Guest Author - James Shea
The first Zelda game to truly take advantage of the Wii's control system, "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" offers a classical Zelda experience with some interesting new twists.
"Skyward Sword" is stated to be the "first" Zelda game in terms of the series' very loose chronology. Unlike previous games, which mostly took place in the Kingdom of Hyrule, Skyward Sword takes place in a time before that, when humanity dwelt in a floating refuge called Skyloft. The game sees Link, the original "hero", clear the surface of evil and establish a tradition that lasts throughout the series.
Skyward Sword's main change from previous games is its sword-fighting. In the previous Zelda game, Twilight Princess, shaking the Wiimote was used to swing your sword. In Skyward Sword, it's actually directional - the way you hold the Wiimote affects the way Link holds the sword, and the way you wave the Wiimote affects the direction he slashes in. Most of the enemies in the game take advantage of this mechanic. For example, some enemies will block with their weapons when Link attacks them, so Link must swing his sword at an angle they're not blocking. The actual Wiimote responsiveness isn't so great, but in general the mechanic works if you take the time to pay attention.
Another new gameplay mechanic is the stamina system. Unlike previous games, Link is now capable of dashing for short periods of time. However, doing so will deplete Link's stamina, which regenerates after some rest. In some places, sprinting is necessary to move forward, so managing stamina is an important part of the game. Stamina also connects to certain other actions, such as pushing blocks or doing special attacks. The dashing in general feels pretty good, as it allows Link (and thus the player) to be a bit more dynamic and a bit less static when it comes to taking on enemies.
The traditional Zelda inventory system has been shaken up a bit with the addition of "pouches". While, as with most Zelda games, Link has infinite space for many of his items, certain items (such as potions, shields, and ammunition bags) can only be carried in limited supply. When Link first gets his pouches, Link has four slots available, but as the game progresses more can be bought. In essence, this system serves as a way to limit the player's options with regard to their equipment. Which items should you bring into this dungeon, and which should you keep in storage? Should you bring an extra bomb bag, or an item that helps you recover more life? The system has enough leeway that it's never particularly constrictive, but it's at least an interesting way to try to make choice more meaningful. This is augmented by the addition of an upgrade system, where collectible items found around the world can be used to improve certain pieces of Link's equipment.
The game has two major areas: the sky and the surface. The sky acts as your starting point, and remains a safe haven after you start your adventure. The sky area consists of floating islands, though only a few have anything important on them. Link traverses these floating islands by riding a giant bird, which serves as the game's travel mechanic (similar to the boat in Wind Waker). The sky area is home to Skyloft, the game's only real "town", and thus Link will need to return to it periodically to resupply and upgrade his gear. Travel is really the only bad part of the sky area: riding a giant bird is pretty neat, but since nothing really happens while you're flying it's just an annoying waste of time between destinations.
The surface area, by contrast, holds the game's dungeons and combat areas. In essence, the whole surface is comprised of obstacles to be overcome. The world is almost entirely linear, and there's not really an "overworld" like in previous Zelda games. Instead, progressing through the game opens up the ability to dive down to new areas from the sky, and the new areas are then linear progresion routes to the end of a given dungeon. They're unfortunately pretty bland, too, falling into the basic fantasy archetypes of "forest area", "desert area", and so on. In general I'd say the surface design is the weakest part of the game, and mostly I just wanted to get through the dungeons so I could find something interesting to do.
The game's graphics are designed to be a combination of Wind Waker's cel-shading and Twilight Princess' realism. The end result of this is a game that has somewhat mature-looking designs that have been given a cartoonish feel through the application of graphical filters. The game looks pretty good, and it's a shame that the areas aren't more visually interesting because it seems like they could have done some more imaginative things with it. Overall, it feels like a nice compromise between two divergent modes of visual design. One thing I definitely liked about the game's interface is the fact that it can be set to different modes: the default HUD is somewhat obtrusive, so it can be toggled to be either slightly reduced or almost entirely removed.
Overall, Skyward Sword is a solid game; it has some boring or unpleasant parts, but in general everything works well. It looks great, it has interesting new mechanics, and it's got good fundamental mechanics. While it's hardly perfect, it's definitely worth picking up for any fan of the series or any fan of Fantasy in general.
We purchased this game with our own funds.
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