlock hidden chests in the sky or the countless side-quests in the sky; let's just say that we'd be here all day! Like pretty much any other Zelda game, Skyward Sword contains a huge world to explore with pretty much limitless possibilities! If you enjoy the adventure genre at all, you will truly eat this game up!
Graphics: One thing you can always count on with each new Zelda release is vibrant, breathtaking graphics that always seem to create just the right mood and atmosphere for the game player. And Skyward Sword is certainly no exception. Although this game does seem to have a much different feel at times than previous games in the series like Ocarina of Time 3D and A Link to the Past, it is still a magical experience through and through.
From what I have heard, the graphics in Skyward Sword are sort of a mixture of the realistic visuals found in Twilight Princess with the more whimsical, cartoonish setting of The Wind Waker (I have not played either game yet but I do hope to change that soon!). I imagine that Nintendo probably wanted to play it safe and please fans of both games so what you get in the end is a sort of Dragon Quest VIII-like setting with more emphasis on realism for sure.
The character graphics are very nice and probably lean slightly more towards the Twilight Princess side of things. Zelda in particular looks absolutely adorable in this game! And like always, there are plenty of funny, eccentric personalities to go around. While Link, Zelda, and most of the Skyloft cast are perfectly friendly and "normal" if such a thing still exists, the Bazaar reminded me a lot of Ocarina of Time with some of the silliest, goofiest characters you will find in a video game. The guy who enhances potions (eh...eh...eh...) along with the guy who sells you equipment (hee hee hee hee!!) made me laugh more than once for sure! And then you have Gondo ("Oh yeah!"), the silly-looking (yet surprisingly helpful) fortune teller, and the gal at the item check to consider. Thankfully, Nintendo has not forgotten that the personalities and charm of the NPC's is a big part of what makes the Zelda series so special. The solid, detailed character graphics certainly reflect this.
As a whole, I thought that Nintendo did a very nice job with the visuals in Skyward Sword. I probably prefer the overall style of the Super Mario Galaxy games over Skyward Sword's to be honest, but Skyward Sword still features some of the best graphics to grace a Nintendo Wii game. Like in previous Zelda games, the diversity and attention to detail is top-notch! Although the game begins in Skyloft and the surrounding islands in the sky, the vast majority of the game takes place in three distinct areas: Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert. And all three locales definitely leave a lasting impression with their impressive diversity and equally immense scale. Like I said a few moments ago, this game is huge and might very well be the largest Zelda game in existence! And I can say that the visuals throughout the game never grow old or stale. The word "grandeur" certainly comes to mind when discussing Skyward Sword's visuals.
Music: Has there ever been a Zelda game that didn't wow you with its music? The venerable Koji Kondo along with four other composers put together yet another wonderful soundtrack with the Skyward Sword production...or should I say symphony? If you enjoy symphonic video game music on a grand scale, you will certainly appreciate what Skyward Sword has to offer in this regard. The closest comparison I can think of is, once again, Dragon Quest VIII (which also utilized a symphony in its production).
Like in Zelda games past, Skyward Sword derives much of its atmosphere from the game's epic score. I can't help but mention the word "grandeur" once more because the music in this game encapsulates the term. It feels so majestic soaring through the sky on Link's fiery red loftwing with the glorious music playing and simply walking/running through Skyloft feels heavenly with the pleasant tune in the background. I love the little irish ditty that plays right before you undergo the Wing Ceremony as well. It gives that special moment a real lively/festive feel. And when you succeed in the Wing Ceremony, that beautiful melody that plays while you and Zelda fly to the top of the Goddess Status; well, let's just say that it enhances an already magical event. The gentle piece that plays whenever you land on a random island in the sky is very nice as well. It reminds me a little bit of Chrono Cross with its pleasant melody.
While there are plenty of happy, cheerful tunes in Skyward Sword, there is plenty of diversity in the game's score as well. I just love the chilling, haunting melody that plays when you first encounter Fi at night (the atmosphere at night is pretty awesome in this game) and the various songs/dances that you learn (probably composed to match the Ocarina tunes you learn in Ocarina of Time) are quite catchy as well! The forest, volcano, and desert areas all have multiple, distinct tunes too. Lanayru Desert in particular has a beautiful, soft melody that enhances the mystique of an already intriguing locale. Something about that area almost reminds me of Illusion of Gaia for the Super NES. The Forest Temple track is a real beauty as well with its thick emphasis on mystery and serenity. And although the Faron Woods and Eldin Volcano areas probably contain some of the weaker, more forgettable music in the game, nothing really strikes me as being bad or annoying.
Lastly, some of the boss music, particularly near the end of the game, is pretty epic and powerful which is what we have all come to expect from the Zelda series. And like usual, they saved the best for last as the ending themes for Skyward Sword are powerful, touching, and majestic! This game, like pretty much all the others before it, leaves a wonderful taste in your mouth by journey's end. It will leave you itching for more Zelda action! That was the case with me anyway.
Play Control: Although the general consensus seems to be that the new Wii Motion Plus controls are a huge success, this area seems to be somewhat polarizing. There are more than a fair share of gamers who feel that the new controls are somewhat off and that maybe they aren't as precise as advertised. Speaking from personal experience alone, I honestly feel that, while the new controls aren't perfect, they are still about as responsive and polished as you can expect for a wireless game. Sure, I had to re-sync my controller from time to time but for the most part, I really have nothing bad to say. I honestly loved the newfound ability to use the Wiimote as a sword and the nunchuk as a shield. After playing the game for maybe 5-10 hours, it felt completely natural. Of course, like with any game that tries something new, there is a learning curve but it shouldn't take the average gamer too long to get comfortable with the control scheme in Skyward Sword. The game does start out fairly slow and eases you into combat which should give most gamers time to learn the basics of running/slashing/defending.
Although the basics are a lot of fun to execute, the new items and abilities that become available as you progress through the game keep Skyward Sword fresh and original. The gameplay never really gets old or stale because you are constantly learning new abilities and, like any other Zelda game, figuring out how to maximize the potential of every item in your repertoire is one of the game's main drawing points. For example, and I am sure that many of you will agree with me on this, I absolutely loved using the new Beetle item in Skyward Sword. The Beetle is essentially an ancient remote-controlled robot resembling a beetle (my Dad immediately thought of the snitch from Harry Potter when he saw Skyward Sword's Beetle) that can snatch up special items such as rupees or, more importantly, cut ropes and activate switches that might be out of Link's reach. As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless! The ability to power up the Beetle's speed and stamina at Gondo's Scrap Shop is huge too...especially late in the game when the puzzles become very tricky!
The Beetle isn't the only enjoyable special item to use either. The slingshot and bow & arrow are just as fun to use now as they were 25 years ago and the intuitive whip and clawshot items are fun to play with too! The whip might seem somewhat useless at times but it can be used to literally snatch items like monster horns away from the humanoid enemies in the game. And the clawshots are just plain fun when you are in impossible terrain that requires its usage. Although I could discuss so much more in regards to the controls in Skyward Sword such as the Z-targeting system, the ability to throw or roll bombs, shield bash enemies, or simply have epic sword duels against some of the main bosses in the game, I will conclude this section but simply stating that the controls in this game are both intuitive and incredibly fun to learn and use!
Challenge: One of the reasons why the Zelda series has thrived for the past 25 years is that the games really don't seem to have any glaring flaws. Not only are the games incredibly balanced but the sheer diversity of any given Zelda game seems to have something for everyone. While there are many above-average video games out there with impressive graphics and music, they might fall flat in the challenge/replay value department. Or perhaps the controls just aren't original or intuitive enough to help a game stand out.
Whatever the case, the point I am trying to make is that every single Zelda game I have played is both challenging and contains plenty of replay value thanks to incredible variety in regards to the game's tricky puzzles and somewhat non-linear gameplay. Sure, the high challenge level of any given Zelda game might cause some unnecessary frustration at times (especially if you don't believe in cheating with strategy guides or gamefaqs.com like yours truly) and trust me; Zelda games can be very cheap at times. But still, there is something just alluring and tantalizing about this series and anyone who enjoys a true challenge will fall in love with The Legend of Zelda...even if you might toss your controller aside from time to time.
Needless to say, Skyward Sword fits neatly into this mold. Granted, I only lost five lives during my initial playthrough (all of them thanks to those cheap fights with The Imprisoned) but simply losing and seeing the "Game Over" screen isn't why Skyward Sword is tough. It is that wonderful diversity in terms of gameplay that makes this game a real challenge. You can't simply use the same techniques or strategy over and over like in most games. Hacking and slashing isn't going to save your hide in Skyward Sword. Resourcefulness, the ability to adapt quickly to an given situation, and simply being wicked clever at times is the key to succeeding and eventually beating this game. If you can learn how to use your special weapons to the max; if you can look carefully at your surroundings for even the smallest hints; if you are patient and meticulous enough to backtrack to areas you have been before and search thoroughly for secret passageways you might not have been able to access before, you have a great chance of not only successfully beating this game, but of having a pleasant experience along the way.
In addition to yet another taxing challenge, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword offers plenty in the way of replay value. For one thing, the sheer size of this game means that you are going to have to explore every nook and cranny in order to find everything. There are plenty of secret mini-games littered throughout Skyloft (and beyond!) as well that offer a nice and welcome break from the action. And in order to synthesize the best items in the game, you need to collect a multitude of every item (e.g. Ancient Flowers which can only be found in the Lanayru region) and bug (e.g. Sand Cicadas which also inhabit the desert) in the game. Trust me; this game has it all! The good thing is that it is a lot of fun searching for everything in Skyward Sword. It doesn't necessarily feel like a chore...it is part of the overall experience.
Storyline: One of the main draws that Skyward Sword had going for it, especially for longtime fans of the series, was the fact that this particular Zelda game actually takes place first chronologically in the series. It was the ultimate prequel in a series that already had its fair share of prequels. It was easy to find this simple element of Skyward Sword's story intriguing especially since the Zelda series has always had a certain mystique about its story and culture in general. Heck, as a kid, I loved simply reading through the manuals to games like the first Zelda game and particularly A Link to the Past with several pages literally dedicated to telling a rich, detailed, background story. Obviously, Skyward Sword had a lot to live up to in this regard.
Although the main story kind of drags at times and doesn't really go full throttle until near the end of the game, I thought that it was executed pretty well. I love the sky setting at the beginning of the game and the concept of your sword actually being a spirit (Fi) was a nice touch. You didn't feel as alone as normal since your sword was essentially your companion throughout the journey. Granted, sometimes Fi could be an annoyance as she would tell you things that were painfully obvious at the time but still; I enjoyed her presence in this game.
As promised at the time of the game's release, Skyward Sword specifically deals with the origins of the Master Sword as well as how the spirit of Ganon came to be. Without spoiling anything (I always wish I could say more in this section but I never want to spoil a great game for anyone.), I can say that Skyward Sword begins peacefully as most Zelda games do. Link and Zelda live happily amongst the people in Skyloft but before too long, certain events threaten the peace as they usually do. A mysterious and strange character called Ghirahim appears and seems to need Zelda's power for something sinister. There is the Forest Temple, the mysterious woman who protects it, and the menacing and hideous creature called The Imprisoned to consider as well.
Like with all great epics, so many things come together near the end of Skyward Sword. You figure out so much and learn just how epic and how amazing the story was all along. Granted, it does have dry spells where you really don't know why you are doing something or what the big picture is but still, the last few hours as well as the incredible ending should leave most Zelda fanatics satisfied.
Funfactor: Although my seemingly countless encounters with The Imprisoned were particularly dreadful (thanks to the fact that you could lose simply as a result of him reaching the temple) and made me re-think things at times, in the end and as a whole, I had a great time playing Skyward Sword. It is yet another enthralling addition to the already full Zelda library with its perfect blend of action and adventure elements along with its epic story.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will probably be remembered most for its unique Wii Motion Plus controls along with it being first chronologically in the series. It will be interesting to see how it stands the test of time as well. It is probably too early to tell how Skyward Sword will stack up against other Zelda greats such as Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. Personally, I feel that you almost have to play a game of this depth and scope at least twice if not additional times to make an accurate assessment. And since I have only played Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword once as of this review, you can see why I hesitate a little bit.
Initially, and I'm not sure this will make total sense, but I feel that, while Skyward Sword features a better control scheme and more fluid gameplay, that Ocarina of Time feels like the more epic game with perhaps the better story. Does this make sense? Obviously, I need to eventually play both games again (which could take some time since The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are next on my Zelda docket) but as of this review, I feel that OoT and SS are likely the two best Zelda games I have played. A Link to the Past is a great game without a doubt but I just don't feel like it is the best Zelda game. Of course, playing Zelda games is at times similar to reading one of Frank Peretti's amazing novels. Whichever book/game you are reading/playing at the time might very well be the best one at that particular time! That is one way you could describe the greatness and mystique of the Zelda series. Skyward Sword certainly soars to new heights...just like any game celebrating the 25th anniversary of a legendary game series should!
Negatives: Although I do love this game as a Zelda game and feel that it has a special atmosphere like previous games in the series, for some odd reason, there were times when Skyward Sword didn't really feel like a Zelda game at least to me. Perhaps it is partially due to the unique sky setting or something else. It is still immensely fun and enjoyable but something seemed to be missing...and I can't quite put my finger on what it was!
I also feel that, despite my praises throughout the review regarding the game's diversity, that it would have been nice to have a little more variety in terms of the game's enemy pool. Skyward Sword re-used a lot of enemies throughout the game and didn't seem to feature as much variety as, say, Ocarina of Time or even The Legend of Zelda for the NES! Did anyone else feel this way? Perhaps I am just being nit-picky.
While the game's soundtrack does exude feelings of grandeur and majesty for the most part, it does contain more than a few average tracks as well. I thought that the music that plays in the Faron Woods and Eldin Volcano regions was just okay to be honest and, aside from the amazing Forest Temple theme, I was actually somewhat disappointed with how forgettable most of the temple/dungeon music was in this game. Meh...perhaps I just need to play the game again in Hero Mode! ;)
Lastly, while most of the game's boss battles were challenging in a good way, The Imprisoned absolutely drove me crazy with his cheap tactics! I'm sorry if I sound whiny about this but I hate losing out on a perfect game because of a cheap boss battle where you don't even die. I literally ran out of life zero times during my initial playthrough but technically got five "Game Over" screens thanks to The Imprisoned reaching the temple. Granted, I know how to defeat him now but it just felt like a really cheap way to lose in an otherwise fair video game.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.6 Music: 4.5 Play Control: 4.7 Challenge: 4.7 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.7 Overall Score: 27.7 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!
Back to Wii WondersLast Updated: May 18, 2012