Skyward Sword sets the standard for motion controls and touches the heart.
The Sky is Very Empty
Removes a lot of Exploration
Think about the story that most, if not all Zelda games have. Yeah there are a variance of twists but for the most part, they end up with our silent protagonist Link saving Zelda. In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword you do also ultimately end up saving Zelda, but what the game does different story wise is actually for the better. For example, there is actually far more character development than ever before. In most of the previous games Zelda was never properly introduced as well as she is here. Her and Link grew up together and went to Knight's school with each other. The two lovebirds actually feel more like lovebirds as there is a lot more emotional tension seen in the cutscenes. The two of them will fly around together, Zelda will push Link off of stuff, Link shows fury and rage whenever he sees her in danger. It's a very pleasing addition to the formula and some of the cutscenes almost made me shed a few tears. The story goes that Zelda is sucked into a tornado and you have to track her down. Ultimately she finds out that she is the reincarnation of the Goddess Hylia as Link is the destined hero. The story itself isn't all that great, but the telling of it is absolutely outstanding.
Outside of our main two heroes, we have an assembly of support characters and villains. There's Fi, the typical helper that gives information a la Navi or Midna. There are also the silly town characters we love running into, although there's a disappointing lack of populated areas. Even the main town, Skyloft, has a little population considering its size. The main villains are a little disappointing in the development. Ghirahim is a wacky guy trying to use Zelda to revive his master, a very old cliché, and acts to Link in evil yet oddly seductive ways. The very final villain is a character that just comes out of nowhere but is revealed that he will be reincarnated as the ultimate evil, a hint to other games in the series. Overall the core of the game remains light on story save for our two main heroes. Considering what Zelda games have grown to be it might not be such a bad thing, but from early on in the story I was hoping for more for the rest of the way through.
Throughout recent years the Zelda games loved to change up the art direction. We had the incredible cell shaded look of Wind Waker and the darker, more realistic tone of Twilight Princess. Each of which looked great in their own ways. Skyward Sword seems to blend these two together seamlessly with a highly colorful painted look onto unexaggerated characters and environments. The results actually aren't always that great. Things out and far away may indeed look similar to a water color painting, but things close up can look a little more like a washed out mess in some cases. Mostly when you're in first person view crawling through tight passageways. The best looking parts of the game I believe to be are the blues of the sky and the water. When seeing the sky creep out from the clouds it really looks like brushstrokes on the edges of the clouds and I found myself staring in beauty on multiple occasions. The water is such a shiny blue that it literally looks like it's made of liquid diamonds, albeit not showing a lot of reflection. The final boss is definitely the showcase for how good the water can look.
The games animations seem to be a real step up this time around. Since there is now a sprint button for Link it looks probably how I would imagine a guy sprinting with a sword and shield on his back. The fluidity in the movement of the characters during the cutscene really helps with the charm factor. Link will show much more emotion and the eye movement and crinkles in his nose as he gets angry make him feel a lot more alive. Most of the bosses in this game are very big and watching them move around. Levias, a giant sky whale God, moves through the sky with much grace and it feels incredible fighting on his back as the camera makes it feel as if it's a cool cinema sequence. There is one item in the game called the Gust Bellow that basically blows a strong wind current at whatever you point it at. This made me curious at test out the physics of how everything would react to it. Not surprisingly, there isn't too much that actually reacts at all. It's not necessary at all but at least some water ripples or any reaction from drapes would be nice. The framerate holds up silky smooth throughout the adventure but there was some slowdown when I was using the dowsing ability aimed at the water as well as Eldin Volcano during my sequence in which my gear was stolen. It doesn't break the game but it is very noticeable when it happens, annoyingly.
Skyward Sword features the best soundtrack the series has had to date. Fully orchestrated and pleasing to the ear from beginning to end. To the fast paced adrenaline fueling tracks of the boss battles to the sweet and soothing new rendition of Zelda's Lullaby, there's a little something for everyone. Music is all about personal taste but I enjoyed just about everything I heard in the game. If I'd have to pick a favorite track it would probably be The Loftwing Race, with its fast and catchy use of wind instruments, sounding like something out of Wind Waker. Orchestration definitely sets the standard for games of this size and scale and hopefully Nintendo will keep using it in future Zelda titles. I'd hate to go back to the argument about voice acting, but a game with as much dialogue as Skyward Sword has it would be really nice not to have to read the screen each and every time. I really hope they reconsider next time and Link should still be silent. But, hey, at least we get the good old goofy voice samples of "HEYYYY" and whatnot. And that's always fun.
Skyward Sword introduces new gameplay elements while throwing out some of the older ones and the biggest new feature here is the use of Wii Motion Plus. The combat turns its back on button mashing in favor of 1:1 motion controls and for the most part it works flawlessly. Up is up, down is down, diagonal is diagonal, and stabbing is stabbing allowing for combat that is much more involving and keeps you on your feet. Many enemies are designed with this system in mind as the enemies wield their weapons in ways that you can only get to them by swinging at a certain angle and it feels very intuitive and fun. It isn't perfect, however, as the controls can occasionally go out of whack and Link will be swinging his sword to the left when you want him to swing up and right and you're left either smacking the remote or swinging it around until it goes back. Fortunately it only happened a few times. The controls also translate to Link's pile of items and you can point and shoot arrows or control a flying beetle and, with the exception of frequently but painlessly having to re-center the cursor, the controls are exceptional. An upgrade system is available for the items by collecting various objects that can be found throughout the world. These features include making your slingshot similar to a shotgun, strengthening your shield, or making your beetle last longer in the air. It's about as unnecessary as you'd expect and I found myself doing it "just cause it's there".
Probably one of the best parts of Skyward Sword is the boss battles, which are arguably the best in the series. You'll come across a plethora of bosses and most of them are an absolute joy to fight. While some of them still focus on the formula of using the item that you got in the dungeon, there are others that you have to battle differently. Some will have you rolling bombs down a hill and into the mouth of a charging beast, while others make you use the skills you've learned with slashing the sword at the correct angle. One will even have you stealing the boss' giant sword and using it against him. My favorite of the bosses was on the back of Levias which had me swinging the sword left, right, or straight to hurl a projectile back at the alien eye that moved its head from left to right randomly. Not all of the bosses are great as your battles with Ghirahim, the main villain, make no sense and it's hard to figure out just how to get a hit on him. A giant boss known as The Imprisoned is a cool fight at first but he frequently returns in a stronger state throughout the story, and it left me with a "sigh" each time it happened.
The overall dungeon design feels as though it's a step back from previous games. Dungeons are now very linear which takes out a good chunk of the thought process it takes to get through them. Instead of coming to multiple dead ends that you can't get to until later, the right way to go is always right there and this is not fun if you've grown accustom to solving more complex dungeons. The puzzles inside the dungeons still remain very good and just get better as the game goes on. The best being the time switching orbs that you can carry to activate things that only work in the past i.e. the radius of the orb and act accordingly. It's probably the most creative the series has ever been. Even though they are linear, the dungeons always feel fresh and drastically different from each other and you'll be doing a good variety of tasks through each of them. You'll definitely have to think hard in the deepest part of your brain to get through some of the better parts.
Skyward Sword is a huge game with many places to go. Below the sky are three huge areas housing dungeons and whatnot. They will take a heck of a long time to get through and feel like dungeons themselves with cutting ropes to make a swing or bombing statues to make a path above quicksand. It's quite a journey to get through them all and they're all filled with their own unique civilization to help you along the way. These areas are very fun to conquer and explore but mostly your objective is to get from point A to point B. There are no secret bugs or Poe Souls to hunt down so the only secret objects you're looking for are pretty much Goddess Cubes, which unlock a chest somewhere in the sky when activated. This disappointing lack of exploration limits the replay values of exploring these big worlds and instead you're forced to replay them for story purposes. You're put back into these places to collect Tears of Light while avoiding statues that will make you start over if they attack you. I found these to be more tedious than fun.
Meanwhile, high in the sky, we have a big open area that you fly around on a Loftwing to navigate, similar to sailing in Wind Waker. There are many islands to explore but it feels very draft and unpopulated. Most of the islands house nothing but a chest or two or a character with a mini-game. If you come into the game thinking the sky will have a lot to do, guess again. Skyloft and The Lumpy Pumpkin are the only populated places and there are no secret caves to find and explore. So if you spend 15 minutes flying to a chest that has a silver rupee that you don't even need, it feels like a gargantuan waste of time and that's the biggest problem from a gameplay perspective. What we can be thankful for is the lack of loading times to each island allowing you to free-fall as much as you want just because it looks cool.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may take out a fair bit of exploration from the series. But it sets the standard for motion controls and has some great presentation, making it one of the best games you can play on the Wii.