Forget the not-so-elegant swordplay show put on by Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo's E3 press conference. We just got back from playing the new Legend of Zelda adventure, Skyward Sword, and found the new control system to be quite responsive. The one-to-one sword motion works well, and though it does require a more methodical approach than Hyrulian adventurers might be used to, it is easy to trigger sideways slashes and overhand chops once you get the hang of it. We also took a bunch of Link's new gadgets for a spin and vanquished our fair share of giant skeletons and aggressive shrubberies.
First up, the sword. Link's iconic weapon is mapped to respond more or less exactly to your remote motions. If you move your remote-wielding arm out to the right, so does Link. If you lift the remote straight above your head, Link will hoist the sword aloft. There is some novelty to moving the sword around, but the real test is how the controls perform in combat. They don't respond to rapid sequences of quick motions well, so flailing frantically is not the way to go. Rather, it helps to imagine that your remote has a little more weight. If you deliberately move your remote out to the side and then quickly slash to the other side, you'll execute a horizontal swipe. If you move it up to the left and then swing back down to the right, you'll do a diagonal slash.
Once you get the hang of properly positioning the remote before your attacks, it's easy to wield the sword the way you like. It is a more methodical system than the one employed by Twilight Princess, and the game has a neat little mechanic that helps reinforce the approach you need to take. Holding your sword in a position to strike for a few seconds will imbue the weapon with a charge. Charged attacks are more powerful, and Link delivers them with an enjoyable visual flourish. There's also a goofy appeal to running around with your sword held aloft, menacing any and all enemies who cross your path.
In addition to straightforward directional slashes, Link can execute horizontal and overhead spin slashes, performed by swinging both the remote and nunchuk together in the appropriate direction. You can also thrust with the remote to perform a jab attack. The shield responds to your nunchuk gestures as well. Lifting the nunchuk raises your shield, and flicking it delivers a shield bash that, if well timed, can daze enemies and set them up for the kill. If he doesn't daze enemies, Link will have to contend with their efforts to block his attacks. Pudgy porcine thugs use their clubs to block one direction, while large hulking skeleton warriors have two blades with which to deflect Link's blows. Even fierce deku baba plants now have armored mouths and are only susceptible to being sliced across the mouth. Everything is tailored to getting the most out of the new sword controls.
Of course, Link also has a substantial arsenal of gadgets, many of which have new control tricks. Link can now roll bombs like bowling balls in addition to tossing them, and both actions require you to mimic them with the remote. You now shoot arrows by selecting the bow and pulling the nunchuk back to draw the bowstring. The new whip is particularly fun and allows you to grab items like hearts and rupees from a good distance away, tracking your remote gestures in the same way the sword does. Another new addition is the beetle, a tiny flying gizmo that Link can launch from his wrist and steer using the remote. The beetle can pick up items and return them to Link or use its skills for more aggressive maneuvers. By sweeping down to a bomb flower, the beetle can grab a bomb and then fly over enemies, switching the player's point of view to better enable aerial bombardment. No surprises in how to use the slingshot, but there were a number of empty slots in Link's active item inventory that promised more things to come (our money's on a boomerang).
Skyward Sword is also going for a new visual aesthetic that lands somewhere between the quasi-realism of Twilight Princess and the stylized cel shading of Windwaker. The colors are rich and saturated, lending a vibrant look to our demo area. As we romped around the forest, we also noticed a certain softness to the environment, perhaps a manifestation of the painterly style that Nintendo is trying to capture. While it still remains to be seen if the new control system will make this Legend of Zelda stand out from the rest, we were left with a positive initial impression. After we spent a few minutes getting the hang of the timing, Skyward Sword's one-to-one sword motion was more satisfying and more engaging than flailing ever was, and that bodes well for the adventure to come.