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 Auxin

WHY SO LOW?

Just kidding, this was a VERY well written review, and was obviously well thought-out. There's a reason why giantbomb is (literally) the only gaming site I visit.

Actually that reason might be Jeff, but Patrick is pretty cool, too.
Posted by Enigma777

Fuck motion controls. Fuck em in the ass!

Posted by Deusx

Oh god I hope it doesn't turn out like the last time. I thought that review was well written and he has a valid point. 4/5 stars means it's a really good game. Patrick really doesn't seem to get along very well with zelda games wich means that for fans of the series, this is a must. Please people keep it CIVIL!

Posted by Spiritof

4 stars?

AHHHHHHHHH SHIT!

Posted by WalkerD

Hating Patrick over this would be downright silly. You should be hating him because he's so blatantly hipster. Come on.

Posted by IClavdivs

Anyone who says review scores don't matter needs to do 2 things:

  1. Look at all the people on the comments for this review alone that are saying "Aw gee Patrick. I was gonna buy this game, but now I won't because you gave it 4 stars instead of 5."
  2. Google how review scores affect future game design and developer bonuses

Saying review scores don't matter is tantamount to saying that Giant Bomb and other sources for games journalism are parasites on the game industry. The fact is that they do matter. The are a metric used by developers and publishers to determine the successes and failures of their product. They actively influence the developmental direction of future games. They're not as important as sales or overall fan opinion, but they're not worthless.

That said, I've never been a huge fan of Patrick (not his fault, he resembles and sounds like a kid I know that I absolutely cannot stand) or his general opinion on games (He once drunkenly stated that he doesn't like fantasy, but claims to like Zelda and Skyrim), I do respect his news hound chops though. It's very impressive that he has become so respected as a journalist at such a young age. Having openly stated his bias against fantasy games, I wish they'd focus his talents more on news and reviewing other genres.

Posted by DancingJesus

Hmm, I'm not sure I understand the headline.

Patrick needs to articulate what he's saying better without beating around the bush.

Posted by EverydayOdyssey

Thanks for the well-written review. Giant Bomb's writers are some of the best in the industry. Not sure whether I'll dust off the Wii, at least not this year.

Posted by Daruna

HEY!

RETARDS!

Quit gettin' mad at videogames.

Edited by SirPenguin

This review reminds me of being back in English class in high school again. The teacher assigns a subject matter and topic for me, all but writing my thesis statement, and as such my paper is full of half-assed arguments and uninspired prose.

I obviously don't care about the actual score because I'm not a crazy person, but this was a very poor review. It's like you knew you had to bring up bad points, but you didn't really know what to say, and worse, you just end up contradicting yourself. "It's ok that it's an RPG lite, but man, it should really have deeper RPG elements! Zelda needs to more than just another Zelda game, but why isn't this one feature more similar to a past Zekda? I didn't care about the upgrading system, but why can't I upgrade my sword?!"

You need to learn to find a point, flesh it out, and back it up. All your articles read like this review.

Posted by logicfracture

@SleepyDoughnut said:

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.

Yeah, either do I. I wonder if anyone proofread this. There are a couple of sentences with very awkward wording that makes it hard to understand what he's trying to say.

Posted by Scrumdidlyumptious

CONTROVERSIAL! Skyword Sword is as bad as Uncharted 3 confirmed.

Posted by Roodog

I thought the review was well written and keeps me interested in coming to this website.

Posted by DrDarkStryfe

Only gamers see four stars out of five, and think "What the hell, only an 80%?!?"

Edited by JackSukeru

A bit sad that this game couldn't get a full score review, but not unexpected (Edit: the more I read this sentence, the more it sounds like I'm complaining about the score rather than the fact the game wasn't good enough to merit a full recommendation, ugh). More than that, I'm glad that the review has some good, well argued and specific criticisms, it's the only way Nintendo will learn.

I wonder what the future of Zelda will be like.

Posted by TheYear20XX

I'll never understand why people get so emotionally invested in a game's Metacritic when they don't actually stand to benefit anything from it (bonuses, etc).

Posted by cabelhigh

Wow, a really great review. Haters be damned! I feel like this is one of the best written reviews on the site.

Posted by SparkEngineer

@Marokai: The fact is that this is a review looking to take points off. Games like Call of Duty would never score higher than 3/5 if they were treated the way you suggest. They're straight up garbage.

Posted by StarErik

Oh, no! Combo breaker. Jeff has reviewed all console Zelda's since Ocarina of Time. Will the moon fall now?

Posted by thevigilanteoflove

Compare this to the IGN review. It's unbelievable how different they are. IGN has a tendency to over-sensationalize a lot of things, and their written and video reviews for Skyward Sword show it. They call it the best Zelda game of all time, but if you go back watch the video review for Twilight Princess, they also called that the best Zelda game of all time. I feel like Patrick's review was probably more realistic. I still can't wait to play this game though.

Posted by horseman6

I have great respect for this review. It seems like most reviewers are automatically going this game a 9 or 10 even with its flaws. Good job Patrick

Posted by ModernAlkemie

How do I know how Patrick really felt about this game without a cartoon of him giving the game a thumbs up next to the score?

Online
Posted by freakin9

It feels Nintendo has reached a point where they have series' that will never not sell. And yes I'm sorta implying that not everything they put out is as spun gold as the reviews suggest.

Posted by Olivaw

I think Patrick is a little mean to Twilight Princess.

That game may not have had the most unique world, but I always thought it had some fantastic art direction, even if certain bits just reminded me of other games (that bridge from Shadow of the Colossus, for example).

This game sounds much more interesting in terms of gameplay, though! Twilight Princess is the best example of the Ocarina of Time formula, but this seems like something very different.

Posted by Spiritof

Seriously though, I'm of the opinion that, having only just recently finished Wind Waker, that the Zelda series most definitely has a formula, a formula that most of us can see coming from a million miles away, but it's a formula that's so close to perfection that it needs very little "new" added to it (and most certainly doesn't need reinvented). There's always and forever going to be wee lads growing into gaming, and who am I to deny them the pure, unadulterated fun of their first Zelda game?

I'd feel a fool taking away the first time a gamer gets to open their first treasure chest, solving their first dungeon puzzle, throwing their first boomerang, or defeating their first boss fight. The formula is there, and some of us feel that it's long in the tooth, but it's a formula that works to a diamond sparkle. A wheel is a wheel, and Zelda game is a Zelda game. Play it, have fun, but don't over-analyze it.

Posted by gregoryc

Content of review is more important than a rating. I only wish people would read this before posting here and on other boards or gaming sites.

Posted by TheDamaori

Good review, well written.

Posted by weslash

not on xbox 360 = -1 star

Posted by RadixNegative2

The review was generally well written, but in the end too ambiguous. I still don't understand exactly what Patrick felt was good about the game and what aspects could be improved on.

Honestly I wish one of the other GB guys had reviewed this instead. Hopefully I can get their insights on the game during the bombcast or at least let Patrick talk about the game a bit more.

Posted by clank543

Fantastic review, Patrick! The whole fact that Zelda lives in a vacuum is basically the reason these games have become kinda boring for me and that was a great point. Also, no quest log?!?!?

Posted by nick_verissimo

@SirPenguin: You pretty much hit the nail on the head here with respect to the "english class" analogy. He knew in his mind that the game just wasn't perfect, but had nothing really to back it up so rather than building around actual criticisms he just ended rambling off a few points on odd areas of the game that don't exactly contend with games that we've seen over the last 5 years. I generally enjoy reading Patrick's articles because they don't necessarily have to be critical in nature, but being critical is inherent in reviewing a game and he just doesn't quiet encapsulate it too well.

Posted by ZebN
@mpgeist said:

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

Was just about to post the exact same thing.  My respect for  Patrick just increased greatly.
Edited by dvorak

@SirPenguin said:

This review reminds me of being back in English class in high school again. The teacher assigns a subject matter and topic for me, all but writing my thesis statement, and as such my paper is full of half-assed arguments and uninspired prose.

I obviously don't care about the actual score because I'm not a crazy person, but this was a very poor review. It's like you knew you had to bring up bad points, but you didn't really know what to say, and worse, you just end up contradicting yourself. "It's ok that it's an RPG lite, but man, it should really have deeper RPG elements! Zelda needs to more than just another Zelda game, but why isn't this one feature more similar to a past Zekda? I didn't care about the upgrading system, but why can't I upgrade my sword?!"

You need to learn to find a point, flesh it out, and back it up. All your articles read like this review.

Pretty much. Anyone with even a modicum of writing talent could whip this up. It reads like a first person blog article filled with college paper level filler. As a person on the fence about buying this game, this article doesn't really inform me of it's relative qualities at all.

I don't even really care about the score, but it's just so poorly written that in this case I had to look at it to even understand how he felt about it. Was it the best Zelda ever? The worst? Somewhere in the middle? I had no idea where he stood, based on his writing.

Patrick really needs to improve his writing style. It comes across as very amateur, technically. He has been doing this for years now, right?

Posted by leejunfan83

great review

Posted by Jack_Lafayette

Patrick Klepek is the king of video games.

Posted by Claude

This review is all over the place as in not very fun to read.
 
"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." 
 
Like the sentence above me from the review. It just doesn't read well.

Posted by Superkenon

I'm one of the most stubborn and shameless Zelda fanboys around -- as I would tell you Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are both awesome games that I've played through multiple times -- but I'm not at all offended or disappointed by a 4-star rating. That's a good score any way you look at it. Probably appropriate too, as for everything that I absolutely love about a given Zelda game, there's usually one or two things that are proooobably worth knocking down the score a little. This score tells me I'm in for another Zelda.

What's not to get about Patrick's review, anyway? I read all that and saw "excellent game with some noticeable shortcomings," which is again reflected in his 4/5 score. He even went as far to tell us about the weakest parts. Is it really so alien of a concept to be hot on some aspects of the game but cold on others? Maybe I'm an oddball, but I'm happy to see a review that doesn't just read like a buyer's guide. You might argue that's what reviews are for, but I find it far more useful to hear someone's from-the-heart impressions instead.

Nik nik. Good read, Patrick. I am so very envious of you right now.

Posted by patrickklepek

If it helps, I loaded up my Twilight Princess save earlier this week and dropped it at around 15 hours, when you're tasked with getting the rest of the moon piece things. I'd played more than I remembered.

Posted by IceColdGamer

I've pre-ordered the Gold Edition and hope to play through this with my girlfriend. Thanks for the review Patrick. Can't wait to see what Nintendo pulls out for Link on their next system.

Posted by EuanDewar
@CJduke

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

They said Skyward sword is better than Skyward sword!?

Well that's just disgusting!
Posted by AlmostSwedish

@thevigilanteoflove said:

Compare this to the IGN review. It's unbelievable how different they are. IGN has a tendency to over-sensationalize a lot of things, and their written and video reviews for Skyward Sword show it.

I just started reading it after all the craze fanboys started pointing to it. I was not surprised when I found that the entire text seemed to consist of hyperboles

Posted by freecajunlove

@SirPenguin said:

"It's ok that it's an RPG lite, but man, it should really have deeper RPG elements! Zelda needs to more than just another Zelda game, but why isn't this one feature more similar to a past Zekda? I didn't care about the upgrading system, but why can't I upgrade my sword?!"

- He's saying it's okay for Nintendo to strive to be an RPG lite. The Problem is they try to do deeper RPG elements (potion crafting and item-upgrading) and fail.

- Nintendo tries to recreate the fun/complexity of past musical instruments, but the harp sucks. Many reviews have said the same thing.

- He complains about the upgrading system because it is poorly designed, then complains more that they don't even allow upgrading of the most desired item you would want to upgrade. Instead of using a "but" in your qoute, you should use an "and."

I understood it fine....

Posted by Shuborno

This sounds like something I would have loved to play on the Wii... 2 years ago.

The stuff about having to pay attention and look for openings in combat is what I think we were looking for when the Wii came out.

Posted by fargofallout

@dvorak: I had this long reply in my head, but I realized it would be a waste of time to write it out. People are entitled to their opinions, including you. My opinion is that you're full of shit and you have some sort of bone to pick with Patrick. I'm not going out of my way to defend him, but I am saying you need to back up such arguments if you're going to make them.

Posted by jettpack

good review, mate!

Posted by Apathylad

@Claude said:

This review is all over the place as in not very fun to read.

"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." Like the sentence above me from the review. It just doesn't read well.

Yeah, I'm noticing that more people are more bothered by the writing, rather than the score itself.

Edited by Brackynews
(don’t get me started on a late sequence involving swimming underwater and collecting musical notes for 30 minutes)

Eep, they got jiggy with it? Does Kazooie pop out from under his cap? Oh my.

The idea of a 30-60 hour Zelda game is a bit... unnerving. Though I say that not having finished Wind Waker either. In fact I recently started rectifying my long Zelda drought by starting a Legend Second Quest run. Shit be brutal without any outside hints. Still, there's a purity to it, the exploration. Knowing that the time invested is not about spending 5-15 minutes fighting an individual enemy, its about "teching-up" and using your gadgets to find more secrets and more shortcuts. That's the core of the adventure genre that I love.

Posted by Tiago

There goes the Metacritic score. I normally don't care but I wanted this game to be one of the highest rated this gen... 8/10 won't help. Crappy 5 star system.

Cry me a river about the identity crisis BS.

Posted by Claude
@patrickklepek said:

If it helps, I loaded up my Twilight Princess save earlier this week and dropped it at around 15 hours, when you're tasked with getting the rest of the moon piece things. I'd played more than I remembered.

It took me 65 hours to beat Twilight Princess. 15 hours barely scratches the surface of that game.
Posted by masterpaperlink

@Claude said:

@patrickklepek said:

If it helps, I loaded up my Twilight Princess save earlier this week and dropped it at around 15 hours, when you're tasked with getting the rest of the moon piece things. I'd played more than I remembered.

It took me 65 hours to beat Twilight Princess. 15 hours barely scratches the surface of that game.

standard completion time is around 35 hours I was dragging that game out for quite a while and barely made 40.