By Dalai 5 Comments
It's been ages since I've voiced my opinion here about a video game I was currently playing in great detail. This year was a great year for some, but for me it wasn't the most impressive year of the generation. In fact, it's probably the weakest I've seen since 2006 when the industry was going through the transition towards HD graphics and motion controls. And it was in 2006 when we were introduced to the Wii and a little game called The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Some like myself thought the game was excellent and improved on what made its predecessors so endearing. Others thought Twilight Princess was too much like the previous games and was predictable enough to dislike. 5 years later, the same thing can be applied to Skyward Sword. And here I am 5 years later playing a game that is unequivocally Zelda to the core and loving it. And despite the traditional trappings, Skyward Sword also makes enough subtle changes to keep many of those who want dramatic change occupied a few years until we get the Wii U's interpretation of the story about Zelda, Link, the Triforce, and the rest.
My impressions will be mostly positive, but let's get the predictable story plots out of the way. The story doesn't exactly veer off into left field, at least as far as I know. I'd say I'm about 80% through the main story and it's not that different than the others. Zelda is part of some elaborate witness protection program like in Ocarina of Time and Link must go through a series of dungeons finding trinkets and doo-dads that will all eventually help with the end boss. The only major twist is that Zelda and Link start off best friends in the game. And since I believe Skyward Sword is intended to be an origin story, I hope they eventually wrap up some of the 20 million or so loose ends in the timeline. As I usually do with Zelda games, the story is secondary to the meat and potatoes of the game, the gameplay.
And the game plays just like a Zelda game with advanced motion controls. I find the controls to be pretty superb and the MotionPlus works at least 95% of the time. It appears that the Zelda team took some cues from the Wii Sports Resort team and utilized the controls from a number of the Wii Sports Resort games. The bow controls are straight from archery, rolling bombs remind me of bowling, and flying is... flying. Anybody remember the beginning of Wii Sports Resort where your Mii goes skydiving? Yep, same controls when Link skydives. The only minor flaw that can hinder the controls a bit is while pointing at the screen to aim, but even that can be fixed with a button press. I have had no problems with calibration to speak of and other than maybe some human error, Link's sword goes where my Wii Remote goes. Link's weapon selection is a bit different this time around... think no boomerang. There's a leafblower device that cleans up sand and dirt, a bug net for catching bugs (yay), and the most useful device I've seen in a Zelda game in a while, the Beetle. It's been incredibly handy as a land surveyor, grabber of goodies, and distractor of baddies. The Beetle is one of the first examples of actual technology in the Zelda universe. In fact, this might be the most advanced civilization in a Zelda game. Like... robots! Robots in my Zelda game? It somehow works. And everything controls great.
And it's probably a good thing I've had no troubles with the controls because the majority of enemies rely on those high fidelity controls working near-perfectly. There will always be a handful of enemies that can be killed through waggling, but most involve swinging your controller a specific direction to effectively get the hit or kill. And I'm surprised that Link's arsenal can be very useful against some bad guys. It definitely keeps me on my toes and forces me to think about how to kill enemies compared to previous games where either button mashing or waggling were the standard.
As for how it looks and sounds, I'm all for the impressionist look. We all know the Wii never blew people away with its technical prowess and those people aren't going to be wowed by Skyward Sword. So I'm praising Skyward Sword's visuals for being different and unlike anything we've seen in a long while. It's simply beautiful overall even if there are some spots where it's less flattering. It's a good way to combine the gritty realist look of Twilight Princess with the clean, colorful look of Wind Waker and give Skyward Sword its own identity. And the soundtrack is a glorious mix of old and new, most of it in its orchestral glory. So check that box. Voice acting... not this time. A disappointment, but it doesn't bother me. The few dozen characters still express more emotion than most characters in other games where they won't shut up. I'll take Beedle's enthusiastic yells or even Fi's computer gibberish over Beedle's actual voice or Fi speaking at all... she's too much of a Captain Obvious.
But it's a Zelda game so there are going to be many elements that are inherently Zelda. Heart pieces and rupees remain as they should, maps are important for dungeon exploration, and many of the weapons return like the bow, bombs, and clawshot. Even the upgrade system feels like an upgrade system that would be in a Zelda game, simple and a bit irrational, but kinda neat at the same time. The cast of characters are still as goofy and colorful as they have been. Like the big-headed fortune teller or the Kikwi fella in the picture above who reminds me of Adam Savage of Mythbusters... if he were a giant pair of balls. Skyloft, Hyrule, and the rest of the universe will always have its quirky citizens and I wouldn't want it any other way. As for Zelda's dungeons, they're dungeons you'd find in a Zelda game. The themes are typical for Zelda (forest, fire, water) but now the surface world acts as several small dungeons. Skyloft is the central hub where everything happens, but the world below is much less open and is deceptively dungeon-like. The dungeons themselves haven't changed except for the lack of torch puzzles... shocking! Every dungeon still has blocks to move in order to climb up a high ledge, there are switches that only the slingshot or bow can reach, and I believe every dungeon has that end boss where the rule of three exists, but Nintendo can still create a fun and challenging dungeon boss scenario. I can keep going on about the remixed side quests (like the variation of the toilet paper scene in Majora's Mask) or the minigames that don't seem to evolve or the tear collecting that rips straight from Twilight Princess or the one dick who hates Link because he's so awesome or the... everything else I've seen in other Zelda games. I say they should bring back the Bomber's Notebook quests from Majora's Mask... because that was the shit!
But does all this translate into a Game of the Year contender? I guess it depends on your tastes in games today. In 2006, Jeff Gerstmann (you know who he is) felt that Twilight Princess was an 8.8 (still great, guys) and his opinion ain't gonna change with Skyward Sword. That's fine and we need people like Jeff and Patrick Klepek of Giant Bomb fame to emphasize what some people believe are negatives. Hopefully they make sure Nintendo doesn't just remake the same, old game again and again even though some people think Nintendo remakes the same, old games again and again. Personally, Skyward Sword is vastly different than previous games, but so familiar that it feels like I've played this exact game before with a different coat of paint. That means I think it's an awesome game that everybody should check out if you have a Wii. That also means that Skyward Sword doesn't really change much from past games in any meaningful way other than the MotionPlus controls... for those who believe in motion controls. We might finally be at the point where every future Zelda game from now to the end of time will be scrutinized for being either too different, too similar to the rest, too dark, too lighthearted, too simple, too challenging, etc. It's pretty common to see something that's been around as long as Zelda be criticized for a host of things. Look at The Simpsons, for Christ's sake. People like me who feed on nostalgia can live without innovation to a point and still love Zelda for what it is, but with gamers finding themselves more attracted to games like Skyrim, The Witcher 2, and Dragon Age, something like Skyward Sword feels like a throwback.
But I love myself a good throwback. As does this guy.