REVIEW: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA SKYWARD SWORD
Ah, The Legend of Zelda. That title alone should inspire several wonderful memories of childhood (or adulthood) bliss. Now I won’t bore you with the my own personal nostalgia of this franchise, primarily because I guarantee that most of you have very similar memories, at least when it comes to the moments in the games themselves, and have heard other people recount their own personal adventures countless times. In fact, almost every gamer I know as played several of the Zelda titles at minimum. But, this review is only about one Zelda title (as you may have guessed by the title of this review). And I should mention I do not plan to give some kind of number score at the end since that just seems silly and you can gather how I feel at the end pretty well.
Released for the Nintendo Wii in North America on November 20, 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was the first and only “New” 3-D Zelda released for the console, and well……it was certainly….unique….. Understand that as I am writing this review I am a mere one hour removed from playing this game, so my opinion is quite fresh and raw. That being said let’s get a couple of housekeeping items of the way shall we?
First: Yes I realize I’m writing a review a whole two and a half years after the game’s initial release, however I don’t always have access to games on release day and quite honestly bringing up this game still causes quite the debate amongst gamers, most of the opinions being split down the middle. Second: This game was intended as part of the 25th anniversary of the Zelda Franchise itself, which means it has a few laid in ties to previous titles, as well as some pretty sweet merchandise like Hyrule Historia (which I own) and a neat Symphony Soundtrack that comes with the game (I’m actually listening to it as I write this, go me!). And finally, I feel like this game is symptomatic of a much deeper issue at my beloved Nintendo, something that is quite honestly another article/rant entirely. And before anyone cries foul and claims that the previous statement automatically means I hated this game, DON’T. I don’t hate this title, far from it, but I do intend to be very honest in my approach to it. So let’s all take a deep breath and start this review shall we?
Right off the bat I believe we need to address the elephant in the room: The Wii Controls. Now anyone that knows me knows that I absolutely hate the gimmick of motion controls. And not just for the Wii either. Kinect and PlayStation Move are also on my list of useless and gimmicky, with no real depth to add to any gaming format. However Nintendo was one of the first of the big dogs in gaming to hop on this bandwagon. And a result, all of their major franchises ended up using them. Zelda of course was no exception to this. Now one area where it differs from other Wii based games is that it uses the feature of Wii Motion Plus. This, as many of you I’m sure know, was designed to give better precision and mobility to the person swinging the Wii-Mote into their TV, I mean around……Anyway, the question is: does it work in this title? Well for the most part, it actually does….when it wants to. You see the Wii-Mote controls almost everything you do: Flying, swimming, throwing, etc…and most importantly your sword. Swordplay is really what I want to focus on but first let’s touch on the other movements. Particularly with flying you have to move the Wii-Mote all around in order to control your bird. A semi-decent idea, however it was a source of great frustration of mine, mostly due to the fact it was such a pain to gain any altitude in the game.
It wasn’t until about 75% of the way through the game that I realized I could just flick the controller up to make the bird flap. And while I felt really dumb for not knowing that, it’s also not immediately obvious. The real meat of the Wii Controls is of course the sword play. This was a source of GREAT frustration on my part. Now sure there were a couple of times I could get a little over excited and goof up, however usually there was a reason for my frustration at that point. You see there were times where it honestly felt like I was swinging too fast for the game to keep up with me.
Now I’m not trying to claim I’m so kind of super athlete, but with advanced motion tracking something like that simply should not be possible. And eventually I would swing so much that the game would get decalibrated at simply the worst of times and then the sword would simply swing in the absolute wrong direction, which would sometimes cause me to mess up or worse get me killed! This is especially bad considering that there are several moments that require precise swinging directions, especially against Ghirahim (oh and we’ll get to him don’t worry). It caused so much frustration and just anger that I had to take more than one break from the title at these points. I honestly can’t tell if they just assumed we would figure it out for ourselves or were simply way too confident about the responsiveness of the Wii Controls. Either way, they were wrong. Dead Wrong. Oh and I would smack myself if I forgot about this, two other Wii based functions that drove me nuts outside of flying and the swordsmanship were the Harp and Skydiving.
The Harp I will cover quickly: It was yet again something I felt the Wii-Mote could not follow me on. You were supposed to strum the harp in rhythm with an expanding and shrinking circle. It sounds simple enough, but since the Wii Mote seems to not be as precise as intended, Link would often get a case of “stupid fingers” (Go watch Futurama if you’re not sure what I’m referencing, this episode involves the Robot Devil!) and it would cause me to have to play the same thing over and over and over and over and over and….you get the point. It just sucked.
Secondly, the Skydiving was just terrible. I could never get it to work the way I wanted it to. If I ever landed where I wanted to it was simply dumb luck, and I mean that. I spent way too long trying to finish the stupid ceremony at the start of the game simply due to the landing. Guess that kind of ruins the cinematic feel of the game huh? If it wasn’t obvious before, let me spell it out. I HATED the Wii Controls. Especially considering how they are just so forced on you and shoe horned so much into the game. It’s just irritating and tends to take you right out of the adventure.
And as I stated earlier, this is a sign of much bigger issue at Nintendo. It is by no means broken, oh I have played a broken game before and this nowhere near qualifies (See: Superman 64), however it is also far from perfect. But there is one thing we all need to understand: No matter how big of a presence something like this has, it is still purely, 100%, Cosmetic….Let me say that again: IT IS COSMETIC. Just because it’s forced upon us, it does not mean that the Wii Controls themselves are the actual game itself. This in no way affects things such as: Characters, Art and Level design, Atmosphere, and most importantly the Plot. These things are always integral to a good game, and are usually much deeper rooted to the true heart of a game than its control scheme. Well at least with good games anyways…So I believe we really need to take a look at these components.
The characters are very interesting when I think about them, and by that I mean there is something I realized when reflecting. Now while there is a decent amount of people to talk to and interact with, not that many actually impact the story all that much. Granted this is true of most Zelda games, but with this one I can’t help feel the list is kind of short of impactful people in this particular iteration. In fact my total major impact player counted by me is roughly 6. Not too say I don’t like these characters, it’s just interesting to note. Now I actually like these versions of Link and Zelda. Link is still a mute, until he screams in terror anyway, but he had looks during this game towards the end that just looked absolutely B.A. Seriously it was kind of awesome and it truly felt well….heroic. Zelda was also quite interesting. The last time Zelda herself felt like she had this much personality was in Wind Waker.
Now granted that version still has more personality than this one, this particular Zelda is both very warm and seems to know immediately that she has to take action and isn’t merely a damsel in distress, at least not until the very end but even then it doesn’t really diminish overall character.
Next we have Groose, and I like Groose. When you first see Groose, he is a bit of a douche (and I want to believe that rhymes). However once he decides to go down to the surface himself and discovers a much bigger world and mission beyond himself, he really shows what he’s made of and actually becomes quite crucial in the final battle, I liked that. Impa was yet again on guardian duty for Zelda and this may be the most powerful version of her I have seen. And yes, I totally called that she was the old woman and I’m sure you did too. Also, I loved being able to be a smart mouth to her. Also, can we talk about Ghirahim? Because he was one creepy mother shutyour-mouth. He makes his presence felt in the first dungeon, and I honestly think he was the first villain in Zelda history to literally use the word murder and be kind of grizzly with it. I’ve already stated that fighting him was a pain in the rump; however outside of those nightmares I kind of liked him as a villain. Sure there were instances where he could be considered cliché, and honestly for the most part he kind of was. But he was a very real threat to Link and honestly he made it very clear just how much he was toying with you and how truly depraved he was. Oh and side-note: what is it with Japan making certain villains both effeminate and crazy? I’m not saying I so much have a problem with it as I’m really just wondering why the two always seem to go hand in hand.
So with our players set, let’s talk about the world they live in. Now, Link and his kind live up in the sky on a floating known as the Skyloft, and have done so for what seems to be quite a while. Oh and while we’re on the subject, not to be creepy, but if all of humanity has been living on that island for that long and the island itself is not very big with only so many people….well let’s just say I’m wondering if all of their family trees fork…..I’m probably overthinking it waaaay too much……. Any who, below the sky are the 3 main provinces: Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanaryu Desert (Diversity!).
Now you do visit all of these regions multiple times and explore a new section each time. However this kind of feels a little empty. It’s hard to say why considering Wind Waker is practically just an Ocean, but then again it still felt like there was a lot to see and do. Here in this scenario I honestly did not feel that. Granted the colors were vivid and lively, and the overall design of these areas were very sound with obvious attention to detail. But, I don’t know, it just felt kind of limited. Thankfully I did get to these areas faster than a talking boat ever could….
Speaking of colors, let’s talk about them. As I said they were very vivid and matched very well for the overall feel for the area. But I can’t help but notice that ever since Wind Waker, colors have indeed been showing out more and more with a bigger emphasis on color. This even showed in a dark game like Twilight Princess. This could be due to 2 varying factors: 1 The last console game before WW was in fact Majora’s Mask which was an incredibly grim dark title in the franchise and 2: With Television’s showing more and more definition and quality, one would assume they are simply wanting their games to stand out as much as possible. It’s a small thing to bring up but it is something I noticed along the way.
When it comes to Zelda games, the key component to any experience is always the adventure. So how does this one do? Well it does….kind of ok. The usual tropes are in place: Go to this dungeon, get the item, and beat the boss. However it’s the in-between portions that really bug me. You see usually in a Zelda game, when you beat a temple/dungeon; you make your way to the next one with perhaps a detour or two along the way. This game however tends to have A LOT of unnecessary detours and distractions that honestly aren’t even side quests, they are actually part of the plot!
This problem really starts after the third dungeon and it really irritated me. One example of this is on my way to the fifth dungeon. I had to take some boat around to 3 different locations in order to be able to even track down a giant invisible ship. Now had it been a one stop thing on the way there, sure no problem I can live with that. But this one had three stops and not only were they ridiculous, they were also very time consuming. In fact I’m willing to bet none of you can justify why you need to ride a mine cart (controlled by the Wii Mote of course) like a rollercoaster in order to find a pirate ship. In fact just try and come up with a good reason….go ahead I’ll wait….(goes and gets a snack, oh I have Goldfish, neat!) Did you figure anything out?
The short answer to that is: No, no you did not. It’s just silly. And don’t even get me started on the stupid tad stones while finding the Dragons. The internet has enough rage already. Ultimately it just feels like these detours were literally thrown in at the last minute just to make the game actually longer with poor mask of creativity thrown over it. I’m all for a side quest and exploration, it’s why I liked Skyrim so much, however when it’s both tedious and forced you lose not only respect for your creation but the audience’s interest in it. And that is just something that I know Nintendo should be above doing. (Also the trials caused me to gray faster than I already am L )
Finally let’s talk about the plot. While going here and gaining this power in order to save Zelda from Ganondorf (or in this case Demise) is absolutely nothing new at all to the franchise, there are 2 things about this plot I really enjoyed. The first being that plot has maintained an ability from previous Zelda’s to tell us a fresh story while giving hints and nods to longtime fans. Now when I say this I don’t simply mean in terms of tropes, but in terms of subtle hints and names. For example: the names of the Provinces are the names of the Guardians you see in Twilight Princess. The Eldin Volcano is in fact set in a similar place to where Death Mountain has set in other previous Zeldas, and not just Ocarina of Time. But these nods aren’t so deep that it affects the ability of a new Zelda fan to come in and appreciate the current version of the Zelda mythos, it still has a very welcoming appeal to new fans of the franchise.
The second thing I liked about the plot was that this was meant to be the very first event in the twisty turny history that is The Legend of Zelda, and it sets up quite a few things nicely. The overall creation of the Master Sword and much deeper look into the creation and reasoning of Gandondorf are two of the biggest items on display here, but there are several others if you know where to look for them. It honestly was something I found quite interesting and enjoyable.
Overall this game left me feeling the way most fans felt about it, both hot and cold. There were several things done right, but there were also a few very big things done wrong. What ultimately is a deciding factor for me on any game, particularly a Zelda game is “Would I play it again?” and honestly my answer is: No, I wouldn’t. (Oh I can hear the hissing now). Like I said there was a lot of good here. And as I said earlier I do NOT hate this game. I did in fact ultimately like this game, but this was mostly for its deeper non-cosmetic/gimmicked features. However, it’s hard to ignore how much these Wii Controls were forced on us and therefore overshadowed what could have been an exceptional Zelda title. In fact I’m willing to say that if the Wii Controls were not in this game at all and the only focused on the game itself then it could have truly reached its potential cause I feel there was a lot left on the table due to having to focus on silly thing like “how should we swing a sword” and “hey look we can bowl with a bomb now”, whoopee…. At the end of the day however, I liked this game but the Wii Controls caused me so much frustration I just don’t want to put myself through that again. . Oh and don’t get me wrong, I understand that in order to break up monotony in a franchise you have to try new ideas and try to evolve in order to keep your franchise relevant, however this was just a step in the wrong direction. And if this were the last new Zelda to come out to this date I would have been very concerned for the future of the franchise.
Thankfully that was not the case since not too long ago A Link Between Worlds came out to me it was how a Zelda game should be: Simple, fun, and challenging on a level that isn’t too deep but also not an insult to the audience. Plus there were ZERO control based gimmicks, a huge plus. That title has restored my faith in the Zelda series and its future. Skyward Sword? Well let’s just say the nun chuck cord is much easier to tie into a noose than you’d think….. So is it a
SNAG or A GAG…….It’s a tough call but the deeper parts of this game combined with my undeniable Zelda bias, as well as the price, makes this game a……