Review by Juxtaposition7
"I forced myself to finish this game"
Beginning with Wind Waker, the pinnacle of my Zelda experience was Twilight Princess. And while some may have just accused me from falling victim to the so-called Zelda Cycle, I can honestly say that Skyward Sword is not the worst Zelda.
But that's not to ignore that Skyward Sword is, without a doubt, the most disappointing, half-baked, and tedious Zelda I've ever played. Just to be clear, I never felt the hype from this game, in part because my Wii was collecting dust by the time I found out that Nintendo was releasing one more entry in this hallowed series. The only expectation I had for this game was that it would be worthy of the Zelda title. I digress
The visual quality of SS isn't bad per se, it's just that it's surpassed by many a Wii game before it. Super Mario Galaxy, a game released over four years ago looks much better than this. So does its sequel. Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the most part looks better than this. Even Twilight Princess in some ways looks better than this to the point where I'd honestly call it even.
The only saving grace SS has is its art style, an impressionistic perspective based off the works of Cezanne and others that's really just a fusion of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess's visuals. Now I'm not going to rant about how the graphics don't know what they want to be, as many a reviewer before have put it. Such a description is unfounded.
The quality of SS's visuals are not lacking in detail so much as sharpness. Nothing in this game will impress you much like Wind Waker's cartoony art style or the contrasting lighting in the Twilight Realm. Colors looked washed out and bland. Architecture, while at times appealing, is recycled throughout the game as if it were cut and pasted. The only visual improvement that I've noticed, if you can call it that, is the absence of blurry textures.
Then again, one might argue that most of the game is a blurry texture simply because of the art style, which coats over edges with watercolor painting. At least the characters are better animated this time around, though it seems that nothing they do would have been impossible in older iterations of Zelda.
It's orchestrated; that's about the best I can say.
Much like the graphics, no composition will stand out to you in this game. In fact, after playing the game once I honestly could not bring to mind one single tune. Or at least, one that was pleasant to hear. I could only remember the 3rd dungeon's music, if you can even call it that. It sounded more like a buzz saw grinding my ears down than anything I would expect from a game of Zelda's caliber.
If anything this game proves that the quality of the music composed matters much more than the quality of the instruments involved. Quite frankly I was not surprised that Koji Kondo, the composer whiz of Nintendo for the past 25 years, was listed last in the credits under music. I would much rather listen to his original Legend of Zelda theme on the NES than Nayru's Wisdom, an insult of a song that sounds as if your harp is a broken record.
Speaking of the harp, it may just be brain dead. When I first obtained this instrument of musical whimsy, I thought of all the tunes I could make up with it, much like with the Ocarina. Little did I actually concern myself with playing the instrument. The game does not allow you to do this in any way more remarkable than swaying your arm back and forth with no distinction between notes. As if that weren't bad enough, the tunes you create feel distorted and sometimes painful to hear, a computer-generated mess of poor rhythm and singing.
Ah, here we go, the most polarizing aspect of this game: the gameplay. Motion control is incorporated well in this game, except that nothing it offers wasn't already available to you with Wii Sports Resort. Skydiving, riding your loftwing, and sword-fighting were all featured in Wii Sports Resort, and, I hate to say it, done better. The problem with SS is that it constantly demands motion control, to the point where you must monitor every twist of your wrist in case the game registers something you didn't intend to do.
And that 1:1 sword combat? It's a bold-faced lie. In truth, SS allows you 8 directional sword swings and the stab, which requires a thrusting motion that's too difficult to pull off without shaking the nunchuck and causing a shield bash. The best can be said is that all these activities are used in an adventure game for the first time.
The worst part about motion control is not so much its inconsistency in recognizing movement as the application of it. Common enemies, and even bosses for goodness sakes, were designed with motion control in mind. Which is to say they awkwardly hold up their weapons at a funny angle just so you can slash them in the opposite direction. Not only does it look foolish, but the most common enemy, the Bokoblin, will change the angle of its weapon to block yours right as you're slashing.
I honestly had more success waggling these enemies to death than dealing with their Wiimote nonsense. The more natural enemies, like the Lizalfos, are executed much better and I enjoyed fighting them. Too bad there are so few of them.
Now, as far as the core Zelda qualities of dungeon design, sidequests, and exploration, SS misses on all fronts.
Dungeons require little thought and are more just running back and forth between rooms. The complexity of Twilight Princess's later dungeons is gone. Instead we have dungeons that require no challenge, the first two of which are incredibly short. Even when there might be the slightest sense of confusion as to what next to do, there's always some stupid sign hanging around pointing you to the solution. The Sandship, while having a unique level design, doesn't feel like it should be by featuring elements not common with the architecture it displays.
Dungeon themes are also recycled. There's a forest temple, and later a temple that has forest elements with water and prison elements mixed in. They even explicitly named a dungeon Earth Temple to mislead you into believing that the Fire Sanctuary, dungeon six, was not the second fire themed dungeon you'd encountered. And while dungeon seven may be ingeniously designed as a labyrinth you can move around, it also recycles themes from every dungeon you've previously encountered, not to mention being rather short as well.
In this game, sidequests equal fetch quests. All of them involve retrieving or delivering something. One of the mini-games is even a fetch quest. The only mini-games that are new to this game are sky-diving into rings, a mine cart mini-game that's just Super Mario Galaxy's manta ray swimming on rails, and slashing at bamboo as many times as you can within the time limit, the waggling equivalent to button mashing. The fetch quests wouldn't be so bad if the mode of travel, the loftwing, didn't move rather slowly and wasn't surrounded by the dullest of environments, the sky.
Which brings me to exploration. There is none. The game follows such a linear path it's as if Link is walking on a tightrope and would die if Nintendo allowed him to deviate the slightest from the path he must take. The world only opens up as you progress through the game, and even then there just isn't much to offer. Whereas Wind Waker and Twilight Princess limited your exploration until about 1/3 of the game each, Skyward limits it throughout. Once you've finished a dungeon in a region, there's nothing else to do until the story returns you to it. No hidden grottos, nothing the game doesn't force you to cover.
Regions in SS aren't even connected, which means that you must tediously fly to them through the sky to reach them. Heck, there isn't even a warp system. Once again, nature themes are recycled, in part because backtracking has you open up new areas that are no different from the last, except for the lakes in the forest and sand regions.
Enemies are recycled also. I don't think I've ever played a Zelda game with a greater infestation of bokoblins. There are almost no new enemies introduced after the 3rd dungeon, and only a handful are ultimately available. Even bosses are recycled. One boss you'll fight three times and changes little in how you fight him. Another boss you'll fight twice and they're identical each time, the only distinguishing factor being that you obtain a heart container after the first one. The only neat addition to the enemies is an oversized bokoblin whose shield you can jump over and attack from behind.
As far as pacing goes, it's just fetch quest after fetch quest between dungeons. The game deliberately makes you find, collect, and even check things to artificially lengthen gameplay. As if I didn't feel like a dog enough already, the game introduces Silent Realms, a punishing rip off of Twilight Princess's tears of light, which was probably the worst aspect of that game to copy. Not only must you fetch tears, but if you are detected by one of the guardians or run out of time, the phantoms come alive and go after you. If you are hit, you must start all over. Did I mention you're defenseless?
And I haven't even mentioned the worst guide in video game history: Fi. She states the obvious time and time again, to the point where she'll just be popping up every two minutes to say something you already know. This wouldn't be so bad if you could skip the text. She also has no personality, and likes to annoy you with meaningless percentages to encourage what you should do next. No guide would be better than Fi.
Lasting Value: 3/10
If not for the completionist inside me, I would have stopped playing halfway through. But I wanted to see how the plot unfolded, hoping that it would evolve beyond a glorified game of hide and seek between Link and Zelda. It hardly did, and the best thing about this game is the comic relief character, Groose, the only character to develop. Ganondorf fans will be disappointed to discover the tacked on creation of their favorite villain.
Ultimately, the game is shorter than Twilight Princess by about eight hours. There are 7 dungeons, three of which are quite short. It would probably be about ten hours shorter if not for the countless fetch quests in which I chose or was forced to partake. There is Hero mode, an opportunity to play the game over with enemies that do twice as much damage, but it isn't worth it as virtually nothing else changes. At least Wind Waker had costume changes and translated Hylian text for you.
Only Zelda fans have any reason to play this game, simply because it is an origin story, and a disappointing one at that. The biggest question I ask is how on earth it took five years to produce this game since Twilight Princess was released. Were they waiting to develop the technology? Obviously not, as Wii motion plus debuted over two years before Skyward Sword's release.
That being said, the lack of effort put into this game is galling. It's all been done before, and done better. The game recycles mechanics of other games as much as it recycles its own content.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 02/01/12
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (US, 11/20/11)
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