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 Delta_Ass

Not even an 8.8? omgwtfbbq

Posted by jasondesante

Who's up for a new segment where children with no biases review the games?

Posted by CollegeGuyMike

I actually did play Twilight Princess on the gamecube. I didn't hate it at all, sure it wasn't as mesmerizing as OoT, but I did still spend 60+ hours in that game alone.

So, def. looking forward to picking up this game eventually. Right now, my 3DS needs some mario loving. And then I'll get my zelda on.

Posted by byterunner

hmmm.

Well I fully expected this. With Patrick's overall indifference to the series and no hints that the game wowed or floored him from his vague comments he has said here or there, I fully expected a 4/5. He saw the well designed game there but probably doesn't like it as much as most. Which is fine.

Honestly, I cannot give a unbiased opinion on the game, I fully understand why Patrick gave it that score (not that its a bad score), but that doesn't stop me from being annoyed and slightly upset. But I have accepted myself as a total Zelda Fanboy. I will always love this series and will Genuinely cry when they stop making these (be it in 5 or 50 years from now). This series defined my Childhood and I don't mind standing in my ignorance defending this series till the end of time.

Edited by AdMordem

Nice Review Patrick!

Also kind of thinking the review might/should be more aimed at someone like myself, with limited experience with the franchise, and interested/on the wall about purchasing.

Kind of silly for all these people who clearly pre-ordered, or at the very least have every intention of buying the game irrelevant of a review, to be angered or even care about any review. Especially positive ones like this.

Posted by mister1337

I agree with you. Don't give into the Hype Patrick. This game SHOULD NOT get a "free pass" because most of the other Zelda games were good.

Posted by Tatimus

Are there seriously grown men out there that base game purchase decisions on reviews? Hell, I didn't even do that when I started buying my own games around age 12. I used word of mouth from friends/family and of course past experiences. The whole metacritic phenomenon is a complete mystery to me. I understand that its nice to get a 100 or even a 95 on that test you just studied so hard for, so I guess I understand it from a developer point of view, but as a gamer, I personally don't give a shit what anyone scores the game. I'm 27 years old now, and I cringe whenever I see gamers from my age range/generation (SLACKERS) get all riled up about a video game score. This is coming from a giant man-child. The review was well written, and I agree about the whole "I hear patrick's voice in my head" thing. I think his afro contains warlock powers.

Posted by GetEveryone

@byterunner said:

hmmm.

Well I fully expected this. With Patrick's overall indifference to the series and no hints that the game wowed or floored him from his vague comments he has said here or there, I fully expected a 4/5. He saw the well designed game there but probably doesn't like it as much as most. Which is fine.

Honestly, I cannot give a unbiased opinion on the game, I fully understand why Patrick gave it that score (not that its a bad score), but that doesn't stop me from being annoyed and slightly upset. But I have accepted myself as a total Zelda Fanboy. I will always love this series and will Genuinely cry when they stop making these (be it in 5 or 50 years from now). This series defined my Childhood and I don't mind standing in my ignorance defending this series till the end of time.

Hero.

Posted by CJduke

Wow IGN gave it a 10 and says its better than skyward sword. I wonder which review is correct

Posted by probablytuna

-Gasp- Not a 4/5! Even though I don't own a Wii, it was still a good read for me.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

4/5 = 80/100.

80 = 8.0

8.0 < 8.8

OMGWTFBBQ BIAS

Posted by Rahf

As objective as could be. Loved the comparison with Skyrim, partly to spite the haters that didn't, but also because it was a view of a game which has a release date right around this one. Btw, it's easy to put down a game when you're not blinded by the history of the series itself. Such as Zelda fans and previously Final Fantasy fans (guilty as charged, your lordship).

Am thinking Patrick took the Eurogamer review of Uncharted 3 to heart and gave this one thought, instead of blindly loving everything. Score inflation is never good. Scales with 1 - 10 rarely ever see a 1 nowadays. 7 has become the new 'bad' game. 8 is good, 9 is pretty great, and 10 is great.

Posted by Winternet

Genuinely excited to see the response to this review. Although I believe we, video game fans, have evolved in these last 5 years.

Edited by Otrebor

I miss the days when review rage was real. Remember the Twilight Princess 8.8 forum retard explosion? "Girthman". Havent seen that much hate around the web today. Maybe the kids are growing up or just consoling themselves with the 10's.

Posted by rmanthorp

Sweeeeeeet!

Moderator
Posted by mrstupes

WOW People are INSANE! Its one STAR! Who cares! I am gonna get the game and enjoy the hell out of it. It looks like its a ton of fun to play. ITS A VIDEO GAME Nintendo is not crying cause Giant Bomb didnt give it all 5 stars. If you wanna be upset go Play Sonic 2006 thats worth getting upset over.

Posted by Tatimus

@Darkpen: You do make some valid points for sure. Comparing this to Skyrim was quite dumb, but he did mention that they both have their own niche, which kinda cancelled it out. I think what he is referring to is the pseudo-rpg stuff nintendo has been trying to pull in TP and SS (unsatisfying upgrades, the time spent for the reward is just not there.) It does sound like Nintendo did nail the grand adventure stuff though, which it does very well. I think they could expand even more on it though if they drop the rpg stuff. Basically what you are seeing is men playing a zelda game and expecting it to have more depth, which I'm not sure that it ever will.

Posted by hagridore

Don't yet know if I'm gonna pick this up... I found Twilight Princess boring too, so I might be in the same place as Patrick.

Posted by victorferreira128

So is now the time to kill Patrick to anger the Skyrim Gods?

I kid, I kid (Jesus, I hope so). What I got from this is that it's more engaging than Twilight Princess, which unlike Patrick I enjoyed (though I did play on the GC), so I'll probably love this one too.

One question prevails... How bullshit is the Water Temple this time?

Posted by Clinkz

@Otrebor said:

I miss the days when review rage was real. Remember the Twilight Princess 8.8 forum retard explosion? "Girthman". Havent seen that much hate around the web today. Maybe the kids are growing up or just consoling themselves with the 10's.

Lol Girthman. That was a good laugh.

Posted by Tatimus

@shlimmy said:

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

This is the most important part of the entire review for me as well. I haven't played it yet, but I would dock a star even if it is remotely as bad as TP. I guarantee you that almost everyone who hated TP/gave up did so through that god awful beginning. If it wasn't for my siblings, I would have never trudged through that game, although I am glad I did, as it is a pretty pleasant game after you get past the garbage in the beginning.

Posted by DukesT3

God speed to you good sir.

Posted by Jolt92

Haven't liked the two reviews Patrick has done so far.

I've only read two reviews of this game so far both have been bad in their own different way, IGN's is a massive fanboy circle jerk and this one reads like a 3 star review and is just kinda weird.

I wish Jeff would've done it instead.

Posted by redbliss

@Darkpen: The only problem I have with the Skyrim quote is that RPGs have always been that deep instead of just now becoming deep as Patrick suggests. However, I dont think that eliminates Patrick's point in bringing that up -- that Zelda's systems really arent top of its respective genre anymore. I think that is a fair point to make.

Posted by WhiteBrightKnight

@Contro: I looked up this tweet, and yeah..."Skyward Sword credits rolling means I can finally return to Skyrim tonight." It might be a typo/misused grammar but the way that it's written implies he had already played or was playing Skyrim while reviewing Skyward Sword. I have some issues with the review but overall I think it's fine. However, how can he be unbiased when playing/thinking about another game?

Edited by BabyChooChoo

@Tatimus said:

Are there seriously grown men out there that base game purchase decisions on reviews? Hell, I didn't even do that when I started buying my own games around age 12. I used word of mouth from friends/family and of course past experiences. The whole metacritic phenomenon is a complete mystery to me. I understand that its nice to get a 100 or even a 95 on that test you just studied so hard for, so I guess I understand it from a developer point of view, but as a gamer, I personally don't give a shit what anyone scores the game. I'm 27 years old now, and I cringe whenever I see gamers from my age range/generation (SLACKERS) get all riled up about a video game score. This is coming from a giant man-child. The review was well written, and I agree about the whole "I hear patrick's voice in my head" thing. I think his afro contains warlock powers.

Agreed 9001%

To go off on a slight tangent though, I wish I could could cite the podcast, but I remember the gist of the wording nonetheless. People react to scores the way they do because it usually, in a way, confirms their insecurities with the game in question. The idea that this thing they like so much is flawed is somehow unacceptable to them. They like it so therefore it has to be perfect. Anyone who reacts negatively to this particular thing is automatically wrong. They need someone to reaffirm that their opinion/choices are right or else life can't go on. Sure, it's kinda crazy, but that's how some people are. Go figure.

edit: To anyone who cares, Jim Sterling has been bringing up this issue on the last few few Podtoids. Most of you like to think he's a troll because he has his own opinion, but I would highly suggest listening to the last few episodes as it very clearly proves why he's more than deserving of his job. Aside from some of his crude humor, the man is more than articulate and knowledgeable enough to do what he does.

Posted by AlmostSwedish

@LiquidSwords said:

@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!

Patrick gives a 4/5 like he doesn't give a shit.

I can't wait for the internet drama!

Posted by sungahymn

...Damn. Four stars, huh? Didn't expect that. Aw well, I'll get it anyway.

Posted by Tebbit

I don't understand why some commenters are reacting like this is some kind of surprising score.

4/5, great! Yes, 5/5 is a higher score. What of it? Modern Warfare 3 got 4 stars, Battlefield 3 got 4 stars. Yep, I guess it sucks to be Zelda, stuck down here with those "losers".

Posted by Strife777

Wow, can't wait some more internet rage out of this. Already seeing some in these comments.

I'm 100% behind you Patrick

Posted by mewarmo990

Thanks for the review, Patrick.

Seems like a balanced look at the game, and about what I expected. I'm glad Nintendo's game design and art direction shined through, especially since Zelda's relevance has been waning in recent years. I don't really own many games for my Wii - I mainly got it for family guests to play on. Guess I'll give this a spin if I have some money left over this holiday season.

Posted by ThePilgrums

A fair review and score for a Zelda game. And I'm a HUGE Zelda fan. If anyone complains about this, well... I feel kind of sorry for them.

Can't wait to play this!!

Posted by amomjc

Thanks Patrick for an honest review, won't stop me from nabbing this one but I am glad to know what I am heading into that isn't reviewed by a Zelda fan-boy that overlooks things for the sake of worshiping it.

Edited by sirdesmond

Well-written and reasonable review. If haters wanna hate, screw them.

Posted by lizzard2

Can someone who don't call Zelda an "Action RPG" please review the game instead...since no its not an Action RPG its an ADVENTURE game. And to talk about Elder scrolls and call of duty in and Zelda review wow. worst review i read so far in this place . The score is probobly fine thats not my issue but to call Zelda RPG ..well thats just sad..

Posted by algertman

Of course it got a 4/5 it's a Wii game. They even mention Skyrim in this review. Which is what it all comes down to. At no point was Giant Bomb ever going to give Zelda an equal score than Skyrim no matter the final product.

Posted by Fuga

4 stars? Flop of the century

Posted by l3illyl3ob

The skyrim comparison seems appropriate in context. The context is that Skyrim is a full-on RPG that just came out, and Skyward Sword is taking a baby step into the territory that Skyrim currently owns. By illustrating the difference between the two games, you're able to make the point about the game being in an awkward in-between phase where it doesn't want to commit to being a full RPG like we see with Skyrim, yet they aren't satisfied with the amount of depth/customization present in the series up to this point. The result seems like a half-hearted jab into a field the series doesn't belong in, that's dominated by big players that do all the way what SS's baby step tries to do.

Posted by BeachThunder

Good review, Patrick.

Posted by BenderUnit22

Okami is the best Zelda game ever made

Posted by BisonHero

I'm not going to say anything as crazy as "This game should get 5 stars" since I have no first-hand experience with the game, but while reading Patrick's review, the review text really seemed to read like a 5-star review.

It sounds like Patrick had fun throughout and liked that it basically re-invented Zelda combat, which is a pretty big deal given that Zelda combat has been almost unchanged since Ocarina of Time. Some of the best graphics on the system. His only criticisms seem to be some relatively small things that could've been improved, like a a deeper ugprade system and the addition of a sidequest log (which I fully agree with - Majora's Mask had a side quest log and that was 10 years ago). But those sound like minor missed opportunities, as opposed to anything that actively detracts from the experience.

I just get the sense that there were similarly minor complaints in Giant Bomb's recent 5-star reviews of Uncharted 3 and Arkham City, where one or two aspects could've strived to be more (e.g. Catwoman sections were pretty meh, Uncharted 3 didn't really fundamentally change anything in either the singleplayer or multiplayer aside from tossing back grenades, etc.), yet the core experience of the game still warranted a 5 star score. For me, Patrick's review read the same way as those reviews, but then ended up with 4 stars.

Posted by Rhaknar

oh snap, NOW Patrick will be truly hated lol. Where's mah popcorn at

Posted by awadnin

4 stars, I feel sad right now :(

Posted by CptBedlam

Are we ready for the incoming shitstorm, guys?-)

Good review, Patrick!

Posted by Freshbandito

I'm getting a sick kind of schadenfreude from reading Zelda fan's "you're doing reviewing wrong! GOD!!" comments, it's like I draw sustenance from their wails of woe.

Posted by BelligerentEngine

I'm pretty sure Patrick's the biggest Nintendo fanboi of the editorial staff, but yeah if I remember correctly Jeff got death threats for his twilight princess review. Lets see if the Giantbomb community can hit that high watermark of class.

Posted by Cozmicaztaway

@lizzard2 said:

Can someone who don't call Zelda an "Action RPG" please review the game instead...since no its not an Action RPG its an ADVENTURE game. And to talk about Elder scrolls and call of duty in and Zelda review wow. worst review i read so far in this place . The score is probobly fine thats not my issue but to call Zelda RPG ..well thats just sad..

It's called reading comprehension. See this:

@l3illyl3ob said:

The skyrim comparison seems appropriate in context. The context is that Skyrim is a full-on RPG that just came out, and Skyward Sword is taking a baby step into the territory that Skyrim currently owns. By illustrating the difference between the two games, you're able to make the point about the game being in an awkward in-between phase where it doesn't want to commit to being a full RPG like we see with Skyrim, yet they aren't satisfied with the amount of depth/customization present in the series up to this point. The result seems like a half-hearted jab into a field the series doesn't belong in, that's dominated by big players that do all the way what SS's baby step tries to do.

And the Call of Duty thing. Well, a Zelda game is a Zelda game, a CoD game is a CoD game. It's no longer "is this a good game" (odds are it's perfectly competent) but "is this a good Zelda game" and frankly, I'm pretty happy Patrick seems to have tried to avoid this and just went for "is it a good game" and said "yeah, it's a really good game, but there are a lot of things to be bothered with" and hence we get a score the game seems to deserve.

Good review Patrick, now get a picture already! Or just alter someone else's and add the hair to it.

Posted by Hiraga

@BenderUnit22 said:

Okami is the best Zelda game ever made

So true.

Posted by asian_pride

4 Stars, not bad. Idk, I've been wanting to try a Zelda game for a while now, but I don't know about doing it with the Wii motion controls. Wasn't really a big fan of that. I don't know about the comparison to Skyrim, since I feel both are different kinds of games. Still, I might give this a try.

Haha, can't wait for some fucking idiots to just cry foul over the score Patrick gave it. That'll be amusing.

Posted by Eyz

Looks like a new Zelda I will finally have to try playing!

Though I still personally prefer the top down view Zelda games over the 3rd person ones :P