Despite its flaws, this is a solid addition to the Zelda series.
Cede wrote this review on .
One of Skyward Sword's high points is in its story. It does a good job of maintaining the classic Legend of Zelda personality, charm and humor. There is an epic, red pompadour touting character named Groose who is jealous of Link's relationship with Zelda and acts as a minor antagonist early on. Zelda games have a way of being serious adventures while throwing in some humor from time to time that only adds to the realism and makes the story more comfortable. One moment you're finishing off the boss of a temple, the next you're back in Skyloft trying to decide if you should let someone use a local bully's love letter as toilet paper. Looking at the story as a whole, it starts off fairly slow. You are a Skyloft knight-in-training at the Knight Academy. Your best friend Zelda is the headmaster's daughter. You have to deal with Groose and his flunkies; nothing too interesting. Once the game's main conflicts start to kick into gear, you spend your time trying to catch up to Zelda to return her to her father. She seems to be on a quest of her own. Anywhere from half-way to two-thirds of the way into the game, the story really picks up and begins to actually feel like The Legend of Zelda. As the back cover of the game case mentions, this game is "the birth of the Legend." If you play through this game you will discover how true that statement is. Newbies to the series will find enjoyment the whole story through, but hardcore fans probably won't get too involved until at least half way.
The art style in Skyward Sword is almost exactly like twilight princess, but with a more vibrant color palette. Everything seems to have a cartoon glimmer about it. Where Twilight Princess (TP) opted for a more realistic, earthy feel to the world, this game opts for some more color, but only slightly. Non-player characters are comparable to those in TP, but feel slightly more cartoony in some cases (select townsfolk). There's one character in Skyloft who I swear is a caricature of Rocky. The Bokoblins are notably cartoon-like, feeling more like Windwaker enemies. Most other foes are fairly serious looking and only colorfully painted. One region in the game is especially easy on the eyes. There are items called timeshift stones that, when struck, shift a volume of space around them to a past time state. These stones occur in an area that has become mostly barren, so when used they create a beautiful contrast between greenery and desolation. The ones that can be moved are even better. As they move along you watch as sand turns into dirt, sprouting grass or trees. In one area a sea of sand becomes a sea of water. Really the only downfall with this game in terms of graphics is in the lack of antialiasing; it's basically nonexistent. This may be a flaw of the Wii's graphic processing itself, but it makes everything a little bit uglier.
As a side note, it took me awhile to unsee Gushers fruit snacks every time I found rupees.
The soundtrack of this game is mostly pleasing. Much of it is fully orchestrated and the tracks generally fit the environments they're paired with. The desert theme sounds mysterious and has some fitting woodwinds effects. When in an area encompassed by a timeshift stone, the theme changes slightly to incorporate more mechanical synth. The main theme of Skyward Sword is fantastic and a great addition to the all the prior main themes. It crops up in various places throughout the game such as when Zelda sings with her harp. The beautifully orchestrated track that plays during flight is perfect. It has a fitting adventurous feel to it. The Skyloft town theme sounds pretty typical for a town theme but doesn't become annoying and rather settles down as white noise. The Ghirahim battle themes fit well with his flamboyant, quirky personality. The soundtrack was lacking in dark, serious themes such as those typical of Ganondorf and final dungeons.
Aside from the controls, it's improvements almost all around where gameplay is concerned. As Mr. Miyamoto mentioned in one of the game's promos, much of the game is spent outside of dungeons. He exaggerated a bit and the game still holds to the formulaic Zelda dungeon structure. But it does a good job of transitioning and adding lots of content between dungeons. The only problem with these transitions is the inclusion of some fetch quests that don't feel Zelda-ish at all and are more like bargain-bin game or MMO style questing. Shigeru also mentioned this being the longest Zelda title yet. This is mostly true. I spent roughly 60 hours completing the main quest (and much of the side stuff), which is on par with Twilight Princess and Windwaker (at least in my experience). After beating the game, you have the option to delete your file and replace it with a Hero Mode New Game file. Hero Mode is another iteration of New Game+ where you keep many of your collectibles (crafting items) but the game is made far harder. You take double damage and enemies no longer drop hearts, forcing you to rely almost entirely on skill and potions. This adds to the replay value of the game greatly. The added challenge is welcome after playing through some game segments that were very much on the easy side.
The additions/improvements to the Zelda formula include crafting systems, shield durability, a solution to the "I'm too rich" problem, a more acrobatic Link, more elaborate puzzles, and the silent realm. Enemies drop crafting items and there are bugs you can catch with a bug net. The crafting items let you improve your shields and other equipment while the bugs can be added to potions to improve their effects. This makes it more worth it to explore and to defeat enemies since you will want to find these items. In older Zelda games the only reason you would need to buy a new shield is if a Like-Like ate your old one. Now your shield takes damage if you defend without parrying (without the proper timing). If it breaks you will need to buy a new one (you can repair it before it gets to that point with a potion or at a particular shop). This also rewards skill. If you parry accurately, you shield takes no damage and you won't have to worry about the durability factor. All of the above helps with the money problem. For those who don't know, this problem has plagued Zelda games: you find a huge rupee to fill your wallet with, only to realize you are already at max wallet capacity. Twilight Princess sort of solved this problem by not allowing you to keep money from chests if you had no room for it, allowing you to return later to claim it. This game does one better by giving you more things to spend money on (including items you can carry that give you buffs such as finding more treasure drops) and larger wallet capacities. You start the game already able to carry more than in previous games and you can purchase small wallet upgrades from Beedle's shop (yes that Beedle). In addition, the major wallet upgrades you can find ultimately give you a capacity into the thousands of rupees, so it's far more difficult to run into the "I'm too rich" problem.
This game removes the magic meter and replaces it with a stamina gauge. You never really miss not having spells to use but their loss isn't really a benefit to the game either. Link is able to dash, run up small walls and obstructions, and use small ledges to creep around cliffs by his fingertips. All of these, as well as climbing vines or using spin attacks, use up stamina. Stamina automatically recharges when not doing any of the above, but if you let it run out entirely, Link is left helpless as he catches his breath and can only slowly walk around. This added some nice complexity to puzzles and combat but was frustrating when I was unable to sprint from point A to point B without running out of breath. There are potions in the game that recharge stamina or make it run out more slowly but the need exceeded the use of a few potions. It would have been nice to be able to extend my stamina gauge as I progressed through the game, or at least increased my sprinting time.
As McShea noted in his review, this game does do a slightly better job than many previous games at forcing you to use your noggin and all the tools at your disposal to solve puzzles. I consider myself a fairly seasoned Zelda player and still managed to be tripped up by a few of the puzzles. One of the most fun and useful items is the robotic beetle, which you launch and control its flight with the Wiimote's motion controls. This is useful almost everywhere. Since the camera shifts to focus just behind the beetle, it lets you scout ahead to check out upcoming enemies (think The Mark of Kri hawk coupled with the Metal Gear Solid remote controlled missiles) or to get a better angle on a particular puzzle. Finally, the silent realm is a series of trials you have to complete without the use of any equipment, not even your sword and shield. These provide a nice change of pace throughout the game and force you to rely entirely on skill and Link's adept parkour abilities.
One thing I forgot to mention, an important point, is the boss fights. Interesting bosses that require strategy and figuring out how to harm them is a Zelda staple. Most of the fights didn't feel very epic. The most interesting and fun involved the game's primary antagonists and required comfort with motion controlled combat. One particularly large boss cropped up multiple times throughout the game and provided a decent challenge. While these fights generally didn't require much thought to figure out how to complete them, they did feel pretty good to execute and put Link's tools to work.
Despite these awesome changes, the developers also made a lot of mistakes. For example the crafting items I mentioned generate the "I found a new item!" event every first time you find them on a particular game session. The game then goes on to show you the inventory count of that item being updated. This process inspired thoughts such as, "I already know what Eldin Ore is, stop telling me!" This is a huge time waster. It would have been better to only show you the event the first time the item is encountered in a play through rather than every sitting. Fi, the new Navi, is the most annoying Legend of Zelda sidekick yet. She repeatedly stated the obvious or told me what to do/where to go next throughout my quest. If I dropped low on hearts she would tell me to replenish them at my nearest convenience (obviously…). She even notified me that the batteries in my Wiimote were running low. There's already a red battery icon to alert me of this fact so it's really unnecessary. There's a show on YouTube called Sequelitis that mentions this game flaw. The episode about classic Mega Man and Mega Man X brings up that modern games too often tell a player every little detail and don't let them figure things out for themselves. Fi is a prime example of this. The fact that she often interrupts gameplay of her own accord compounds the problem. At least Navi usually required a button press to be annoyed by her.
Windwaker had its sailing and an epic sea, Skyward Sword has the sky and riding on the back of a bird called a Loftwing. As in Twilight Princess's horseback battles, riding on the back of a bird in three dimensions opens up all kinds of avenues for combat. But the game capitalizes on virtually none of them. The bird is primarily a taxi to get you to the few locations in the game and the amount of flight combat and other activities is at a minimum.
One final complaint I have with the overall gameplay of Skyward Sword is in its game world. The game is fairly long, but the game world feels very limiting. Aside from Skyloft, there are only 3 major locales to visit: a forest, a desert and a volcano and they aren't even interconnected but are only accessible from the sky. This brings the feeling of scale down a great deal. It would be awesome to fly around the sky on your red Loftwing and explore the world from that vantage, but there really isn't anything to explore. The number of sky islands is small and many of them can't even be landed on. Of the islands that can be landed on, most are only good for a treasure chest or two and have no other purpose. Despite being a great game in other ways, Skyward Sword is lacking in exploration and optional areas. There are virtually no optional areas to explore. Twilight princess had some caves and optional terrain to hunt down and enticing locations found but unreachable until later in the game. That is mostly untrue in this game. On top of that, you can only reach the surface from a few small breaks in the cloud barrier. The world would have felt much larger if it had been more seamless in this sense.
The controls in Skyward Sword are supposed to be what make this particular Zelda special, but they're also its weakest aspect. Often you will perform a maneuver to make Link do one thing, and he will either not respond or decide to do something else entirely. This is the most frustrating in boss battles, where mistakes often mean hearts. I bought the collector's edition version of the game since I didn't already own a Wii Motion Plus controller. It is mostly responsive. If you wag the controller around, Link moves his sword or other equipment along with you. My advice to anyone playing this game, make your movements slow and exaggerated. By the end of the game I discovered a major reason of the lack of response was my movements were too quick. For example, many times you will want Link to perform a stab with his sword. Naturally, to do this you jab the Wiimote forward. Do this too quickly and he may decide to perform a shield parry instead. Another boss requires swinging the sword from down to up. Do this too quickly and Link may do the opposite. This all can be a problem when in the heat of battle when you most want to treat the controller like the actual hilt of a sword and be fast in your motions.
All that aside, I mostly disagree with Tom McShea's qualms with reorienting the pointer to the center of the screen. This is necessary fairly often, but as you progress you will learn to already have your Wiimote pointed to the screen center before you begin a pointing action. If you do this, recalibrating is no longer needed. I'm undecided on whether dropping the infrared sensing for pointing was a good idea though. Pointer tracking can be far slower without it, most notable in the file select menu, where the pointer feels like a lead weight.
Many battles in the game require you to perform sword strikes at certain angles, an obvious choice to make use of the new motion controls. While getting Link to swipe at a certain angle is one place where the controls tend to work most of the time, setting up your sword to the correct start position can be a problem. One of the most common enemies, the Bokoblin, switches up their guard at intervals to protect against different directions. If you move the sword to the right starting position for your desired swipe too quickly the game registers it as an attack, usually right into the opponent's guarded side. This problem was more of a frustration early on before I became more comfortable with the game, but it did persist to some degree.
I've listed a ton of issues with the controls but they aren't all bad. When everything works it is very satisfying to combat enemies in swordplay, especially some of the tougher bosses and minibosses that draw more thoroughly on the motion controls. Just play with slower, smoother movements and always think before you act and you'll get the hang of it and definitely be rewarded.
This is clearly a must-play for any Zelda fan. Ordinary Wii owners should find plenty of enjoyment as well because this is one game that manages to use the motion controls without feeling gimmicky. The controls aren't perfect, but things work most of the time and only ever become a problem during choice boss fights. This title belongs in all but the most picky of gamer's libraries.