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The Early Hours of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

What's old is new again, as we sit down with a near-final version of Wii's swan song.

Looking into the sky during The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the pertinent question wasn't "I wonder if there's anyone up there with that evil moon." No, no. It was "Oh, god, I'm going to die, I should probably play that tune that rewinds time."

We've gone deep underground and scaled the highest of mountains in a Zelda game before, but we've barely taken to the skies. In a series rooted in formula, even such a drastic change in setup makes The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword feel different than previous games, even if so much of the game itself is very much still traditional Zelda.

You meet Zelda very early on in Skyward Sword, a friend teased as romantic interest.

I spent time playing through the opening hours of Skyward Sword earlier this week, a game Nintendo has been working on for something like five years, encompassing the lifespan of the Wii console itself. Nintendo's embargo for that play session is extensive and nuanced, which means I'm awfully limited on what I can tell you, as my impressions would otherwise be spread out over four different sets of write-ups.

I can tell you my mindset going into playing a near-final version of Skyward Sword, though. I don't think I'm the only Zelda fan who played a slice of Twilight Princess and somehow never wound up finishing it. I wouldn't even go so far as to say Twilight Princess was bad, but nothing about the game connected with me. It just felt like another Zelda adventure--good enough for some, not enough for me. Then again, I'm the kind of Zelda fan who champions Majora's Mask as a series high.

I never wanted Nintendo to dump Link into a gritty, realistic world. Of course, "gritty, realistic world," is now a phrase so cliched it no longer provides context. And so perhaps my rejection of Twilight Princess was a subconscious eyeroll at a thing that didn't feel very Zelda at all. There are enough games that tread into the hyperbolic darkness, and I didn't need Zelda to head down that path, too. Majora's Mask was a wonderful balance of looming dread, but one that still felt very Zelda.

...it's also possible Twilight Princess was simply boring.

Link remains the silent protagonist again, this time picked on by characters who call him lazy, scared.

Having mostly skipped the last major Zelda release and never finding time to play Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks, I've come to Skyward Sword with a particularly open mind. It's been years since being immersed within the Zelda formula, so the idea of playing a variation on something very, very familiar is nostalgically appealing, especially since Skyward Sword will arrive around the time Skyrim does. The two could not be any further in terms of what they're trying to accomplish in strictly RPG terms, but what Skyrim and Skyward Sword do have in common is a joyous embrace of player discovery.

There is a world beneath the clouds in Skyward Sword that I cannot tell you about today. The city of Skyloft is where your journey begins. Just before that, however, the game opens with a logo reminding players it's the the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise. Nintendo actually calls back to this within the game itself, as Skyloft is not-so-coincidentally celebrating the 25th anniversary of a special tradition when the game opens. The reference is just fourth-wall enough to elicit a chuckle.

Select areas give Link a chance to practice his sword moves before taking on any enemies.

The next hour is spent doing the now expected Zelda thing of playing a lengthy story intro that also functions as a tutorial. Getting eased into combat is more important this time, too, as Motion Plus means there's more finesse than spamming a button. Every slash is important in Skyward Sword, and while even after a few hours I had trouble reliably performing the "stab" move by moving the Wii remote forward, the rest came naturally. You cannot "waggle" in Skyward Sword, as the enemies are quick, smart and will block your attempts to take them out.

When you decide to swing, be quick and deliberate. You best not miss.

Skyward Sword also channels Wind Waker in distinct ways.

The visuals have a watercolor appearance that's more pronounced as objects move into the background, creating a sense of depth more interesting than simply putting things in and out of focus. The transition is not entirely consistent, with certain up-close camera producing a screen entirely watercolored.

More importantly, the journey feels like Wind Waker; upon gaining access to your air-bound Loftbird, there's an enormous sky canvas to paint on. Feel like aimlessly wandering? You can. See an island in the distance and suspect a heart piece might be in the bushes? Find out! I didn't have a chance to discover much but I did poke around the map, and it was clear Nintendo has spent the last half-a-decade making sure there are plenty to find. Completionists should be excited...and scared.

Guiding the Loftbird around is effortless, as well, and encourages players to make subtle control choices. Swinging the Wii remote around will not accomplish much, and the Loftbird responded soundly enough that I could imagine the game throwing some wicked flight challenges Link's away.

The adventure doesn't really begin until Link accomplishes a task that opens a gateway.

But just as as my adventure began...it was over. That really means something, given we're talking about a game Shigeru Miyamoto claims could encompass anywhere from 50 to 100 hours to fully explore.

Two hours was not enough to make many determinations about Skyward Sword, as I put down the Wii remote outside the first dungeon. The base mechanics have evolved in Skyward Sword, partially through more nuanced motion controls and some neat additions that I (shock!) can't really say much about. How much Zelda deviates, changes or twists what happens once the quest to save the world begins is what will make the real difference here, and knowing that will have to wait a tad longer.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek

Looking into the sky during The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the pertinent question wasn't "I wonder if there's anyone up there with that evil moon." No, no. It was "Oh, god, I'm going to die, I should probably play that tune that rewinds time."

We've gone deep underground and scaled the highest of mountains in a Zelda game before, but we've barely taken to the skies. In a series rooted in formula, even such a drastic change in setup makes The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword feel different than previous games, even if so much of the game itself is very much still traditional Zelda.

You meet Zelda very early on in Skyward Sword, a friend teased as romantic interest.

I spent time playing through the opening hours of Skyward Sword earlier this week, a game Nintendo has been working on for something like five years, encompassing the lifespan of the Wii console itself. Nintendo's embargo for that play session is extensive and nuanced, which means I'm awfully limited on what I can tell you, as my impressions would otherwise be spread out over four different sets of write-ups.

I can tell you my mindset going into playing a near-final version of Skyward Sword, though. I don't think I'm the only Zelda fan who played a slice of Twilight Princess and somehow never wound up finishing it. I wouldn't even go so far as to say Twilight Princess was bad, but nothing about the game connected with me. It just felt like another Zelda adventure--good enough for some, not enough for me. Then again, I'm the kind of Zelda fan who champions Majora's Mask as a series high.

I never wanted Nintendo to dump Link into a gritty, realistic world. Of course, "gritty, realistic world," is now a phrase so cliched it no longer provides context. And so perhaps my rejection of Twilight Princess was a subconscious eyeroll at a thing that didn't feel very Zelda at all. There are enough games that tread into the hyperbolic darkness, and I didn't need Zelda to head down that path, too. Majora's Mask was a wonderful balance of looming dread, but one that still felt very Zelda.

...it's also possible Twilight Princess was simply boring.

Link remains the silent protagonist again, this time picked on by characters who call him lazy, scared.

Having mostly skipped the last major Zelda release and never finding time to play Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks, I've come to Skyward Sword with a particularly open mind. It's been years since being immersed within the Zelda formula, so the idea of playing a variation on something very, very familiar is nostalgically appealing, especially since Skyward Sword will arrive around the time Skyrim does. The two could not be any further in terms of what they're trying to accomplish in strictly RPG terms, but what Skyrim and Skyward Sword do have in common is a joyous embrace of player discovery.

There is a world beneath the clouds in Skyward Sword that I cannot tell you about today. The city of Skyloft is where your journey begins. Just before that, however, the game opens with a logo reminding players it's the the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise. Nintendo actually calls back to this within the game itself, as Skyloft is not-so-coincidentally celebrating the 25th anniversary of a special tradition when the game opens. The reference is just fourth-wall enough to elicit a chuckle.

Select areas give Link a chance to practice his sword moves before taking on any enemies.

The next hour is spent doing the now expected Zelda thing of playing a lengthy story intro that also functions as a tutorial. Getting eased into combat is more important this time, too, as Motion Plus means there's more finesse than spamming a button. Every slash is important in Skyward Sword, and while even after a few hours I had trouble reliably performing the "stab" move by moving the Wii remote forward, the rest came naturally. You cannot "waggle" in Skyward Sword, as the enemies are quick, smart and will block your attempts to take them out.

When you decide to swing, be quick and deliberate. You best not miss.

Skyward Sword also channels Wind Waker in distinct ways.

The visuals have a watercolor appearance that's more pronounced as objects move into the background, creating a sense of depth more interesting than simply putting things in and out of focus. The transition is not entirely consistent, with certain up-close camera producing a screen entirely watercolored.

More importantly, the journey feels like Wind Waker; upon gaining access to your air-bound Loftbird, there's an enormous sky canvas to paint on. Feel like aimlessly wandering? You can. See an island in the distance and suspect a heart piece might be in the bushes? Find out! I didn't have a chance to discover much but I did poke around the map, and it was clear Nintendo has spent the last half-a-decade making sure there are plenty to find. Completionists should be excited...and scared.

Guiding the Loftbird around is effortless, as well, and encourages players to make subtle control choices. Swinging the Wii remote around will not accomplish much, and the Loftbird responded soundly enough that I could imagine the game throwing some wicked flight challenges Link's away.

The adventure doesn't really begin until Link accomplishes a task that opens a gateway.

But just as as my adventure began...it was over. That really means something, given we're talking about a game Shigeru Miyamoto claims could encompass anywhere from 50 to 100 hours to fully explore.

Two hours was not enough to make many determinations about Skyward Sword, as I put down the Wii remote outside the first dungeon. The base mechanics have evolved in Skyward Sword, partially through more nuanced motion controls and some neat additions that I (shock!) can't really say much about. How much Zelda deviates, changes or twists what happens once the quest to save the world begins is what will make the real difference here, and knowing that will have to wait a tad longer.

Staff
Posted by formated4tv

Looks pretty slick

Edited by Do_The_Manta_Ray

Nooooo. Closest I've gotten. Regardin the game, though; I'm unsure how Skyward Sword will deliver a different experience after Twilight Princess.

Posted by JohnPaulVann

Hard to say if this game is gold or shit. I sold my Wii a long time ago so I guess it doesn't matter.

Posted by mrfluke

nice i was beginning to doubt nintendo

Posted by SpaceBoat

The comparisons to Wind Waker make me exited. I had a lot of fun with that game and I'm always a sucker for exploration like that.

Posted by Halberdierv2

ok, if there was any reason for me wanting to get a Wii last minute, this is it.

Posted by Zero_

Game looks like an 8.8 to me

Posted by DeF

@JohnPaulVann said:

Hard to say if this game is gold or shit. I sold my Wii a long time ago so I guess it doesn't matter.

it's pretty safe to say that it's not gonna be shit. not saying that makes it gold by default but there's a certain base of quality that you can expect with major Nintendo releases and especially Zelda games. if it's something you are gonna like is a different story though ...

Posted by CyleMoore

I really cannot wait for this game!

Posted by HarlequinRiot

Am I the only one who wants Zelda to devolve? I think it would be so much more interesting as a simple "Boy saves princess in fantasy land" storybook fairy tale game. I'd much rather they went to a cartoonish but more "normal" aesthetic. I think they need to go back to Zelda 1 stylings, with a boy in a green tunic wandering around and killing monsters. I don't like where the art has gone after WW (the way characters look, mainly) and I really don't like the weird worlds they keep inventing. To me, Zelda is at its best when it captures a childhood adventure fantasy. I think all this talk about evolving the franchise is really hurting it, and making it so uninteresting. They need to boil the game down to what it is: a pure fantasy adventure (swords, goblins, tunics, etc) and get rid of the fluff.

Posted by Vexxan

@Halberdierv2 said:

ok, if there was any reason for me wanting to get a Wii last minute, this is it.

Edited by stalefishies
@HarlequinRiot: I really don't understand how Zelda has ever been more than a 'childhood adventure fantasy;' I mean, it's not like the plot of a Zelda game has mattered in any of its iterations. Yeah, the games are more 'fleshed out' compared to the NES games, but games are more everything compared to NES games now. They really haven't changed anything other than evolving naturally with the times.
Posted by ptys

Dare I buy a Wii just for this... well and I've also been hounding VanillaWare's PR to bring Muramasa over to the HD gen. If this reviews well I could be convinced?! They'll most probably launch the Wii U with an HD version anyway.

Posted by lockwoodx

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

Posted by RuthLoose

@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

Looks more Angelina Jolie to me but to each their own.

Posted by Airickson

@JohnPaulVann said:

Hard to say if this game is gold or shit. I sold my Wii a long time ago so I guess it doesn't matter.

I feel the same way and am in the same boat as you. It's too bad this didn't come out earlier in the Wii's cycle. I would have bought it and played it.

Posted by zolloz89

its about time i take my wii out of the box for the first time since i moved.

Edited by DeF

@HarlequinRiot said:

Am I the only one who wants Zelda to devolve? I think it would be so much more interesting as a simple "Boy saves princess in fantasy land" storybook fairy tale game. I'd much rather they went to a cartoonish but more "normal" aesthetic. I think they need to go back to Zelda 1 stylings, with a boy in a green tunic wandering around and killing monsters. I don't like where the art has gone after WW (the way characters look, mainly) and I really don't like the weird worlds they keep inventing. To me, Zelda is at its best when it captures a childhood adventure fantasy. I think all this talk about evolving the franchise is really hurting it, and making it so uninteresting. They need to boil the game down to what it is: a pure fantasy adventure (swords, goblins, tunics, etc) and get rid of the fluff.

the game you want is called 3D Dot Game Heroes and came out for PS3 last year! :)

Posted by Video_Game_King

Swan song? Like Panzer Dragoon Saga? I think we all want this game to be as awesome as Panzer Dragoon Saga.

Posted by SlackerMonkey

Man I really liked Twilight Princess. What's with all the hate (or I guess it's more like indifference)? Either way I'm really excited for skyward sword, especially after seeing the new footage from the last press conference. I think by now Nintendo should just pull back the curtain.

Posted by BlueWolverine

Thinking about this, but I'm not paying money for a Motion Plus add-on just to play one game.

Posted by FreakAche

STOP MENTIONING MAJORA'S MASK EVERY 5 SECONDS!

Posted by Peacemaker

I probably won't be playing this game based on the fact that I don't want to hook my Wii up again. There's so many other awesome games coming out that I feel like I probably won't be missing out much either.

Posted by krabboss

To everybody wondering if they should buy a Wii just for this - no. Buy a Wii for this and its many other great games.

Posted by WJist

@SlackerMonkey said:

Man I really liked Twilight Princess. What's with all the hate (or I guess it's more like indifference)? Either way I'm really excited for skyward sword, especially after seeing the new footage from the last press conference. I think by now Nintendo should just pull back the curtain.

I saw a friend play it when the Wii first came out and it sold me on the promise of the platform...until it got to the Wolf stuff. Played the game myself and found the normal Link stuff also kind of uninteresting, I'm in the same boat as Patrick. It wasn't the revelation I thought it was going to be (and that might be because of the controls), which is usually what Zelda games bring to the table.

I'm curious what people who picked up Ocarina of Time on 3DS for the first time think of this without the context of Wind Waker or Twilight Princess. Maybe it won't matter at all.

Posted by BasketSnake

@Zero_ said:

Game looks like an 8.8 to me

You said it.

Posted by steelknight2000

Twilight Princess and Wind Waker were the reasons I bought a Gamecube for $30 on ebay (the latter was far superior). Who knows same thing could happen for the Wii.

Posted by Jack268

We've gone deep underground and scaled the highest of mountains in a Zelda game before, but we've never taken to the skies. 


What about the Oocca skyworld in TP? 
Posted by Heti

I knew there was a reason I still had my wii.

Posted by Thor_Molecules

Link turned into a female? What gives?

Posted by TaliciaDragonsong
@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

You honor your username.
And you gained an enemy with that.
Posted by DeF
@Jack268 said:

We've gone deep underground and scaled the highest of mountains in a Zelda game before, but we've never taken to the skies. 

What about the Oocca skyworld in TP? 
which he never saw 'cause Patrick never finished that game which he mentions a few sentences later :)
Posted by Somestickguy_

Always mention Majora's Mask

It is, after all, the greatest Zelda to date (tied with Wind Waker)

Posted by Japanese_Prawn

I liked Twilight Princess for a lot of reasons but can agree that there was something missing. It was bland. I really enjoyed the more realistic art direction, the darker tones and hell, let me transfer into a shadow wolf and I'm pretty much sold. However, it was rehashed.

My ultimate Zelda is probably Wind Waker by far, majorly because of the art style and exploration. Each island was a bright, new, colourful world to explore with secrets to solve and as a (fairly) young guy it had me hooked for weeks. Even the walkthrough guide I read later was beautiful and detailed. It was near-perfect to my eyes.

Here Nintendo seem to be experimenting again. A new, once ageing colourful art style (that I still wish leaned slightly less toward Twilight and more toward Wind Waker) and whole new world to explore and puzzle solve. Add a control system that forces thought into even simple battles and the fact that this is a new Zelda for home consoles and I should be preordering right now. Surely?

But alas it is for wii, and I can't seem to forgive it for not quite being a Gamecube...

Edited by TadThuggish

@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

Is Justin Bieber the new Harry Potter? I mean that like "anyone with short-ish blonde hair LOOKS LIKE JUSTIN BIEBER LOL!!!", replacing "anyone with dark hair and glasses LOOKS LIKE HARRY POTTER LOL!!".

Posted by patrickklepek

@DeF said:

@Jack268 said:

We've gone deep underground and scaled the highest of mountains in a Zelda game before, but we've never taken to the skies.

What about the Oocca skyworld in TP?
which he never saw 'cause Patrick never finished that game which he mentions a few sentences later :)

I meant flying, but I can understand the confusion with that dungeon. You're right.

Staff
Posted by Lucidlife

BLAH.

I just want a new huge Zelda game that uses a traditional controller.

Fuck you Nintendo.

Posted by lockwoodx

@TaliciaDragonsong said:

@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

You honor your username. And you gained an enemy with that.

To be savored like a fine wine.

Posted by Floope

@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

I don't see it at all.

Posted by lockwoodx

@RobbleWobble: it has to do with DSL and I don't mean your internet connection.

Posted by msavo

It sounds like a great Zelda game, the controls sound like what Twilight Princess on Wii should have been, but I just can't bring myself to purchases a Motion Plus, dig out my Wii and change my current gaming setup just to play this one game.

Posted by jamesisaacs

@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

NO, what have you done!?

Posted by Shaanyboi

So... was it fun enough to get excited about or not? I feel like all these guys have been able to say is "It's a Zelda game." I love ya, Patrick, but spending 1/3 of the article pointing out about the horrendous pacing in Twilight Princess kinda delays the impressions I came to the article for. If you wanted, you could've talked about more of the differences between the two, but.... y'know...

Posted by TehFlan

So excited for this game.

Posted by OllyOxenFree

Great write-up, Patrick.

Posted by emem

@jamesisaacs said:

@Buzzkill said:

I still cannot unsee this. Even bleach has not helped.

NO, what have you done!?

He's already been cast for the new Zelda movie, ehh? ;)

Posted by Greenlight13

I loved Twilight Princess, I truly did. I thought it was better than Windwaker, but it took a while to get going. Them going back to something like Windwaker has me a little bummed out (not that I didn't enjoy WW for the most part).

Posted by Renk

I still can't stand that interface. That large controller overlay needs to go... Either that or the option to turn it off.

Posted by Shaka999

@RobbleWobble: you just ruined my life.

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