Giant Bomb Review

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

4
  • Wii

For mostly better and only a little bit worse, Skyward Sword is the best Zelda game in years, and makes a strong case for motion controls when done right.

An early boss brutally teaches you to avoid telegraphing attacks.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is Nintendo’s closing argument on motion controls with Wii, especially as it relates to traditional games. It seems fitting that saving the world alongside Link will, for many of us, act as the first and last time we spend dozens of hours with a game inside our Wiis.

And boy, how far we’ve come. It takes only minutes with Twilight Princess again to understand how tacked on those motion mechanics were, and Skyward Sword’s evolutionary leaps only compound the idea that we should have played Link’s last adventure with a GameCube controller in both hands. How you come into Skyward Sword partially depends on how you took to Link the last time. Top to bottom, I found Twilight Princess painfully boring, which is, perhaps, a fate worse than bad. My reaction was fueled by a combined indifference to the game’s uninspiring world, characters, and gadgets, and the tepid, half-hearted implementation of motion to make the mechanics more physical.

Especially as it relates to the last point, Skyward Sword could not be more different. It’s not just the added fidelity from Motion Plus that makes the difference, it’s that your physical actions are truly meaningful when it comes to engaging in just about every combat scenario in Skyward Sword. The very first enemies in the game will beat your ass to the ground if you’re not reading their moves, and Skyward Sword quickly teaches players that “waggle” will not work here--period. To be successful in combat, reacting to the placement of each enemy’s hands is of utmost importance, and while one becomes extremely adept at taking out the early combatants after a few hours, from start to finish, Skyward Sword asks much of your wrist. When the credits rolled, my hand ached, and it felt great.

Combat never becomes difficult, but remains challenging, as you’re constantly tasked with reacting to enemy actions (i.e. placing their sword to the left) with your own (i.e. slashing your sword to the right). Early on, the enemies are very blatant about showing weaknesses. That's less true later, forcing you to spend several failed encounters sussing out various “tells." In one case, a lizard appears to be hiding its weak arm on the left, when in reality you must swing around from the right--a sleight of hand. Furthermore, for him to even show off that weak point, you must swing away a few times and force him into a defensive posture. The most satisfying encounters are when enemies swap tells over and over, asking players to be extraordinarily quick with a response, and this becomes more demanding over time. The game is always reading your sword in relation to the enemy, and if you telegraph an attack, enemies will smack back.

Get to know your sword well, as it's basically a living companion.

Link’s sword is front and center here, with only a few of the gadgets playing into combat. Mastery of the sword is of utmost importance. It’s strange to spend so much time talking on and on about combat in a Zelda game, but it’s no longer about smashing on the attack button anymore. Quite literally, you are part of combat, and motion controls, done well, provides a satisfaction that wouldn’t be possible any other way. This is the finest example yet.

One facet of modern games Nintendo’s dodged is overcomplicated design, focusing on a simplicity that appeals to a larger audience. The Zelda series has always been described as an “action RPG,” but in light of what the RPG has become with games of immense depth like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Zelda has become more RPG lite. And that’s fine! Nintendo can contently stay in its corner, while Bethesda tackles another. But Skyward Sword takes steps to address the gap and falls short. The game includes a forgettable element of potion-crafting and item-upgrading, a case of good ideas that don’t go far enough. Providing such a tiny amount of customization that’s also built upon the same grinding mechanics of other crafting systems (prepare to catch lots of bugs, and read descriptions of what those bugs are every single time!) meant I only ended up upgrading when I just happened to have the right materials, and never bothered the rest of the game. It doesn’t help that Skyward Sword’s isn’t particularly tough, which isn’t outright a bad thing, but in the context of creating upgrade desire, not dying more than once or twice didn’t create much motivation.

Some depth would have gone a long way here, especially if players could have any customization of Link's sword, the weapon he spends the most time with in the game. The sword's path is all story-driven, and that makes it difficult to forge a unique identity through upgrades. It ends up feeling like you’re working way harder for upgrades that would have been found naturally in a dungeon in any other Zelda game.

It’s hard to overlook other areas where Skyward Sword doesn’t play catch up, too. It’s unacceptable now that Link doesn’t have access to any catch-all quest log. Sure, the replacement for Navi, the robotic Fi, will provide you hints on where to go next, but that only relates to the primary goal, and she does not keep a database of side quests stumbled upon while exploring Skyloft. Characters have conversation icons above their heads if they have anything to say, but it’s contingent upon you to either resolve a side quest when you encounter it, or make a note of and come back. Mostly, I just never came back.

There’s plenty to keep you busy, however. Even if you don’t touch anything but the main storyline, Skyward Sword will take you well over 30 hours to complete, and if you want to see everything, that number could easily double. It’s a packed journey, and while it’s one that plays with some of the same tropes the series has become known for--Link, Zelda, evil, Triforce, forest, desert, volcano--the world of Skyloft, situated in the clouds, feels genuinely refreshing. What’s old feels mostly new again, thanks largely to some truly devious, changing dungeon design. None of the dungeons are particularly long, there’s not a single “bad” one, and the more active combat provides a welcomed contrast to puzzle barrage.

When in doubt, take a deep breath and look around for clues.

An early puzzle asks you to recreate a specific motion that wouldn’t be possible without Motion Plus, and it took me over 20 minutes to come up with the solution, purely because I’d never encountered something like it before. You’re constantly doing new everything here, and it’s the moments when the designers most daringly break from the past (ironic, given the game’s “birth of a legend” branding) that Skyward Sword makes the game worth playing, even if you’ve grown tired of Zelda at this point. My favorite dungeons involved playing with time, where Link will move from room to room, switching between the past and the present to solve puzzles and avoid enemies. Creatures spawn in and out of reality in real-time, so rather than having to fight them, you can move time objects out of their vicinity--and poof! You’re forced to think about the environment in entirely new ways, and ways that often don’t feel very Zelda-like.

And that’s one of the weird things about playing a Zelda game, as it’s impossible to play a Zelda game without acknowledging it exists in a large vacuum of other Zelda games. It’s not unlike what has happened to Call of Duty, in which many devoted players are simply looking for more Call of Duty, rather than a complete reinvention. Coming to terms with the latest game becomes a nostalgic balancing act of understanding the latest game in relation to itself, where it's come from and everything surrounding it.

Skyward Sword doesn’t do itself any favors in taking its sweet time getting started, and longer before introducing you to some of its most creative highlights. Designer Shigeru Miyamoto once said “the first 30 minutes of a game is the most important,” and Skyward Sword fails to pass that test. It takes several hours before you’re given any sense of real freedom, which is too bad, as the game manages to merge the sublime openness of the sea from Wind Waker (without the Triforce madness!) with the directed fun of most other games, as it's easy to just keep moving forward without much fuss. And by the time you start seeing what the designers really have in store for you (wait until you get to the pirate section, where your boat is able to...well, you’ll see), you actually don’t want it to stop, even if you’re able to constantly, cynically predict when the game will ask you to find just One More Thing before it's all over.

Good luck skydiving, one of the game's most frustrating bits.

Perhaps the most surprising disappointment is how little control players have over the game’s central instrument, a harp. If you’re going to call back to one of Ocarina of Time’s most memorable features within a game that makes such exquisite use of the new options afforded by Motion Plus, you’d think the designers would come prepared with something altogether unique. That’s not the case. Though Link learns several songs for the harp over the course of the game, you have no choice over which one to play, and playing anything involves haphazardly waving the Wii remote back and forth.

Even in Skyward Sword’s lowest of lows (don’t get me started on a late sequence involving swimming underwater and collecting musical notes for 30 minutes), the game benefits from the prettiest art direction since Wind Waker. The game seamlessly transitions between various degrees of an impressionistic painting, based on where objects are in the foreground and background. And while I detest the meme “it’s good for a Wii game,” at the point where we’re beginning to gripe about the limitations of our high-definition consoles, it’s a testament to the art direction that I immediately forgot the hardware's aging technology after a few minutes of play. Skyloft is an extraordinarily pretty place to explore.

Skyward Sword is simultaneously a very good Zelda game and a rather great adventure game. It has some of the most inventive dungeons the series has ever known, sports the most impactful changes to the combat since Z-targeting, introduces wrinkles to the Zelda mythology that will force fans to rethink the entire series, and will have you gawking at it constantly, 480p 'n all. But the series finds itself facing an identity crisis, as it flirts with expanding what has defined the series without abandoning its charming but waning simplicity. Zelda doesn’t need to become something else to maintain relevance, but at a certain point, when “a brand-new great Zelda game” isn’t enough, there’s reason to pause.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
470 Comments
Posted by wumbo3000

whoa review!!!

Posted by Kyou

When are you going to get a picture?

Posted by Fjordson

Patrick, you have some fuckin' stones my good man.

Good luck to you.

Edited by csl316

I debated getting this, but my lack of a motion plus kind of sours the deal.
 
Ah well, I never did finish Twilight Princess.  And I could just finish up Game Informer's super replays of two of the most classic games of the series.
 
Sorry, Nintendo.
 
Edit:  Oh, and nice review, dude.

Edited by wumbo3000

@Fjordson said:

Patrick, you have some fuckin' stones my good man.

Good luck to you.

I am thinking the exact same thing. Patrick, you are gonna need some thick skin over the next couple of days. Thick, thick skin. Like a cow hide. The Internet will rain down upon you like hell on earth. I'm personally scared for you.

Posted by SlightConfuse

Well written review patrick. Seems like a game that does not try to push it self buy is good at what is does

Posted by MangyForestCat

Any game where Link is right handed is not a proper Zelda game...

0 Stars

Edited by AndrewB

Patrick's icon should just be a huge afro. Or an afro-styled Cousin It.

"Quite literally, you are part of combat" - That line is pretty much all I need to read. So sad that the game the Wii needed is coming at the very end of its life cycle. I guess the fact that its finally here and you own a Wii (because you do own a dust Wii if you're reading this) is enough.

Posted by Arlecchino

It's over. Nintendo's finished.

Posted by kpeatt

So looking forward to this. Going to take the Wii (that we never use) from the office and borrow a MotionPlus from my friend's Wii (that he never uses).

Posted by LiquidSwords

@wumbo3000 said:

@Fjordson said:

Patrick, you have some fuckin' stones my good man.

Good luck to you.

I am thinking the exact same thing. Patrick, you are gonna need some thick skin over the next couple of days. Thick, thick skin. Like a cow hide. The Internet will rain down upon you like hell on earth. I'm personally scared for you.

Rhino Skin!

Posted by MadLaughter

Remember guys, the content is what's important, not the stars.

Posted by cap123

4 STARS? THAT'S LIKE 8/10

THAT'S WORSE THAN 8.8 YOU'RE GOING BACKWARDS

Posted by Otrebor

INCOMING!!!! *hides in bunker

Posted by Taiyo

Nice review, Patrick. As someone who's grown a bit fatigued with Zelda games, I wonder if the changes in this one will be enough to draw me back in.

By the way, I didn't see any mention of the music in the review. How is Zelda's first orchestrated soundtrack?

Edited by Godlyawesomeguy

Huh, I'll give this a read later. Sort of expected a higher score.

Don't kill Patrick, internet. He's a good man.

Posted by Beomoose

It has Begun!

Posted by doctorworm

PPPAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's 8.8 all over again!

Posted by Garfield518

Uh oh, we've already got a "Giant Bomb is honestly pretty terrible and their scores tend to skew against Nintendo games" comment on GameFAQs.

I expect many more to come.

Posted by shlimmy

the mention of the slow start kills it for me. It's why I only played 3-4 hours of TP

Posted by mastrbiggy

ONLY A 8/10 PATRICK?!?! RAWR! WORST REVIEWER EVER!

Posted by jamesisaacs

It's high time i gained access to some of these newer Zelda games.

Posted by FacestabMan

Guys, it's a known fact that for everything Nintendo that gets released, Giantbomb revokes a star. Don't be angry.

Posted by Marz

Interesting, I probably won't rush out to buy it and just try to take my time with Skyrim.  Then i'll grab this in december before SWTOR.

Posted by grbear

I'm so angry right now it bleeds when I pee.




Good review though.

Online
Posted by YOUNGLINK

LOL the internet is so funny. Everyone is more scared for Patrick then the content of his review. The fuckin internet, right?

Posted by WrenchNinja

The meltdowns are starting already. You can already see the tremors on NeoGAF.

Posted by Mu11etMan

Great review, can not wait to play this game.

Posted by NissanSkyline

Well i believe everything Patrick says but still pretty Unbelievable. Shit storm coming for sure

Posted by Philzpilz

Is it weird that I read this review and I heard Patricks voice inside my head? It doesn't happen with Brad or Jeff or whoever...

Good review though, if this game was looking as radical as the perfect scores were indicating i was going to buy a wii, but now? And yes, with everyone else, good luck with the internet hate

Posted by Milkman

But is this game worth hooking up my Wii again? That's the real question.

Posted by krabboss

EIGHT POINT ZERO EIGHT POINT ZERO EIGHT POINT ZERO EIGHT POINT ZERO EIGHT POINT ZERO

Posted by krabboss

I think I could do without constantly reading "So the Wii sucks and Skyward Sword is the only decent thing that has come out on it for years" in these reviews.

Posted by onan

Whoa. Haven't even read the review yet, but fan backlash is going to be ugggglyyyyy.

Posted by patrickklepek

@krabboss said:

I think I could do without constantly reading "So the Wii sucks and Skyward Sword is the only decent thing that has come out on it for years" in these reviews.

More people should play Deadly Creatures. I loved that game.

Posted by fargofallout

It seems that Patrick takes a very roundabout way of saying this: Nintendo doesn't give a shit what the rest of the video game world is doing. You can see it in everything they do, from online play to item upgrades (in a Zelda game? Really?). I have enjoyed every Zelda game I have played other than Spirit Tracks and Zelda II, and I'm sure I'll pick this up once it's out, but until I experience it for myself, I am going to remain concerned about having to play an entire game where motion control is important. And I'm still irritated that Nintendo would release the Wii Motion Plus, provide abysmal support for it, and then release a game at the end of the Wii's life that requires it. If I was a cynical person, I'd say this is partially a money grab to get people to pay for that addon that may have been skipped.

Posted by Superfriend

Oh Patrick, you´re in for some major shit from all the fanboys. Hope you are prepared for it. Of course I haven´t played the game yet and if anything this review makes me even more curious about it.

Yeah and please don´t let this be another Twilight Princess thing, dear Internet. Don´t send any death threats about video games. It´s not worth it.

Posted by BasketSnake

It's Zelda.

Edited by Landon

PETITION FOR GREG KASAVIN TO RE-REVIEW THIS GAME!!!!

(sarcasm)

Posted by Marokai

Very good and fair review, Patrick.

Edited by Contro

So, you think Zelda Team spent a year and a half contemplating the Zelda series and it's core traits, and how they should progress the series while retaining these traits, only to produce a Zelda game with an identity crisis, lol :?

The game has been in design for five years, this is exactly the Zelda game Nintendo wanted to craft for fans, and they applied perfectly understandable logic in all their design choices:

http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/wii/zelda-skyward-sword/0/0

How much of this Zelda game have you played exactly?, I ask because a Tweet of yours being banded around currently strongly implies you rushed through it in order to play Skyrim, lol, (!)

"Skyward Sword credits rolling means I can finally return to Skyrim tonight." - PK Twitter

If you did rush through Skyward Sword, you would have missed out on an estimated extra 30hrs of gameplay and some great moments. The side quests, if you can even call them that, are said to be some of the best in the series and are very rewarding.

"Skyward Sword doesn’t do itself any favors in taking its sweet time getting started, and longer before introducing you to some of its most creative highlights. Designer Shigeru Miyamoto once said “the first 30 minutes of a game is the most important,” and Skyward Sword fails to pass that test"

Ugh....Wind Waker took a long while introducing you to characters on Outset Island, and the basic mechanics of the game (made even more important with Motion Plus in this game), it did so with the very best of intentions. When I played Wind Waker, I left Outset Island for the first time feeling like I knew what those characters on the shore line were all about, I had established emotional connection with them all, which only worked to further heighten my experience of the entire adventure.

Nintendo wants to establish a firm emotional connection with you and the games characters: Aonuma:

"In the end, Miyamoto-san corrected a lot, but I think the characters who appear toward the beginning turned out to be quite vivid,"

"You’re constantly doing new everything here, and it’s the moments when the designers most daringly break from the past (ironic, given the game’s “birth of a legend” branding) that Skyward Sword makes the game worth playing, even if you’ve grown tired of Zelda at this point."

What?!..I have no issue what so ever with your score, but I wholeheartedly take point with how badly this article is written and the lame points you make.

@Darkpen said:

"One facet of modern games Nintendo’s dodged is overcomplicated design, focusing on a simplicity that appeals to a larger audience. The Zelda series has always been described as an “action RPG,” but in light of what the RPG has become with games of immense depth like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Zelda has become more RPG lite. And that’s fine! Nintendo can contently stay in its corner, while Bethesda tackles another. But Skyward Sword takes steps to address the gap and falls short."

Patrick.... I want to punch you after reading this. Skyrim? Really? That's your genre comparison, your analogy? The two games couldn't be further removed. The fact that you admitted on the Bombcast that you played no more than 2-3 hours of Twilight Princess when that originally came out really hurts your credibility and your review. Its apples and oranges here--a better comparison would be the evolution of gameplay, content, and depth between Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, or even your beloved Wind Waker. Or hell, Darksiders would be another worthy candidate for a valid genre comparison.

You played the worst hours of Twilight Princess and dropped it; I feel like your review of Skyward Sword is tainted by untempered cynicism that grows from your own lack of completed games. This may be me harping more on you based on what I've heard of you on the Bombcast as of late than the review, but I feel that you have bad gaming mojo: its always with the "ehhhhh," and "I can understand WHY people like X game..." but never any time spent truly building a niche for yourself.

That said, I don't have a problem with your score. 4/5 is a great score, and not unexpected for any great game. What I have a problem with is that you were the wrong person for the review. You're right, Twilight Princess is a game that should have been played with a Gamecube controller, and guess what, that was a choice made available to consumers, a choice that I happily chose and was rewarded for. You say that Twilight Princess is painfully boring, yet your experience with it is in reference to possibly THE worst 2-3 hour tutorial introductory section of any game in the previous generation, barely beating out Kingdom Heart II's horrible late title card.

Get back to me when you're 4-5 dungeons into Twilight Princess, and then we'll talk. I'm not even being a TP apologist here; I genuinely believe that a lot of the "problems" you've thrown at Skyward Sword are things that should be addressed with respect to where its been before, which is an experience that you clearly do not have. Either that, or you're just a horribly cynical gamer.

I know, it's a very dumb comparison to make, but It doesn't surprise me in the slightest in light of what I've been told by others on this forum. From what I can gather, there's some severe Skyrimming going on.

All that aside, the game is currently raining 10's. The IGN review is surprisingly excellent, they break it down thoroughly, check out the written review.

http://www.metacritic.com/game/wii/the-legend-of-zelda-skyward-sword/critic-reviews

Edited by jasondesante

How is it not enough? Oh yea because youre pissed off that Miyamoto didn't put in your list of suggestions and respect you as an equal in the game design process. Please stop complaining about taste stuff, references to other games a 6 year old wouldn't even understand and please focus on what you actually experienced.

Either that 1 missing star is because that swimming part was really hard for you, or you weren't open to experiencing certain systems in zelda were constantly being referenced in your head to similar systems in other games, preventing you from openly experiencing the systems and the total experience of the game from a balanced and open perspective.

eat shrooms

Posted by kurtbro900

G4TV has also given this 4 stars

Posted by Darkpen
One facet of modern games Nintendo’s dodged is overcomplicated design, focusing on a simplicity that appeals to a larger audience. The Zelda series has always been described as an “action RPG,” but in light of what the RPG has become with games of immense depth like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Zelda has become more RPG lite. And that’s fine! Nintendo can contently stay in its corner, while Bethesda tackles another. But Skyward Sword takes steps to address the gap and falls short.

Patrick.... I want to punch you after reading this. Skyrim? Really? That's your genre comparison, your analogy? The two games couldn't be further removed. The fact that you admitted on the Bombcast that you played no more than 2-3 hours of Twilight Princess when that originally came out really hurts your credibility and your review. Its apples and oranges here--a better comparison would be the evolution of gameplay, content, and depth between Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, or even your beloved Wind Waker. Or hell, Darksiders would be another worthy candidate for a valid genre comparison.

You played the worst hours of Twilight Princess and dropped it; I feel like your review of Skyward Sword is tainted by untempered cynicism that grows from your own lack of completed games. This may be me harping more on you based on what I've heard of you on the Bombcast as of late than the review, but I feel that you have bad gaming mojo: its always with the "ehhhhh," and "I can understand WHY people like X game..." but never any time spent truly building a niche for yourself.

That said, I don't have a problem with your score. 4/5 is a great score, and not unexpected for any great game. What I have a problem with is that you were the wrong person for the review. You're right, Twilight Princess is a game that should have been played with a Gamecube controller, and guess what, that was a choice made available to consumers, a choice that I happily chose and was rewarded for. You say that Twilight Princess is painfully boring, yet your experience with it is in reference to possibly THE worst 2-3 hour tutorial introductory section of any game in the previous generation, barely beating out Kingdom Heart II's horrible late title card.

Get back to me when you're 4-5 dungeons into Twilight Princess, and then we'll talk. I'm not even being a TP apologist here; I genuinely believe that a lot of the "problems" you've thrown at Skyward Sword are things that should be addressed with respect to where its been before, which is an experience that you clearly do not have. Either that, or you're just a horribly cynical gamer.

Posted by Nekroskop

Haha oh wow. I can't wait for the shitstorm this will cause.

Posted by GorillaMoPena

I would have gone with the first draft that rated it

Not Wind Waker/5

Posted by Animasta

@Contro: if you listened to the podcast, you would realize that he wasn't rushing at all?

Posted by Teoball

I wish this came out for the Gamecube too. I don't wanna waggle for 30 hours. Just relax on the couch :(

Posted by GetEveryone

Decent review. Patrick's criticisms are fair, and seem to weigh evenly on the 4-stars.

Saying that, I'm as excited for this as a pig at the prospect of a big pile of warm shit.

Genuinely can't wait. Even though I'm super-hyped for Skyrim today, Skyward Sword still takes the cake.

Christmas Day is going to be unreal.

Posted by subyman

Solid review. Looks like a good game. I bet it looks incredible on dolphin :)