The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword comes to the Wii after five years in the making, and faces considerable expectations. Nintendo’s marquee Christmas 2011 release is clearly going to be the final major title in the Wii’s lifecycle, and in a way that’s oddly appropriate. When the Wii launched, a quick motion control revamp of Twilight Princess was released along with the system. It was the first major title on the Wii that wasn’t merely a gimmicky collection of mini-games. However, the motion controls were fairly basic, essentially offering players the option of waggling the controller to swing Link’s sword. Skyward Sword’s use of Motionplus ensures that gamers finally get to feel as though they have total control of Link’s sword via the Wiimote. It’s the game we all dreamed of when we first saw ads for Nintendo’s nifty motion controlled gaming innovation. In many ways, the game is the peak of what’s possible on the Wii, and a perfect swansong for the system before it’s laid to rest to allow Nintendo to finally enter the HD gaming landscape.
What’s particularly refreshing about Skyward Sword is that it feels like the first Zelda game to really take a leap forward in the franchise in many years. Games like Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask were wonderful entries in the series, but never felt like much more than updates to and revamps of Ocarina Of Time. Now that’s a title that routinely find’s itself in “greatest game of all time” discussions, so more of the same isn’t really a bad thing in that instance. However, Skyward Sword builds on the established Zelda formula that we know and love in ways that should have a similar irreversible impact on the series, much like Ocarina Of Time did so many years ago. The most obvious new addition is the motion controlled swordplay, which is much more than a gimmick. You won’t face as many enemies at once as you have in previous Zelda games, but each sword battle feels like an event unto itself rather than a hack n’ slash dash to the next villain. You’ll have to plan your defense and strikes strategically with split second timing and careful aim. Sounds tricky, but it’s remarkably intuitive once you learn the ropes and, lining up complicated attacks in later fights will feel like second nature. This is how motion controlled sword fighting should be done, and it would be a shame that Nintendo hadn’t perfected it until the end of the Wii era, were it not for the fact that Wiimotes will carryover to the Wii U.
Now, hardcore Zelda fans shouldn’t worry about this game being a needless reinvention of the wheel. Nintendo knows that their fans have certain expectations with each new Zelda outing, and you can rest assured they’ve been met. You still raise items over your head to a familiar dramatic jingle when opening chests, and the “new dungeon = new item” formula remains intact. However, you can expect to get some new items along with classics like the slingshot and bow that exploit the motion controls. For example, there’s a whip that requires you to get all Indiana Jones with your Wiimote to knock out enemies and swing across chasms. While swinging the controller around might make you look like an idiot, it feels pretty damn good in gameplay. Other, subtler new motion controlled items include a bugnet that has to be carefully deployed with exact timing, and an incredibly fun flying beetle that works kind of like the remote controlled batterangs in Arkham City to investigate hidden rooms and activate hard-to-reach switches. It’s nice to be surprised for once when you open up an item chest, and you’ll find that every item comes in handy throughout the game rather than dropping off in later stages as the poor little slingshot has so many times in the past.
Oh, and you get a giant bird that you can fly around on. Yes, that’s just as awesome as it sounds.
The game controls like a dream, with commands simple enough to be picked up by a first timer and deep enough to offer new surprises well into the story. The plot itself is as fun, surprising funny, and epic as we’ve come to expect from the franchise, even if it’s been subtly tweaked and altered slightly from the established formula. The lovely lady Zelda actually appears a great deal in the early training levels. At the start of the game, Link lives in a floating paradise known as Skyloft where he’s been training to become a knight with a flying bird…you know, that old tale. Just as Link graduates to become a fighting force, Zelda is stolen away by a massive beast and pulled down to the ground.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Link is destined to be the hero to retrieve Zelda and you soon set out on a long journey that will take you to three distinct lands with many surprises: the seemly serene greenery of the Faron forests, the desert wastelands of Lanyru, and the fire-charred rocky landscape of Mount Eldin. You’ll go through the puzzle solving, platforming dugeons you know and love, with the occasional twist in the formula to pump up the action like a minecart ride straight out of Temple Of Doom. The cinematics are crisp, funny, and beautifully rendered within the limitations of the Wii’s last generation graphics engine. It’s as exciting and immersive as any Zelda tale to date, though I suppose that’s practically a franchise staple at this point.
It’s hard to imagine anyone whose mouth waters at the prospect of a new Legend Of Zelda adventure being disappointed with Skyward Sword. The game offers everything you love from the series with new motion-controlled innovations that only seem to improve on the beloved formula. Don’t be surprised if you’ll sink 30 hours into this title without even reaching the conclusion; that’s Zelda for ya. You’ll never fell bored during the long, trying journey filled with brain-busting challenges.
The only real issue with the game is that, despite the epic length and immersive story and gameplay, the visuals do feel quite dated when stacked up against the big Christmas releases for the X-Box 360 or Playstation 3. This ain’t no Uncharted 3, that’s for sure. The cartoony visual style does suit the series, but considering the scale of the story and the bosses, the visuals struggle to keep up with the designers’ imaginations at times. Still, it’s remarkable that Nintendo crammed so much content onto a Wii disc, even if the visuals took at hit as a result.
With Skyward Sword, Nintendo has nailed motion controls and provided a deep story and gameplay experience on par with what hardcore gamers love in their other systems. It almost feels like a preview of coming attractions for the company’s next console. Nintendo may have tapped the casual gaming market with the Wii and had success unlike anything they experienced before, but they also left the hardcore players they’d courted over generations behind in the process. Now that they’ve proven to be capable of a gaming experience like Skyward Sword, we can only hope for more hardcore games on the upcoming Wii U. If this game was always intended to be the peak of the Wii’s capabilities, then Nintendo can feel proud as they close the books on their ridiculously successful console. The system is going out in style in what already feels like a Nintendo classic, and it’s exciting to imagine what they’ll come up with next now that they’ll finally have a console with the graphics horsepower to match their silky-smooth gameplay innovations. If you own a Wii, you owe it to yourself to dust off the system for the epic journey of Skyward Sword. This is the game you dreamed of when you bought the system and you may as well make that blue light hum one more time to finally see the Wii deliver on all of its promises.