The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

I love the Legend of Zelda series, so it should be no surprise that I arrived at my local GameStop at midnight November 20th to pick up my limited edition copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I spent the next week playing through the game, and logged about fifty hours before I completed it. When I completed the game, I created a new file and began playing through the game again.

Needless to say, I found a lot to enjoy in Skyward Sword, and the game has quickly become one of my favorite Legend of Zelda games. I’m not sure that I’m ready to say that Skyward Sword surpasses Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past as the best games in the series, but Skyward Sword is, without a doubt, the best Legend of Zelda game released in the last ten years.

Skyward Sword is the climax of Nintendo’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series. The game itself celebrates the series as a whole. Not only does Skyward Sword serve as a sort of origin story for the series, but there are regular references to other games in the series and the game refines the elements that make the series great.

Give motion controls a chance.

Even as recently as the summer of 2011, I was not sold on the motion controls that were going to be included in Skyward Sword. I grew up playing the Legend of Zelda games using the traditional controller, and the motion controls in Twilight Princess did not convince me that they were bringing anything important to the series.

However, despite my doubts I decided that I would purchase the game and give the controls a chance. I am glad that I did.

I really felt that the controls made Skyward Sword a better game. The enemies have been updated to guard your attacks, and you are often punished for swinging incorrectly (adding some much-needed difficulty to the series). Most importantly, the motion controls work almost flawlessly.

Veterans of the Legend of Zelda series will have to adjust to swinging the sword slower than previous Legend of Zelda titles, but once I passed that learning curve I didn’t have any trouble with the controls. The Wii remote and nunchuk read my swings correctly every time. Furthermore, in most cases you can play the game without making exaggerated movements. I played through the game flicking my wrist without any issue.

The only small issue I noticed with the motion controls is a slight lag while stabbing. Stabbing does require a more exaggerated movement than swinging the sword in other ways, and Link will sometimes perform the stabbing motion after you have completed the physical motions. The lag was noticeable while I was playing, but the lag was so slight that it never caused me to miss my target.

I am very impressed by the motion controls in Skyward Sword, and I hope that they continue to improve upon them in later Legend of Zelda titles.

The Impressionist art style is beautiful from a distance.

I was surprised when Nintendo announced Skyward Sword with an art style different from the realistic style of Twilight Princess. However, I think they made the right decision to not use a realistic style in Skyward Sword.

A lot of the most popular video games are designed to look as realistic as possible, but the Nintendo Wii could never create the same look because of the dated hardware. If Skyward Sword had used a more realistic style, it would have looked dated as soon as it was released.

The Impressionist art style is most impressive when viewed from a distance.

Instead, Nintendo chose an Impressionist art style for the game that is impressive at times and underwhelming at others. In particular, as you move away from an object or location, the environments become blurry. Some people might mistake this for poorly made graphics at a first glance, but it’s actually done intentionally. From a distance, the environments look like paintings.

One of my favorite areas in the game is a lake that you dive into. Before you dive, you can see the entire lake and multiple waterfalls. The area is the best example of the Impressionist art style in the game. Viewing the entire lake from afar really looks like a painting.

Unfortunately, up-close the graphics are not nearly as impressive. They succeed at hiding the limitations of the Wii’s hardware, and do not look bad. However, some of the textures (particularly those on walls and doors) look very muddy up-close. This is supposed to look like a painting, but instead it looks like a mess.

Skyward Sword introduces an art style that could use some improvements, but it is also an art style that fits the Legend of Zelda series well. I wouldn’t mind seeing this art style return again on more capable (and high-definition) hardware.

This is one of the smoothest Legend of Zelda experiences ever made.

Almost every Legend of Zelda game has as point (or points) where you just don’t want to continue. There is something tedious every time. It never makes the entire game terrible, but it always makes you like the game a bit less. In Twilight Princess, you were forced to play as Wolf Link while you kill bugs. In The Wind Waker, it was searching for the Triforce (or searching for the rupees required to pay Tingle to be able to find the Triforce), and some players despise traveling by boat entirely.

Skyward Sword almost avoids this problem completely. With one tiny exception, everything in the game is perfectly paced to keep the game both interesting and fun. In typical Legend of Zelda fashion, the dungeons are cleverly designed, and the new overworld structure brings a lot of dungeon elements into the overworld.

The overworld now has many elements traditionally found in dungeons.

I felt the overworld design was one of the biggest improvements that Skyward Sword brought to the table. The giant empty fields and seas of earlier Legend of Zelda games are gone in favor of a condensed overworld packed with puzzles, enemies, and areas that you actually want to explore. Often,  you feel as if you’ve just completed an outdoor dungeon before you enter the real dungeon.

If only one of the new features in Skyward Sword makes it in to the next Legend of Zelda game, it needs to be the new overworld design.

Unfortunately, Skyward Sword does suffer from one tedious part. However, it’s incredibly minor and shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes of the game (even if you aren’t very good at it). Some players may actually enjoy this part of the game.

Near the end of the game, you’ll be tasked with swimming around to find musical notes hidden in the water. It seems very out-of-place, and it was the only part of the game where I almost wanted to stop playing for a little while. I was relieved when this short section was over, and the game quickly got back on track.

Fortunately, the tedious part of Skyward Sword is easier to overlook those of earlier Legend of Zelda games.

Most importantly, Skyward Sword is fun.

I cannot emphasize this anymore: Skyward Sword is the most fun I’ve had all year. There is not a better game in the Wii library.

Earlier this year, my feelings on Skyward Sword were very mixed. I wasn’t convinced that the controls would work, and I wasn’t convinced that the rumored changes to the game would actually make it better. As we got closer to the release, I became more comfortable with some of the changes, but others continued to confuse me.

After playing the game, I haven’t had all of my concerns addressed. For example, I’m not convinced that motion controls were necessary for swimming and flying the Loftwing. However, I am very pleased with Skyward Sword. It is extremely rare for me to want to re-play a video game immediately after I have finished it for the first time, and that’s exactly what I did with Skyward Sword.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the perfect origin story for the Legend of Zelda series and the perfect way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this magnificent series.

Do not miss this game.

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