One of the most anticipated games to come out this year for the Ninendo Wii is “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.” Not only does the game mark 25 years since the first Legend of Zelda on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s also the first Zelda game made exclusively for the Wii and fans have been waiting a long time for this.
One of the interesting things for me is that I remember playing the first Zelda game on the NES with its gold plated cartridge and exploring the map of Hyrule, screen by screen. It really opened my eyes on what good adventures games were like. Twenty-five years later, Nintendo proved it can still produce a great game along with some further innovation that would not only please fans of the series but also to a new generation of gamers as well.
In reviewing this game, I was fortunate enough to review the limited edition of the game which included a specially designed gold Wii Remote Plus, the Zelda music CD, and of course the game. This package would especially appeal to fans of the Zelda series and considering its retail price of $69.99 (non limited edition is $49.99), I can say that’s a good deal considering the Wii Remote Plus itself is $44.99 (all according to Bestbuy.ca).
Like the past games, you play the character of Link who is a young man tasked with saving Princess Zelda and the world. It is no different in Skyward Sword as you are on a quest to find Zelda after she goes missing following a strange tornado while getting to the root of the impending evil that seeks to destroy your land. Through Link’s quest to find Zelda, he must fight bad guys, solve puzzles, acquire items, complete quests, and defeat seemingly indestructible bosses in order to be successful.
At first glance, the game does not appear to differ significantly from its predecessors. The main focus is the same and Link’s equipment is largely unchanged which includes a sword, bombs, and a slingshot with various forms of ammo you obtain along the way. For defence, he uses a shield to block enemy attacks. However, things become more interesting in a variety of ways not seen in previous games.
Firstly, you can now upgrade some of the items using things you find along the way such as bugs, minerals, bones, gemstones, and so forth. These things can then be brought to certain characters who will forge or create new items for you such as strengthening your shield to withstand more damage or create a more potent potion for your needs. You can also find or buy “medals” which act as charms that may aid in finding treasures, increase life or increase other attributes. There is also a limit to the number of items you can carry, and an “item check” located in the Bazaar for you to store items you aren’t currently carrying. All of this adds more of a customization of items that wasn’t present in the previous games as well as more depth to the game.
Secondly, as the game can now be played using the Wii-Motion Plus, it enables you to use more precise control of actions in the game and changes the way you previously played any previous Zelda game. Generally speaking, the Wii Remote is used to attack, switch items, pick up and drop items, and open your map. The nunchuk is used to lock on targets, raise and use your shield, and move the player around. However, with the use of the Wii-Motion Plus, you can now control Link’s actions more intricately including new ways to attack, being able to “bowl” bombs and swing on ropes using a back and forth motion. This changes the game in that you really must be able to use both the Wii remote and nunchuk in co-ordination especially when using your sword and shield. The control interface is also much smoother and convenient as it now only takes a few moves to easily switch between items. All of this combined makes the control system a very cool experience and a definite improvement in the series.
For most of the game, Link is viewed in the third person but the player can switch to first person view when looking for items, other characters or aiming your long distance weapons. When in third person view, Link can walk, dash, swim, climb up walls, and walk on tight-ropes (using a steady hand on your Wii-Remote) and has a stamina level that can be exhausted if you dash too long or use too many special sword swings. While you can replenish this level after it is exhausted, Link must stop to do this and it takes a little time until he fully recovers. This feature adds difficulty to the game as some tasks require you to skilfully balance your stamina level while trying to quickly proceed ahead. You certainly don’t want to deplete your stamina in the middle of a battle!
In regards to actual gameplay, you should be prepared to be a little patient in regards to the pace, especially in the beginning of the game. I played nearly 3 hours until I actually entered my first dungeon (and I was trying to get to that as fast as possible without side quests or excessive exploring). The beginning of the game introduces you to the basic moves of Link and to complete tasks before moving ahead, such as rescuing your bird and landing a free fall descent onto a circle (it’ll make more sense later). I also found that there was a lot of dialogue involved between the characters in the beginning, which explained the importance of Link becoming a knight and his relationship with Zelda. While it certainly added to the story and character development, I just really wanted to play and go after some enemies.
After finally getting past the first bit, I was finally rewarded with some actual play and exploration. The enemies I came across were varied and had different means of harming you, which required different tactics in defeating them. For example, when you encountered an enemy with a sword and shield, you cannot just mindlessly swing away and hope to win as they block and counter your attacks. It’s best to actually consider what motion you are doing based on how they are blocking and then look for an opening to attack. This is especially the case when you meet the big bosses at the end of each dungeon (which are pretty big and impressive) and also requires you to use other items as well.
In addition to fighting, some of the quests or puzzles really require thinking and patience but after you figured it out, you can come to admire how these were developed. If you do need assistance, a spectral character named Fi will provide some hints or clues to solving a puzzle, defeat enemies or remind you of your objective. If you get really stuck, there is a video hint system available — visit the Sheikah Stone in Skyloft. The game itself will likely take you a while to complete and that’s if you are playing it quickly and skilfully and are not caught up with all the exploring, side quests or mini-games available (which are many).
Despite the graphical limitations of the Nintendo Wii, Skyward Sword uses the hardware to its fullest. While some of the characters and enemies seem to be inspired by Japanese anime (think large eyes), they really are unique and family friendly. The environments (especially in the forested areas) look lush and colourful and you seem to get a sense of how vast the world is. The look of Skyward Sword is brighter and more cartoony than Twilight Princess, but not so much as Wind Waker. The big bosses are also designed well and look intimidating enough to cause you some stress and panic as you attempt to defeat them. There are also some cut scenes throughout the game that are dramatic and at times make it seem like you are watching a movie. While I hoped for more smoothness of the edges around the characters, you really can’t complain too much as watching the game is a pleasant experience and the intention was to create a fantasy world, not a realistic simulation.
The sound for Skyward Sword is excellent, especially the music. It is dramatic or laid back when it needs to be but it really goes up a notch in providing an urgent atmosphere when you’re battling a boss. You can tell the music was well thought out and you can clearly hear what sounds like a full orchestra complete with horns, flutes, crash cymbals, and strings while at other times there is only a banjo or a harp strumming away in more relaxed areas.
Players familiar to the games will likely be familiar with the traditional sound effects as you discover items (dum da-da dummmm!) or the harp music when moving blocks into place. I personally liked this, as it is what helps retain on what makes a Zelda game.
There is very little voice acting in this game save for some grunts, gasps, laughter, sighs, shrieks, and other expressions. I assume this was to give it more of an international feel to it but nevertheless you can hear a slight Japanese tone to these expressions as some of these you probably won’t hear in North American dialogues such as “eeeeeeeeeh?” “hai-yo” and others. Link, as always, grunts and yells when climbing around and attacking which is fine as it adds to the ambiance and effort of his movements and the feel for the game. Overall, the sounds are amazing and really add to feel of the game.
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a solid game. It not only retains the fun, action and adventure the previous games held, it adds innovation through the use of the controls and some customization that make it appealing to both fans of the franchise and to those who have not played before. Not only did Nintendo continue with the solid action/adventure style which makes the series so good but they enhanced it and added some nice features that make it enjoyable for those who wanted something more than before.