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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Nintendo Wii
Genre: Adventure Players: 1
Developer: Nintendo Official Site:
Publisher: Nintendo Classification: M15+
Release Date:
24th December 2011
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review
Review By @ 01:06pm 25/11/11
Five years since its launch, Nintendo’s Wii has been a huge success for the company -- at last count pushing close to a staggering 90 million units shipped worldwide -- largely credited to its wider appeal to a new casual gaming market; buoyed by the innovative motion-control and a catalogue of very accessible, party-friendly games.

For core gamers, however, the story hasn’t been so rosy. For many of us the poor old Wii has become a dust collector, with only a handful of games worth paying attention to in the console’s twilight years as attention begins to turn towards the forthcoming Wii-U successor.

So in terms of games for gamers, it’s not a stretch to say that for most of us, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is essentially the last Wii game.

You know the story by now: a brave young pointy-eared warrior is called on by a higher power to save a princess from a great evil. Nintendo have been retelling The Legend of Zelda now for a commendable 25 years -- evolving each addition to this flagship franchise alongside their hardware, some iterations pushing more boundaries than others.

As loved as the series is, the developers at Nintendo have the delicate task of trying to maintain the core aspects that make a Zelda game a Zelda game, while at the same time getting the most out of the strengths of the console (in the Wii’s case, motion-control) and doing their best to keep up with the evolutions of contemporary gaming. On the first two points, they have mostly succeeded here, but Skyward Sword unfortunately falls short on the latter, missing the bars raised by its competitors in several aspects.

As the subtitle suggests, this time around the underlying themes are the sky and the sword and these roles are played out by the setting, and the motion-control mechanics, respectively. The journey of the Link and Zelda of this epoc, commences in a quaint little town in the clouds called Skyloft.

Everyone in Skyloft flies around on giant birds and ancient myths tell of a surface land beneath the clouds, but nobody can go down there to find out because their birds won’t pass through the cloud layer. The people in this tiny, isolated village appear to spend their days either trading goods or training to be knights, yet the biggest threat in this floating utopia are weather patterns and a schoolyard bully.

Ok, so a convincing narrative has never been Zelda’s strong suit -- more just a convenient vessel for the game mechanics and that’s ultimately what we get here once again. As new paths predictably open up beneath the clouds, the skies become the overworld linking them all together and you travel from place to place riding the aforementioned giant bird.

The concept is sound, but the execution not so much, as the limited airspace around Skyloft is only sparsely populated by scattered and uninteresting islands that mostly just serve as places to inconveniently store treasures that are gradually unlocked through the course of the game.

The motion-controlled flying starts out interesting enough but rapidly becomes a chore as you’re required to go back and forth between each quest -- passable when there’s longer periods between journeys, but utterly laborious for the basic fetch quests that the game features in abundance.

Swordplay is this game’s biggest diversion from its predecessor. Unlike the loose, directional-waggle implementation of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword offers much finer control over your blade, making the Motion-Plus attachment (now built into newer Wii Remotes) a mandatory requirement.

This enables the player to slice in eight distinct (Y and X-axis) directions, with a forward (Z-axis) thrust thrown in for good measure. Enemies and bosses throughout the game are forged to interact nicely with this and will move their armoured points and weak spots around, challenging you to approach from the correct direction.

Again, this sounds great -- and is admittedly one of the best implementations of motion-control swordplay to-date -- but it’s still not quite the (perhaps idealistic) experience I think many of us had in mind in the Wii’s early days. It’s all well and good to watch the one to one movement between Link’s sword and your remote when you slowly wave it around, but in action, things don’t always respond the way you expect and a slice you’re attempting one way in the heat of battle all too frequently comes out askew.

The other weapons and interfaces that use pointer-based motion control for aiming often require manual recalibration -- so often that the developers assigned the down d-pad arrow to that task -- and of course, as the motion sensor in the Wii Remote/Nunchuk configuration essentially replaces what would be the second analogue stick in a traditional console controller, having it occupied entirely by your sword means no free-form camera control.

The motion movements aren’t always as intuitive as you’d expect either. A good example is the Skyward Strike, which is a special move Link performs by pointing his sword at the heavens to charge up a more powerful attack. As the player you’ll likely expect this will happen just by briefly pointing your sword as vertically straight as possible. However, the game is actually more lenient on the vertical alignment, but rather requires that you’re holding it perfectly still.

So as fun as the motion sword play is at first glance, it does come at a cost: frequently frustrating flailing and having to continually, jarringly re-centre the camera with the Z-button as you roam around the 3D space and the d-pad as you’re aiming. I’m not a hater of motion-controls by any means -- there are certainly several styles of game that clearly benefit from it, but like Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword has done little to help convince me that Zelda can be one of them.

Lack of camera control isn’t the biggest spectre of archaic game-design that haunts Zelda, however, that award goes to the voiceless, wooden characters and their unskippable reams of text-box dialogue.

Attention Zelda developers: of all the traditional features of your games that vocal fans are tenaciously clinging to, no voice-acting is not one of them. I would even take a "Well! excuuuuuuse me, Princess!" over yet more of this huffing and puffing and grunting and beeping and sighing while repeatedly being forced to: stare at box of slowly-typed text; press A to continue; over and over and over again.

If you hold A, it speeds up the text-roll from third grade, to maybe fifth grade reading speed. This kind of thing is passable in lighter games with looser narratives like Mario Galaxy, but they’re trying to tell a meaningful story here and presenting it in this antiquated half-assed way does it a real disservice.

As a result, attempts at any real kind of emotion during character interactions come off looking like ventriloquist dolls and worse when they’re supposedly singing -- mouths just flapping up and down out of time with the melody.

It’s hurt further by some of the completely remedial tips that are presented this way -- it’s by no means a simple game (it's even rated M for Mature here in Australia), so if you actually need to be told some of the absurdly obvious things they explain in this manner, you really don’t have any hope of getting far.

Without spoiling too much, your sword is imbued with a computerised spirit called Fi, who bears a striking resemblance to Halo’s Cortana and will harass you frequently and non-consensually -- like Navi and Midna before her -- with unskippable information that is not always of interest to the player.

To top it off, there are some laughable moments where you actually get to choose between several dialogue response options -- none of which seem to have any effect on the outcome of the conversation. This is simply just one area that other games at the Triple-A level have moved past long ago.

The last major criticism of Skyward Sword is of course the graphical tech, and to put it kindly, this is not a game that should be winning any awards for its visuals. It may well be among the best looking games on the Wii, but let’s not kid ourselves here, the simple geometry and textures still look positively retro next to every other big budget 2011 holiday season title.

What’s intended to be an impressionist style in the art direction could probably be more accurately described as “beer goggles” -- heavily utilising a rendering effect that just blurs every object and texture in the world that is outside of the player’s immediate vicinity with a crude watercolor effect.

There’s a lot of great set pieces though and thematically vibrant areas that do really make the most of what they have to work with, but if like me, you’ve just been playing something like Battlefield 3, Skyrim or The Witcher 2 beforehand, it’s going to take a bit of adjusting before you can properly appreciate a lot of the pleasant imagery here.

The musical score doesn’t suffer the same penalties however, as the iconic theme song returns and the team have composed even more memorable and thematically appropriate tunes. Like previous games, this could be a down-side for some, as the repetitive catchy melodies can really get jammed on a loop inside your head. But I personally find them to be one of the consistent strengths of the series.

Now at this point, you’re likely thinking that after a dozen or so paragraphs of relentless criticism that I absolutely loathed this game, but that’s honestly not the case. The sour points that I’ve just described do stop this from being the perfect game that it could have been, but damned if the nature of Zelda doesn’t still shine bright through this tarnished exterior.

As I begrudgingly trudged through the tediously slow introductory area of the game, things really weren’t looking good. Then I completed the first dungeon and the more items I accumulated, the more rewarding the puzzle solving started to become.

After giving the game a few good hours, the graphical inadequacies melted away I began to notice and appreciate the areas of that game where the real development time had been spent. The story, characters and visual fidelity may be tired, hollow and lacking, but the best efforts of the level and game designers are genuinely commendable.

I clocked in at around 36 hours through to the end boss and that was a long way off completing all the auxiliary challenges the game has to offer. I would say though that -- before you even quantify the wasted time trapped in dialogue and sky-transit -- there’s a bit too much length for length’s sake, with some excessive backtracking and lazy level recycling. Losing most of this would not have affected the story and would have almost definitely improved the pacing.

Enough arm-chair game developing though, because the fact remains that despite all these detractors, I still continuously found myself wanting to keep pressing on to just one more save point, so they simply must have done some things right.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s strength lies squarely in the wide array of items and the meticulously crafted dungeons that exploit all of these variables in challenging and creative ways. If you can push through the gruelling introductory quests and let your technical expectations regress a few years, there’s a worthwhile experience waiting on the other side.

Existing Zelda fans should find this game to be a cut above the last outing, but it’s not likely to win over many that haven’t enjoyed past Zelda games. Skyward Sword holds dear to a lot of things we love about the series, but quite frankly just doesn’t do enough to move things forward, leaving us with a merely good game that should have been great.
What we liked
  • Excellent dungeon and item puzzle design
  • Retains everything we love about Zelda
  • A lengthy and challenging adventure
  • Best execution of motion-controls in a core-targeted Wii game
  • More happy, catchy, memorable tunes
What we didn't like
  • Wooden characters and tedious, unskippable text-box dialogue.
  • Tech hits the wall as Wii shows its age
  • Poor camera control detracts more than motion controls add.
  • Pacing hurt by repetitive filler and fetch quests
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Posted 02:43pm 25/11/11
Good to see a level-headed Zelda review for a change, everyone always seems to put it up on a pedestal, I dunno if its partly nostalgia or what, but I remember Twilight Princess got heaps of high scores and perfect scores as well and it certainly didn't deserve them.
Posted 02:59pm 25/11/11
twilight princess was f*****g awesome.

reading review now.
Posted 03:07pm 25/11/11
Unlike the loose, directional-waggle implementation of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword offers much finer control over your blade, making the Motion-Plus attachment (now built into newer Wii Remotes) a mandatory requirement.

pretty obvious you didnt play twilight pricess, because the sword play in it was tight as.

yes, teh basic sword action was waggling the controller, but the real skill was the moves you learned as you progressed through the game.

the directional swinging meant nothing, it was the moves you linked it with that were its beauty.

i have to admit that the sword play in skyward sword hasnt impressed me yet, but i havent learnt anything but the basic moves, ive no doubt the directional stuff wont matter as you learn decent moves.

definately agree with the comments on flying, its painful already and the conversation options are pointless as well.
Posted 03:23pm 25/11/11
The sword play in twilight princess was annoying, trying to shield bash stuff was the most frustrating. Twilight Princess wasn't a bad game, but it wasn't a great one either, and I really had to force myself to finish it cos I was bored as s*** with it towards the end.
Posted 03:42pm 25/11/11
very dissapointed in TP and this doesnt look like its going to be much better :(
why ruin one of the best franchises on ur system :'(
Posted 05:41pm 25/11/11
I agree, TP was average, and unforgettable. Unfortunately, this doesn't look much better. They really need to do something with these franchises they have. I mean they are fun and all, but I'm starting to get bored of Nintendo's keeping the same core games, and adding a few enhancements. No real innovation.
Posted 07:25pm 25/11/11
I'm ten hours in and like most Zelda games it only really starts to kick in to epicness at this point. I reckon the wm+ controls have been great. It's really well implemented and makes the combat way more interesting than blatantly waggling like in TP. This is the first proper wii Zelda game, remember tp was a gamecube game first and foremost.
The aiming with wm+ is really good and its great not having to point at the screen to aim like in tp. The game really is a great demo of motion controls done right as it brings together all the wm+ kit from stuff like bowling etc from wii sports resort with hardly any recalibration required.
Posted 07:50pm 25/11/11
Hmm, just read the review fully. I think there's a few points that are a bit rough. The aiming doesn't use pointer controls for a start. Perhaps that is why you had so many issues? It uses WM+ so takes the centre reference point from where your hand was positioned when you equipped the item. I thought this was much better than using pointer controls actually. You'll notice this first being used on the game select menu screen.

It is also pretty rough comparing the graphical prowess to every other big budget 2011 holiday title. The hardware is extremely old and this is the Wii's fault alone, not any fault of the game. The developers know this so I think the oil painting artstyle which places it between Wind Waker and TP is pulled off pretty well. Look at it running on Dolphin in 1080p and I'm sure you'll agree the artstyle is great and very Zelda. It's just a shame that it does look like a blurry jagged mess on 1080p TVs, though this is through no fault of the game.

The laughable moments of dialog trees that go nowhere are usual Zelda. I agree with most your other criticisms, the slow text and Fi are quite annoying, and some of the mechanics like tight-rope walking. It doesn't feel as epic with a great land to roam over, though some of the dungeon designs are brilliant, which is the meat of Zelda anyway.

last edited by Linker at 19:49:27 25/Nov/11

last edited by Linker at 19:50:29 25/Nov/11
Posted 08:56pm 25/11/11
hmm so torn whether i should get this or not :/
Posted 09:22pm 25/11/11
get it, it is after all most likely the last big/good Wii game ever!
Posted 09:28pm 25/11/11
I lent the power supply for my Wii to a friend right after I finished princess( a week or so after release)... haven't bothered getting it back but this might be a reason too...
Posted 09:44pm 25/11/11
I don't want to obsessively defend the review here, but Linkers points do present some fair questions that deserve clarification
The aiming doesn't use pointer controls for a start. Perhaps that is why you had so many issues?
Yeah, I was well aware of this which is why I refer to it as "pointer-based motion control" in the review, as opposed to Infra-red. And better though it may be, my point was that 5 years later, this is still the best motion control in a gamer's game that they're able to muster and the clumsy feeling just doesn't live up to the aspirations many of us had back when we had our first tastes of the Wii.

On the graphics front, obviously these are due to hardware limitations, but the crticisms there didn't detract have a large impact on my overall opinion of the game. They were included because visuals are more important to some people more than others, so I felt it very necessary to mention. Because it is a big readjustment to go from playing the latest cutting edge 2011 games back to something that wouldn't have looked out of place in the playstation 2 era.

I think there's another good point of discussion here though, in that Nintendo made a conscious choice to launch a console that was far less powerful than it's competitors, simply so they could hit a lower price point. They made a call at the time that graphic prowess wasn't something necessary for their success as price and it has obviously paid off for them.

But 5 years later and that gap has widened a lot and peoples expectations of what a big budget game should look like have risen proportionately. So being that this is a first party title from a studio wholly owned and funded by this manufacturer, when should be the point in time where they are held accountable and their games appearances can be fairly judged in the context of their present competitors? Maybe there's a good op ed article somewhere in that. :)
Posted 01:59am 26/11/11
Fair enough. I agree if you weren't a zelda fan before, this wasn't going to suck you in, especially casual gamers that go for games like modern warfare or FIFA, but that's nothing new for nintendos more matureish games like Zelda or metroid. I guess that's why there is so much handholding, though this is a common thing in most first party Nintendo games these days, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when it's well implemented, but forcing it down our throats with fi in skyward sword is certainly annoying.

Youre right about nintendo's blue ocean strategy, and so were they. They were happy to stay out of the Sony/ms fight and be profitable from day one and it's played out extremely well for them, even forcing Sony and ms to invest their own money in motion gimmick addons to try and catch up. Every Nintendo console really dries up in quality titles towards the end of its release cycle unfortunately. The wii u looks to be a bit of a gamble IMO. They are trying to get the hardcore gamer back, but with so many rumors about Xbox loop around the place now, if ms launches this time next year, it could really upset Nintendo I think. The recent admissions straight from Satoru Iwatas mouth about the pressure the company is now under with the relative failure of the 3DS and the wii u uncertainty around going back to the drawing board to redesign it are quite worrying. If anything I hope they can use their cash to catch up and create a slick and appealing machine that will lure third parties and have them actually be serious about a competitive online structure.
Posted 06:02am 26/11/11
i have less than zero issues with the wii's graphics
Posted 02:53am 28/11/11
I'm a Zelda fan boy and would have bought a Wii for this. Luckily my brother bought one in a attempt to get his wife into gaming (Wii Fit). So I'm stealing his and playing this game.
Posted 01:55pm 30/11/11
I was quick to ensure I picked this up on Thursday night, but because of other commitments the first time I had a chance to put it in the Wii, pull down 18 months of system updates, and sit down to play it for 2 hours was last night.

While it did once again have the same annoying talktalktalk and "ffs I can't find the guy who the character should know by name, but I don't because I've just started playing the game" issue other Zelda games have had (Twilight Princess, I'm looking at you), it was the soundtrack that just has you in amazement.
This is why we love Zelda games:

While I'm only in early days, it does look like they've given us a gem; not like Wind Waker that I never ended up finishing.
Posted 02:06pm 30/11/11
I would love to have seen a Wii motion plus game based on Die By The Sword controls..
Posted 02:09pm 30/11/11
wind waker was the biggest pathetic piece of ass ever, closely followed by TP... the wolf aspect was the biggest fail ever imo
Posted 02:24pm 30/11/11
wow, it seems like i was one of the few who enjoyed TP.

i loved it.
Posted 02:26pm 30/11/11
yeah i got maybe half way through it and got over the story/ wolf. was such a disappointment :(
Posted 02:47pm 30/11/11
I liked TP - it was just the start of the game that was irritating. I really do hope they give us a 3DS port of TP.

Edit: Midna was a hottie!

last edited by Raven at 14:47:16 30/Nov/11
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