For any gaming franchise to be able to celebrate its 30th anniversary is a huge achievement. The Legend of Zelda has been one of Nintendo’s key players since the NES days. Naturally you can expect a large variety of games over the past 30 years with fans divided on their respective quality. One game in particular stands out quite a bit for how divisive it is, and that is of course, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Skyward Sword was released in November of 2011 and was a celebration of Zelda’s 25th anniversary. It was also marketed as one of the few games to utilise the Wii Motion Plus and feature “1:1” motion controls for Link’s sword. Skyward Sword also has the honour of being the first game in the official Zelda timeline, but more on that later. For now, let’s address some of the major concerns with the game.
The most obvious issue is the motion controls. Skyward Sword’s gameplay is too dependent on motion controls. Twilight Princess had a nice balance and did a better job of implementing hassle free motion controls. The attack button was simply remapped to a Wii remote waggle and items used the pointer aiming. It was fluid, fast, and you didn’t have to worry about accurate movements and recalibration. Of course there was the GameCube version which had a traditional control scheme.
That isn’t to say that the motion controls didn’t work, far from it in fact. They were as 1:1 as you could possibly have with the Wii Motion Plus. Whether they worked or not was never the core issue. The problem here is that the majority don’t want motion controls in a Zelda game. It’s another case of Nintendo shoving a new control scheme down everybody’s throat, a lesson they clearly haven’t learnt with Star Fox Zero. But that’s another topic for another day.
Let’s suppose you accept that Skyward Sword can only be played with motion controls. That’s when the next issue arises: the hand holding. A common trend of modern games is to have drawn out opening sequences or mandatory tutorials that feel the need to explain everything. Games like Dark Souls and their hands-off approach are the exception rather than the rule. I’m not saying that games shouldn’t have a tutorial, just make it optional.
Back to Skyward Sword. The opening sequence is in the same vein as Twilight Princess, so expect to spend about 2-3 hours doing menial tasks before the first dungeon. To be fair, these opening moments are important to the story and does a great job of setting up some of the key characters. But, why am I still being taught how to jump? Even someone who has never played a Zelda game before would very quickly figure out how the auto jump system works.
But Skyward Sword takes things to a new level with partner character, Fi. Oh boy. Do you like being told where to go next every few minutes? Do you like to be told that your Wii remote batteries are running low? If you said yes to those questions, you will love Fi. As a character, I think Fi works very well and she has some great moments. The only problem is that her constant interruptions hurt the experience. The worst parts are probably the dowsing. Instead of actually looking for the next dungeon, the Master Sword points you to where it is exactly. Add in the fact that you revisit the same three areas multiple times, Skyward Sword lacks the exploration aspect Zelda games are known for.
Fi also provides “hints” in dungeons, which basically tell you what to do next. The puzzles were already fairly simple but whatever challenge there was is taken away because of Fi. There are also many smaller annoyances such as collecting materials. Skyward Sword feels the need to tell you what each item is when you pick it up for the first time. This would be fine; however, it resets every time you boot up the game, giving you all of the same descriptions again. Twilight Princess did this with Rupees, but there were only a few types. Skyward Sword has over 30 different materials so enjoy being told what they all are every time you play.
And yet, Skyward Sword is still my favourite Zelda game. Everything else about this game is absolutely fantastic and shines of Nintendo quality. The gorgeous art style, amazing characters, and a beautiful musical score by Hajime Wakai (Lead Composer), Shiho Fuji, Takeshi Hama and Mahito Yokota makes getting through the flaws all the more worth it. Skyward Sword is also the first game in the official Zelda timeline so it acts like an origin story for the main trio of Link, Zelda and Ganondorf. Watching Link pass the trials of the Goddess Hylia and gaining recognition as the Hero of Legend was one of the most magical moments I’ve experienced in any game.
Dungeons and bosses are of the highest quality. The Ancient Cistern turns the infamous water level into an awe-inspiring temple inspired by Buddhism stories. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Link does battle with Leviathan, a giant sky whale, while riding on his Loftwing. Skyward Sword had so much creativity and love poured into it.
There is so much untapped potential here. I think Skyward Sword is just a victim of the times. Had it not come out in a time when Nintendo was all about shoving gimmicks in their games and oversimplifying the experience, we could have had a true masterpiece.
For now, Breath of the Wild seems to be the new standard for Zelda games. This is a shame as I would like to see Nintendo revisit the format used for Skyward Sword, but executed better. Having a more focused story and emphasis on dungeons and boss fights can make Zelda stand out in a market full of open-world games.
I won’t be holding my breath, but perhaps Skyward Sword can one day receive the remaster treatment. While it is true that a simple HD upgrade isn’t enough, as there are too many glaring issues, I believe that Skyward Sword deserves a second chance.