With the recent announcement of the Wii U, somehow the latest Zelda game has been overshadowed by both Nintendo’s new system and the tease of an HD Zelda; and that’s a shame, because while thinking about the possibility of an HD Zelda is enough to suddenly make my pants feel two sizes tighter, Skyward Sword is still definitely worth your attention… In fact, Skyward Sword is the game that could’ve changed the Wii’s reputation if it had been released earlier in the system’s lifespan.
First things first: This is not a particularly visually impressive game: while the character models are strangely high-poly and animated extremely well for a Wii game, the game uses a type of cell shading designed to make the game look like a Monet painting; while this sounds like a good idea on paper, in execution it just kind of makes everything look slightly blurry and low-res, even by Wii standards. It’s not terrible looking by any means, but the look of the game definitely doesn’t have the cohesive, polished look and style of its predecessors. Wind Waker went for a children’s cartoon look and pulled that style off with aplomb; likewise, Skyward Sword tries to replicate the look of an Impressionist painting, but misses the mark by some distance. It’s not terrible, but it’s not as instantly impressive as Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, or Ocarina of Time were when they were all first released.
Still, for all it’s visual shortcomings, Zelda: Skyward Sword has the possibility to deliver the best iteration of the Zelda formula yet, and may just deliver the biggest changes to the Zelda series since Ocarina of Time. The game is designed exclusively for the Wii Motion Plus controller, and the extra precision that the new control scheme offers manages to fulfill all the crazy, outlandish dreams that everybody had when Twilight Princess was originally announced for the Wii: it truly gives you unparalleled control over Link’s movements, and this enhanced level of control brings with it fundamental changes to Zelda’s tried-and-true gameplay.
The level of control is most apparent during combat: while waggling the Remote will still be enough to get Link to swing in a way that will eliminate minor enemies like Bats, most other enemies encountered in the game require actual technique and strategy to fight. Take for instance, the classic Skulltulla enemies: these giant spiders are completely armored except for a small soft spot on their underbelly; in order to expose their weak spot, players will have to swing the Wii Remote in an uppercut motion (making Link swing his sword in exactly the same manner,) flipping over the Skulltula, thus exposing the vulnerable weak point to a precisely aimed thrust attack, which likewise must be acted out with the Wii-mote. Even basic enemies require specific strikes to break their guard: unlike most recent Zelda games where enemies basically just stood around waiting for you to kill them, the enemies in Skyward Sword put up a good fight: flail wildly and they’ll parry and counter attack; likewise, your timing with Link’s shield (blocking is activated by raising the nunchuk in front you, just as you would with a real shield,) in order to completely block attack has to be lightning quick.
For possibly the first time ever in a game, combat isn’t just about timing and spacing, but physical technique; the angle, velocity, and movement of your swing are all accurately mimed by Link within the game, and in order to defeat many of the games enemies, you’ll have to master being able to swing at specific heights, at specific angles, or with certain motions in order to break through your enemies’ defenses. There was a definite learning curve to this, but after a minute or two with the game (and realizing that plain Wii waggle was getting me nowhere,) I quickly adjusted to, and even began to understand the intricacies, of the new control scheme.
Many of the puzzles in the E3 demo made use of the newest item to be added to Link’s arsenal, a remote controlled, flying clockwork beetle. The beetle is controlled entirely by tilting the Wii Remote, and while this likely would’ve been a source of frustration in lesser games, the tilt controls actually work accurately and responsively in Skyward Sword. While simple puzzles involving the beetle merely required you to fly it over an obstacle to hit an unreachable switch, more intricate use of the beetle involved using it to retrieve items or flying it through narrow, enemy filled passageways.
Because of how closely timed it is to the launch of a new system (and the fact that it’s appearing on a currently available system with a less than stellar reputation,) there’s a chance that Skyward Sword will never reach the level of recognition that it’s predecessors recieved, and if that happens, that’ll be a shame, because based on what I played today at E3, Skyward Sword definitely has the potential to be the best Zelda game ever… and for a series with a reputation as peerless as Zelda, that’s saying a lot.