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.
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
Shaking things up
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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 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
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.