The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review

  • 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

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  • TriforcePlayer - November 11, 2011 12:21 a.m.

  • chrisda - November 11, 2011 12:26 a.m.

    I still have to disagree with the Wind Waker part. Honestly, it was great and all, but the art style just doesn't do it for me and how can you defend the hours of SAILING?
  • magic_muffin_man - November 11, 2011 12:31 a.m.

    >Wind Waker >Best 3D Zelda That's a pretty horrible misspelling of Majora's Mask. Who edited this?
  • Gene - November 11, 2011 1:23 a.m.

    Win! Majora's Mask is, in my thought-out opinion, the best of all Zelda games. It's the only one with any true depth to the world (ironic, considering no-one's sure if it's real or not). It's the only Zelda game to look beyond THERE YOU MUST CARE ABOUT THOSE CHARACTERS AND THOSE CHARACTERS ARE EVIL. Carolyn may love her Hyrule Temple reveal, but nothing in the Zelda series has ever compared to the poignancy and intimacy of healing the cursed scientist, so that his daughter isn't traumatised any longer. Those who have played the game know what I'm referring to.
  • nathstyles - November 11, 2011 2:42 a.m.

    Have to add my agreement here. I liked Wind Waker but my god this site is hung up on it - do you not remember the endless bloody sailing?? MM had an altogether different atmosphere, full of dread and melancholy. Add to that it's excellent take on the standard formula for Zelda games and you have one of the series most unique and rewarding entries. On the Skyward Sword front - I'm sooo poor - stupid endless game release schedule bad enough Skyrim is unobtainable until end of month this will have to wait until I can afford a second hand Wii
  • veryweirdguy - November 11, 2011 12:42 a.m.

    Great! Roll on next Friday!
  • keltar93 - November 11, 2011 12:42 a.m.

    Great review Carolyn! Didn't think it'd get a 9 from the words of the review, but I'm still picking it up, probably day 1
  • shawksta - November 11, 2011 1:13 a.m.

    Awesome review, this game is nothing but awesome, and lol on the negatives! Wind waker? Eeh, it was awesome but it WAS aggravating. Yet another major contender for GOTY!
  • shawksta - November 11, 2011 1:15 a.m.

    Question Carolyn, would you say Ocarina of time has met its match with this game?
  • juicenpancakes - November 11, 2011 1:18 a.m.

    It's a bit odd reading a Zelda review not written by Brett Elston, but if the torch should be passed to anybody, it's Miss Gudmundson. I'm adding this to my list of day-one purchases.
  • ithurtstopoop - November 11, 2011 1:20 a.m.

    "The thing is, Zelda is a rare example of a series that has never had a serious misstep to tarnish its record. " Well Excuuuuuuseme princess
  • Gene - November 11, 2011 1:25 a.m.

    For someone like me, who genuinely believed that Twilight Princess was a poor game getting by on its Zelda name (I say that as a colossal Zelda fan but seriously: compare Twilight Princess to Okami and you'll see how much it's missing)... How much am I likely to get out of this? Has the core concept of the game evolved at all? Has it grown up? Or am I better off sticking with Skyrim and replaying Okami?
  • shawksta - November 11, 2011 1:29 a.m.

    Considering what they changed and made to the series, it has, especially with the concept,story and gameplay.
  • shawksta - November 11, 2011 1:34 a.m.

    What makes me excited is the Amount of content during and after the games story. Ive seen link do ALLOT of things that would make it rewarding to trying everything.
  • CitizenWolfie - November 11, 2011 2:01 a.m.

    I'm looking forward to playing this come Christmas. I wasn't sure about the motion controls from the demo as it didn't feel like what I was doing matched up with what Link was doing. But since you mentioned recalibrations maybe it was something to do with that (it was at a Games convention with loads of people playing all day). I'm quite glad they toned down some of the dungeons. I know they're a huge part of the series but personally I prefer exploring every inch of Hyrule and savouring the little things like the sun setting over Lake Hylia. And I totally agree with Wind Waker being the best Zelda. I've been replaying it recently and it still feels fresh today. Majora's Mask really hasn't aged well despite being awesome. Wind Waker and Link to the Past have remained timeless. Without any spoilers, how does Ghirahim fare as the villain? He just seems a bit "diet Sephiroth" to me from what I've seen.
  • xf3RnVnD0x - November 11, 2011 2:57 a.m.

    great ign says motin controls r perfect... 10/10 gameinformer, 10/10 edge. How can u complain about its graphics. If i ever get a hd zelda cuz fanboys of the hd twins couldn't stand the greaness that is zelda i'll be mad i just dont accpet this review is not good
  • taokaka - November 11, 2011 3:07 a.m.

    Good review. I'm actually glad to see that this isn't the best Zelda game but for a good reason, which is so I can laugh at my friend who also reads this sight because he read a preview from I think IGN and he wouldn't shut up about how this is going to be the best Zelda game ever. Literally every time I saw him he would say that and now his favourite sight has just swept the rug out from beneath his feet.
  • Arobadope - November 11, 2011 5:10 a.m.

    Read Ign's review then play the game then decide whether it is the best Zelda or not. Also realize it's their own opinion and really most of the reasons the said no as to why it isn't better then wind waker or TP seem a little iffy. WW might have a timeless art style....but so does SS so that bit really makes 0 sense to me in fact SS's art style is basically a better looking version of WW's. As for controls I can't comment one or the other since I haven't played it, but that is also a subject of opinion (like all reviews). Honestly, I feel like GR sometimes tries a bit too hard at being the "troubadors of the unique game" with their professed love of games like Catherine, Okami, Wind Waker, El Shaddai, Muramasa. It seems more like they shout that they love these games just so when they tank they can say "We told you all to buy it so don't bitch at us!" Not taking anything away from GR because I think this site is one of the most objective, I just find it funny how there seems to be that kind of presence here.
  • BladedFalcon - November 11, 2011 10:35 a.m.

    Instead of trying to validate what YOU want to believe from other reviews, why not just wait for the game and decide if it's your favorite Zelda or not? This review already stated that for a lot of people, this is going to be the best Zelda ever, and that's perfectly valid. There's no reason for calling GR's argument's iffy just because you don't agree with them. On that point. SS's art-style is NOT a better looking version of WW's and this not a matter of opinion. The styles themselves are just plainly different: WW is cell shaded, SS is not. A lot will like SS's look better, and that's perfectly valid, but calling it the "same, but better" art style of WW is just plainly misguided and wrong. And lastly... what does GR's reviews on those games you mentioned have anything to do with this game? at this point it just sounded like you were trying to take potshots at the site for random, no-related gripes of yours.
  • SerpentineZERO - November 11, 2011 10:48 a.m.

    BladedFalcon speaks the truth.

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