Review by ClanCrusher

"The Legend of Wii-Mote: Gimmick Controller"

For a long time after I had first purchased the Wii, I couldn't really understand what the problem with motion controls was. I thought it was a neat little gimmick that, while annoying in some cases, never really took away from the overall experience of the game I was playing. I had no problem occasionally twisting the remote and pushing it back and forth to release a power cell in Metroid Corruption or shaking it to give Mario a little spin in Super Mario Galaxy. So why was it such a big deal in this game? Well, it comes down to one thing really.

Immersion.

Much like in the same way one buries themselves in a book or gets lost in a movie, games have a powerful tool at their disposal. The potential to immerse the player within their world or story and make them feel like part of the action or adventure. On a fundamental level, you know that you're playing a game, but when you get wrapped up in the action that's on the screen in front of you, the controller barely seems to exist anymore. While not every game is like this, I'm sure almost every one of us can point to one game or moment where we've felt this way at some point or time.

One of the major reasons why I've always liked the Zelda games is because they do a very commendable job of capturing this immersion. You feel like the hero on an epic quest of destiny. You feel excitement and anticipation when approaching the end of a grueling dungeon and the boss fight that awaits you. You get a sense of just how epic Hyrule (or whatever location the game may bring to you) feels. Even in the lackluster titles like Windwaker, you still manage to feel some of this simply by sailing on the wide open sea and exploring the various islands.

But the Wii controller shatters this immersion into pieces.

Almost every single action you take in this game is somehow related to the gimmicky nature of the Wii-mote, not helped in the least by how potentially faulty the controls can be. Every single action that might somehow be fun or interesting is counterbalanced by the wii remote hanging onto the mechanic like a lead weight sinking it down into the waters of mediocrity.

So I know what you're thinking. Why is this game deserving of such a low score simply because of its controls? What about the story or the design or even the music? And yes, that is a fair question, but the problem is that the Wii mote is tied into every single one of these aspects in one way or another, so frankly every problem can be traced back to it. But I digress. Let us start from the top of the list of wii mote faults.

The Combat:

First and foremost is the combat. Now, up until the game Twilight Princess, combat was almost always a simple piece of the greater game. Oft times when you were going through a dungeon, you were thinking less about the monsters you had to face, and more about the puzzles you needed to solve. Most of the monsters in and of themselves were mini-puzzles, especially the bosses, who usually forced you to stun them in some way with other more exotic items before you moved in with the sword. And while I applaud Twilight Princess for making its combat a step beyond its predecessors, Skyward Sword goes about it all wrong.

To go more in-depth to this combat system, let's take a look at the average goblin enemy. The trick, or gimmick, to defeating this average enemy is to pay attention to the way his sword is blocking. If he's holding it horizontally above his head, then the counter is to slash horizontally along the sword. The opposite is true for a vertical block. Occasionally, he'll change his position, forcing you to adapt to his style.

But therein lies the problem. When you imagine a sword fight between two people, do you really picture one person awkwardly approaching the other with their sword held high above their head or twisted at an angle with their blade pointing towards the ground? Of course not. You imagine something like Wesley from Princess' Bride or maybe even Luke from Star Wars (superimposing the lightsaber as a sword of course). But this? This is nothing more than another tacked on wii mote minigame that you could easily play in Wii Sports resort. It doesn't belong in a Zelda game.

But Clan, you might be asking, surely not every enemy could be like this, could it? Well, I'm sorry, but they are. Every single enemy in this game has some sort of associated wii mote mini-game attributed to them, even if it's something as simple as shaking both the controllers to free yourself from a slime enemy that has caught you. This fake looking sword fighting and the natural frustration that comes from angling a swing just right against an enemy takes me out of the game constantly

I know it's been a while, but do any of you remember the swordfighting from Twilight Princess? And I'm not just talking about the cool moves like the death draw you could use to severely damage enemies, I'm talking about the feel of it. When you were facing off against an enemy and had your shield up, Link seemed tense. Occasionally, he'd spin his sword around in his hand for show, like a practice swing before closing in with his enemy. The enemies also seemed lively, brandishing their weapons and ready to spill your blood the minute you let your guard down. And one could hardly forget that insane fight with Zant either.

With Skyward Sword? They come in, waving their weapons around in a stupid blocking pattern allowing you ample time to make your swings. If you just don't do anything, then they take an incredibly long animation time to hit you with a clumsy swing of their own. Even your first encounter with the Demon Lord plays out in this manner, with him walking towards you slowly with his hand out in a certain way, allowing you ample time to line up a strike against him. And this is supposed to be your main villain (at least insofar as the first few hours of the game are concerned).

The point I'm trying to make here, is that Zelda did not need this sort of combat system so hyperfocused around the wii motion controller. It just makes the combat feel forced and unnatural.

But swordfighting isn't everything right? Well, no, but let's take a look at some of our other items. And yes, this section will involve spoilers.

The Items:

So one of the first items you come across is The Beetle. It's a slow moving toy that's just about useless outside of solving puzzles and perhaps scouting out a room for high up hidden chests. How does it work? Well you basically pilot it by tilting the wiimote one direction or another. It's imprecise, impractical, a bit clunky, slow as hell, and can't corner worth crap. While I doubt this would have been much more fun with a controller, the little quirk of the wiimote, that which if you angle it too far left or right it suddenly snaps back, makes it little more than a wiimote chore.

Then we have the classic bombs. How could they possibly screw these up? By attaching not one but two wiimote functions to it. You see, not only do you now have to flick your wiimote to throw or roll the bomb, you also have to angle it to determine whether or not to roll or throw it. And if you just leave the wiimote steady, he'll hug the bomb to his chest until you angle it right. I always found this incredibly frustrating pre-bomb bag where you had to rely on the flowers which would start ticking the minute you picked them up. In the few short seconds, you had to find your target, angle your wiimote, and flick it just hard enough so that Link would let go of the bomb rather than hug it to his chest and blow two of his hearts away. Yet another experience ruined by the wiimote.

But hey, what's a Zelda game without music right? I mean, it's become sort of a staple of the series since the Ocarina. Majora's Mask had an Ocarina too, Wind Waker had a baton, and Twilight Princess had that weird...wolf howling thing, but whatever. The point is, it was a fun little mini-game where you played a catchy tune. Maybe it was just a minor feeling of accomplishment, but at the same time we felt like we were playing music. However, in this game, where you get a harp, you simply have to hold A and wave your wiimote in a lazy manner from side to side and you can play any song you need to at the given time. No variation in the songs, or even any variation in the way you wave the wiimote.

But you know what? These items are small fries. Little annoyances. Drops in the bucket compared to my one real game-breaking annoyance. The real game killer for me, is the stupid stupid boss keys.

Now, this may not apply to everyone, but to me, getting the boss key through whatever ridiculous challenge they had in a dungeon was kind of like a milestone. A goal you had just achieved. Now that you had gotten this sacred key, you were about to fight the big bad. The ultimate bad guy of the level. The dungeon was over now and this big guy was going to be a test for everything you'd learned up to this point, most likely utilizing the item you'd just gotten from the dungeon. Placing that big key in that lock and running through the ominous door into the unknown always left me with a feeling of anticipation and excitement. You were nervous, sure, but you were also eager to see what the new challenge was.

But then, because fifty other gimmicks weren't enough, they had to include one more right before you could walk through the @#$%&$# door. This is one where you have to fit the key into the lock. And while this minigame might not necessarily be hard, chances are that it'll be a bit time consuming as you rotate the damn thing every which way with (what else) the wiimote until it fits. It's like hitting a toll booth on a roller coaster right before you hit the loop. And of course, you have to go through this with pretty much every boss door. And then, no matter how much fun or challenging the boss fight might be, I'm always left with that sour note and those few minutes of fumbling around with the key in the back of my mind, polluting the whole experience.

The Traveling

If you ask anyone who has played Wind Waker for any decent amount of time, chances are that one of their major complaints about the game would have been some aspect of the sailing. You had to shift the wind constantly, the map was large and rather barren, and there was actually rather little to really explore that wasn't part of the main storyline. In Skyward Sword, the sea is simply replaced by a sky with even less to explore and even more tedium coming from using the wii bird to pilot yourself from one plot point to the next. It couldn't get any more boring if you just selected your destination from a mini map of some kind and fast traveled there.

I can tell that Nintendo was trying to make some sort of epic world above the clouds which you could fly through and explore, but the fact that there is just so much emptiness in this world makes it tedious. There's barely even anything entertaining to look at.

Worse yet, the main island where you start off at doesn't even feel like part of the main world. While this is probably more a fault of the Wii itself, I always hated the fact that going to and leaving this island required a stupid loading screen, and you couldn't leave the island unless you jumped off in a designated location. Now some may argue that the towns and villages in Twilight Princess were much the same way, being that you had to enter and exit in designated areas and go through a loading screen to get to them, but in a world where you can fly, you shouldn't have to sit through a loading screen while waiting for Link to land, you should just be able to fly straight up to the bazaar and land flat on your face right in front of the door before going inside.

Flying in Zelda is nothing more than an illusion of freedom. In Twilight Princess, you could explore the land of Hyrule to your hearts content, riding as fast as you could across the plains with Epona, slashing through anything unfortunate enough to get in your way. In Skyward Sword it's nothing more than something put in to artificially lengthen gameplay, and by attaching a wii mote gimmick to this makes it even more frustrating when the controls don't work right.

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The inherent problem with all motion control gimmicks like the wii is that sometimes they just don't work right, whether because the player accidentally points the remote too far off screen or the motion sensor just misreads an action you take, or you take an action you didn't mean to because you needed to scratch your nose. The point is, that sometimes, for whatever reason, the controls just don't work, and it's usually no fault of the player. And even if it happens infrequently, how would you feel if that one time out of ten, the X button on your Playstation 3 didn't work? Sure, it only may happen once in a while, but that one time would stick out in your mind more than all the other times it did work. And that's motion control in a nutshell really. A button that works about nine out of ten times.

Sure, there are other things that one could complain about with this game, like how the story is somewhat generic and doesn't make a great deal of sense for the first fifteen hours, or how Fi (your guide for the game) is basically Navi 2.0 and ten times more annoying than the little fairy ever was, but the simple fact of the matter is that all the gimmicky motions and forced motion controls took me out of the experience to the point where I simply wanted to get the game over with. It started feeling more like an obligation than an experience. More like a time waster than actual fun. And ultimately, it failed to connect with me, the player.

Am I being unfair? Maybe. I tend to be a lot more critical of franchises and series that I love than those I don't. Like many before me, Ocarina of Time was my big entry into the world of video games and I want nothing more than to see this series produce the Bladerunner or Mona Lisa of video games, but that's not going to happen with this installment of the series. Not by a long shot.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 12/08/11

Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (US, 11/20/11)


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