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12/29/2011

REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)



It’s been several years already since the last big Legend of Zelda game came out for both the Gamecube and Wii. Twilight Princess managed to get a lot of positive reactions, reviews and opinions from the entire public but the most hardcore fans of the series still thought that the game didn’t give Ocarina of Time justice. So the responsibility was on the next title: Skyward Sword. Recently released exclusively for the Nintendo Wii and introducing tons of motion controls new to not only the franchise, but gaming itself and the results are great for the most part.

Like in all Zelda games, in Skyward Sword we play as Link. But this time, the hero is a student in a knight academy on a floating island above the clouds named Skyloft. He’s best friends with Zelda, the mayor’s daughter and a student in the academy as well. The game begins in the day of the Wing Ceremony where the students must race riding their loftwings (some big birds the people from Skyloft use to travel around the floating islands) to then pray together with Zelda under the Goddess statue.

Obviously, Link wins the race and ends up praying and flying around with his blonde-haired friend but she falls off her loftwing after getting caught in a estrange tornado and ends up in the land below the clouds so Link sets up on a journey to rescue her, learn more and themselves and save the entire world once again.

In all honesty, the beginning of the game is extremely tedious and slow. Nothing really important happens for the first hour or so and even when they finally do, it won’t get interesting enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seats or anything. Fortunately, after the first dungeon, the game actually becomes amazing so a little patience is needed until that point.

Graphically, the game looks very nice. It has a mix of the style from Twilight Princess with the cel-shaded visuals of Wind Waker and the result is very interesting and pretty. Just like with the game itself, none of the visuals in the beginning of the game will be jaw-dropping, but as the player advances on the story, the environments and locations will get much better. The textures are very pretty a polished for the most part, there is a lack of antialiasing in some points that is easily noticeable but taking the Wii’s power in consideration, Nintendo did a great job with the graphics.

The same can be said about the animations, Skyward Sword runs very smoothly at all times and though they don’t compare other games in the other two platforms, the animations in both Link and his enemies are pretty good and fluid. The lighting effects and shadowing are of top quality as well and though they lack the realistic effects from its HD counterparts, they’ll look very good.

But the gameplay is the best aspect in the game. Skyward Sword is probably the only title in the Wii that takes full advantage of the Wiimotion Plus and Nunchuk combination. Every item usage as well as normal actions like climbing a ladder requires the use of the motion sensor. The most important one is definitely the swordplay, depending on how you move the Wiimote; Link will do the same with his sword. You can slash vertically, horizontally, in a diagonal fashion and even thrust your enemies. At first, it will seem like the system doesn’t work properly but the truth is that it’s just a matter of getting used to it.

Given the swordplay mechanics the game uses, many enemies will take advantage of it, so they will normally block at some directions while leaving others open for attacks. You need to notice this and counter quickly before they take the initiative. The shield also responds to motion controls, but it uses the Nunchuk. By moving it forward, Link will block incoming attacks but you need to be careful because they can break if they take too many hits. If you move the Nunchuk quickly, Link will do a shield bash that will counter ranged attacks and stun some enemies. Still, like it’s common for almost all Wii games, it’s not necessary to move the peripheral all around your body for Link to use his sword, by only moving your wrists quickly; the hero will know what to do.

Most of the items in the game also require great uses of the motion controls. The Bow and Slingshot make you aim at the screen with the Wiimote, the bombs can be thrown in two different ways depending on how you’re holding the control and some new items like a flying beetle will allow you to move around the area and carry stuff on it. The items are used and controlled in different ways to avoid monotony in the controls, they’re all pretty cool and especially in the final parts of the game, when you have them all available is where the true potential of the gameplay will be noticed.

One of the coolest portions of the game where the motion controls are required (besides the swordplay) is when you fly around the floating islands riding on the loftwing. Depending on how you tilt and move the Wiimote, the bird will fly around and though it takes a couple of minutes to figure it out, the tutorials are easy-to-understand and you’ll be flying freely around the skies in no time.

There are also glimpses of normal gameplay style here and there of course. You control Link’s movements with the analog stick and by hold “A” he can sprint, but will get tired after a few seconds. You can talk to NPCs, interact with switches and other mechanisms and things like that and when mixed with the motion controls, they make a great new gameplay style for the franchise.

Skyward Sword is not a difficult game. In fact, it’s really easy for the most part. Almost none of the enemies impose a real threat to Link if you know how to play. Even if they’re making an excellent job at blocking the sword attacks, there are many other ways to defeat them like stun them with the shield, throw bombs of fire a couple arrows from a safe distance. The dungeons’ puzzles aren’t difficult either and they will usually require the usage of an item found recently to solve them and if not, there will always be a clue somewhere nearby telling you how to do things.

The gameplay in Skyward Sword also has its negative parts. For example, there’s no voice acting at all except for Link’s yells, Zelda’s giggles and some of the other characters making strange noises when their dialog texts appear on screen. This affects the game in a bad way, especially the storytelling and makes you wonder if a voiced Zelda game would work, even with a mute hero like Link. But when you see that gaming has been using voice acting for fifteen years or so (even on the N64), you can’t help but feel that the text-based storytelling on a modern game like Skyward Sword is a bad thing.

Another negative aspect is that despite the awesome motion controls and new gameplay mechanics, the game itself is based on the same exact formula that all Zelda titles use. The entire game will move around the “Quest>Dungeon>Boss>Repeat” cycle. While it has worked wonders in the past, the public can’t help but start thinking the Nintendo should probably start looking at other genres and adapt things from other games to keep the franchise fresh.

Still, the motion controls, bosses and environments more than make up for the lack of voice-acting and a new formula. And the truth is that there are new things, like the ability to upgrade lots of items in the blacksmith store if you find enough materials. By doing this, many of the objects like the shields, bomb bags and quivers will have better performance. There are also a lot of insects scattered around the game and by catching them, you can make better potions to heal Link, restore air when swimming underwater, sprint for longer distances and even repair your shields with them.

In the sound department, the game makes use of a lot of awesome effects for the environments, everything emits a sound. The wind, waterfalls, Link’s steps, bomb explosions, everything and though some of them are a bit too cartoony (like the sound the game emits when you successfully hit an enemy with your sword), the sound effects are of great quality overall, even with the voice-acting issue.

The music is great, like in all Zelda titles. In fact, the soundtrack is similar to the ones in the previous 3D Zelda games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. There are dozens of beautiful tunes for every location and some of them are very catchy. If you’re a normal gamer, don’t be surprised if you find yourself just walking around somewhere in the game just because you wanted to listen to the music for a few more seconds. Skyward Sword makes excellent use of musical scores to represent what is happening in the game at the moment. The songs will get more climatic in the boss fights and slower in the storytelling sections, especially when Zelda is the one getting more screen time.

Fortunately, the game doesn’t only have the main adventure. There are tons of side quests with great rewards available all around it. Some of them are a little harder than others but by investigating and talking to NPCs, you’ll be finishing them in no time. It’s also possible to hunt for materials and insects to fully upgrade all the items, find all the treasure chests scattered around Skyloft and even play a boss-rush mode that allows you to fight every important enemy in the game one after another for a great prize.

After you finish the main story, you have the option of playing it again in “Hero Mode” which is a harder version of the game where enemies deal double damage and it’s impossible to find hearts around places, forcing the player to heal him/herself by using potions. The dungeons themselves won’t change a bit but Hero Mode is a great opportunity for hardcore games looking for a bigger challenge in a Zelda game.

In short, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is definitely one of the best Wii games out there and the one that takes the most advantage of the motion controls the console offers. The story is very pretty though not very innovative. There’s an important lack of voice-acting which makes the game feel like an old JRPG from the mid 90s but the excellent gameplay, graphics, music and length more than make up for the problems. This game will not take the crown that belongs to Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask but it’s without a doubt a great Zelda game and one of the best in Nintendo’s history.


Pros:

-          Awesome motion controls take full advantage of the Wiimotion Plus + Nunchuk combo.
-          Excellent boss fights.
-          Great visual presentation.
-          One of the best musical scores in the entire Wii catalog.
-          Huge amount of side quests and things to do after the main story ends.


Cons:

-          No voice-acting
-          No innovation in the formula
-          The game itself is way too easy (except for Hero Mode)



-          Graphics and Visuals………...9
-          Music and Sound Effects….....8
-          Gameplay…………………...10
-          Replay Value………………...9


-          Overall Score……………….. 9 / 10

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