The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most storied franchises in gaming history. This year it is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a bang. It started with the 3DS re-release of Ocarina of Time, continued with a free until February DSiWare download of Four Swords Anniversary Edition, and now comes to a close with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a game five years in the making. While Microsoft's Kinect is the latest fad in gaming, Nintendo still wants to wow you with their form of motion control in Wii MotionPlus. Is Skyward Sword the culmination of five years of motion-controlled gaming?
It is the day of the Wing Ceremony on Skyloft, a town nestled above the clouds on a series of floating islands. Link is set to compete in the ceremony celebrating its 25th anniversary. Coincidence? I think not. However, there is only one problem. Link's loftwing, a bird used to travel along the skies, has gone missing. After finding his bird with the help of his childhood friend Zelda, the Wing Ceremony begins. Link is victorious and then participates in the ceremony held by Zelda who portrays the goddess wearing an elaborate garb. The two take a peaceful flight alone when all of a sudden a ravaging and dark tornado throws Zelda off of her loftwing and to the mysterious world below the clouds. What follows is Link being awakened by a cryptic spirit Fi who leads him to a magical sword-- the Goddess Sword. Link seems to be destined to save not only Zelda but also the world. Skyward Sword might not feature voice acting (there is the occasional chuckle, laugh, yip, yell, and holler), but the story told is host to a metric ton of touching moments that will tug at your heartstrings, or at the very least give you a warm, fuzzy feeling.
In Skyward Sword, Link will travel the skies as well as to the unfathomable lands below. However, he can't just fall from wherever. There are special holes in the clouds where Link can fall through to the surface below. As he sets stone tablets in Skyloft's shrine, new areas of the world open up. There are three main areas to the surface: Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert. Each offer their own ambiance, obstacles, and challenges.
Skyward Sword is not your typical Zelda game. The structure is much different. Yes, you still visit dungeons where you solve puzzles and battle bosses and other enemies, but there is much more to Link's adventure in between dungeons this time around. Collecting makes up a sizable chunk of the game. It is by no means Donkey Kong 64 levels of collecting, but there is a lot to gather. From stone tablets, to items, to keys, to tears, to tadtones, to parts of a song, to mystical flames which power up Link's sword, there is no absence of things to acquire.
In four instances Link will have to travel to the Silent Realm where he will lose his sword and only have his wits to pass the trial laid before him. The goal in these trials is to collect all fifteen tears. It is hardly that simple though. Guardians lurk in this realm, and one hit from their blade will make our green clad hero fail the trial. Thankfully, collecting a tear will halt all guardian movement for ninety seconds or until Link gets caught by a searchlight or walks in a translucent water which instantly wakes up the terrorizing guardians. These Silent Realms are pretty much trial and error, and they're decidedly not for everyone. I personally enjoyed them.
When you're not flying high in the sky on Link's loftwing or traversing the surface, you'll be in one of seven different dungeons. The dungeons possess plenty of challenges and puzzles to partake in which will flex your mental muscle. Puzzles put the Wii remote to great use. One of the last puzzles in every dungeon is situating an oddly shaped key by twisting, turning, and otherwise manipulating the Wii remote to fit it inside a hole to open the boss door. Each dungeon has a map that shows you all rooms and treasure locations, keys that unlock doors, hidden treasures, and a special item that is essential for completing the dungeon.
If someone were to ask what the biggest inclusion to Skyward Sword is, it is unquestionably the addition of MotionPlus technology. While the last console Zelda, Twilight Princess, used motion controls, it was pretty much shaking the Wii remote to attack with no technique. This isn't the case with Link's latest adventure. A grand amount of activities and actions sport motion controls. One of the main ones is, of course, flight. You tilt the Wii remote to control Link's loftwing, point it down and then swing upward to have it ascend sharply. You can then opt to point downward to have Link's crimson bird take a nosedive and gain vast amounts of speed. There are other motion control uses aside from roaming around the overworld. When you're walking along a tightrope wire, you hold up the Wii remote in a vertical position and carefully adjust the remote to balance along the wire. You can shake the remote while on the rope to make the rope move, causing enemies and any obstacles on the rope to fall off. Swimming uses motion controls. While they aren't necessarily needed, pointing the remote in the direction you want Link to swim is a cool touch. Additionally, when climbing you can shake the remote to have Link leap up to make his climb a faster one. Just watch out for your stamina gauge. This green circle depletes when running, climbing, and performing spin attacks. If it runs out, you are completely defenseless as you huff, pant, and wait for it to refill.
Then there's all of the items in the game. Skyward Sword possesses an interesting collection of items. These are earned in the game's dungeons, through helping NPCs, or through clearing the trials of the Silent Realm. One of the first items you obtain is the Beetle. When used, the Beetle is controlled by tilting the Wii remote left, right, up, and down in the direction you want the device to move in. When it is upgraded in the story, it can pick up bombs and you can drop them overhead on enemies and destructible boulders. The Clawshot works by pointing the Wii remote at a target, and with a press of a button you cross over a chasm or gap and cling to that target. Link has more than one Clawshot, so he can shoot at another target without ever touching the ground. It's important to note that the Bow, the Gust Bellows, the Slingshot, and the Clawshot do not use IR aiming (the pointer). Instead the remote calculates them in relation to your surroundings. You can pause the game and press down on the Wii remote to recalibrate the controls. This was something that I only needed to perform once or twice throughout my 35 hour adventure, though sometimes my sword slashes did not slash in their intended direction creating some deep-rooted frustration.
Another new addition to the series is the ability to upgrade your items and equipment. There is no doubt that if you continuously use your shield that it will weaken over time. Its durability will go down after repeated blocking. Well, you can take your shield to the repair shop at Skyloft's bazaar to have it fixed and/or upgraded. Items, too, can be upgraded. For instance, the small bomb bag can be upgraded to a medium one to hold more bombs, the Bow can be overhauled to have more attack power, and the Beetle can be upgraded to become much faster in the air. Each upgrade requires a donation of rupees, the currency of the Zelda series, and a series of raw materials such as Bird Feathers, Eldin Ore, and Amber Relics. Some of these are found in the wild, in chests, dropped by enemies, etc.
Also new to Zelda is the Adventure Pouch. Link can only hold so many bottles (these can hold faeries, potions, and water), shields, medals (these give Link bonuses like finding more rupees, hearts, or treasures in the wild or more health), arrow quivers, seed satchels, and bomb bags in his inventory before he has to place them in safekeeping at the Item Check, also in the bazaar. Link can purchase more pouches at Beedle's shop flying above Skyloft.
Regardless, the most important aspect of motion control in Skyward Sword is that of swordplay. With MotionPlus you receive 1:1 sword movement. This means where you move your Wii remote Link moves his sword. Most enemies cannot be defeated through mere waggling, so get rid of all of those Twilight Princess tactics of yours. You can still lock on to enemies which is extremely helpful. Successful sword strikes are the key to survival in Skyward Sword. If an enemy is guarding to the right, then you should attack from the left with a horizontal slash. If an enemy like a Stalfos has two swords resting on the top right at a ninety degree angle, you should perform a diagonal slash from the bottom right to damage it. Most enemies are taken out with strategic sword slashes like this. Knowing when and where to attack is paramount especially with foes with electrified blades which will hurt Link if they are struck. You can also perform spin attacks by shaking both the Wii remote and nunchuk either vertically for a vertical slash or horizontally for a horizontal slash. Also, by holding the Wii remote up in the air, Link will gather energy and be able to execute a Skyward Strike. This is a beam that can be unleashed on a foe from afar. It doesn't do as much damage as a regular strike, but it is great on baddies that you don't want to get up close and personal with. Lastly, downed enemies can be stabbed to death with a fatal blow, done by jerking down or up both the remote and nunchuk.
Everyone knows that a good offense is a good defense, and that rings true for this game, too. When an enemy attacks, with proper timing you can initiate a shield bash by thrusting the nunchuk controller forward as soon as a foe attacks. This will stun the baddie, allowing you free reign to assault them.
Moving from dishing out damage to regular enemies like Skulltula, Keese, Chuchus, Moblins, and Stalfos to one of the most impressive parts of the game, the bosses of Skyward Sword are seriously some of the best the Zelda series has ever seen. Every dungeon but one concludes with a boss battle, and there are multiple ones that take place outside of dungeons as well. The game's main antagonist, a self-proclaimed Demon Lord Ghirahim, is fought three times throughout Link's epic odyssey. Each battle is different from the last, and considering the first boss encounter is with this long-tongued weirdo and he takes off a lot of damage, there's no easy Twilight Princess difficulty here. In the first encounter with Ghirahim you must fool the demon lord by moving your sword around while sitting right in front of the big baddie. Meanwhile his hand will follow your blade intently. Soon it stops on one side. That is then your cue to attack from the other side. Another boss has you slashing the claws of a colossal scorpion boss. You must slash in the direction of the claw, so if the claw is opened diagonally, you must slash diagonally. Even after the bosses have been long defeated, near the end game you have the option of participating in a Boss Rush-like mode for rupees and other treasure.
Two of the chief complaints of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess were that: 1) it was too easy, and 2) there were little to no side quests. Both of these have been rectified with Skyward Sword. Not only is the normal game challenging (I had plenty of Game Overs), but after beating the main game you unlock Hero Mode. This mode has enemies that deal double damage, and there are no heart drops unless you acquire and equip a Heart Medal. Furthermore on the issue of side quests, there are a myriad of them to take part in and accomplish. From retrieving Beedle's prized and rare bug to finding a lost child, you earn Gratitude Crystals for each task you complete. Most of these come down to fetch quests, but there are plenty to do. You give these crystals to a monster hiding in a house below Skyloft who will give you presents for getting to certain amounts of Gratitude Crystals such as bigger wallets to hold more rupees in and Heart Containers. Speaking of Heart Containers, you can have up to twenty hearts as health in Skyward Sword. Heart Containers are hidden all over the world of the game, won in mini-games like a mine cart race, a pumpkin-shooting mini-game, and much more. Additionally there are Goddess Cubes strewn all under the clouds that when activated by a Skyward Strike make a special treasure chest appear on one of the dozens of islands in the sky. From the extra hard difficulty, to Gratitude Crystals, to Heart Containers, to Goddess Cubes, there is plenty to do in this newest and amazing Zelda adventure.
Speaking of complaints, there is Link's companion Fi. Fi is the spirit of the Goddess Sword who oftentimes speaks in probabilities and percentages. That is all fine and well, but she constantly interrupts the flow of action to tell the player the most meaningless things. Yes, I knew the answer to this puzzle, but thanks for spoiling it for me anyway. Yes, I know my batteries in my Wii remote are running low. And yes, I know I'm low on hearts and should probably seek some out. It's aggravating when you just want to play the darned game, and Fi just keeps yakking it up, telling you things you already know.
Presentation-wise, Skyward Sword has a positively quaint and charming art style. While it does not rival The Wind Waker, it is still masterfully splendid. The sky and the land below are segmented and disjointed which might put off some players (so you cannot walk from Faron Woods to, say, Eldin Volcano), but this was done because of the power limitations of the Wii. The world and interior design of Skyward Sword is incredible. It really feels like a living, breathing world that you won't want to leave. Character animations are fast and fluid, and they look spectacular as well. Familiar sound effects and jingles like opening a treasure chest, collecting a full Heart Container, and solving a particularly daunting puzzle are back and sound better than ever. The majority of Skyward Sword's soundtrack is orchestrated, and it is one of the best video game scores of the year. There's a major amount of tracks to love and listen to, and the majority of them are massively memorable. Zelda has never looked and sounded this good before. Nintendo really went all out.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one electrifying experience. This is one of the ultimate motion control experiences-- not just on Wii, but anywhere. Nintendo took five years of background in motion controls and made a motion-controlled game that few will ever be able to top. While the collecting and unneeded fetch quests are present and prevalent, and Fi can be intolerable, Skyward Sword manages to maintain the series's high standard of excellence and quality. The sky was definitely not the limit for Nintendo as they somehow took this game and threw it up past the stratosphere and into outer space.