Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) is awesome

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.

Link looks a little weird in this game.

I’m just going to say it: Link looks a little weird in this game.

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.

You can put spin on bombs when you roll them. Thank Wii Sports Resort.

You can put spin on bombs when you roll them. Thanks, Wii Sports Resort!

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…?

Whipping enemies all day long

Skyward Sword, giving all them other Zelda games a good hard licking. I don’t know what comes next for the Zelda series but it’s not going to be easy to top this…

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12 comments

  1. the Well-Red Mage

    Hey I enjoyed your review. Skyward Sword was always on my radar as a game to get but I never got around to it, probably due in some part to the negative reaction it got. I already distrust public opinion but you’ve given me a little more enthusiasm to play Sword after all, even if I’m not a fan of motion controls.

    • veryverygaming

      Motion controls are interesting with Skyward Sword because they’re so integral to the game. Personally I think they’re an almost universal success here – combat is far deeper and more challenging and engaging with the sword, aiming with the bow and arrow is incredibly satisfying, and weirdly enough, even stuff like catching bugs with the bug net is really fun. Because it’s MotionPlus there’s not much else out there on Wii that you can compare it with… it makes something like Twilight Princess’s Wii controls look like a joke, for instance. Wii Sports Resort is the only serious contender that I know of (I’ve not played Red Steel 2, one of the few other MotionPlus games), and well, if you played Resort and didn’t like it, you certainly won’t like Zelda either since the mechanics are lifted directly from it 😛

  2. themancalledscott

    Skyward Sword was really fun for the most part. I loved the dungeon design and controls. However, it does suffer a grave flaw in its pacing. The game introduces more and more padding as it goes, and your quest becomes a chain of other quests to accomplish other quests to accomplish other quests. It gets so convoluted and tedious. It’s a fun game, but less definitely would have been more.

    • veryverygaming

      Hmmm. I can understand why you might see certain parts as padding (I’m getting the final piece of the final harp song if that helps to explain where I am) but with one or two exceptions it hasn’t affected me. In almost every case, even if the task is presented in a fetch quest-y way, the game has consistently shown me something new. The only disappointing exception that springs to mind is that one bit where you have to revisit a dungeon – definitely a low point. Anyway absolutely agree with you on the dungeon design and controls. The dungeons especially have been very satisfying, not too long or short with the right amount of challenge.

      • themancalledscott

        Another problem I have is Fi, who is inarguably the worst Zelda character ever. People complained about Navi, but at least she was helpful (intrusive though she may be). And then after introducing two great sidekicks in The King of Red Lions and Midna, they throw together the most useless, robotic, cardboard character imaginable. Can’t stand her.

        I’ve been meaning to play Skyward Sword again. Hopefully I’m just remembering things wrong, but the unnecessary length of the game is what’s prevented me from already going back to it. Definitely a great game, however.

  3. Red Metal

    One thing about Skyward Sword I thought was annoying that the bow is withheld from you for such a long time. I think it was so the slingshot wouldn’t be made worthless so early like what happened in Twilight Princess, but what they did was correct a problem that didn’t really exist. I also didn’t like having to fight The Imprisoned three times. At least with the other reoccurring boss, the fights were different enough that they didn’t feel repetitive.

    Other than that, I actually really enjoyed Skyward Sword. I liked the control scheme, and I was surprised just how challenging it ended up being – especially early on when you barely have any health. Indeed, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the first boss will completely waste you. Then again, I noticed that unlike in every other 3D installment, most enemies deal a whole heart’s worth of damage. This means that although you can get the traditional number of heart containers by the end of the game (20), you effectively have half the health you would in most games (a quarter in Hero Mode).

    • veryverygaming

      I was happy the bow was withheld for such a long time, because it’s so powerful after you get it negates a lot of the need for sword combat – it would feel like cheating if it didn’t come relatively late in the game. This is the first Zelda game probably ever where I find myself using the bow and arrow for combat purposes, it’s just that good and enemies put up such a fight. I asked Maya about the Imprisoned because I enjoyed the fights and how they switched things up each time. She said (and I think I agree) that it’s more that the principle of three fights was bad rather than their execution. Still, one thing I appreciate about how bosses are handled in Skyward Sword is that they crop up at times when you don’t expect them, like outside of dungeons. It’s a great change of pace in keeping with the general “keep you on your toes” philosophy.

      The difficulty too… oh yes. This was the first Zelda game since I first played the series as a child where it felt genuinely necessary to have potions and fairies to hand at all times. It’s gotten easier as the game has gone on (and the heart medallion thing helps too) but like you I was shocked at the lack of health drops from enemies and grass, plus the added damage. I love challenge in my games so I cannot tell you how happy that added level of tension made me.

  4. moresleepneeded

    I have played this game. I also enjoyed it more than expected (especially considering I thought Link was going to have to fly everywhere using slightly awkward controls). I agree that the hub makes the world seem disconnected and can be annoying to constantly return to the sky, fly to a light and then drop down to reach each area. I also liked the designs for the volcano and desert areas, but I also liked the designs for the dungeons, particularly the level with the giant statue. The items are more useful in this game than other games, with many items being able to attack different enemies (the ease of changing items also makes this less annoying than other games in the series). I also liked the extra small elements used to expand the game (such as entering the Silent Realm). I did get annoyed with rolling and throwing bombs though, my movements did not seem to make Link move, and it was annoying accidentally making Link attack enemies when I tried to make him defend. I found Link seems more dainty in this game than other games.
    Did you develop the Flying Beetle? What other uses did it have?

    • veryverygaming

      It sounds like your experience of the game was quite similar to my own – switching between items was easy, I liked the same dungeon quite a bit, and the Silent Realm challenges were a fun change of pace. The Beetle is cool, I would use it to cut those flower enemies stalks off, and to knock off any moblins on tight ropes. With the upgrades it just becomes a little stronger and it flies for longer, plus you can speed it up. Oh I also liked picking up bombs and items with it. I thought it was cool that even late areas of the game have little collectibles like red rupees in high up places that are designed for the beetle only.

  5. Mr. Panda

    Great post! I already read your other article about flaws of SS, but I’m glad you recognize one of its biggest strengths: items. There are only about 8 items, but they are all factored into all environmental and dungeon puzzles. In Twilight Princess, it’s almost the exact opposite, with items only being used for a couple of key spots. In SS, they really test your mastery of each item and how they can be used in conjunction, which is what I loved about the game’s inventory!

    • veryverygaming

      Yup, completely agree, it was a pleasant surprise after Twilight Princess! That inventory was so huge and unwieldy, especially on Wii with just the one item equippable at a time. On top of that, the way Skyward Sword regularly demands you use swordplay for the bosses and regular enemies is refreshing too. Not to mention more similar to the 2D Zelda games.

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