"An eMotion-al triumph."
2011 will likely go down as one of, if not the most quality laced years in gaming, especially the second half of the year. When you have Batman Arkham City, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Super Mario 3D Land and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim all released within weeks of each other, there’s no denying that being a gamer has never felt so fulfilling and rewarding. After nearly a half decade, Nintendo ushered in its return to the Zelda universe during the same period as these other juggernauts, with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and ends up superseding nearly every release before it this year.
Two of the predominant areas in which Skyward Sword enjoys an immense success is in narration and environment. For the latter, the art direction is yet another deviance in the console Zelda franchise. Where Wind Waker took a more cartoon-like route and Twilight Princess was more gritty, Skyward Sword sort of brings together elements of those two previous titles, with much brighter and colorful details abound. A lot of the exposition utilizes dramatic camera angles, and combined with the art style, character models and environments, the quality of the experience ranks as one of the best the Nintendo Wii has seen to date.
The first hour will be heavily emphasized on exposition and character development. Link literally lives in a city in the clouds, which is more or less a peaceful land, rich with its own traditions and hidden secrets. There have been stories of a land below the clouds, but no one has ever been able to penetrate the cloud cover and witness it for themselves….of course until our two main focuses for Skyward Sword, Link and Zelda, are thrusted into a situation that allows them to. Throughout the first hours, Nintendo manages to infuse a rather fascinating story that develops at a steady pace that’s a more story heavy approach than the series has seen as a whole. Throughout the adventures, story bits will develop and pause the gameplay, though at no point does it feel like it unnecessarily breaks up any immersion gained.
Coincidentally, narration also suffers from one of the only flaws that blatantly stands out to me: Charlie Brown Syndrome. I understand that, especially after Metroid: Other M, giving a voice narrative can be a risky venture, but Nintendo needs to come out of its old school mentality some. While some strides have been made with the development of Skyward Sword, one of the major pieces that could have infused an even heavier dose of validity to the opening hours (voice acting), was sadly omitted once again. Even though the development of the storyline throughout is gripping and will keep players invested throughout, I can’t help but to feel that Skyward Sword could have reached that level of greatness that few games ever achieve, if Zelda had an angelic voice to fit the look of her character, and not random mumbles and grunts like the adults blurt out during a Peanuts cartoon. As with the lack of voice acting throughout the Nintendo developed series, the franchise has never been treated to an in game orchestrated musical score. At least until now. While there’s nothing that will stand out as the singular piece that envelops the experience as a whole, it’s more than appreciated to listen to beautifully composed music that isn’t all developed through MIDI.
Everything else about Skyward Sword shines brightly and will leave a positive and lasting impression for some time to come. Unlike Twilight Princess, where the motion controls were tacked onto the end to compensate for the fact that it was a Gamecube title put onto the Nintendo Wii, Skyward Sword features a comprehensive motion control scheme. Though I had a limited amount of time with Skyward Sword at E3 in 2010, I was already accustomed to the precision and fluidity of the motion controls. Fast forward a year and a half later and that same grace and presence that my first sample had fed me.
When it comes the the miscellaneous portions of the controls, such as navigating Link’s flying mount, nothing feels too foreign. Unlike the somewhat finicky controls when flying with that bird in Super Mario Galaxy 2, Riding Link’s mount is much more precise without as much effort. Handling one of the many items that requires aiming has its own refinements as well. Probably the one thing that aids in its success is the ability to recenter Link’s aim by pressing down on the d-pad Wiimote. The enables players to always have the ability to center their aim at ant time, without having to cancel out, recenter manually and then activate the item again.
Actually manipulating Link’s swordplay was done in such a way that even a five year old couldn’t stumble with them, so long as you know what not to do. The players Wiimote is basically an extension of Link’s right arm — whichever position the players arm is moving towards, Link will closely reciprocate. This isn’t just in response to positioning, but with delivery in regards to attacks. Downward, diagonal, thrusts and other sword slashes that seem feasible and plausible, are such. The thing is, if players are vicious, unrelenting and inept with how they deliver these motions, the game will not properly recognize things. Super slow motion is not required nor asked of anyone, but common sense more so. With the way the controls act, combating adversaries has a bit of a novel tinge to it as well. Taking out some of the early goblin enemies isn’t just about swiping at them and moving on (unless you sneak up behind them) but recognizing not only their patterns, but their mannerisms. The same goblins mentioned will hold their swords in a certain position that will deflect oncoming attacks in the direction that Link’s arm currently holds his sword. Take them out with a swipe that will go through their defense, add in another two swipes, and that goblin has been defeated. With the depth of the sword controls, Nintendo parlayed a bit more depth to its rogue gallery, thus making combat feel that much more gratifying as a whole.
A lot has been said about the “lack of evolution” to the Zelda formula over the years, and how every 3D console title follows a similar formula throughout. In a way, Skyward Sword is guilty here, however there are enough deviations to the norm that can more than justify the formula still retaining a semblance of similarity. With the intricate workings of the motion controls, this is the first Zelda title in which the sword Link carries, is actually being used to its fullest. None of this preformatted swing nonsense anymore. There are ways to upgrade existing items as well which, for all practical terms, isn’t an innovation to either gaming its self or the franchise at hand, but the way it’s handled is an innovation to the franchise. Instead of throwing your sword at a fairy in a hidden cave to get an updated main hand weapon, certain items found throughout Link’s travels can be used to fortify currently equipped items and weapons. On top of that, the game is more story driven than previous entries, giving a sense of care for what happens next..
As for the formula its self, yeah, after 25 years, maybe there should be a bit of a change up from the often used and mostly abused “princess is kidnapped/lost/ran away and needs to be rescued/found/located” plot devices, but the same can be said about the Super Mario Bros. franchise in the same respects, the Madden NFL franchise with the little innovations and changes brought with each release, or especially the Call of Duty series of games. The latter has had a half dozen games released in the last half dozen years, with barely any kind of deviance from the same tired and true formula. The Call of Duty franchise refuses to go out of its comfort zone enough to add any kind of practical innovative twists to its formula, whereas at least the Zelda franchise takes several years per installment, doesn’t use the same engine, tries to add elements of change and distributes a notion of fulfillment when playing each release. They are completely different genres, with Madden being a sports title, Call of Duty residing in first person shooter land, and Skyward Sword blending together action, adventure and even role-playing elements. The thing is, the number of changes and innovations within the umbrella of the same formula that the Zelda franchise resides under, especially with Skyward Sword, completely blows away the combined efforts of the two previously mentioned franchises. It’s the same plot device, but a new engine. The same plot device, yet an expansion on how the game is played, something the aforementioned franchises refuse to do.
That’s what makes The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword that much more fascinating — the fact that the familiar plot devices that have been utilized for a quarter of a century, can still be made into an experience that captures the minds and hearts of gamers that place the game into their consoles. Link is out to search for Zelda once again, but instead of just running around a beautifully crafted world and waggling around Link’s sword with a button press or a tacked on motion gesture, players can now take command of his sword, and take out a world of creatures that have adapted to the fully realized mechanics. The shell casing of a story that most of the older Zelda titles have had, has now been broken open and put a heavier focus upon, giving even further reasoning to become invested in your journey. The sub weapons and their controls all fit in with the motion control conventions instilled into Skyward Sword, aiding in the fact that players should now feel like they are more in control of Link than they ever have been before. It may not reinvent the franchise certain ways, but it gives players an unprecedented way of taking control of the action, with a more fleshed out storyline that begs for your attention. With an absolutely loaded line up of holiday releases this year, it would be a massive disservice if you were to pass up The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. A premiere release in a year of dominant releases.