There are few video game franchises with a history as rich and storied as the Legend of Zelda. 25 years ago on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, a young boy clad in green pixels started what would be an unparalleled tradition of excellence and innovation throughout video game history. It’s good to know that some things never change.
Almost 13 years ago to the day of Skyward Sword’s launch, The Legend of Zelda: the Ocarina of Time took the video game world by storm and forever changed the way we would battle the opposition in adventures to come. Skyward Sword doesn’t quite take on the industry and jump it into what will be the next standard like Z-targeting did, but it does show that motion control, when done right, is THE way to play a game of this genre. Nothing you have ever played on the Wii, or any next gen system for that matter, comes close to the experience provided by Nintendo.
So is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword the greatest Zelda game ever made? In my honest opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. From the game changing controls, to the amazing arsenal of new and classic weapons, to the bump in difficulty, to the absolutely beautiful world you will traverse, to maybe the best story ever written in the Zelda universe – if you’re even the slightest fan of the unlikely hero Link and his adventures in Hyrule, you absolutely need to play this game.
It should be obvious that this would be the best looking game in the Zelda timeline given that it’s the first game designed and developed from the ground up on the Wii. What you might not expect is this is one of the most grand and charming worlds ever created. The impressionistic watercolour style of the world both above and below the clouds is magnificent. It’s like nothing you’ve ever really seen before. Think of a perfect hybrid of everything you loved about the worlds created in both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess and you have a pretty good idea of the wonder that awaits. In a time of games being set with apocalyptic, war-torn and destruction filled city back drops made up mostly of brown, black and red colour pallettes, it’s refreshing to see Nintendo go with their strengths and actualize a world that’s so full of life and colour. The forests are a lush green with the perfect assortment of flowers and bugs strewn throughout the area. The mountains are an awesome mix of natural stone and vibrant red flowing lava. Even the desert is splashed with colour by the various plant life, structures and enemies scattered throughout.
A very large part of the Zelda series appeal over the years is not only the landscapes Link crosses but the characters he meets along the way. There have been so many memorable interactions with the people that inhabit the Zelda universe that it’s tough to pick a favorite and after playing through Skyward Sword I can assure you it’s not going to get any easier. There isn’t a single character you interact with that fails to impress. If I could come up with one gripe that I really hope is addressed in the next Legend of Zelda game, it’s that there are more people to interact with. After more than 40 hours of playing it would be nice to see more than the 30 or so faces contained in this game.
As I said before, the story in Skyward Sword is one for the ages. Nintendo really went for it this time and finally gave us the origin story we have all been wanting since what seems like forever. It’s great they didn’t take the easy way out and make a generic tale about a young man destined for greatness who happens to have a crush on a girl that has a habit of getting kidnapped. Instead they take a much darker, more grown-up approach and really flesh out the how and why. To tell you any more about the story I would have to jump into spoiler territory and I won’t do that to you – this is a story that you need to see and experience for yourself. I would have to say this is their largest and most complete game to date. This Zelda story is something every single fan of the series has to experience. While the game does take a couple of hours to really pick up and get through all the tutorial based events it’s very much worth the time and effort.
Even with the lack of voice acting for the majority of the game, Nintendo has managed to use music, facial, and body animation to convey emotion and feeling in a way not many games can match. Nintendo also really takes it to the next level in the cinematics department. All of the cut scenes are a joy to watch and really give you the feeling of watching a great movie.
I’m going to start off this section with a negative. It’s really a shame that this game has come out at the end of the Wii’s lifecycle. I say that because if Skyward Sword had of been released in the infancy of the consoles life, I honestly and truly feel the Nintendo Wii would have a totally different game library and history than it does today.
After having played through this entire game with motion controls, something I honestly wasn’t looking forward to judging by the rest of the software in the Wii’s library, there is no doubt in my mind we may never play a button mashing Zelda title again for a non handheld system. Motion control just works, perfectly. If you slice up, Link slices up. If you slice on a diagonal from top right to bottom left, it’s mimicked perfectly on the screen. Fighting and defeating bad guys has never given me the feeling of accomplishment that this game has. When you’re one on one or even five on one, enemies will block, evade, try and trick you into hitting them where they appear weak only to block the attack and knock you flying, taking a full heart off your life bar for good measure. Make no mistake about it, this game is not an walk in the park. In fact, I’ve died more than a few times because I got lackadaisical or didn’t take an enemy seriously. Zelda: Skyward Sword is not a game you can play when you’re feeling lazy and just want to sit back and relax. You really do need to be ready for an adventure.
There are both brand new items never before seen in the Zelda collection of games as well as some classics. At the risk of revealing a small spoiler here, I don’t want to blow your mind or anything but, you don’t ever get a boomerang. Not once. Not for the entire game. How’s that for taking the series and turning it on its head? Obviously I’m being a bit over dramatic here but it really is great Nintendo decided to switch things up a bit more than usual and give people something new and cool to experience. In fact, one of the first items you get in the game, the “Beetle” is maybe one of the best items I’ve seen in the series. It’s so versatile, fun to use and just plain handy. I love that in a series that’s 25 years old they are still able to come up with new and exciting items.
Also, not new to the series, but very much more fleshed out, are your item pouches. Now you will have to decide as the game goes on what items are most important to you as you move forward and what things you want to check at the item desk for use later. It seems Skyward Sword has moved a bit closer to the “RPG” side of its “Action RPG” moniker these days. Between having to decide what times to carry with you, to being able to change and upgrade shields during your campaign to finding items, relics and bugs along the way to help you upgrade your equipment, Nintendo has really started to open up the customization of your hero more so than ever before. One other great surprise is that there are actually things to spend rupees on this time around. Gone are the days of having a full wallet for 3/4 of the adventure with nothing to purchase. I won’t tell you what it is exactly you will have the opportunity to buy, half the fun is finding out for yourself.
Forget the old formula of walking from one area on the map to a dungeon, playing said dungeon to completion, exiting to the main hub world, messing around for 15 min and then heading back into a dungeon. Now, your quest to find the next huge boss battle is as much of a test of skill as actually playing it. This is a great change of pace for anyone that was hoping for something a bit different than the usual formula. Some of my favorite parts of the entire game are just adventuring and finding secrets when moving from area to area. It’s a nice change of pace. While the world in Skyward Sword is a large one, there is a fair bit of going back to places you’ve already been. On paper that might sound like a bit of a problem but it’s really the complete opposite. New areas open up as you progress and gain new abilities. Never does it feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again, they have found ways to keep it all fresh and new. Quite a feat really if you consider it’s a 40 hour game.
I could go on and on about the amazing world Nintendo has created with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The game truly is a masterpiece. It does everything better than every Zelda before it and manages to push the series into a new direction along the way. I really hope that motion controls are here to stay with the franchise because after experiencing them done right, I can’t imagine going back. Just the feeling of accomplishment you get when defeating a bad guy or boss with that perfectly placed swing, delivering the knock out blow, is enough to make you not want to put the controller down. Boasting an origin story, truly worthy of the series it sets up for all adventures to come, is something any true Zelda fan can’t miss out on.
There was a lot of pessimism surrounding Skyward Sword during its development cycle. How was it going to deliver solid gameplay when nothing before it was able to? With the Wii’s limited system resources how is Nintendo going to be able to create a game that lives up to the standards of today’s triple A titles? After missing more than a few launch windows was this a game that was just never going to be what was promised? It’s safe to say that all these questions have been answered in the form of one of the greatest video games ever made. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a true classic and a stand out in a linage of games unparalleled by anything in the video game world today.