Game Review: The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword

I know it has been three months since the latest Hyrulian adventure was released, but like I said I’m not going to be able to post a whole lot of game reviews near release. I finished Skyward Sword just over a month ago and hey, people are still playing it, so here we go.

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Platform:
Wii
Developer:
Nintendo
Rating: M
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Golden!

Still going strong after 25 years.

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I’m going to come right out and say it.
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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is only just behind Majora’s Mask as my favourite Zelda game of all time. Read on to find out why.

THE SET-UP

This is a new Zelda game, five years in the making. It endeavours to use the Wii MotionPlus controller add-on technology in a way that enhances gameplay and takes the series to new places, while also telling an origin story of the fabled Master Sword. Other than that, well, it’s Zelda.

WHAT YOU DO

The standard Zelda rhythm of dungeon-hopping between story segments directs proceedings in Link’s latest (earliest?) outing, but it features more shake-ups to the formula than in any previous instalment. The result is a freshness that the series hasn’t seen since, well, Majora’s Mask.

The segments between dungeons, previously padded out with a lot of running/riding/sailing to get places, now resemble outside mini-dungeons themselves. The puzzles rarely let up and even though there are only three main areas in the game, they are each reused in very clever ways whenever you are required to revisit them. They feel like almost entirely new stages upon each rediscovery.

The dungeons themselves are generally shorter to compensate, which is a big plus in my book. The quality of the puzzles doesn’t suffer (there are at least two world-class dungeons here to challenge any in the series) and it feels like there is less fluff separating you from the game’s awesome bosses.

SO MANY ARMS

One of the best Zelda bosses ever.

Unfortunately the game suffers from a couple of inexplicably arbitrary sequences, which seem like blatant attempts to increase the length of the game while achieving next to nothing. I won’t single them out because they are fairly spoileriffic, but they are there. Thankfully they are rare.

The game also features a fair few sidequests, which unlock gradually as you progress through the game. They almost always start and finish in the sky, an area completely separate from the puzzle-laden surface world where the majority of the game takes place. They are meaty and satisfying and even occasionally branch out into multiple paths. Various collectible treasures and bugs also exist around the game world, ready to be hunted down and used to upgrade things like potions and equipment. These wonderful additions are the reason it took me 65 hours to finish the game while my brother clocked it in 35.

No review of Skyward Sword is complete without a word on the controls, which are at the heart of nearly everything you do while playing it. They are near-flawless. The Wii MotionPlus technology drives a one-to-one swordplay system that makes each battle a genuinely strategic encounter. Items new and old (like the Beetle and the Bow respectively) are a blast to control with such a refreshingly meaningful motion control scheme at their core. Even menus are easier to navigate now, without the need to constantly stretch your arm towards the TV awkwardly to accommodate the infrared sensor.

WHAT YOU SEE

Skyward Sword‘s graphics take some getting used to, especially if you haven’t played any Wii games in a while. But once you get your head around the limitations of the standard definition console, the game actually looks really good. The overall style of the visuals is a combination of Wind Waker‘s expressive cartoon style and Twilight Princess‘ mature character models, which suits the style of Zelda surprisingly well. Objects in the distance blur in a fashion that merges them into brushstroke patterns, leaving the effect of an Impressionist painting. It’s clever and works admirably.

Best.

The background blur effect in action during one of the game’s awesome desert sections.

The story of Skyward Sword takes a noticeably more cinematic tone than any Zelda game before it. Though the story is hardly the reason to play a Zelda title, in this case it plays a much larger role in motivating players’ actions. The relationship between childhood friends link and Zelda (she isn’t a princess this time) is built up with more care and finesse than ever before and it really pays off. Skyward Sword is also the first story in the entire series’ timeline chronology-wise and the many subtle references to other games scattered throughout the narrative will please fans. The ending is an absolute cracker, too.

WHAT YOU HEAR

This is the first Zelda to ever feature fully orchestrated pieces, which have a deliberate habit of popping up at the most epic parts of the adventure. The music itself struggles to keep up with the storied quality of the likes of Ocarina of Time, but it is still very good. The classic sound effects have been reimagined with real-life instruments, which ratchets up the satisfaction of solving puzzles and opening chests. The lack of voice acting continues a proud, if stubborn, Zelda tradition and while it will annoy some people, I did not think it detracted from the scope of the cutscenes at all.

Dun da da dun da da da...

The airborne music is quite well-suited to the exhilaration of flight.

WILL YOU GO BACK?

The game is more linear than some other Zelda games, but there are enough sidequests to justify a second playthrough if you missed a lot of things on the first run. More importantly, finishing the game once gives you the option to play the game again in “Hero Mode”, which allows you to start the game over with all your collected treasures and bugs intact but also doubles the damage all enemies do and stops them from dropping any collectible hearts. This increases the difficulty of the game substantially and is certainly a welcome addition.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Artistically beautiful graphics, clever puzzles, great bosses, incredible control, so many small improvements
Bad:
Some arbitrary sequences
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

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