So the latest Zelda was released back in December to rave reviews some going so far as to give it 10/10 scores. I however beg to differ. While Skyward Sword is still a brilliant game it was also very disappointing.
The new motion controls provided by the Wii motion plus add-on are what separate this game from the rest of the series. In many ways they work wonderfully for the majority of the game. Alas there’s a few areas that are let down by the controls and these appear often enough to frustrate. I found first person aiming and the one to one sword swinging controls to work brilliantly, particularly the sword fighting that really adds a changes how combat works, which had previously remained largely unchanged since Ocarina of Time. However when you are required to stab your sword forwards the controls often register this as a swing in the heat of the moment and can lead to frustration. I also wasn’t a fan of the bomb controls. Throwing bombs is fine but rolling them proved annoying, although this is probably due to the way I have to sit while playing games in my room, pointing downwards with the wii-mote is troublesome. I was also quite disappointed with the Goddess’s Harp item when compared to the excellent musical instruments of past Zelda’s. The area that really lets the game down however is the flying segments with your Loftwing. I found the controls annoying and imprecise, which is quite strange considering the flying controls for the beetle item were excellent and I had no problems with them.
|Why won't you fly where I want you to!|
The games structure and how it progresses also proved a sore point for me. The game is divided up into 3 separate areas at ground level that need to be explored and are accessible from the main Skyloft hub world. The main town of Skyloft is densely populated with some great characters and is great fun to explore but outside of this town the sky is largely empty and devoid of anything meaningful to do. It feels like padding and coupled with the bad flying controls it’s not fun at all and feels unnecessary. I would honestly have preferred to have selected my destination from a menu.
There are only three main areas in the game to visit that are not interlinked but all three are huge. However there’s no real exploration in the game like in previous Zelda games. Each area feels like a traditional Zelda dungeon except set outside. The game is blighted by constant handholding and interruptions from your companion Fi that make sure you are never wondering where to go next. Fi manages to be more annoying than even Navi with her constant interruptions to state the obvious. I found the lack of overworld exploration took something away from the Zelda formula and the constant puzzles grew tiring without something to break up it up and add variety.
Thankfully there’s an awful lot to like about this game. Other than the Loftwing sections and one misjudged stealth section late in the game there really isn’t a dull moment. The pacing is excellent and the motion controls really bring a new dimension to the puzzles, dungeons and combat. Although you will revisit each of the three ground level areas multiple times throughout the adventure, they change subtly or massive new sections open up that constantly keep the game fresh with the Lanayru Desert area being particularly inspired. I found the game quite challenging as well. It’s not exactly difficult but it was a lot more rewarding than recent Zelda games that have been a walk in the park. The boss fights are a highlight and are some of the best in the series.
You can really tell a lot of care and attention has been put into the world of Skyward Sword. The game is absolutely stunning despite the host hardware. It uses a unique filtering method to give the world and textures a very painterly style. I’d love to see more games use this aesthetic. Every area is beautifully designed and interesting. The music throughout is excellent, from the stunning orchestrated tracks to more subtle touches like how the music will change seamlessly in the bazaar depending on which shop you visit.
Although the story doesn’t live up the promise set out in the opening hour or two, I really loved the characters that inhabited Skyward Swords world. Each NPC in Skyloft is unique and has their own personality, I just wish more was made of the subquests so we could learn more about them. I think the game could have benefitted from extensive sidequests as seen in Majora’s Mask so that the fantastic world and characters that the artists built could have been exploited more. Special mention has to go to the item check in girl and her subquest, I got a great laugh out of her. I really loved the characters that were central to the main storyline. Zelda and Groose in particular were fantastically written and it was great seeing them grow in the course of the game.
|That's it Zelda, you tell off that big oaf!|
Although Skyward Sword is of exceptionally high quality it still has many flaws. It really pains me to see the press lavish so much praise on the game and totally gloss over these flaws considering it’s what they are paid to do. It pains me even more to see the 1up review, which I feel was one of the few to actually give the game a proper review, have its comments section over run by people giving out about the supposedly low mark it received. Last time I checked a B+ from 1up was an excellent review score. I myself would still highly recommend it but just don’t be surprised if by the end you feel it was a little lacking as part of the Zelda series. I feel the lack of freedom given to the player to explore is the main factor. I hope in the next iteration of the series that Nintendo give the player a bit more benefit of doubt that we don't need to be told exactly where to go all the time.