Oh, The Legend of Zelda, how I love thee. And oh how that love grows when you decide to do something new and interesting to mix up your aging (but still rather lovely) formula, like wrapping yourself up in a beautiful art style and using the Wii Remote and motion controls to their full potential. In fact, with Skyward Sword you might have finally justified motion controls as something that truly make video games better, not just gimmicky and physically tiring, making it difficult to think about just pushing buttons anymore.
Yes, the motion controls in this game are that good. In terms of the movements on screen matching your own, Nintendo has found a balance between too precise not precise enough, every sword swing and flick of your wrist coming together effortlessly to bring down your enemies. Guiding a flying beetle weapon through the air to cut down hanging ropes, or sometimes deadly foes; aiming your slingshot to knock crawling spiders off walls or hit switches in the distance; holding your arm up and flinging bombs, or rolling them on the ground like bowling balls; all of these things feel natural, intelligently-designed, and even fun. Which is what games are supposed to be about, right?
Nintendo has ditched the use of the sensor bar (other than a short calibration screen when the game starts), allowing you to control aiming, menu traversal, etc. with just motion controls, meaning there’s no more “the pointer just went off screen, you dummy!” to interrupt your adventure. Plus, if you happen to twist the Wii Remote a little too much and lose calibration, you just tap the d-pad and you’re good to go again. Nintendo really couldn’t have made it simpler to just… play, and not needing to think about what you’re doing.
The motion controls effect everything in the game, from puzzles to combat, the latter being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a game before. Let’s say you come up against Bokoblins (for those unfamiliar, they’re little pig/demon things that carry swords or clubs). They’ll hold their weapon up defensively, and you won’t be able to attack unless you slice them from the right direction. Deku Babas, another Zelda staple, can only be vanguished if you slice at their mouths in the correct way. Beamos, a new totem-like enemy, have to be sliced horizontally until you break them down to just their eye piece and give them a good poke. Other enemies, like Staldras and Stalfos, are much more difficult to fight and require different sword techniques combined together, along with a little of patience; waggling the Wii Remote around aimlessly will quickly get you killed. Even bosses have evolved from their usual patterns, every fight requiring strategy, and you will feel good when you win.
Similar to Majora’s Mask, Skyward Sword is a game in which each character matters. Even if they don’t seem to at first and feel like they’re just there to fill space. But give them time and you’ll discover who they are and what makes them tick, helping them with their various troubles, and in return having them help you with yours. Not just with items or side-quest completion, but with a little more understanding of Link’s world and what it’s like to live there. The more you interact with them, the more rich your experience will be.
The importance of story in SS is greater than most Zelda games too, giving you a reason to care about Zelda and Link’s intertwined fate. The dialog is full of not just wonderful writing, but constant nods to Zelda games gone by, a small reward for all of us who’ve stuck with the series for so long. Some references are subtle, while others are very much visible, and you will be smiling a lot regardless. It’s nice to know that as someone who’s invested a great deal of time in this franchise, Nintendo acknowledges me as a supporter, constantly tugging at the nostalgic strings in my heart. Or heart piece, as it were. It’s also nice to have an origin story, seeing every action you take and knowing how it will effect future incarnations of our heroes as they travel across Hyrule and beyond.
The music in SS is fully orchestrated, finally giving justice to a soundtrack that, even in its 1980′s origins, can put many games of today to shame. I felt relaxed, angered, afraid, and courageous, just as Link was feeling the same emotions. And though no one in the game speaks with a voice, other than small sounds of laughter or frustration, I’m beginning to think the franchise is better off without voices at all — there’s something simple and charming about the experience, like a film with little to no dialog that still manages to tell a great story and make you care about its characters. The eternal battle of Link needing to talk or not continues as well, with the only real words from our hero being said with dialog options (which, other than a bit of humor, don’t have much effect on the game). Still, a silent protagonist allows you to enter into their character and become the hero yourself, a good or bad thing depending on your own opinion.
In case you have’t noticed from the screenshots above or various videos posted throughout the Interwebs, SS is a beautiful game. Really, truly gorgeous, one of the best looking titles ever created and easily the most stunning game of this generation, “good looking for a Wii game” be damned. The visuals tie in perfectly with the music as well as the controls, creating a seamless audio/visual/play experience that is a joy to behold and a wonder to think about: Just how much time and effort did Nintendo put into this game? What hurdles did they have to overcome to create such a perfect blend of every aspect? Would the game be as enjoyable if they had gone in a different direction? However they came to the end result we have today, they deserve all the praise in the world for it.
Whether you’re a Zelda fan or not, a Wii fan or not, I cannot recommend this game enough. Few games try to do what this game does, and even fewer succeed. SS does it almost effortlessly. Play it.
Images are from the Zelda wikia Zeldapedia.