The Legend of Zelda series has been around for 25 years. Those who grew up with a Nintendo Entertainment System most likely remember the gold cartridge that Zelda came on. Since then the original game has been released on the Game Boy Advance, Wii Virtual Console, and the Nintendo eShop on the 3DS if you became a part of the Nintendo Ambassador Program. Since the original NES game, Link has shown up on the Game Boy, SNES, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo has decided to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda with Skyward Sword.
Nintendo celebrates the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda not only with the release of Skyward Sword, but in a special package that includes a soundtrack and a Wii Remote Plus. If you don’t already have a Wii Motion Plus controller, then getting this version of the game is a no-brainer. The gold-colored Wii Motion Plus controller displays the Symbol of Hyrule over the speaker area. Included inside the DVD case is the soundtrack. It would have been nice to have this soundtrack in a separate container, but the orchestral score sounds great and includes eight tracks of familiar tunes for anyone who has played any Zelda game.
Instead of starting in Hyrule, Skyward Sword starts with Link living on Skyloft, an island floating high in the sky. Legend says that Skyloft was created by the goddess during an ancient war to protect the remaining humans in the land and the ultimate power she possessed from an ancient evil. Everyone in Skyloft is given a Loftwing, a bird that has a special connection with their rider. To hitch a ride, the citizen of Skyloft runs off of planks scattered around the island and calls for their Loftwing.
Trouble seems to find Zelda, but this time Link is there when it happens. After the Wing Ceremony where Link proves himself worthy to be a knight of Skyloft, as well as some harmless flirting by Zelda, Link and Zelda go for a joy flight. A gigantic black tornado knocks both of them unconscious and off their Loftwings. Link’s Loftwing is able to save him and bring him back to home, but Zelda is nowhere to be found. Link feels responsible so he heads out to get Zelda back.
Link has been having dreams about how fate has determined that a great destiny will be laid on him. Fi, the spirit of the sword given to the land of Skyloft by the goddess, has been communicating through Link’s dreams and joins him just after Zelda has been lost. Fi guides you through Link’s journey, giving advice when you are stuck and explaining new objectives when they happen. To summon Fi you just need to hit down on the D-pad.
Since Link isn’t the seasoned adventurer in this game, he starts out with a weak shield and training sword. Eventually these items are upgraded to become stronger and more durable by using objects picked up dring your quests. These objects include relics, skulls, monster claws, and jelly blobs. It truly is amazing what a blacksmith can do with random these random objects, and he’ll tell you what he needs to upgrade your equipment. He’ll even repair these items if you have the money for it. You’ll end up with several swords and shields throughout your journey, so don’t get too attached to them.
Link has had other weapons to assist him in previous adventures, and Skyward Sword is no exception. He’ll gain a slingshot that can stun enemies and a bow that uses arrows. They both shoot differently as the slingshot ammo has a curve to it, while the bow shoots straight. You’ll need ammo for both though, so you want to be accurate with all of your shots. He’ll also gain a beetle that can fly around and access areas that aren’t normally accessible to Link. It can use it’s pinchers to also pick up items and bring them back to Link. Rocks and jars are scattered throughout, and picking them up and either throwing or rolling them can be a quick way to improvise weapons. Other useful items are gained on your quest to find Zelda.
Link’s sword and shield are the bread and butter of his arsenal, and using them is very intuitive. Flicking the Wii Remote pulls the sword out. Flicking the Nunchuk puts the shield out to defend against attack. Shaking the Nunchuk performs a shield bash. Swinging the Wii Remote swings the sword in the same direction. Holding the Remote straight up charges up the sword for a long range attack. Some enemies need to be swung at horizontally, while others need to be dealt with using vertical blows. Others need to be stabbed using a quick forward motion. Tougher enemies change up their strategy and you need to switch up the direction you swing.
Combat isn’t the only thing the sword is good for. Dowsing puts you in a first person-mode and uses the sword as a way to find objects that are part of your objective. As you point the sword in the right direction the cursor gets brighter and the remote vibrates harder. While this shows you where you should go, it won’t tell you how to get there.
Getting to areas throughout the levels isn’t always easy. Link can run across the land quickly, but sometimes he’ll need to lift himself over ledges to reach high spots. Tightropes are the only means available to reach some areas, and using the Remote you’ll need to make sure that he keeps balanced as he moves. When ledges are too high that he can’t reach them, he will try to run up the side of it and grab the ledge. Vines can sometimes be used to climb up walls that normally wouldn’t be able to be traversed. Boxes and logs can be moved to reach higher levels as well.
You might think that all of these movements might make Zelda difficult to control. Nintendo has done a surprisingly good job making the controls Zelda as easy as possible. Interaction with the environment is handled with the A button. If you are carrying an item and can throw it or roll it, you move the Remote overhand or underhand. Flying your Loftwing is done by tilting the Remote to steer and moving in a forward direction to gain altitude. Plenty of reminders are up on the screen to aid you with the controls. The only bad part abouut controlling Link is when you are in Skyloft and running around, sometimes Link will jump onto a fence and then jump forward again and head straight down. At least Nintendo included a mechanic that would return you near the spot where Link jumped to his doom.
With all these new controls, you might be tempted to just hack and slash as fast as you can to try to defeat enemies. While this is a noble goal, Nintendo included a stamina guage that gets lower with certain movements like climbing vines and swinging the sword. If you are in the middle of battle and that stamina gauge is depleted, your speed goes to a crawl so a quick escape is out of the question. It leaves you vulnerable and could cost you several hearts.
Sometimes the bigger puzzle isn’t finding where you need to go, but how to get there. Skyward Sword does include a map of each of the areas. Beacons can be placed on the map, and they’ll not only indicate an important area on the map but also show up as a beam of light within the game. Putting a beacon down can help you make sure you are headed in the right direction for your objective. The map could have a little more detail on it though, as it just gives a basic overview of the area and it’s difficult to judge elevations. You also have to do quite a bit of back tracking for quests which can really bog down your progress through the game.
The beginning part of the game is pretty boring. While it helps to set up the background of Link’s current status and understanding the control scheme, the dialog rambles on and some of it is downright painful. Once you get past the intro, you’ll encounter interesting characters, grass that can be cut for the occasional heart and rupee, and eventually find out where Zelda is. You’ll need plenty of time as well, as the main quest can take 20-25 hours to finish, with plenty of side-quests for those who like to search through every nook to find everything that they can.
The graphics suffer because this is the Wii and doesn’t support anything over 480p. The edges don’t have the same crispness that you can get from 720p or 1080i. Where Skyward Sword succeeds is the color palette that is used for the game. Your home city is exciting so all of the colors are bright and happy. The dungeons are dark so they look appropriately bleak. The particle effects add a lot to hide some of the console’s shortcomings. The movements are smooth throughout, and the game has a watercolor feel to it.
The sound effects work well, adding to the tension when being attacked. When you successfully complete a part of each objective or discover something new, you’ll hear the familiar Zelda theme. While you never hear Link mutter a word, gibberish comes out of the other parties. While real voice acting for the game would be a nice addition, the voices do sound good for what they are. Maybe not giving Link a voice is a good thing after how annoying he was in his cartoon incarnations.
I must say that Nintendo has done it again. They have created a wonderful adventure with an easy to control Link. With only a few swings of the Wii Remote, you will be able to see why the Wii Motion Plus is required to play Skyward Sword. While it doesn’t stray too far off the path of Zelda games, they have created a unique experience with an amazing control scheme. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is not only one of the best Wii games of the year, it’s one of the best games to hit the system ever.