The Legend of Zelda has always granted us to the ability to take part in a magnificent quest of a young man battling against the odds, trying to find the Princess Zelda and save his land from a terrifyingly evil presence. Now, thanks to this year’s release of the Skyward Sword, Link is back, still donning his green tunic and once again taking up his trusty sword to battle evil.
We start the game with a very gentle introduction to this new and lush world, hidden above the clouds. Legend has it that a goddess entrusted the inhabitants of Skyloft to protect a magical item whilst she battled the ever growing evil on the surface world below them. Hundreds of years pass and fact turns to legend with no-one ever venturing to the world under the clouds, until now.
So far, so very familiar but every time I go to say Skyward Sword is more of the same I realise it’s not. Even though this title has many similarities to every other Zelda game, there have been so many changes that it is a lot more advanced than initially perceived.
The familiar and progressive nature of the basic Zelda story formula is still in place, open new area, meet locals, open dungeon and beat bosses, but even this changes later in the huge quest. What’s surprising, is that even for seasoned Zelda gamers, there have been enough changes that you almost need to unlearn your gaming habits of the past 25 years.
The biggest hook is just how immersive the game has become, from simple fights to general walks through new areas, there have been so many changes in every aspect that it manages to make old Zelda games look even more dated. Battles are no longer won by button presses or a quick waggle of your Wiimote, this time you really do wield a sword, with Link moving his blade with every action of the MotionPlus, allowing you to try different angles of attack, which is vital in most of the battles. By using the Z trigger you are able to lock onto nearby enemies, giving you the ability to jump, strafe and rush for an advantageous position. Simple slashes and the spin attack also return, along with a few new moves, such as the thrust move which is pulled off by thrusting as you would with real sword; a powerful Skyward Strike which is performed by using a He-Man like move and there is now even a finishing move, making Link jump and plunge his sword into downed enemies by shaking both controllers.
Skyward Sword isn’t not all about attacking though as Link has his trusty shield on his left arm, ready to block and counter with a simple wave of the Nunchuck. The shield has also been slightly altered, now sporting it’s own gauge that dictates strength, with every successful block weakening the shield until it eventually breaks, so carrying a spare is essential.
This improved control system also works like a dream with other aspects of the game like rope swinging; bringing up and selecting items from the very easy to use inventory system; using new and old items found in treasure chests and shops, such as the slingshot or finally, the fun to use radio controlled bug that you can fly wherever you like. All of the items you discover along your journey will each assist in opening up new and interesting areas for you to investigate and progress the story.
To venture around this new world you have your trusty Loftwing, a giant bird that all residents of Skyloft share a symbiotic relationship with. Simply by jumping off any wooden jetty in the areas above the clouds (the thrill of this never gets boring) Link can whistle for the attention of his own giant bird and soar through the skies, traveling to the surface or investigating the world above the clouds to find other inhabited islands and secrets. Control of the Loftwing is very simple, with the Wiimote acting as it’s body; tilting causes the Loftwing to turn and dive and swinging up and down causes them to fly higher. Sadly he does not stick around once you go under the clouds, leaving Link to freefall and parachute to solid land and venture on his own.
Playing Zelda games has become as natural as breathing after all these years of playing, so how is it that Nintendo can continuously top their previous masterpieces; yet again this new iteration will leave you breathless as the game continually surprises you from start to finish. Over familiarity with previous Zelda games may be your only downfall.
The game becomes a challenge even early on, with the new stamina bar and health for your shield really making a significant difference to how you approach the game. But worry not as plenty of help is available like a Gossip Stone found on Skyloft that will show hint videos; puzzle stones will give you a short riddle to point you in the right direction and also shock horror, a healthy positioning of save points. FYI, the entity that possesses your blade also offers a variety of assistance, from scanning enemies and giving tips to felling them to offering “Dowsing”, a divining rod style ability that will help point you in the right direction if you get lost.
Shops and the inhabitants of both of the worlds play an even larger part now, especially with the Bazaar found on Skyloft. Here you can purchase a range of equipment from the stalls such as pouches to boost inventory; new shields and deku seeds. From the equipment shop you can buy items to boost health, stamina and obtain shield repair potions as well as being able to upgrade your equipment using the handyman. This element alone will have you revisiting areas all over the world collecting vital parts to make numerous alterations to your shields and many other items.
The main sticking point with the Wii and the general gaming population has been the issue of graphics and though nowhere near as powerful as other consoles it still somehow manages to impress; with a clever approach that gives an almost hand painted feel to the backgrounds when at a distance; Nintendo have worked wonders with the obvious limitations, creating a believable world ripe for adventure.
With the Wii U on the horizon, Skyward Sword may well be one of the last great games for the Wii, but great it is and a must have for your collection.
Rating: OutstandingReview Policy
You can preorder Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Wii here.