Skyward Sword is one of the most highly anticipated games this generation, a fitting swansong to an interesting era of gaming from Nintendo and its Wii console. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is finally here for the masses, bringing with it claims of perfect 1:1 sword-play, an epic quest and a new take on the familiar Zelda experience. Expectations were at an all-time high, particularly with the re-release of Ocarina of Time earlier this year, which has been long heralded as the greatest game of all time.
Skyward Sword not only meets all of those expectations, but creates a gaming experience that has not only reinvigorated an ageing series, but set a standard for what Nintendo can achieve with motion controls, story and fantastic art styles.
What Skyward Sword Got Right
Origin story - The Zelda timeline is a whole kettle of fish that we won't get into right now, but Skyward Sword is our first look at an origin story for the series. Preceding the events of Ocarina of Time, we are introduced to Skyloft; a group of islands in the clouds created by a Goddess to protect a powerful item from the Demon King Demise. Many generations later after the creation of Skyloft, players take control of Link who is sent on a epic quest to "the surface" where he must fulfill his destiny with Zelda and stop the Demon King who has resurfaced to take over Skyloft and discover the item of great power. A fitting story that takes an in-depth look at the origins of many Zelda staples, such as The Master Sword, Ganon and the Triforce. This feels like the definitive beginning of the franchise, adding weight to every journey we've been on before, and setting a precedent for every journey we will embark on in the future.
Keeping with Zelda tradition, the game is devoid of voice actors to allow the player to immerse themselves as the characters. Despite the lack of dialogue, Skyward Sword is by far the most cinematic experience that Nintendo has ever created, offering an emotional connection to the characters and their stories unlike any other Zelda title before. The tension between Zelda and Link at the beginning of the game plays out like some kind of John Hughes film, allowing the player to feel a range of emotions as the story unfolds. Anyone who doubts Nintendo's ability to craft a cinematic experience will think twice after playing through Skyward Sword.
True arrival of motion gaming - The Nintendo Wii may have started the motion gaming craze, but Skyward Sword is when it truly arrives. Using the MotionPlus attachment the player has true 1:1 control over Link's sword, along with many of his items. Not only does this make combat satisfying, but it truly immerses the player into the gameplay. Never before has a gaming experience delivered pitch perfect motion control, but Skyward Sword does it with style. This is how a Zelda game should be played, and after going back to play Twilight Princess after some playtime with Skyward Sword I simply cannot imagine a Zelda game without this level of motion control ever again. This is the true definition of what motion controls should be in gaming.
New take on familiar ground - Skyward Sword feels like a different kind of Zelda title than its predecessors, relying heavily on open areas to provide gameplay and quests rather than solely dungeon exploration. Players will find that more side quests, combat and items are waiting to be found in the areas in between dungeons, which makes for some exciting gameplay.
Dungeon and puzzle design has been revamped to suit the new gameplay mechanics and motion controls to offer a robust experience. The development team has borrowed from every successful Zelda title and created something that truly feels unique, offers unprecedented challenge, yet still manages to feel accessible at the same time. Whether you are a hardcore Zelda fan or a casual player, you'll find something familiar, something new and something enjoyable in this epic adventure.
Satisfying combat - Nothing comes close to the satisfaction of the combat in Skyward Sword. That's a big claim, but I believe it to be the absolute truth. Enemies will dynamically block sword strokes which means you will need to pay attention, learn to counter their attacks and how to strike effectively. Precise 1:1 motion makes this possible, allowing you to slice in any direction, or even thrust your sword straight forward to land a blow. Every enemy you defeat leaves a smile on your face, almost like a small personal victory. After those first few battles, you won't be able to put this down.
Orchestral delight - A standout feature of the entire Zelda series has been the amazing soundtracks, and Skyward Sword keeps that tradition alive and kicking. The soundtrack is warm and charming one second, then full of urgency and desparation the next. There is a great mix of new and old anthems here that will be stuck in your head long after your session is over. It's big, it's epic and it's full of orchestral sounds.
Gorgeous art style - Trailers and gameplay footage simply don't do the unique art style of Skyward Sword any justice. Playing on a good TV with component cables will bring the game to life, like a breathing painting on your screen. A great use of colour and a mixture of serious and playful character and environment design makes this stand out not only for a Wii title, but as one of the best looking games of 2011.
What Skyward Sword Got Wrong
Z-Targeting can be frustrating - I'm nit-picking here, but on occasion the Z-Targeting system can be a little frustrating during some battles. If surrounded by enemies it will target the closest threat, but once you knock that enemy on his back it will change to the closest enemy rather than allowing you to land a fatal strike at times. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
Back tracking - With more emphasis on the open areas rather than finding dungeons, you will do a fair amount of back tracking as your quest unfolds. This is fine considering the size of the areas, and the amount of side quests available. What doesn't bode well is when you have to go through the same dungeon three times to complete a certain side quest. Once again this is an extremely minor gripe, particularly considering it is an optional endeavour.
The Final Verdict
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
is as close to perfection as we are going to get this generation. The combat is beyond satisfying, with each battle unfolding like strategic game of chess, just waiting for someone to take advantage of a missed opportunity. The controls set a benchmark for motion control, proving once and for all that if used correctly, it can not only enhance an experience, but create an unforgettable experience. The origin story brings a lot of weight to the franchise, and Nintendo's cinematic approach proves that they are masters in their field. Some people won't agree with the review, and feel that 10 out of 10 should be reserved for a game that is perfect, yet I disagree. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword,
despite its minute flaws, provides a simply stunning and unforgettable experience that transcends this generation of gaming and lifts the highly regarded franchise into a whole new league. This is as close to perfect as we are ever going to get.
By Stephen Heller