2011 marks the end of the Wii’s lifespan. Since its launch in 2006, gamers have been clamoring for something to play, something that makes motion controls worthwhile. After five years of Wii shovel ware, Just Dance, a Motion Plus peripheral, and the announcement of a Wii successor, gamers finally have their answer. The swan song of the Wii is to the tune of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the latest iteration of one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises.
2011 also marks the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. With each new Zelda game comes a tug-of-war between new, inventive ideas, and sticking with the same formula that has worked since 1986. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the 16th game and one of the most inventive of the series. While I don’t believe Skyward Sword to be a perfect Zelda game, it is a step in the right direction for the Zelda franchise moving forward.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword takes place in the land of Skyloft, a city above the clouds. Link, our silent protagonist, is training to be a Knight. On the day of the Wing Ceremony, his life-long friend Zelda stirs him awake and berates him for sleeping in late. Again. Immediately you fall in love with these two characters. You believe Link would go to the ends of the earth to protect Zelda and save the world. This being a Zelda game, he does just that.
In the land of Skyloft each citizen receives a Loftwing bird that they use to travel the skies. If I had one major issue with the characters of Skyward Sword, I would say I never cared about my Loftwing. You’re never presented with the chance to bond with it like Epona or the King of Red Lions. You can’t even name it.
Skyward Sword has some zany characters, including a fortune teller that you’re never sure is male or female. But the core characters Link interacts with in story context are some of the best in the series. Ghirahim is an interesting and sinister villain who toys with Link because he doesn’t consider him a threat. Towards the end I even got choked up because of some emotional character moments.
With the limitations of the Wii console, it is hard to make visually stunning experience. Nintendo pulls it off with one of the best-looking games they’ve ever released. The world is beautiful and vibrant. In the distance, the background takes on a stunning watercolor painting quality. Up close the characters and monsters are strikingly detailed and colorful. Even the environments are so good-looking I found myself panning the camera around in awe of what I was seeing.
The dungeons are great. Puzzles aren’t too challenging, but there are some head-scratchers. The game is great about giving you new things to do. Each area has a unique feature. Such as running atop a boulder to get around a lava pit, swimming with the least offensive swimming controls in any game, or altering time to move to the next room. You do backtrack to the same areas quite a few times, but the game is very good about giving you different things to do each time you return.
Combat is an impressive leap forward from what we’ve seen of motion control gaming in the past. Exclusively using Wii Motion Plus, Skyward Sword’s swordplay feels fantastic. You can’t waggle your way through the game and each enemy has a unique puzzle feel to them. Deku Babas can open their mouths vertically or horizontally and you must swing the Wii Remote accordingly. Some enemies see which way you hold the remote and in order to defeat them you have to telegraph a false move, then do the opposite at the last second. Each swing must be calculated and thought through; waggling will cost you your life.
While the combat is fantastic, fluid, and fun, Skyward Sword does have some rough patches that make this less than a perfect experience. I’ve never had a problem with the silent nature of Zelda games. In fact, I think its one of the best aspects of the way they tell stories. But for a game without voice acting, there sure is a lot of grunting.
Another complaint comes in the form of the musical instrument in the game. The instrument is important to the story, but feels underused and thrown in to give the game the iconic instrument each Zelda entry has. A small complaint, sure, but the music in Skyward Sword is so beautiful that just waving the Wii Remote back and forth in a steady rhythm isn’t as compelling as playing actual notes.
For all the little objections I have with the game, it is still one of the best Zelda titles in years. I don’t say that lightly. I am one of the biggest fans of the Zelda series and have loved almost every entry in some way. Skyward Sword is a great game that all Zelda fans should experience. The world is beautiful, the combat is fun, the new additions are welcome, and the story is one of the best in the series. What a way to end the Wii’s lifecycle. Happy 25th Anniversary Zelda, you’ve earned it.
Second Opinion by Evan Tognotti
Were it not for the marvel of tight and masterful game design that is A Link to the Past, I would tell you without hesitation that Skyward Sword is the greatest Zelda game to date. Let it be known that in this case, second best is most certainly good enough. From the calm, engaging opening hours to the often dark, emotional climax, Nintendo has produced one of their best stories yet. The combat is so inventive and fluid that I never want to swing my sword any other way again, and the dungeon design is easily the best in any Zelda, ever. How fitting that this, surely the last major release on the Wii, is also its greatest triumph. Nintendo may have faulted out of the gate, but damn if they didn’t stick the landing.