Reviewing this game has been very tough. I am a diehard Zelda fan, even having the triforce etched into my skin for the rest of my life. However, I have given the game a score which I think is fair, taking into account the good and the bad… As an overview, Skyward Sword is set in a floating cloud world known as Skyloft as is the story of how the Master Sword is created. The people of Skyloft get around using huge birds known as Loftwings. As the game progresses Link, joined by the mystical spirit Fi, must travel across a vast world beneath the clouds.
Control wise, Skyward Sword is largely a triumph. The motion controls are excellent especially the sword fighting which really is 1:1. It is great to move your hand, twisting and turning, then seeing Link do the same on screen. When used in battle you must slash in certain directions to defeat enemies, particularly those who are blocking with their own weapons. Some enemies can only be defeated by figuring out the right sword actions. For example flipping over a spider using an uppercut-like strike. Link finds a large range of items throughout the game, the usual Bow, Slingshot and Hookshot are back, with motion controls added. Some new items such as the remote controlled Beetle are awesome additions and handle really well. Another addition is the fact that items like bottles and your shield can be equipped using pointer controls mid game, without having to go into a pause menu.
So now to the bad side of the controls… Yes the sword controls work excellently, but sometimes they can grate. Nearly all enemies in the game block your attack, which adds some challenge, but bog standard goblins can take far too long to kill, blocking all your attacks until you change direction of your sword slash. Sometime the Wiimotion plus can go out of sync which means your sword movements can be misjudged. Killing spiders by poking a small section in their abdomens is made even more frustrating thanks so the poking controls failing most of the time. Amongst the new weapons, the whip for example seems a little tacked on, with pretty much one dungeon using it. The bow and arrow controls are a lot different from previous games, having no Z-targeting, meaning you must go into first person mode every time. Blocking enemy attacks means you have to constantly hold up the Nunchcuk, which I really didn’t like, but I did get used to it over time. Also, using the Wiimote to walk along tightropes and balance, just feels totally tacked on.
As mentioned before, Link visits many areas throughout the quest. The designs of these areas are fantastically designed, despite adhering to videogame conventions. For example the first area is a forest type setting, which you must explore before getting to the first dungeon. The areas before the dungeons feel totally different to previous games. They actually feel like large outside dungeons, containing many enemies and puzzles to solve. This means that you can encounter boss-like enemies in outdoor areas, which gives a fresh feel to the franchise. The design of the levels and dungeons are fantastic. The Earth temple and Ancient Cistern are brilliant examples. They seem to have been designed with real life buildings from India and China in mind, giving an oriental look and feel, which again is new to the series. The dungeon layouts are very well designed, with each room easily flowing on to the next, I never once got lost or stuck with where to go.
So now onto the bad stuff. New to the game is Dowsing. This is a power in your sword which lets you search for things. You enter a first person mode, point the remote at the screen, which visually responds when you hover in the right place. This works fine, but Nintendo make you dowse for items, people or creatures when you go into a new area, which grows tiresome very quickly. There is something very annoying about spending an enjoyable 20 minutes, scaling a huge volcano, finding the door to a dungeon, only to be told you must dowse for 5 parts of the door key…yawn. To me, this seemed like a poor way of prolonging the game. Unfortunately this happens often in the game, with the incredibly tedious tear searching from Twilight Princess rearing its ugly head again… Plus you must visit early dungeons at least twice, for even more boring fetch quests. Now I see why the game is reported to be 100 hours long… through tedious dowsing and backtracking.
The puzzles in the game are largely great fun and some did leave me scratching my head more than once. The best puzzles really did raise a smile. One that remains in my mind involves a blocked entrance, a jet of air and a bomb. Later on the puzzle difficulty is ramped up quite a bit, which is positive move for the series. More often than not a large puzzle will require use of more than one of your items. Link can now collect bugs and materials such as Goblin skulls, to upgrade his items. The materials are important to your quest. For example taking a wooden shield into a volcano is likely to get it burnt, as is using a metal shield against electric based enemies. Shields can now take damage, or break if they take too many hits, so preparing for your quest is very important. The difficulty has been ramped up for a Zelda game, with some enemies taking a whole heart with one attack. Most of the time this is a welcome addition, giving Zelda a feel more akin to a hard-core gaming title.
Puzzle-wise there are some low points. The beetle for example is largely fun, but feels a little over used. Luckily it can be upgraded to pick up items, or drop them, which does keep things a little fresher. Link can now run, which is limited to a few seconds, bringing up a gauge. Cue lots of annoying puzzles involving moving conveyer belts, spiked walls and perfectly timed runs. These just didn’t feel very Zelda like, and really grated my nerves. On one occasion I had my shield destroyed, which I tried to repair in the village Bazaar, only to find out that once it’s gone…it’s gone. This wasn’t very well explained in game.
Graphically, Skyward Sword is excellent overall, though not flawless. The game style is presented like a watercolour painting, which looks pretty cool most of the time. To describe, it really is like a mix of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. The indoor dungeons in particular look amazing, showing some brilliant effects, particularly the fire effects. Little touches like heat flares and depth of field blurs look even better coupled with the art style. The animation on some of the enemies is also superb, looking like a CGI cartoon in places. This really the best looking game on the Wii. Unfortunately there are some very poor textures in the game, showing that the Wii is really looking a generation behind. The first area in particular, has some ugly 2D bushes and trees which do not match the excellent character designs that fill them. Sometimes I felt that the blurring of the graphics is a cover up for the Wii’s lack of oomph in the visual department. Soundwise, Zelda is awesome. A brilliant score mixed with standard sound effects used in the series brings the game to life. Thankfully there is no speech in the game, except for Fi, who speaks in an eerie Cher-like synthesized manner. There is a musical aspect in the game, similar to Ocarina, where Link plays a harp. Sadly this also feels like a late addition with motion controls added and a slight addition to the game story.
Skyward Sword is an excellent game. There is literally way too much to cover. This review may read in a seemingly negative manner. True there are a lot of frustrating aspects to the game. Dowsing is boring and used way too much, the motions controls can annoy at times, the first hour is incredibly dull and the Loftwings are only used to fly from one area to the next until later in the game. However for every niggle, there is an awesome puzzle, epic boss battle or brilliantly designed dungeon to counter it. Zelda is an awesome journey and one that deserves to be played by all.
Brilliant exploration and battling, tedious dowsing
Great visuals, excellent art style
Epic in every way