Review by Labinsky

"An in-depth response to concerns raised in Gamespot's controversial review"

Chances are, you've read the Gamespot review of Skyward Sword that gave it a 7.5. I know it's just one review, but I get the feeling many people will be on the fence about buying the game because of it, and it's understandable why. Negative reviews (and yes, a 7.5 suggests a negative review despite Tom's insistence to the contrary) generally carry more weight with readers because they tend to address specific points that the positive reviews never mention. That's why I'm doing this--to give the points Tom and other reviewers made some perspective, addressing issues other positive reviewers have ignored. I know this sounds like it will be some outraged fanboy's rage against a negative review, but I hope you will find my points and counterpoints are both rational and reasonable. Tom raises some valid criticisms, but he exaggerates them far beyond their real significance.

First of all, I have to warn you that there will be minor spoilers about the structure of the game's quest, but there will be none about actual items or story elements.

Even before you read any reviews, you were probably concerned about the use of the 1:1 sword combat using the Wii Motion Plus. I'd say it's nearly flawless, except for the occasionally problematic thrust attack. There. You're convinced, right? No? You shouldn't be, and unfortunately I have no way to prove my point. What you should do is look up a control demonstration on Youtube; that will tell you more than my words ever could.

So why did Tom (and several other reviewers) hate them so much? Well, Tom himself is quite ambiguous about exactly how bad they are in his review. At one point he said, “Link's sword mirrors your hand movement,” (implying that they work) and at another, “The Wii Remote has trouble recognizing your different swings” (implying that they don't). Either way, I have an idea why he had so much trouble. In a podcast, he talked about how he chose just to waggle the remote instead of try for precision strikes--because he had observed that many early enemies can be defeated using the waggle tactic. Learning the new sword mechanics takes time, and it seems that Tom didn't take the time to learn them. Skyward Sword forces you to start from scratch in your knowledge of its controls, and they don't come easily. If you practice patiently, you'll quickly get a handle on what works and what doesn't. But if you're impatient and prefer to wildly shake the remote when the game doesn't require precision, you'll probably keep doing the same thing when it does require precision. What you think in your head may be different from what you do with your hands, even if you don't realize it.

He also brought up the aiming controls as a huge problem. Judging from his own description of what happened and the fact that he later issued a correction about them, I'm guessing he didn't fully understand how they work. When you pull out an item that requires aiming, the game sets your remote's current direction as the center of the screen. What Tom (and all of us first-timers, really) did was angle the remote upward to select the bow and then a few moments later angle it down to the center of the screen. This caused the center position to be set high, so when he moved the remote downward to the middle of the screen, it forced Link's aim down to his feet. This is the problem Tom describes, and while it is understandable, you'd think he would've taken the time to understand the controls before reviewing the game for a high-profile gaming outlet. What you need to do is immediately move the remote to the middle after you pull out an item, and you will have very few issues with the controls. If you don't do this, you can recenter the aim anytime you want. Sorry for the overly technical explanation--it's not really as complicated as it sounds--but it was the only way I could think of to explain why a professional reviewer would have such a hard time with controls that I think are just fine.

Also criticized are the game's camera and jumping controls. As you can probably guess, I have had significant problems with neither. Link still auto-jumps when you run off a ledge, and to many this might seem outdated. But really, all this removes from the game is precision in jumping, and since Skyward Sword is not a platformer, this hardly matters at all. The camera is a little more troublesome, but it is more an aesthetic annoyance than a crippling handicap. Due to the Wii Remote's lack of a second analog stick, Skyward Sword uses the old one-button camera system introduced in Ocarina of Time, albeit with minor refinements. Nintendo knew the limits of the system, so they allowed you to switch to first-person with a press of C if you want to freely look around. Also, boss rooms are free of large, vision-obscuring objects, and enemies never try to circle around and attack you from behind, so many of the issues of lock-based camera are neatly averted.

Okay, one more thing slightly related to controls. Tom asserts that most of the game can be beaten without even trying to be precise. After playing the game, I find it hard to imagine why anyone would prefer to waggle since the accurate WM+ controls are far more fun and (usually) more effective. Waggling is less fun, slower, and tends to get you punished. If for some reason you still want to use it, yes, it will work on many of the early enemies. Try using it on the first boss, a Lanayru Bokoblin, or a Lizalfos and they will counterattack. Other complaints he raised mostly just amount to giving you options to defeat enemies, like you'd expect from any Zelda game. Many enemies block one way for a while and then attack. It's faster and not that difficult to hit them on their weak side, but if you want to you can also wait until they attack and use a shield parry. It doesn't require precision, but it does require good timing. I can't understand why giving you options like that is a problem.

It's also worth noting that the description Tom gives of Lizalfos contains several factual errors. If you want to kill them quickly and you miss your first chance to parry them (you will), you will use a vertical slash to make them dodge and hit them as they block diagonally. The shield parry way is slower and every bit as difficult as the sword way, not “quick and efficient” as Tom claims. So yes, you can get through most fights without using precise strokes, but there are many where you will be delayed, parried, or even electrocuted if you choose waggle over precision.

Padding and Content
This is the other major complaint raised against the game. (Almost) everyone agrees that the dungeons, bosses, and story are excellent, so I see no reason to address those, but some say the stuff in between them is full of fetch quests and meaningless backtracking. This just baffles me. More than any other Zelda game, there are many areas in the game that you will visit only once. Yes, there are a few fetch quests, but each time you are called to revisit old areas, your interaction with the terrain changes dramatically. Given the game's fantastic environments, you won't mind retreading old ground for 20 minutes when a meaty five-hour-long action and puzzle segment lies on either side.

But since Tom has already insisted that the game is just a pattern of “fetch quest, dungeon, fetch quest, dungeon,” I guess I'll need to come up with some empirical evidence to the contrary. First of all, I can rule out the desert portion (one of the three general areas you will visit) almost entirely--aside from the Silent Realm, there is almost literally no retreading old ground, which is something almost unheard of in the Zelda series. So there's about a third of the game right off the bat that is an exception to Tom's generalization. What about the other two?

Truth is, there's a little more, but it's no more than you would expect in a non-linear action-adventure game. You visit each of the three areas three times, but each subsequent time you will spend less than half an hour retreading old ground before you find a Silent Realm portal, a new area, or a dramatically changed existing area. You know, maybe I should just list all the sections of the main game that could be called padding to give you an estimate of how much time you'll really spend backtracking. There's one 10-minute fetch quest in the second visit to the volcano area, a half-hour (remixed) visit to the forest temple (which you can skip if you used a guide to get an item beforehand) on the second forest visit, a 20-minute fetch quest on the third forest visit with dramatically changed terrain and aesthetics, a 10-minute puzzle/fetch quest in between the first and second parts of the game, a 10-minute fetch quest between the second and third segments, and a 10-minute puzzle/fetch quest on the third desert visit (which can also be neatly avoided). Throw in about two more hours for travel in between each segment (that's an overestimate, and even so it's maybe a quarter of what Wind Waker had), and you have about three and a half hours of “padding” in a 30-hour main story. It sounds like a lot, but it's divided into very manageable chunks, and it really doesn't take much time compared to how long the rest of the game will last you. If you want to take your time like I did, you'll put in around 50 hours, which includes a few optional fetch quests but also some extremely entertaining segments.

To put it simply, you're not slogging your way through padded mire in between dungeons just to get to the good parts. As the developers said several times during pre-release, the overworld (not the sky, but the non-dungeon areas beneath the sky) is much more dense than it has been in other Zeldas and feels much more like a dungeon itself. I should note that this also causes it to feel less like a believable world, which I found a little disappointing. It does cut down on traveling and searching time, though--remember how much time you spent running around Hyrule Field in OoT, wandering in Clock Town in MM, or sailing in WW? That empty time is mostly gone except for the brief flying segments.

So what fills that void? The answer should delight you: puzzles and action. You're solving puzzles in the environment, traversing unique terrain, escaping Silent Realm guardians, and battling more enemies than you've ever seen in a 3D Zelda overworld. As you may have heard, Link is more athletic now, and this allows the world to have a lot more vertical variety than it has had in the past, and several new environment-dependent mechanics and items allow for a breathtaking variety in activity. You'll solve some basic bomb puzzles, grab targets with your grappling item, and use the slingshot to shoot some switches, but these are the only items that even touch on “been there, done that.” Most of the applications of your arsenal are new--even the bombs are used for their share of unique puzzles.

I've already briefly addressed this, but there's a little more to be said. To recap, almost everything you do in Skyward Sword is new to the game, from navigation of environment, to battles, to puzzles, to combat. But I haven't addressed the main quest structure. Unfortunately, certain aspects of it do feel a little predictable. As I said before, the quest has three main sections, and each section is divided up into three segments, one in each area of the surface, and your eventual goal is basically the same in each area. All in all, it feels a little too rigidly structured and “gamey” for my taste. Fortunately, the core of the game--what you do from moment to moment in each area--is as widely varied as it has been in any Zelda game to date. The gameplay and story are both fantastic; they just don't relate to each other very well.

And I guess that finally concludes this review. Good thing, too, as I'm exceeding 2000 words here. To recap, Skyward Sword has some minor elements of filler, control annoyances, and predictability, but they cannot in any way overshadow the rest of this magnificent game. Note that I'm not accusing any reviewer of lying about the game--heaven knows what made Tom give the game the score he did, but I'm sure his review reflected how he really felt about it. Still, it was a sloppy job, and I wanted to set a few things straight for those of you who read this. Anyway, I hope this was helpful. Now go buy the game. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it, since your enjoyment depends on measures outside my control, but I honestly can't imagine anyone regretting this purchase.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/06/12

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

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