Zelda: Skyward Sword is an immensely triumphant evolution of the beloved adventure series.

User Rating: 9.5 | The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword WII
The gaming climate has changed significantly since The Legend of Zelda first arrived on the original NES system. From the expansive world of Ocarina of Time to the darker parallel realms of Twilight Princess, Zelda has consistently offered new ways to explore and plenty of memorable moments, but things have definitely undergone a paradigm shift since the 80's. Motion controls have been woven into the gaming culture, for better or for worse, and high-definition graphical power has become a major point in modern gaming. However, Zelda has remained humble, but creative; familiar, but welcoming. Nintendo has become famous (or infamous) for sticking to its guns in terms of creativity. To put it frankly, the Zelda template hasn't had a serious evolution since 1998's Ocarina of Time. The sleeper has awakened. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the most evolutionary Zelda game to date, bringing players up to speed with startling new additions and delivering a Zelda title that can truly stand out in this crowded next-gen market. Consider it a masterpiece.

Skyward Sword begins as humbly as any other Zelda game has before it. Link is a student at the local knight academy on the floating town of Skyloft. His childhood friend Zelda is preparing Link for the knighthood ceremony, which involves using giant birds called Loftwings to fly through the clouds. Right as Link completes his task, Zelda is taken away by a colossal windstorm, dragging her down to the forbidden land below the clouds with Link unable to save her. As Link recovers in Skyloft, he is cryptically guided by a mysterious being called Fi, who leads Link to a sacred chamber holding the Goddess Sword, a special blade destined to be wielded by a legendary hero. With help from Fi, Link is able to break through the clouds and explore the Earth below. Link quickly encounters a bizarre character named Ghirahim, a self-proclaimed Demon Lord who is out to use Zelda's power for his own gain. It's (once again) up to Link to save Zelda and defeat the evil that's taken her away. What makes Skyward Sword's story so poignant is twofold. Firstly, it shows an unquestionable bond between the characters. While Twilight Princess felt lonesome and a bit disjointed in its character interaction, Skyward Sword does everything in its power to make the dynamics between the characters crucial to the story. Link and Zelda's bond is the epicenter of Skyward Sword's story and it's portrayed in a way unseen in any other Zelda game. Secondly, the mythology of the Zelda universe is expanded upon, while also drawing lines between locations seen in earlier games in the series. The connections are thoughtfully produced and the world truly comes together, benefiting every step of the way. Zelda: Skyward Sword refines and adds meaning to its world. No other Zelda universe pushes the narrative as fluidly as Skyward Sword.

Nintendo flaunted the Wii MotionPlus capabilities of Zelda: Skyward Sword from the very beginning. Implementing 1:1 motion into the Zelda swordplay remains an ambitious move and could've been disastrous. Fortunately, it's anything but. Zelda has officially evolved. The Wii MotionPlus provides motion-controlled slashes in different directions, whether vertical, horizontal, diagonally, and even thrusting. Link can also use his shield for stunning or reflecting projectiles, along with other items (familiar and unfamiliar) in combat. The refined focus on combat also makes Skyward Sword a much more challenging game. If never dying in Twilight Princess left you annoyed, Skyward Sword will shove that thought away. This is a Zelda game with an edge. Many combat situations require a bit of puzzle solving to complete, such as slashing a certain direction at the right time for a quick kill. It's absolutely incredible and rewarding when an intricate swordplay puzzle can be completed with just as much gameplay finesse as problem solving. Many other items like the introductory Beetle Launcher show off the motion controls well, integrating the interface with the puzzles without any missteps. It can't be overstated how impressively and ambitiously Nintendo has crafted Skyward Sword's controls. You won't look at Zelda combat the same way again.

Zelda: Skyward Sword's hub design can easily be compared to the Gamecube classic, Zelda: Wind Waker. However, it's the sky that is your sea. Link uses his trusty feathered friend to traverse the sky, visiting new aerial islands and drifting down to the surface for dungeons and the like. The feeling of soaring through the clouds is assisted by use of the MotionPlus controls, which allow for dives, ascents, and dashes with specific motions or button presses. The sky, however, isn't as barren and empty as Wind Waker's Great Sea, with enough quick motions and minor distractions to keep players busy. It's an overworld, of course, but it's not too big or too small to traverse and has plenty of majesty in between the earthly realms.

Link's repertoire of skills has gotten a major overhaul, the first of which is the Stamina meter. Link's Stamina meter shows the hero's newfound acrobatics, like running up ledges, dashing across fields, and climbing on vines. Using these abilities costs Link some stamina, which refuels over time or can be refilled with Stamina Fruits. In addition to Link's stamina, the weapon system has gotten a major redesign. Link now sports the upgrade system, allowing his gear to be enhanced with items found in the worlds. Shields, weapons, and items can be updated quickly and easily at Skyloft's bazaar. These subtle inclusions show that the long-used Zelda formula is ready for a new age, one that doesn't skimp on the smoothness of the interface or the fluidity of its design. But Skyward Sword knows how to keep its best tricks at the forefront. This is still a Zelda game. You will still traverse dungeons, find items, solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and tackle boss fights. These Zelda essentials, however, feel completely new with the enhanced combat system and controls. From the get-go, Nintendo has created some ingenious puzzles, many of which take full advantage of the Wii's motion controls in bizarre, but accessible ways. The game also has plenty of side quests and items to find, so prepare to get lost in Skyward Sword for a good, long while.

The presentation takes the realism of Twilight Princess and mixes in a colorfully vivid world reminiscent of Wind Waker. From the bursts of sword attacks to the timidity of the heartfelt cutscenes, the graphics in Skyward Sword don't hold back in their inventiveness. The different environments encourage creativity on the developers' part; even when the game pushes the archetypal forest or mountain level, you'll find some generally inventive tricks when exploring them. A beautiful soundtrack shows the intimacy of Link and Zelda's life in Skyloft, while also changing up to faster compositions when in battle. Diversity is plentiful in Skyward Sword's sound design. It's no wonder that the soundtrack is bundled with the game in opening shipments. It may not have the storybook atmosphere of Wind Waker or the dark resilience of Twilight Princess, but Skyward Sword strikes a balance between both, a balance that makes it one of the most refined visual and aural experiences on Wii.

It's been 25 years since Nintendo introduced the world to The Legend of Zelda. It's been 13 years since Ocarina of Time reshaped the gaming circuit with Z-targeting and expansive 3D exploration. Now, Nintendo has set another massive benchmark for the series. From its subtle upgrade and stamina systems to its incredible implementation of 1:1 swordplay, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword can stand alongside the best in the series. A beautiful narrative that mixes humble beginnings with colossal confrontations, a presentation that draws incredible experimentation into its art design, and an ascendant world unlike anything seen in the series yet; they all feel honed, tuned, and new. Nintendo has done what some gamers thought could never be done: they've evolved Zelda. With the Wii beginning to fade from the public eye in favor of the upcoming WiiU system, Nintendo has taken years of refinement and ambitious experimentation and made what can officially be called a next-generation Zelda game. This isn't just a new coat of paint and some tune-ups; it's what Zelda on Wii is supposed to be.