Colour me surprised, I’m enjoying Skyward Sword immensely. OK, rewind. Skyward Sword feels like two games in one – and it is! Half of the game is lifted straight out of Wii Sports Resort. The other half is an original Zelda title. The combination sounds like it should be clunky, but it’s not – and a lot of that, I have to say, is testament to just how robust the mechanics of Wii Sports Resort were in the first place. So on the control and item control side of things Skyward Sword is sorted – catching bugs in a net has never been so much fun. How about the Zelda side?
Well it’s as if the folks over at Nintendo read my mind back in 2006 when I was playing Twilight Princess and not having a whole lot of fun! Pretty much all of my complaints about that game (and some of those apply to Wind Waker before it too) have been dealt with in Skyward Sword. As the post title says, it’s awesome. Maybe in part it has to do with low expectations? After being disappointed by Twilight Princess I wasn’t getting my hopes up for a new Zelda game again any time soon, and then the reception of Skyward Sword “on the ground” so to speak (i.e. on message boards as opposed to professional reviews) seemed pretty lukewarm with complaints about the limited overworld, the small number of areas to explore and copious padding. That explains in part why I’m only playing Skyward Sword now, five years after its initial release.
Playing the game now, I can understand how it could’ve been somewhat of a letdown for some people… people who aren’t me. For one, there isn’t the sense of a fully connected world like in previous Zelda games – the three main areas of the map are connected only by the hub world, which is more perfunctory than in previous titles. Compared to Twilight Princess or Wind Waker, Skyward Sword is scaled back in scope, but in my mind that’s a good thing. Exploring Twilight Princess’s Hyrule Field and Wind Waker’s ocean were my least favourite parts of those games, and by reducing the scope (and perhaps for some the accompanying sense of “epicness”) Skyward Sword is a much tighter, less baggy experience.
It’s clear the goal in Skyward Sword was to make the environments outside of dungeons more dense and interesting, giving them greater depth than areas in previous Zelda titles that typically only served one purpose, and usually only at one stage of the journey. And Skyward Sword succeeds to a large extent. The design of the volcano and desert areas in particular is very well done, and I really like how puzzle solving elements have been incorporated – really these areas are like open-air dungeons. The addition of challenging enemies and puzzles to the overworld areas also showcases the excellent combat and puzzle design – the best elements of the game.
Another great thing about Skyward Sword is how it makes use of the entire inventory. In Twilight Princess it felt like in any given dungeon I would have to use the same item over and over – it was the puzzle solver. Then, next dungeon, a new item. Whereas in Skyward Sword I am consistently surprised by the combinations of items required in different areas. It’s a pleasant change that makes things less predictable, and the game more challenging as a result.
If I had to spotlight one final thing that I’m really enjoying about the game, it’s the flying Beetle. One of the first items you get in the game, the beetle flies around at your command can be used for, amongst other things, hitting switches and picking up items. Even now, more than six dungeons into the game, I find myself using the beetle from time to time just to get a feel for my surroundings. And, like a lot of things in this game, I really like that. It shows that Skyward Sword is doing enough to surprise me, to keep me on my toes, to throw me off the scent. After so many Zelda games and years of experience with the series, I still get stuck occasionally and I still need to pay attention to what is around me.
Although I haven’t quite finished Skyward Sword, I know I’m close, and already it has earned a place as one of my favourite Wii games. It’s a game that is so stuffed, so rich with mechanics, it seems to do practically everything. Of course nothing that does everything can be perfect, but thanks to crafty borrowings from Wii Sports Resort it’s not far off. All that remains is one question, and it’s the exact same question I asked myself with the highly enjoyable Metroid: Other M – why, oh why, did I have to wait so long to play it…?