Review by blaiken used peck
How the Wii should've been used this whole time
Prior to the release of this game, many publications lauded it as the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time. Now, that made me a bit wary. Video game publications have a tendency to be hyperbolic, especially when it comes to Nintendo's hallmark franchises (Super Mario Galaxy 2 was, in fact, a significant step down from its predecessor). Ocarina of Time has been worshiped to no end (and I mean, rightfully so), and to give any game praise almost as high as it is certainly a large feat, and likely an overstatement. Nevertheless, I still had faith in the game, because I'm of the opinion that there hasn't been a bad Zelda game yet.
Well, I can say without a doubt that this is the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time.
Now, let's be clear. I'm not necessarily saying that it's my favourite or even my second favourite (although I wouldn't rule it out), but by any objective standards, this is the most complete, unique 3D Zelda game since the first. I want to emphasize both of those descriptors, since they're things that the previous four 3D games have lacked. Majora's Mask, for all of its great ideas and sidequests, was an extremely short game that used the same engine and character models as OoT. Wind Waker was rushed, and it shows at times, namely where they cut out dungeons (with the Triforce collecting and the whole bit where Greatfish Isle - where the third dungeon should have been - is destroyed). Twilight Princess occupied this weird space between delayed and rushed, and while it had just as many dungeons as OoT, the game used the same engine as Wind Waker and didn't really bring anything new to the table (the Twilight Realm was okay, but its areas were short, and being a wolf is exciting until you realize you can't do jack as one).
Skyward Sword itself is not completely unique. In fact, it's fairly easy to pick apart the game and see just where different parts of the game come from. Flying the Loftwing (a big ol' bird used to navigate between different islands in the sky, which, hey, that's kinda like Wind Waker) is somewhat reminiscent of riding Epona. The idea of having only a few small areas that are just crammed with stuff is similar to Majora's Mask. There's treasures you can collect, just like the spoils in Wind Waker. Some of the game's "new" items debuted in some the (mostly lackluster) newer 2D Zelda games. Even Twilight Princess gets a shout-out with small sections where you collect tears in a vessel just like the one you got as a wolf. But instead of these seeming like they were lazy ideas that got tossed in, they feel like a collaborative of all of the best efforts of the Zelda games. This is all due to one huge advantage that the game has over the others: this is how the Wii should have been used all along.
It's absolutely true the Wii has only had a handful of great games. It's unfortunate, but its marketing has been more towards casual gamers, and the rest of them had to suffer because of it. Super Mario Galaxy is the only all-time classic - outside of this, which I am certain will become such a game (as much as Wii game can be - I'm interested to see how these games are going to live on beyond this or the Wii U) - that comes to mind immediately. Even the previous Twilight Princess, while still being a good game, was the worst of the 3D Zelda series and, notably, barely even a Wii game. It was originally developed for the Gamecube, and as time drew on, it got so close to the Wii's release that it basically had to be ported for maximum profits. (Thank god Nintendo didn't feel similarly with this game due to the Wii U's approach.) The result was a game that worked well the Wii, but had no major parts that felt like they HAD to be on the Wii; the difference between it and its Gamecube version are just the parts where motion controls seem obvious.
Skyward Sword, on the other hand, is absolutely, 100% a Wii game. I can imagine it on no other system. It's unfortunate that it took Nintendo this long to get a game that is this immersible to the Wii's experience, one which combines its motion technology with an honestly great game (which, by the way, have the Kinect or PlayStation Move gotten anything close to being such a thing? Honest question since I've barely seen any of it). I suppose technology limited the Wii's development, though, because at the end of the day, it is the Wii MotionPlus that makes this game. It makes flying your Loftwing or your Beetle (a new item to the Zelda series, which is basically a remote control helicopter) far less clunky than the birds in Twilight Princess were. It gives better aiming than you could get in previous Wii games. There's actions that just couldn't have been done without the WiiMotion Plus, like rolling items and the all-new Skyward Strike. You can dive off of cliffs and your Loftwing, controlling your descent. Bug catching is infinitely more fun than fishing. And, most importantly, it provides one of the best combat systems I've seen in a game yet. It makes each enemy an honest challenge at first, until you learn how to fight them. You gradually learn how to fight them, often depending on the direction you swing your sword. Fights with Bokoblins and Stalfos feel like honest-to-god sword fights, since you have to attack around their swords while defending against their own attacks with your shields. You can attack just as they're about to attack you. And their prominence never becomes an issue despite the strategy involved in attacking them, because you slowly learn how to fight them better and kill them easily, without feeling like you're abusing the AI or anything. Besides, as you gather more items and get better swords, they become even easier to kill.
Keeping with that, there's a number of other new things to help make this the most unique Zelda experience in a long time; and actually, these things are hardly new to RPGs. It's clear that Nintendo is taking some cues from other games, which is by all means welcome. The ability to upgrade items and potions is there, there's a stamina bar which is used up by dashing and rolling and the like, shields take damage and can be broken. You have a limited inventory of extra items that can be held (things like bottles, extra ammo, and medals), allowing for the player to customize Link how to they like to play. There's indicators for when you can start a sidequest. There's a "Hero Mode" after you finish, providing a significantly more challenging game.
The flow of the game is mostly status quo for Zelda games. There's a very reasonable seven dungeons, and there's a surprising amount of things to do in between each one. Often you'll have to go through two or three different areas to get to where you need to, backtracking after getting new items or information. There's a bit where you have to scout out a number of collectibles that feels closer to a Mario game. At one point, you lose all of your equipment and have to use stealth to go around collecting it. Flow-wise, I'd say this game trumps even OoT.
For all of this praise I've been heaping on the game, that's not to say it's without flaws. The game's chosen instrument, the harp, is pretty lame, just being arpeggiated chords in a certain rhythm which end up sounding pretty bad. You end up fighting two bosses three times; one of which, The Imprisoned, is my least favourite of the game. But for the most part, I'd just be nitpicking, because this is an absolutely fantastic game. Whether you like this more than, say, Skyrim, depends on just how loose you want your game to be (by Nintendo standards this is pretty personalized, but it's still a game with very definite limits).
For me, yes, it's the best Zelda game since Ocarina.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (US, 11/20/11)
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