Review by neonreaper

"Great game, hopefully Nintendo gets the waggle out the franchise next time"

At times I loved Skyward Sword, and at other times I was really annoyed with it. In the end, I allowed a soft spot in my heart to develop for all the things Skyward Sword does right. That being said, while I do rate it highly, I wouldn't put it as "Game of the Year", and I am very worn out by Nintendo's usage of waggle gimmickry. Let's look at the main achievements and annoyances in Skyward Sword...

1. Cohesive design and execution
Twilight Princess suffered from feeling very segmented, but not Skyward Sword. The most prominent example of this is how many items are used over and over again in dungeons beyond the ones they were found in. Some of the other items (ie the whip) aren't as heavily featured, but they do have some fun uses (ie stealing things from enemies).

The game from start to finish just *feels* like it was put together pretty well. There's one stretch of the game where this doesn't hold true, more on that later, but everything else, every main dungeon, is consistent with the general nature of the game. Think back to Twilight Princess, the wolf mode just felt tacked on for the sake of it. A similar mode in SS (the trials) is a very cool change of pace yet fits in with everything the game is doing. From the start, Link is proving himself, and this very narrative has a payoff as the final battle is building up.

2. Inconsistent waggle controls
Sort of in line with the first point, it's nice to see that the developers decided that the game was going to be very active from start to finish, and they stuck with it. The few times (the trials) that you aren't using motion controls, the action is still heart-racing. You aren't swinging, flapping, or aiming, but you are running for your life - no time to settle and explore during the trials!

The sword play is OK. You don't really have 1:1 controls, as there are a specific amount of slashes (horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree diagonal in each direction) and a stab. The game will match most closely what it thinks you did, and the calibration isn't perfect. The calibration screen asks you to put the remote on a flat surface, but what you really need to do is hold it the way you normally do and keep it still. My personal issue is that I hold it in two different ways depending on my posture - sitting forward, I have a significantly different angle compared to sitting back/leaning. If you move the nunchuk while swinging, it causes a special attack, so I had to make sure to keep that still, and it was unnatural for me. It was rare that I had much difficulty with the controls, but they didn't really live up to my expectations.

Bosses are mostly designed around waggle controls, and they suffer as a result. This is not the strongest boss fight collection in a Zelda game, that's for sure. I honestly felt like bosses, as well as tougher common enemies, were straight out of a Wii Sports design mentality, and it's too bad. The vast majority of bosses rely heavily on what angle you swing at them. Instead of interesting sword battles, it's just a matter of swinging at the angle the enemy isn't blocking. I mention bosses/tougher enemies, but really it is true for almost all enemies in the game. Very few enemies are meant to be defeated by means other than "swing this way". It would be great if only a few enemies were like this, but it's simply too common. As much as I praise the game for sticking to its guns, there's no harm in some creativity with the battles.

Flying and swimming are a bit below my expectations for the quality of a Zelda game. There are a couple of times that the game wants you to learn a special spinning attack for either travel mode, luckily you don't have to use it very often because it's just not much fun. In a world of keyboard+mouse or dual analog, the Wii remote continues to come up short. That all said, I want to repeat that I'm happy they stuck with the activity level of the game. It was fun for one Zelda but unless they improve significantly, I don't see myself wanted to play another Zelda game that relies so heavily on waggle.

3. Music is hit or miss
Many of the music selections in the game are orchestral, perhaps all of them. It's a nice improvement but I think too many themes are a bit understated, especially in dungeons. I'll hear a throwback tune hidden among some simple little sounds while exploring, and wish that they let the music out a bit more. Overworld, Skyloft, title screen, file select, cutscenes... brilliant. Dungeons... eh.

4. Dungeons 3 through 6
There is a stretch of dungeons and cutscenes in this game that may comprise the best stretch in any Zelda game ever. It's impossible to be a true fan of the series and get through dungeon 6 and the following cutscene and not feel completely rewarded for your time.

5. The game is dense
The overworld sections are basically dungeon style puzzle/combat areas. I might prefer more free exploration, but hats off to the developers for going in a new direction and sticking to it. No Hyrule Field area here, and that seems a bit sad at first, but SS wants you constantly moving and constantly coming into new puzzles/content. The Sky World allows for exploration though it's the opposite of dense, in a way. There are very few places to explore up there and the game directs you to them, so while it takes a while to fly around and there isn't much up there, there isn't much poking around to do. If you just press everything together, it's dense, but with a time sink of flying around. Overall this point is probably neutral for me, though I think long term the series is a bit better with a Hyrule Field.

6. Rough start, again
The hand holding that Zelda games do early on is such that anyone who needs it, won't be able to get past many of the more challenging parts of the game. There's no need for the game to drag on for an hour or two, and the the first dungeon doesn't need to be short and too simplistic. In this case, the first two dungeons. The game just handicaps itself for no reason.

7. Tad tones
After the sixth dungeon, there is one more proper dungeon. And it's a neat one. The problem is, after some dramatic and epic and touching moments following the sixth dungeon (which is a very good dungeon), the game tosses you into some obnoxious fetch quests. It's beyond jarring to have the game achieve such a level of awesomeness only to have you swimming around collecting fish for an hour. It's as though they had some design ideas that they didn't want to leave on the floor. The narrative for this portion of the game is also poor. Without spoiling much, Link gets to a certain level, and is then asked "can you prove it again" except the tasks he has to perform are boring and easy. It's like learning how to drive, how to parallel park, passing your driving exam, and before getting your license, you have to pedal around a bike with training wheels.

8. Fighting the same boss over and over
It happens with a couple of bosses in the game. The impact of these bosses is a bit diminished by having to perform the same basic "slash in this direction" attacks, they really are the same fight over and over and the new wrinkles just don't do much.

9. Great art
The Wii unfortunately doesn't look great on nicer/bigger TVs and Zelda suffers a great deal of jags and pixelated textures as a result, but the water colored cel shading approach is really nice. Give me more.

10. Terrific story and characterization
And while the game starts off slow, the middle portion is amazing, back to a low before the finale being great again... and while the controls are very polarizing... and while there is much to say about the gameplay and dungeon design in general... Skyward Sword is a special game because the story is good. It's compelling due to it's own charm and the legacy the series has built over the decades, and giving the proper sense of character to Link and Zelda and some of the secondary characters. I wish Girahim wasn't a poor man's Zant, but everything else is pretty much awesome or nice or so. As the game finished and I enjoyed the ending to the last drop, I couldn't help but feel like this was a special adventure. And while the games flaws keep it from being an all-time classic, it does rate very well with me for being able to be that special adventure.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/23/12

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

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