The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – hands-on

It’s the unspoken star of The Legend of Zelda. A silent hero who has clashed with villainy in thousands of forms. Whose steely gaze has sought out more glowing weak spots than you could wave a Deku stick at. Who has travelled through lava, brine, time and dimensional vortexes without dulling. Who has absorbed more elfin palm sweat than can be decent. It is, of course, the Master Sword. And it… is a she. Whoa. If we’d known, we wouldn’t have spent years jamming her up monster guts. Sorry, ma’am. And in Skyward Sword, she’s about to get the respect she deserves.

The Master Sword. The Blade of Evil’s Bane. The Sword of Time. Dr. McStabbington. Link’s iconic blade goes by many names. Legend – specifically Zelda in Twilight Princess – tells of ancient sages forging the sword. Nintendo’s own ancient sage, producer Eiji Aonuma, weaves a new yarn - revealing that the titular Skyward Sword becomes the Master Sword. A simple turn of phrase (Link’s blade inevitably ‘becomes’ the Master Sword in every Zelda) or an origin story? Either way, the weapon is protector, guide (it transforms into the cloaked lady seen in 2009’s E3 teaser art) and narrative crux.

Link’s latest game begins in the clouds, in the floating island world of Skyloft. Beneath the cloudy paving slab of peace wriggles the woodlouse of chaos: Hyrule. Down there, evil runs riot. Well, aside from the new Octorok/Deku Scrub hybrids, which sort of squat riot. Skyloftians are none the wiser. Not until an event – we’re betting Link befriends the Skyward Sword – reveals the turmoil below to our elfin star. What follows will shift between the two altitudes - an interesting twist on the dual-world mechanics of Zeldas past. Could flight feature? Promoting Spirit Tracks, Aonuma joked that airplanes were next on his vehicular hit list. And imagine Epona sporting Pegasus wings…

Whether Link makes his journey between worlds by beanstalk, cannon or Hyrulian Air, the Skyward Sword is firmly in his heroic mitts. And thanks to MotionPlus, firmly in yours too. (As long as you’re a right-on righty, that is. Aonuma confirmed there’ll be no left-handed Link.) Wii Sports Resort is the obvious model. One-to-one sword/remote mapping makes Link feel particularly puppet-like. Sway and he sways. Hold the remote up and the sword thrusts toward the heavens like a tour guide’s umbrella. It’s that same magical Resort feeling of commanding a 3D hand in a virtual space. Only where Wuhu Island’s Miis were rooted to the spot, Link roams, taking our 3D hand with him. This is a wandering 3D hand. Watch out, world.

It begins with giggles. Adult Link’s heroic frame battling with an animated hand is patently absurd. Dramatically striding forward with arm held uncontrollably aloft is a vision of silliness; with his arm out to the side Link is halfway to pretending he’s an airplane. Cutting is a more serious business. Slices stick to fixed horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes – as Miyamoto said in a recent Iwata Asks session, “Swinging freely and being fun aren’t the same thing.” Like Red Steel 2, Skyward Sword would rather master a few hits perfectly than goose its way through simulation.

Directional slicing is intuitive and accurate: a huge relief after Miyamoto’s borked E3 display. Time for that old cliche: no one knows Nintendo hardware like Nintendo. Swipe left or right and Link mimics you with a trademark “Hai!” Strike downward and he cleaves gelatinous Zols in two. A vertical upwards slash does the same with more flourish. Attacking nearby mushrooms reveals the fidelity of onscreen movements – each cut leaves a rubbery wound as proof of angle. Likewise, chopping trees sees trunks split on the point of contact. You can even whittle down the stumps. Needless to say, we’re going to brutalize some signposts come the final game.

Zelda’s combat has long focused on timing, but MotionPlus brings precision and observation to the fore. Directional combat inspires the world. Deku Baba’s Venus flytrap-like maw now splits into quarters, hinging vertically or horizontally like an origami fortune teller. Only the right orientation of swipe will pierce the flesh inside. Lopping off Deku foreheads exposes the writhing tongue in the lower jaw – this is brutally swift stuff. Bokoblins (radically larger and dyed red) carry swords through which Link must weave his blade. Swords to the right? Attack from the left. This won’t trouble a bushido master, but even common enemy encounters require a little bit more thought than before.

Swordplay shines in the demo’s climactic boss encounter. A tree-dwelling scorpion is classic Zelda stuff: impenetrable hide, juicy ocular weak spots nestling inside its pincers. Pincers rotate before snapping open, so swipes must be aimed. Although conceptually simple, the battle has the energy of a true swordfight. Link rolls out of pincer snaps, darts from the pile-driving tail and strikes with lethal precision. How many times have we seen the Master Sword relegated to bashing bosses already dazed by special items? How refreshing to see the blade starting what it finishes.

Post-E3, Miyamoto called Skyward Sword a “back to basics” Zelda. And yes, there is something very pure about the combat. Along with the renewed swordplay, defense and positioning are more important. A Nunchuk flick raises Link’s shield, while farther thrusts shunt it, unbalancing Bokoblins and rebounding Octorok projectiles. Old Zelda logic, revelatory control. In another twist, health potions are selected and swigged in real time (the menu overlays the action). With the game refusing to pause while you perform such actions, it forces you to seek out windows of opportunity, diving away from crashing blades to glug down a second chance.

Our lasting impression of Skyward Sword is one of capability. Link himself can do so much more. He’s fast on his toes in combat and his new-found nimbleness bleeds into exploration. He can run with the A button until a stamina meter depletes. The same meter dictates climbing time, teasing urgent adventuring from casual vine patches. Run into low walls or tree stumps and Link scampers up – a little parkour for beginners. Running lets him leap from raised areas onto rope swings, Tarzaning him to new secret areas. Zelda’s humble beginnings – Miyamoto’s childhood spent clambering around the countryside – have never seemed more relevant.



Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - August 7, 2010 11:43 p.m.

    YAY! My sister's wii has a use! Theft will be occurring soon...
  • MrDuracraft - August 6, 2010 4:51 p.m.

    @VaneTrago This is a prequel to OoT not a sequel, so technically he switches from SS to OoT. And I did like button assigning, but pressing B and flicking seems fast enough to replace it.
  • db1331 - August 6, 2010 1:44 p.m.

    I'm not too worried about the ugly HUD just yet. It's probably just there for the sake of the demo. I am worried about the game itself though. As someone who has been a rabid Zelda fan since I was around 6 years old, it was quite a shock when I finished Spirit Tracks and realized that I hated the game. If it didn't have Zelda in the title I would have stopped playing it around 50-75% of the way through. And I'm not just hating on the cell-shaded style. I loved Windwaker, and enjoyed Phantom Hourglass (save for the Ocean Temple retracing). Spirit tracks just genuinely sucked.
  • slimjim441 - August 6, 2010 5:19 a.m.

    @crumbdunky It's not easy being a lefty... It really was stupid to not have left-handed mode. Not just because Link IS and always should be left-handed, but because it really is a pain in the ass when you aren't right-handed. It's going to make the game that much more difficult for left-handed people. Who knows, maybe they just forgot about it because they still force people to be right-handed in Japan. I could visualize Japanese seeing left-handedness as an inferiority. We should totally protest. I'm sure even righty hardcore Zelda fans would join so they could control Link the way he was meant to be controlled.
  • kissmeimgreek - August 6, 2010 4:35 a.m.

    @shadowwarrior Im gonna go ahead and assume you are right handed. and we are fighting over which hand because Link has ALWAYS been left handed. Ninty had to change him for motion controls though and took the easy way out and decided not to worry about Lefties. Link has always been a symbol (for me atleast) of how special being left handed is. BTW you must not be a real zelda fan if his left handedness has bugged you.
  • VaneTrago - August 6, 2010 4:01 a.m.

    I've had a Triforce on my left wrist as a dedication to these games since I first returned from Iraq. Long story short, but video games saved my life over there. That sounds somewhat crazy, but there's a hell of a story there. Anyway, isn't this game supposed to be a continuance of the Ocarina of Time Link? How can he switch? I'd understand if this was a new Link, as established in the Wind Waker game, but...
  • shadowarrior99 - August 6, 2010 3:22 a.m.

    Well right handed is extremely common, i'm sure you can try to play right handed for a bit... Right handed link is better, i just hate to see link swing with his left hand. It might just be me though. The art style is creative, like Kirby's Epic Yarn. Why are we fighting over which hand anyway? It's going to be a great Zelda game! reCAPTCHA: care enacts
  • SUCKxITxEZ - August 6, 2010 1:26 a.m.

    im right handed, but i still think nintendo fucked up with that decision. They previewed their game and all people have to say is how lazy they are for not making link, a left handed character, left handed in the game. not looking good for them. i also hate the art style
  • 510BrotherPanda - August 6, 2010 12:35 a.m.

    Also, I preferred OoT, MM,WW, and TP's item button allocation. Always having 2-3 secondary items ready was convenient. The DS Zelda's "one item at a time" method was dumb. Why can't I use bombs, arrows or BOMBS ON ARROWS all at once?
  • HotCyder - August 6, 2010 12:31 a.m.

    On terms of left handed-ness. I like how absolutely ridiculous nintendo's solution to right handed wii players of twilight princess was. "Oh, rewriting the games code for a right handed link is too hard, so! might as well just mirror the entire world, no worries there!"
  • 510BrotherPanda - August 6, 2010 12:23 a.m.

    I agree with crumbdunky only in that Link should be left-handed. I got Twilight Princess on GCN specifically for that, and because the graphics were a bit last-gen anyways. Could it really be that hard to mirror the character model? The Wii (and soon the PS Move) are the only current controllers that are hand-blind, so why can't the games be? Besides, many Nintendo characters are left-handed. Samus has to type with here left in Metroid Fusion, Mario throws fireballs with his left... I think Miyamoto is left-handed as well. This is coming from a "generic" right-hander. I wonder if there's a group called Rights for Lefts yet...
  • kissmeimgreek - August 6, 2010 12:05 a.m.

    Someone start a petitiion. Lefties for Zelda!
  • kissmeimgreek - August 5, 2010 11:42 p.m.

    Agreed crunbdunky Link has ALWAYS been left handed (except for wiis TP). To not even have an option is a disgrace. Now just because im different i cant play one of my favorite game series the way i want to play? Could they seriously not have taken the time to add a mirrored Link in the game? This just seems extremely lazy on nintendos part. BTW @ crumbunky: Im a lefty to and actually love the 360 controller ( maybe ive just gotten used to it or something)
  • crumbdunky - August 5, 2010 10:58 p.m.

    Oh, well. A disappointed lefty in this house:( First the 360 pad hates me and my kind and now Ninty have joined in the lefty baiting. A bad day for us lefty doodles, sadly. Link SHOULD be left handed anyway-so not to have sorted the option seems uber lazy and plain wrong. I'll now have to wait to have a g of someone elses before seeing if I can put up with being crap at the game or not and as one of my three favourite franchises it's a real gut punch to me. Would it REALLY have been that hard to offer a mirror image of Link so everyone could have the chance to play as it was intended? If so I fear more and more anti lefty stuff from both Move and M+. Seriously, for a second, if another social group was discriminated against like this there would be a real outcry(for arguments sake imagine if Muslims, Christians, white people or black people or gay people were unable to play the game on an equal footing-EVERYONE would say that was unfair)and rightfully(see,. again, why not leftfully? it's even in the language!)too. I don't think we should have to accept this-what say you my left handed brethren? And will any of the happy majority speak up for the anguish of their left handed comrades? It's one thing seeing our characters aiming with right handed grips in every shooter ever that uses a pad or every h/s where the right hand holds the axe/sword but to actually make it so we have to do it with motion is, imo, a step too far and I fail to see why they can't put in a lefty option-even if it was just reversing everything surely it's got to be pretty easy. It's not like there aren't millions of us either.
  • kiwicrossing - August 5, 2010 10:41 p.m.

    After reading this I am definitely going to get Skyward Sword.
  • CH3BURASHKA - August 5, 2010 10:32 p.m.

    It's a good day to be a Wii owner. Which I'm not. But if I was, it'd be a good day.
  • Felixthecat - August 5, 2010 10:14 p.m.

    Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yes. It looks awesome, but the HUD makes it look like some kind of demo. I would prefer it if it wasn't there, though there might be an option to turn it off hopefully. Looks great so far though.
  • Cyberninja - August 5, 2010 10:06 p.m.

    this wont end well if you can only play standing up.
  • Phazon117 - August 5, 2010 9:53 p.m.

    Pegeponasus, hah, funny. Can't wait for this game! Spring 2011 ftw!
  • AngryScotsman - August 5, 2010 9:51 p.m.

    Flying horses? Could my dreams of Pegeponasus finally come true?