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A Link to the Future
One of the most storied franchises in history soars to new heights. The Legend of Zelda™: Skyward Sword shakes up the tried-and-true adventure game formula and marks a turning point for the franchise. The introduction of full motion controls enabled by Wii MotionPlus™ technology synchronizes player movements with Link's actions while offering the most intuitive play control of any game in the series to date.
Nintendo took a high risk with their concept for the Nintendo Wii and now they take a bigger risk by fully making use of that concept in one of their biggest franchises, The Legend of Zelda. Making a game that is full motion-based can either break or make the game. Games like Wii Sports Resort and Red Steel 2 have done well in showing off the potential of Wii MotionPlus, but I think Nintendo really hits the mark in showing how much motion controls can change a game if fully taken advantage of. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is not only the game that justifies that motion gaming is a revolution for video games, but it also shows the wisdom that Nintendo has gained over the years since the Wii has launched.
You can't talk about Skyward Sword without first talking about the controls. This is a Wii MotionPlus only title, so it's sure to discourage the more traditional gaming folks out there. I can say with confidence that these are the best motion controls I've experienced and ANY type of gamer will feel comfortable with this control scheme and get into it without any trouble. Motion is used in almost every part of the game, from Link's sword to the tools he uses, and even for things like flying your bird.
You swing the Wii remote in a specific direction and Link will react in the same way. This gives the player more control on where they're swinging the sword, but also changes how the player reacts to an enemy. Enemies still block attacks, but now do so in a specific manner. They'll be positioned to block your sword strikes, but if you properly swing in the right direction, you will get a direct hit. If an enemy is blocking the right side, you swing left. This brings more of a puzzle element when fighting foes and cranks up the immersion as your thinking of where to swing rather than just mashing a button or waving your arms wildly.
As with any Zelda game, Link will come across many useful tools to aid him in his journey. Every tool that Link gains in his arsenal make use of motion in some way. Like the machine Beetle has you tilting the controller as if you were flying a toy plane. Aiming a bow or slingshot also has you tilting the Wii controller, instead of using the IR pointer. In fact, this game doesn't use the IR pointer at all, and any aiming or first-person viewing is determined by how you tilt the remote. I believe this option is done really well and you can play this game comfortably without always needing to be in range of the Sensor Bar. As with any motion game, there is the risk of things feeling off-centered, but you can easily calibrate the controller with the push of a button. I hardly ever had things feel off with the motion, and when I did, it was easily remedied.
This new addition of motion not only changes how you approach enemies, but also dungeons and boss fights. The new puzzles you encounter are clever and you will certainly come across some real brain teasers, but you'll feel unending satisfaction throughout. You'll find many of these dungeons to be the best in the series. The boss fights were all enjoyable, with a couple becoming part of my all-time favorite fights. It's still all about memorizing attacks and figuring out where the weak spots are, but playing these fights out is more enjoyable now thanks to the motion mechanics.
The interesting thing I realized with the controls is that they were all familiar. The sword gameplay, flying your beetle or bird, these things are things I've experienced before. If you've played Wii Sports Resort, or even the more recent Wii Play Motion, you can clearly see that the devs at Nintendo have taken notes and learned from these ideas. The motion in Skyward Sword is done so well and truly shows off what Nintendo has learned from their past experiences.
The controls really upped the immersion, but much credit has to be given to the engaging story. Knowing that the events in this game layout the foundation of the previous games in the series has really opened things up on what the folks at Nintendo can do without ruining anything in terms of consistency or how fans feel about certain subjects. If you're a longtime follower of the Zelda plot, then you're definitely in for a treat, especially if you're one who has been longing for more interaction between Link and Zelda. There is no voice acting present, aside from the usual grunts and gasps. Although, you do get a minor touch of it through the singing of a short song, but this game remains text heavy. Nothing wrong with that since that's how it's always been.
Instead, characters' feelings are portrayed through the game's beautiful artstyle. Since the first time I saw Skyward Sword, I was immediately a fan of how it looks. I am a huge fan of the cel-shading in Wind Waker and ranked it as the best looking Zelda. However, that has been replaced with the style of Skyward Sword. It's not fully cel-shaded, but the watercolor type environments make the game look colorful and gorgeous. The animations of the characters are done really well and players can easily interpret how a character feels, without the reliance of voices.
Full on motion isn't the only major change seen in completely changing up the Zelda formula. Some shades of RPG elements are also present. These pertain to the many side quests you'll come across, and also the finding of various bugs and treasures. Side quests are plentiful and help you get to know the new characters of Skyward Sword. They are a bit on the plain side, with majority of them being fetch quests, but if you need a break from your long journey, they're available. There are small storylines attached to the side quests, but nothing too elaborate as some of the quests seen in Majora's Mask.
Bugs and treasures aren't just for collecting purposes anymore, as you can make use of them to either increase the effect of potions or your tools. One example is for your shield, which now has a durability meter and can break. You can upgrade your shield to make it more durable by the treasures you find. Even other things like your upgrading your bow to make it stronger or your beetle to make it faster. These are much welcomes additions and really changed up how I approach my preparation time before heading into the next dungeon or boss battle.
Music remains on par with what we expect from Zelda games. With the proper music playing to emphasize any situation, be it sad or intense. You'll find some memorable tunes and even new favorites. The harp is the instrument of choice in this Zelda title, but it's tied to only strumming so you won't be playing specific notes like an ocarina. However, the harp itself is used well in the music, making for some enchanting songs. Nothing really sets the mood like a Zelda symphony and Skyward Sword may not beat out Ocarina of Time in terms of memorable tunes, but you'll certainly get some high quality work that gets the job done.
Miyamoto has stated that Skyward Sword can be a 100-hour experience, and while it didn't last me that long to beat initially, it is possible to spend close to that much time in this game your first around. There are many things you can do before progressing things and side missions to discover and complete. Not to mention the collectibles, like heart pieces that are always present in any Zelda. There are enjoyable mini-games to perfect that are addicting and you do get well-rewarded for your efforts. The overall journey was such a memorable one that there's plenty incentive to relive it all again.
It's hard for me to really find anything wrong with this game. I enjoyed it greatly from start to finish and came out deeply satisfied. I can understand that the heavy reliance on motion may discourage many, but Skyward Sword is really a push forward on what can be gained from motion controls. I can even go as far to say that Skyward Sword will really make believers of many that a big-time hardcore title can be much improved and fully-realized thanks to the utilization of motion controls. These controls are done so well that it's hard for me to see anyone encountering any problems with it.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a pure masterpiece. I can't stress enough how much I got out of this game, not only from being a longtime Zelda fan, but also one who was afraid when it was said that Skyward Sword was going to be motion heavy. Little did I realize that games like Wii Sports Resort were only blueprints that Nintendo would soon make use of in giving motion gaming real meaning in the games we play. The amount of ideas present in Skyward Sword show that Miyamoto and Nintendo still have plenty up their sleeve and that when they set out on changing how we play and interpret games, no one can ever doubt that Nintendo is the one who can do just that. I'm sure many will soon find out that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is now the new high bar in which all Zelda games will be judged upon, and it will definitely take a lot to dethrone it.