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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review

Excellent
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AT A GLANCE
  • Great swordplay and environmental puzzles
  • Seeing the beginning of the timeline
  • Bonus soundtrack!
  • Sometimes fiddly motion controls
  • Ghirahim, because he's evil
  • Waiting for a truly HD Zelda

These days, it's generally inadvisable to purchase a game sight unseen without checking reviews first, but if there's any series that merits complete trust based on its track record, it's Zelda. So it's no surprise that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a must-play not only for all Zelda fans, but all Wii owners in general. In nearly every way, it upholds the high standard of the series and is a worthy entry to mark Zelda's 25th anniversary.

For many people, that's all that needs to be said – the rest is like a giant present that takes upwards of 50 hours to unwrap, and discussing what's under each new layer only spoils the fun. With that said, we'll keep this review spoiler-free and hit the main points of interest without ruining too much of the magic of discovery.  

Shaking things up

Skyward Sword subverts the typical Zelda paradigm in ways that aren't immediately obvious just by looking at screens and gameplay snippets. The world itself is structured unlike any other Zelda world – it's definitely not Hyrule as usual. It's divided into two sections: Skyloft and the "surface" world below it. The bulk of the story takes place on the surface, and Skyloft acts more as a homebase where you go to recuperate and explore more leisurely.

The biggest departure from the typical Zelda formula is the lack of the usual separation between overworld and dungeons. Instead, the entire surface world is like a giant series of smaller outdoor dungeons. Navigating through each new area to find the temple takes just as long – if not longer – than completing the temple itself, and the road is paved with a similar type of exploration and puzzles you'd expect from a temple, if slightly more spread out.  

On one hand, this means there's much more of the type of classic Zelda environmental puzzles that we love, which is obviously a good thing. The increase in quantity doesn't mean a decrease in quality either – there's never a lull or a dip in the meticulous environmental design throughout the entire game. Plus, it's always clear where you're supposed to go at any given point – we never found ourselves aimlessly wandering in search of what to do.

The tradeoff is that, while there's still plenty of exploration, there's no breathing room on the surface world like you'd find in an expansive area like Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess. The lack of space on the surface though is mitigated by the openness of the sky world, and flying around exploring its various floating islands feels reminiscent of the sailing in Wind Waker, albeit on a smaller scale.

Temples still follow the classic formula, where you explore around to find treasure chests with small keys to open locked doors, which lead to the map, the temple's item (the slingshot, the flying beetle, the whip and so on), and finally the big key that leads to the temple's boss battle. Each temple is smaller and more manageable compared to some of the gargantuan dungeons of Zeldas past, so the dreaded "temple fatigue" never has a chance to set in. Despite this, they still feel like full dungeons, and the bosses all live up to what we expect from proper Zelda bosses –  each requires inventive use of your newfound items combined with expert swordsmanship.

In breaking the game up into smaller chunks, it feels more accessible (especially for newcomers to the series, which Nintendo undoubtedly had in mind), but at the same time still maintains everything about classic Zelda that fans are looking for. Adding to the accessibility, each save point (which are plentiful, by the way) also doubles as a teleport spot, and from Skyloft you can conveniently teleport to any point on the surface by choosing your desired destination on the world map.

Together, the structure of the world and the flow of the gameplay feel like a pretty big shake up for the series, but it's one that definitely works. And speaking of shaking things…

The pros and cons of Wii MotionPlus

True to the title, the star of the Wii MotionPlus controls in Skyward Sword is definitely the swordplay. Link's sword moves accurately based on how you move the Wii Remote – swing it diagonally up and to the right and Link swings along with you. We found that even when we used fairly limited movements, the sword always did exactly as we wanted. Using the sword, especially against enemies designed to block you at certain angles, is satisfying in a very tactile way.

Even the flight controls, which we were initially skeptical about, work well despite not being as literal as the sword controls. The beetle item in particular proved to be the most reached-for item in our adventure bag, and we used its behind-the-beetle aerial point of view to fly over inaccessible terrain and scope out the situation ahead many times, often using it even when it wasn't required to solve a puzzle.

Motion control still isn't without its setbacks though. Every time you obtain a new item that uses motion controls, your companion Fi pops up to remind you of how to recalibrate the controls should they slip out of alignment. Recalibrating only takes a second though – just pull up a menu, point the remote at the center of the screen and hit the down on the d-pad to re-center the cursor.

Not too big of a deal in and of itself, but it happens a lot. At times we found ourselves needing to re-align the cursor what felt like every few minutes. No matter how much some might poo-poo traditional controls in favor of motion controls, we never remember having to troubleshoot our GameCube controllers like that – just saying. Though we still prefer traditional button inputs, we have to admit that the Wii MotionPlus really does work well here overall, and while the detractions are there, they're relatively small.

As for everything else

The story bits are best left to discover for yourself. Suffice it to say that seeing what's obviously meant to be the first game in the Zelda timeline feels quite special at times. We won't say much more, but one of the highlights is definitely the beginning of the relationship between Link and Zelda.

Learning about their history together during what might possibly be their very first incarnations retroactively gives new meaning to why Link is always willing to fight for her despite her character not being well-established in early Zelda games. It's also refreshing to see another Zelda game where Zelda doesn't really need rescuing in the traditional sense. Although we don't see her very much, it's clear she's playing her part in the quest just as much as Link is.

Is it the best Zelda ever?

Undoubtedly, Skyward Sword will be many people's new favorite Zelda, so it's understandable that some will honestly feel that it's the best Zelda ever – it's not an unreasonable position to take. The thing is, Zelda is a rare example of a series that has never had a serious misstep to tarnish its record. Every Zelda is someone's favorite Zelda, and there's a legitimate argument for why each Zelda is the "best" Zelda.

The question is: is Skyward Sword objectively superior to its predecessors? No, it isn't. But it does live up to the Zelda legacy, and that's enough to make it superior to most other non-Zelda games.

Is it better than...

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess? No, but it’s right up there with it and both have their own strengths. Twilight Princess is more traditional gameplay-wise than Skyward Sword, but more creative story-wise, and Fi pales in comparison to Midna. Skyward Sword's gameplay takes more risks and the Wii MotionPlus definitely adds to it, but its story feels safer. Diehard Ocarina fans may still prefer Twilight Princess, but most others will enjoy the the wealth of newness that Skyward Sword contains. 



The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker? No – how dare you even ask. It's debatable (see section above), but we still believe that Wind Waker is the best 3D Zelda overall. The art style is timeless, and Wind Waker still looks better than Skyward Sword despite almost a decade separating the two. Its controls are perfection, it introduced Tetra, and the underwater Hyrule Castle reveal is still one of the most impactful moments in the entire series.




Darksiders? Yes. Darksiders is a great take on an M-rated, Zelda-inspired game, but nothing beats the real thing. Darksiders is still worth playing if you're a Zelda fan who'd like to see something a little darker and more Zelda-meets-God-of-War, but it's not in the same league.






For those who skipped straight to the end

A perfectly balanced mix of innovation and classic Zelda gameplay, Skyward Sword truly lives up to the Zelda legacy of excellence and offers the most variety of any Zelda game to date. Its swordplay and puzzles are some of the best in the series, and seeing Link and Zelda's first story chronologically is a treat for longtime fans.

More Info

Release date: Nov 20 2011 - Wii (US)
Available Platforms: Wii
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Nintendo
Franchise: Legend of Zelda
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Animated Blood, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

We Recommend

101 comments

  • Elard621 - April 26, 2012 5:24 p.m.

    So, it is tied with Twilight Princess?
  • AuthorityFigure - January 13, 2012 3:39 a.m.

    This game is incredible. It has achieved the feat that so many releases have missed: the magic of playing a game for a game's sake. It has that magical, whimsical touch that makes the hardcore scene look like a million miles away.
  • Stridefizzel - January 6, 2012 2:07 p.m.

    Having actually played the game, I couldn't agree more with this review. 9/10 is the perfect score, and the reviewer hit pretty much all the good/bad points of the game, including that the fact there is no breathing room somehow takes out some of the magic that OoT and TP had. Gotta say though, I'm really surprised Wind Waker is your favorite zelda. I really didn't care for that game at all, and it didn't even compare with OoT, TP, or this game even. The water world thing got very old, and I absolutely HATED the cartoony, childish, lame graphics. I really can't figure out why people liked that game so much...
  • Nomado - March 16, 2012 3:34 a.m.

    IMO its art style graphic. Though Celshaded Graphic is timeless will never grow old. I know Ocarina of Time is amazing da best but u can see its aging quite a bit by today's standard but Wind waker will never age its like Disney's good old cartoons like Mickey mouse, Lion King etc... I still see disney cartoons and never felt they are dated. I am sure after 10 more years Wind Waker still look awesome. Maybe Miyamoto made this game with idea like that in mind
  • dizzzydragon - November 15, 2011 9:45 p.m.

    wonder what brett thinks
  • samsneeze - November 14, 2011 10:45 a.m.

    I agree that Wind Waker is the best 3D Zelda to date, with Link to the Past being a close second. I never liked Ocarina of Time, it never grabbed me the way it did most people apparently. I honestly had more fun with the DS titles than that game. Majora's Mask is pretty cool though, I guess. The comment section on the review is no better, in fact, worse than the Halo Reach review. People are being extremely and unreasonably butthurt over a nine. I mean seriously, it's a nine people. Everyone is treating it like it got a six or a five. Just goes to show that fanboys are still fanboys no matter what series it is, Halo or Zelda.
  • TwinHallow - November 13, 2011 6:25 p.m.

    Same people write comments like 100 times lol
  • Thequestion 121 - November 12, 2011 7:38 p.m.

    Ahhh, November 20th can't come fast enough D: I can't wait to play!
  • AcefulThinking - November 12, 2011 5:12 p.m.

    Not better than Twilight Princess or Wind Waker? hmmm.
  • inconceivable - November 12, 2011 11:39 a.m.

    Great review; I'll have to pick this up when I have money again. And if I could weigh in on the argument about the score... In the review Carolyn mentions some things that seem to lower the score for her, but aren't mentioned in the "You'll hate" section. Most of them are summed up in the comparison to Twilight Princess, such as the safer story and Fi paling in comparison to Midna. These things aren't listed in "You'll hate" because they're not things to hate, but they could conceivably lower a score, especially when you add in the complaints about the motion controls. And what Skyrim got is completely irrelevant to this review. All in all, when I read the review, it felt like it was going to get a 9. And a 9/10 is awesome.
  • Nikku7 - November 11, 2011 9:53 p.m.

    Although Windwaker is my personal favorite in the series, that's a very much more personal thing because I loved the ocean aesthetic and the epic story details. I however completely understand the reasons that some people don't care for it as much. If you get tired of seeing the sea and island scenery, you get tired of sailing. If you hate searching for treasure that the actual location of disappears when you get close, you might not care for it as much. To me, it was awesome because it was like a post-apocalyptic Zelda game in the sense that Hyrule was now an unlivable and even hidden kingdom lost under the sea. I believe that Skyward Sword has too many pros not to be a 10. Based on what I've seen it already is in my book, and the newly restructured worlds that aren't all long dungeons sounds like a welcome change of pace. Most importantly, this game deserves to be up there with the other big games like Skyrim and (far above) MW3.
  • BladeBlur - November 11, 2011 7:53 p.m.

    Wait... Wind Waker the best 3D Zelda game?! No.
  • Ryozaku - November 11, 2011 7:36 p.m.

    9 is a good no great score, but the reasoning behind why it didn't get a ten do no make sense in my opinion. I'm not being a fanboy (because every player who defends a certain game becomes a fanboy amirite? lol) but the only problem the reviewer mentions is often calibrating the controller. The other reasons are literally irrelavent. It seems that the only reason it scored a 9 instead of a 10 was because the writer's favorite game was Wind Waker. While Skyrim was said to have a few bugs in the system and it could be improved and still got a 10. In terms of relavence you would think the problems in Skyrim are more substantial than just simply recalibrating ever so often. Now based on what I've seen I believe both games deserve 10s. Even though we can all have different opinions as a reviewer I think he should give just reasoning as to why the sc
  • Ryozaku - November 11, 2011 7:40 p.m.

    oops hit the wrong button. I meant that being a high profile reviewer, one need to present just reasons for the scores given and must remain unbias
  • Elard621 - March 5, 2012 12:25 p.m.

    In fact you are right. But you don´t have to worry about that. Think about it, Deus Ex Human Revolution (Great game) was rated with a 10, but Skyward Sword was still between the 5 nominees for Game of the Year. What could that mean? It means that when a game is rated with a 9 it is just an editor´s opinion. A 9 game isn´t worse than a 10 game. It depends on the editor who reviewed it. If all the 10 rated games were obligatory better than 9 games, then Deus Ex: Human Revolution would have been between the 5 nominees, and then Twilight Princess would be better than Wind Waker. Resuming my comment, when a game reaches a 9, it depends on the person who plays if it is perfect or not. A 9 can be a 10, and a 10 can be a 9.
  • EnigmaSpirit - November 11, 2011 4:35 p.m.

    I didn't read too much so I wont know too much about the game, but it seemed very positive. I'm suprised you only gave it a 9. I know 9 is a great score, but nearly everything you said seemed like a 10. I am so stoked that we FINALLY see the relationship between Zelda and Link explored a bit.
  • shawksta - November 11, 2011 3:13 p.m.

    I feel as to apologize for my past concerns for this review that seems to attract negetivity. I seem to be misunderstood on what i expected from this review, but thats probably because I was used to Brett's reviews and just seeing it by caroline it didnt consider the differences. With that said, Awesome review, This game is no doubt gonna be one of the best Zelda's out there and i seriously cant wait to play it, Besides i need an adjustment to see Colorful and Cartoony since i played so much Batman, Rage,MW3 and so on.
  • Pruman - November 11, 2011 2:20 p.m.

    Whoops - you guys did that already. I am a dumbass.
  • Pruman - November 11, 2011 2:19 p.m.

    "The thing is, Zelda is a rare example of a series that has never had a serious misstep to tarnish its record. Every Zelda is someone's favorite Zelda, and there's a legitimate argument for why each Zelda is the 'best' Zelda." Sounds like it's time for a "Why every Zelda game is both the best (and worst) in the series" feature! The Final Fantasy one was awesome, and I've been hoping for one done on another series ever since!
  • talleyXIV - November 11, 2011 1:37 p.m.

    I hate when you guys say "This game is awesome, This game is awesome, This game is awesome. Final verdict: 9." This game truly deserves a 10, I can tell from screenshots. I am not even a Zelda fanboy and I can say that this getting a 9 and Saint's Row 3 getting a 10 is pretty silly.

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