Giant Bomb Review

470 Comments

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 Figcoinc

I have grown weary of the random gamer rage that seems to occur almost bi-weekly now. The Modern Warfare 3 nonsense, and now the expected nonsense from this.

4/5 is a great score. Plain and simple. The review was very glowing, but simple has a few things holding it back. A honest review - from a honest reviewer. There no hate, or bias. Matter of fact looks like Patrick really enjoyed himself.

While game arguments have been around since the beginning I believe it has gotten a lot worse. Which is very sad. No game should have expected scores. No matter the series. It should be judge by its own merit. Anyway, this comment will not change anything. Just so damn weary of it though.

Posted by spankingaddict

This is coming from the guy who thought TP was boring , and was and is one of my favorite games ever . So , this is fine news to me . Sounds a little picky , but thanks anyway PK .

Posted by CyleMoore

Damn, I was hoping for 5 stars, but this will do fine. It doesn't matter cause I'm buying it anyways, I just like to see my favorite franchise get perfect scores. Great review though no matter what.

Posted by DASH

I saw a 10 at IGN this morning and it made my day. 4 stars in a 5 star scale is still pretty amazing, so you are safe for now PATRICK. Seriously, it was a well written review, Good job.

Posted by TehFlan
@BisonHero said:

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.

Yeah, I agree. None of the complaints seemed like a big deal. To be fair, though, These games weren't reviewed by the same person. It's entirely possible Patrick just gets more razzed by smaller issues than Brad or Jeff. Either way, I think the review was well-written and I'm still looking forward to picking this game up next week.
Posted by Azteck

People who get worked up over a fucking review need to take a step back and leave their house. Do you people not realize how ridiculous it is?

Posted by KillerManYaro

At E3 this year, Reggie Fils-Aime discussed the inherent contradiction in the gaming market, about how people seemingly wanted things the same and different simultaneously, making it a real challenge to please them. I think what we've seen in this review season is very much indicative of that. I have no doubt that games like Uncharted 3 and Batman Arkham City are great, but when I read how both of these do little to push their respective series forward beyond minor improvements, and yet the praise is heaped on (5 stars for both on Giant Bomb), that strikes as odd. When the Bombcast talks about how they really look for games to try new things, it seems a bit of an 'about face' in the context of some of these reviews - for example, with Modern Warfare 3, the angle taken is like "This is pretty much the same thing again, but I guess that's still good, yeah, woo!".

Meanwhile, I read that Skyward Sword actually makes very significant advancements, but there's some conflict in what's being said. Earlier in the review, it states "You're constantly doing new everything" and then later "...flirts with expanding what has defined the series". Sounds like a bit of a mixed message. Patrick Klepek's closing words say "the series is facing an identity crisis". I don't think that's the case. I think that it's gamers at large facing a crisis of not knowing what they actually want.

Hard to say; I have not yet played this game, so I am willing to take on board what this review says, as well as the many other reviews now out there. For me personally, based on the collective comments, I think I would really enjoy Skyward Sword.

Posted by DaBuddaDa

"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: could you elaborate a little bit on what you mean by your closing sentence? What do you mean by "relevance?" Also, it sounds like a contradiction.

Posted by GiantBombOn99

You are the lucky one who can play the game earlier before all of us.

However, before making a review of Zelda, you should stop playing boring HD killing games for at least one week. You also have to distinguish ARPG and adventure games.

Then you can start playing Zelda and discover all secrets carefully. If you feel a bit difficult to find secret, it is normal in Zelda. You have to avoid discouraging yourself to think a way to solve.

If you cannot do all the above, you should drop the Wii Remote in your hand. Zelda is too suitable for you.

Posted by GiantBombOn99

This review is 1 star out of 5.

Wait! Why do you steal one star from Zelda?

Please return your star, otherwise I will call the police.

Posted by Diablos102

There is no such thing as an unbiased review, simple as that people, if he doesn't think its a five star game then in his opinion (aka review) it won't get five stars.

Posted by zityz

Well written review. Lot's of high points and low points in your experience. I'm looking forward to this game myself. Don't worry about the Twilight Princess was boring bit, I thought it was a tad boring myself but the end bits of that game are well done.

Posted by RuneHammer

Nice review Patrick, it reads like a four or five star review (in the same way Arkham City and Uncharted 3 is a five star review). It seems to have the same problem as Uncharted 3, Arkham City, Skyrim, Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 have, only thing is that I will gladly play "just another Zelda-game" again as it almost always changes the art direction and the entire world you play in. It FEELS like something new while other series feel like the same game with small changes on every sequel.

And four stars is still fucking good. I will still buy it as I always planned and this review shouldn't really impact anyones decision in a bad way. If you like Zelda, you are gonna buy Zelda. Patricks review mentions aspects many will overlook and those reviews are the most interesting and arguably, the most important.

People that play games just need to grow the fuck up and realize that it is your own opinion that matters.

Posted by Afiex

Great review Patrick, every point made sense and for some reason the Zelda fanboys can't figure out what it means.

Posted by Tidel

Patrick!

Why Patrick? Why?

I trusted you! You above all!

Friends off!

Oh, by the way, here's the KNIFE YOU LEFT IN MY HEART.

Posted by ashogo

This sounds like an excellent game that I would love to play some day. Not getting a wii now, but in the future when the price is down, maybe...

comparisons to the excitement of Wind Waker have me intrigued because that game was so much fun, and it sounds like this zelda manages to tap into that same feeling.

Posted by kyrieee

I don't know which Nintendo fanboys are more fun to laugh at, the ones who get paid to write about games or the ones who throw a fit when someone who isn't a complete fanboy writes about Nintendo games.

The reviews that give this game 10/10 read like they were written by someone who lives in a complete vacuum and only consumes Nintendo products.

Posted by mpgeist

Normally not the biggest Klepek fan but I love him for this. I'm glad he was honest.

Posted by Brendan

This was a fantastically well written review, Patrick. Thanks.

Posted by xJollyx

I like GiantBomb's star system, but I think it's unfair that the scores are averaged into Metacritic. If we had Gamespot's system, I'm sure the game would get an 8.7 or something, and not just an 8.

Posted by bones360uk

Thankyou for an honest review,glad someone won't slap on 5/5 because it's a Nintendo classic cough

Posted by alternate

oh snap, death threats incoming. Zelda fans can be nuts.

Posted by OriginalGman

If you're a Zelda fan that's been eagerly awaiting this game, you probably shouldn't even have read this review. I already know that the views of the staff on Zelda don't match up with my own, so this article carries no weight. It won't make the game any less amazing, and if you won't play the game because it only got 4 stars here you are just looking for an excuse. It's motherfucking Zelda, bitches.

The only thing that makes me angry is that Patrick got to play it before I did.

Online
Posted by Bucketdeth

4/5 this may as well be 8.8 hieiehepeiskdheidjdleieheighdjshs I'm so angry

Posted by Tireyo

Well even though I do not agree with some of what Patrick said, I respect his opinion. When it comes down to it, we got to play the game for ourselves.

Posted by Jolt92

@Whizbang: Are you insane?

Posted by Lively

I liked Joystiq's review, which basically said that PARTS of this game constitute the best Zelda game ever, with about 12 hours of boring filler added in. If you can stand to get through the filler, the game is abolutely worth playing.

God knows I beat Final Fantasy XIII, so I think I can put up with a few hours of not being completely thrilled with the game at hand :)

Posted by morrelloman

Why can't Link be lefty like he used to be?

Posted by Boiglenoight
I found Twilight Princess painfully boring

The point I stopped caring that this review received 4 stars.

Posted by dudeglove

lol at all you morons getting upset over an arbitrary number that doesn't mean shit. No one cares that you didn't like Patrick's review.

Posted by Nigthguy

If you want to get angry at a review, go read EGM's. This is nothing compared to that garbage

Posted by Duffyside

I just saw the score and started laughing. I haven't read a single comment, but we all know what Zelda fanboys can do (8.8).

I don't envy you right now, Patrick. You gave a Zelda game a good score... you monster.

Posted by Supertom11

This is the first Zelda review I've ever read that finally took off the Nintendo colored nostalgia glasses and revealed the real problems with the game. Great review PK.

Posted by dudeglove

@dolsande said:

Quick question: What is a 'metacritic' and why gamers care?

It's a site which takes all the reviews of one game and gives it an average. Anally-retentive pillocks care because they're completionist idiots whose gaming experience wholly depends on an arbitrary number/symbol. Anything less than 100 is unacceptable to some.

Posted by sawtooth

sooo.... Better than TP?
good review, can't wait to play and have debates over where it belongs in the ranking of zelda games.

Posted by MikkaQ

Oh no, the retards who convert 5 starts to the 10-point scale are gonna fliiiiiip.

Oh well. I'm done being frustrated with the metacritic crowd. They can go ahead and pull their hair out for every positive 4-star review of a good game for all I care.

Edited by Deathpooky

Comparing this game to Skyrim is questionable at best. I don't really see the benefit in comparing this to a completely unrelated game in a different genre you just happen to be playing and enjoying more, just because Zelda has some upgrade sidequests. "Zelda has some fun setpiece boss battles, but nothing approaches the plane scene in Uncharted 3." "Zelda has some fast-paced moments, but I was never propelled along like I was in Call of Duty."

And it's not like Skyrim invented a giant RPG open-world filled with customizing depth - those have been around since the 80's - and Zelda has never been trying to ape those games. Zelda has never been an "Action RPG" series, even if genre definitions for games are fucked, and never have I thought that Zelda would try to compete with a fucking Elder Scrolls game, nor would I want it to. If you want to argue that Final Fantasy should look to Elder Scrolls for inspiration on how to make their game less JRPG-ish, fine. But Zelda?

I think this review supports the score, but I also don't really trust it as reflecting what I'm going to think about the game based on the background you're coming from and the comparisons you're making. Which I suppose is better than a shitty review, but meh either way.

Posted by Sporkbane

It's nice to know that most of the Giantbomb community seems to be taking this reasonably well: defending Patrick for having his own opinion and even shooting down the people who are throwing around raging remarks regarding his totally sane comparisons to Skyrim and CoD.

I enjoyed the review Patrick! Keep it up!

Posted by AV_Gamer

Another day, another Zelda game. If there's one thing Nintendo has proven, is that the old saying "If it's not broke, don't fix it" was very true. Still, you can improve and evolve without breaking the foundation, and many Nintendo games haven't done that. They've gotten by with the WII, but will they be able to use the same games, with the same stories, with the same concepts on the next major console? Time will tell.

Posted by logicfracture

Wow, the wording in that tagline is pretty jacked up. What's he even trying to say?

Posted by altairre

@Figcoinc said:

I have grown weary of the random gamer rage that seems to occur almost bi-weekly now. The Modern Warfare 3 nonsense, and now the expected nonsense from this.

4/5 is a great score. Plain and simple. The review was very glowing, but simple has a few things holding it back. A honest review - from a honest reviewer. There no hate, or bias. Matter of fact looks like Patrick really enjoyed himself.

While game arguments have been around since the beginning I believe it has gotten a lot worse. Which is very sad. No game should have expected scores. No matter the series. It should be judge by its own merit. Anyway, this comment will not change anything. Just so damn weary of it though.

Great comment, I couldn´t have said it better myself.

Posted by Kaneandlynchfan

OOT is ancient history. Minish Cap was the last Zelda game worth mentioning.

Posted by RecSpec

The last one I finished was Wind Waker, so I can probably overlook any flaws to try to get through this. Still excited for this, reviews be damned.

Posted by Hef

So you're going to sit there and tell me that 8.8 twilight princess is better than this 8.0...

Oh wait...that's not how reviews work.

Posted by serg0

8.8

Posted by TheMasterDS

A lot of your gripes I saw coming because I felt they'd be an issue watching trailers. I swear I described how the upgrade system would be shit on the first go just watching the video explanation of it. I miss the days where "upgrade" referred to a one of a kind item that TRIPPLED YOUR ATTACK and required you to carefully PLAN OUT A WHOLE 3 DAY CYCLE to get it. Upgrades were harder to get then, but they were also a lot fewer of them, and the ones you could get were worth getting. They were more demanding but also more rewarding.

Anyway, with Skyrim today and this game receiving less than a perfect score due to the gripes I was worried about before release I don't think I'll get this game. Thanks for making this decision easy Patrick.

Posted by SleepyDoughnut

I don't understand the last sentence. Why isn't a brand new great Zelda game enough? Is it because he personally thinks modern games need more complexity? Or he thinks most gamers think that? He didn't articulate that very well.

Posted by oraknabo

When Nintendo guys like Anouma, Miyamoto and Iwata look at these reviews to decide what direction this franchise takes in the future, it's ones like this and G4's that are going to mean a lot more to them than the 100/5-star ones.

Zelda is by far my favorite franchise and while I haven't played the game, I'm fine with the complaints about item leveling. The only complaint I really have with this is that I think the COD and TES comparisons are completely unfair. Nintendo doesn't really give a crap what everyone else is doing and I feel like if something isn't working in their games it's fine to judge them based on that, but comparisons to other games is fairly pointless.

Oh, and the schadenfreude comments about being excited about all the internet drama this will cause are equally as immature as any score-rage freak out. I can only hope that if this site had at least half-stars, this and Skyrim would both have been 4.5s instead of a 4 and a 5.

Posted by ABK_92

Lol at all of the mad fanboys, I'll continue to watch my Wii collect dust and a shitty Zelda game isn't going to change that. Only good Zelda game was on the SNES. BE MAD!

Posted by Marokai
@oraknabo said:
Zelda is by far my favorite franchise and while I haven't played the game, I'm fine with the complaints about item leveling. The only complaint I really have with this is that I think the COD and TES comparisons are completely unfair. Nintendo doesn't really give a crap what everyone else is doing and I feel like if something isn't working in their games it's fine to judge them based on that, but comparisons to other games is fairly pointless.
I will never understand this position. Why should Zelda games be reviewed completely in a vacuum, totally ignorant of the way games are these days everywhere else? Nobody should judge a video game purely on it's own terms. You judge if something is good and still works by comparing it to other games where something worked better. It's the way critics work and it's unavoidable. I would never argue in favor of a reviewer making explicit comparisons, but where games innovate, other games are eventually judged against them and there's nothing wrong with that.
 
Skyward Sword may totally be a 5/5 for a Zelda game. But that's a preposterous caveat. A video game may be developed in a vacuum, but it shouldn't be judged as if only Zelda games have ever existed in the history of video games. From the looks of this review, if you love Zelda, you're going to love Skyward Sword. But as it stacks up to the competition? The growth of the chasm separating Zelda (or even Nintendo games in general) from all the others is growing faster and faster.