The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hands-on preview – exploring Skyloft

Hyrule has almost always been Link’s home traditionally, but no longer – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword takes to the clouds and begins our hero’s tale in Skyloft, a floating utopia cut off from the world below. We recently had a chance to explore this new world for ourselves, and we’re happy to report that it still very much feels like a Zelda game despite some very major changes to the formula.

Above: A glimpse at Zelda and Link's relationship before she's kidnapped by a tornado monster

Besides Skyloft, Skyward Sword differs most dramatically from the Zelda norm by giving Zelda a much larger role in the opening act. The game opens as usual with Link waking up in his home, but this time he's awakened by Zelda's Loftwing (one of the giant birds we've seen from a previous demo), delivering a note chastising him for oversleeping on the day of the Wing Ceremony.

As the set-up to the ceremony plays out, we get to see a lot more characterization of Zelda than we normally do. The story establishes early on that Link and Zelda are childhood friends who have grown up their whole lives together. Zelda's demeanor feels like it points to this being early on the series' timeline too, since the young girl seems to lack the full wisdom of her namesake. Link himself shows way more personality too – he kind of almost talks, even! Every so often, the player is prompted with a few dialogue options during story points to direct Link's interaction with other characters. In a sense it feels like a radical step for the series, but it totally works.

Before the ceremony begins though, we set out to explore the town of Skyloft. The basic controls tutorial is camouflaged within your first mission, where Link must track down the headmaster's lost pet, Mia, and return her for feeding time. We learn how to autojump (truly a series staple), and how to dash by holding A, which depletes Link's stamina meter (it recharges when you're not using it, although there's also fruit scattered about that will replenish it too).

Skyloft's layout is similar to a typical Hylian town but perhaps a bit larger, with various houses you can pillage, a bazaar that sells all your questing supplies like potions and arrows, plus a schoolhouse, a knights' training facility, and several other landmarks like the giant statue of the Goddess that serves as the focal point for the Wing Ceremony.

Above: This guy is a piece of work

As we explore a bit, we soon find out that Link's Loftwing has been kidnapped by some hooligans who are jealous of his relationship with Zelda, and have trapped the majestic bird near a waterfall. With sword acquired, we head through a small cave to rescue our friend, dispatching a few bats and ChuChu type enemies along the way.

Above: The Wii MotionPlus controls for combat worked great during our demo, and the fatal blow (bringing both Nunchuk and Remote down together) was particularly satisfying 

With Link's Loftwing rescued the Wing Ceremony begins, which should be familiar to anyone following the previous Skyward Sword demo coverage. Soon after Link's victory at the ceremony, Zelda is snatched out of the sky by a giant tornado and sucked down below the cloud barrier, which separates Skyloft from the fabled surface below.

Nothing triggers one's inner hero like the kidnapping of a princess, so when a mysterious being named Fi appears to guide Link to an inner chamber within the Goddess statue, we knew it was nearly time for his adventure to begin in earnest. In the center of the chamber the Goddess Sword stood, and pointing the Wii Remote downward and then pulling it up and pointing it skyward, we unsheathed it from its stony resting place. The only thing left to do was stock up on supplies before jumping off the edge of Skyloft to go in search of Zelda.

Throughout our playtime, one thing that really stuck out to us is how many cheeky references of varying subtlety Skyward Sword makes about the Zelda series. For example, it just so happens to be the 25th anniversary of the knight academy that Link attends, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the series itself. And when Link finally dons his famous tunic to set off on his quest properly, his mentor makes a remark along the lines of "Green? I'm not so sure about that color…" which feels more explicitly self-referential than the series usually gets. All Zelda games are full of fan service, but this especially feels like a love letter to longtime fans of the series. We can't wait to venture beyond the clouds, so stay tuned for more details as soon as we have them.

Sep 29, 2011


  • secretsearcher - October 3, 2011 9:30 a.m.

    Wow...haters gonna hate but I can't wait for this game..
  • bitchassafriBLAMamericANTISTA - September 30, 2011 9:45 p.m.

    wow this could be one of the s***tiest zeldas yet. why is this called the romance trailer when link looks gayer then mr. slave. no wonder they call him fairy boy. ok gr no cursing i get it. looks like this site just got a lot less fun.
  • shawksta - October 1, 2011 2:34 a.m.

    Poor judgement done by a troll or hater, Stay Salty!
  • Mezolitik - September 30, 2011 9:52 a.m.

    It looks pretty in the trailer, but up-close, the graphics are awful. Look at that dude's arm; it's just four or five rectangles stuck together. I like Zelda, but I'd be embarrassed to play this game. It's got Nintendo's hand-holding, child-friendly, 'zOMG look how cute' attitude to gaming stamped all over it. ...and the first trailer went totally over the top with the sweetness.
  • Unoriginal - September 30, 2011 11:20 a.m.

    I feel sorry for you. No one should take themselves so seriously as to deny themselves of a great gameplay experience just because it looks too cute. I am kinda worried that the waggle will get tiring though.
  • shawksta - September 30, 2011 11:28 a.m.

    The fact that it LOOKS child friendly is actually an underestimation of what it really is, Ghirahim says words like "Murder" and "Bloodshed", I think its awesome to see dark aspects in a colorful game. Also, you seem to not know, again it must be mentioned, Pics and videos dont justify the visuals and graphics, the only reason it LOOKS like rectangles is because its a picture, nothing can justify the actual games quality except looking at the actual game. The graphics are great.
  • soranamineforever - September 30, 2011 12:28 p.m.

    You know, a lot of people had the same complaints with Wind Waker. We all know how THAT turned out.
  • dcbernman - September 30, 2011 9:41 a.m.

    I really like the musical direction of this piece, and I really like the character designs in this so far more than any other Zelda game I've seen. It's a shame, but it's still not quite enough to convince me to buy a Wii though. I love the Zelda series, and even the "lesser" ones are still really good. Maybe once the Wii U comes out, and if the Wii drops in price enough, I'll then have enough of a reason to get a hold of SSB Brawl and the Zelda games.
  • MrGeppetto - September 30, 2011 6:31 a.m.

    The Wii was not made for adventure games. The Wii was not made for combat (it was foolish of Nintendo to believe otherwise). Legend of Zelda was not meant for the Wii. Sure, Twilight Princess was a pretty good game. It wasn't the best in the series, but I'm not going to pretend it was utter rubbish, which it was far from. But keep in mind that the game's parallel was created for the Gamecube, so there were a number of elements in the game meant to cater to the (more) classic controller. TL;DR : Heroes should not waggle.
  • shawksta - September 30, 2011 8:30 a.m.

    Tell that to the games that suceeded in Adventure and Combat, It works when their done by companies who care, People need to stop being Negative because its Motion on the Wii, its not ruining it by any means, It could be horrible, but its not because Nintendo knows what their doing.
  • CitizenWolfie - September 30, 2011 5:41 a.m.

    Having played it for about 10 minutes at GameFest I've got to admit it has kind of dampened my enthusiasm for this game really. I know you shouldn't judge from a demo but there were a few issues I had. Firstly even with MotionPlus the boss battle seemed to descend into the dreaded waggle territory. I really was trying to see which direction the slashes would be most effective but in the end I had to resort to flailing like a dumbass (and others around me as I noticed). Which brings me to my next (minor) point - because it's 1:1 movement, the natural way you hold the wiimote means Link looks really derpy on screen. As I say just a minor complaint really as you don't exactly feel like a sword weilding badass going up against the boss. And ugh, the boss. I'm not sure who designed Ghirahim but they should probably get a slap. I never thought I'd see the day where Nintendo would be pilfering character designs from other companies. Despite the obvious physical similarities such as the white hair, slim build and all round emo-ness, even in his dialogue he was trying so hard to be Sephiroth (or the Advent Children clones) I nearly facepalmed at the game booth. Anyway, I guess the demo was an early build or whatever but I hope I'm proven wrong. PS - I've been playing Wind Waker again recently and I'm pretty sure I've come across rudimentary dialogue options and references to the green tunic being a bit naff.
  • ShortFuse - September 30, 2011 1:46 a.m.

    Having loved TP at the time it was released I went back to it recently and revised my opinion of it completely, it was had the worst soundtrack of the entire series and frankly had no really interesting NPCs or sub-quests and the like. Majora's Mask was (and is) my favorite Zelda game, Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass quickly follow. Although I did play through OoT again recently and got hooked- completed it in under 2 days and forgot how much I enjoyed it! Still, I prefer the slightly more 'weird' Zelda games rather than the straight up ones. This one looks like a good mix so far. I'm not so sure how I feel about this game yet, I will reserve my judgement to when I actually play it although seeing as I don't own a Wii I may never get that chance which is a shame as I've played pretty much all of them apart from the GBA ones.
  • ShortFuse - September 30, 2011 1:52 a.m.

    and by GBA ones I actually meant Game Boy Colour... Think Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are the only ones I haven't ever played apart from the 2D sidescroller one
  • Craza - September 29, 2011 11:48 p.m.

    OH DEAR GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH LINK'S LIPS?! AM I THE ONLY ONE DISTURBED BY THIS?! They just look so unnatural. Other than that, the game looks great! Can't wait to try it out and maybe even dust off the poor neglected Wii after buying it.
  • metroid2099400 - September 30, 2011 3:54 p.m.

    YES. Thank you! I've been thinking that since the beginning!
  • ncurry2 - September 29, 2011 10:24 p.m.

    You trolls are dumb. "Lets hate this game be sure that its utter garbage because it's on the Wii!!" Whatever, I'm still going to enjoy the hell out of it, the same way I enjoyed the hell out of Twilight Princess. @lazer, I'm not sure how you can call out TP as being the downfall of zelda games when it is OoT with new items, dungeons, and graphics. It took everything OoT did and made it more epic. Did you ever actually play it?
  • Hecticvoodu - September 29, 2011 8:41 p.m.

    whats up with Link's woman lips?
  • 510BrotherPanda - September 29, 2011 7:47 p.m.

    Since I never played the Wii version of Twilight Princess, the fact that Link is right-handed in this game still bugs me... But it seems that the characterization and story elements of the Zelda series are evolving for the better (according to this article), so I'm slowly warming to it. The characters' lips are still kind of weird looking, though. Thanks for the update on this, Carolyn.
  • lazer59882 - September 29, 2011 8:11 p.m.

    dude i didnt even realize that, about the right-handedness. that just furthers my argument though, that twilight princess was both the death of the zelda games we love and the birth of these awful wii bastardizations.
  • 510BrotherPanda - September 30, 2011 12:22 p.m.

    I wouldn't say Twilight Princess was "the Zelda series downfall" per se...the story and character interactions (like with Midna) were a nice change of pace for the series. The WiiMotionPlus controls for this game aren't what bug me about Skyward Sword, just the fact that Link is right-handed. Also, the DS Zelda games weren't bad at all; the stylus controls didn't lessen the experience.

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