i continue to make progress on playing through the zelda series, and recently i finished the latest entry, skyward sword. the game has been a long time coming and the developers were promising that the game would take the series in some new directions, but although there are some notable diversions from the series the majority of these new game elements just feel borrowed from other series.
of the reviews i’ve come across, the one at 1up.com hits most of the same criticisms that i have of the game. my topmost complaint is that the use of wii motion plus throughout the game just feels too similar to wii sports resort, specifically the bomb mechanics (previously seen as basketball tossing and bowling), the bow and arrow (archery), and the beetle piloting (skydiving). only the latter offers something new to the wii library’s gameplay mechanics as a whole, not just the zelda series. the swordfighting is better than it was in wii sports resort, but although it requires some fast reflexes the novelty wears off quickly and it didn’t end up keeping my interest throughout the game. by the end i was mostly just back to waggling and spin attacking except for the times i absolutely had to slice in the right direction. the combination of sword and shield could have led to some more interesting gameplay, but i pretty much completely ignored the shield mechanics since shields break easily. also, the harp is probably the least-integral instrument in all the zelda games, and the few times you do have to play it the interaction is as mindless as playing instruments in wii music. the biggest new mechanic is also the least exciting, which is dowsing, where you point the sword in different directions in order to locate items. this works pretty well and offers some novelty, but it’s used throughout the game and overstays its welcome.
aside from the addition of wii motion plus, the biggest changes to the game were due to changes in pacing. these took many different forms, none of which seemed like much of an improvement. first off, in the three main land areas of the game there’s no distinction between dungeons and the overworld, so that getting to the dungeon requires as much puzzle-solving as there is actually inside the dungeon. this has happened in varying degrees in the other games, but not nearly so extensively as in this one. on the one hand this lack of break in the action does make these outside environments feel more necessary, but on the other hand it makes the game’s pace feel somewhat relentless and actually becomes monotonous. to provide a break there’s skyloft, the central town located in the sky, which has a large cast of characters each with their own problems. much like majora’s mask solving the townspeople’s problems draws you back to that area (as well as earning you optional items that provide some small aid to link on his quest), but the town itself is not always as much of a hub as it should be, since most of the time you can skip past it and go directly from one land area to the next. there’s also a series of small, unconnected islands in the sky that much like wind waker‘s great sea allows you to stop and explore, but most of the islands contain treasures that can only be retrieved after finding “goddess cubes”, which removes the sense of discovery and exploration. goddess cubes, introduced in this game, are scattered around the land areas and provide a mostly enjoyable sidequest centered on solving even more puzzles to gain even more, only somewhat-useful, treasures.
this “density” of content has been much touted and no doubt many zelda fans will revel in it, but i found myself wishing that the developers had edited the game more instead of keeping every idea they had. the other departure to the series is that the game is structured so that you visit many areas multiple times with different objectives. this feels directly taken from the concept pioneered by super mario 64 and carried through its successors, but unlike those games here it just feels like extra, unnecessary padding especially since the repetitions are mostly fairly rote (for example, on one revisit you’re tasked with an escort mission, which is about as tedious as all escort missions are, and in another one you’re given a collectathon task, which easily ranks among my least favorite gameplay mechanics ever). this emphasis on revisiting previous areas was an effort to provide the game with an epic scale without the large (and thus less dense) world of twilight princess, but the game already has enough content without having to tack on these extra tasks.
the game has a few other, relatively minor, new features, including a nice watercolor aesthetic, a stamina meter that provides link with a more prince of persia-like spryness, and a new limit on the number of items you can hold in your “adventure pouch”, requiring some minor strategy in resource management. it also has a system whereby you can collect bugs and treasures in order to upgrade your special items and potions. the game’s secondary weapons feel fairly substandard in general as it is, but as all of the upgrades are optional they don’t feel integral to the game in any way. the game’s most notable addition to the series is the expansion of the zelda mythology and the introduction of a host of new character types that no doubt will be riffed on in many future games. none of them match midna from twilight princess, however, and fi, link’s companion in this game, particularly suffers from the comparison. the new races, unfortunately, also feel completely interchangeable with any of the more-familiar races of the series, but the new villain, ghirahim, is a memorable, albeit melodramatic, antagonist. also, this is the most plotted zelda title yet, and although that’s not saying much there is a host of cinema scenes that help bring the world of the game alive. as a nice bonus, the deluxe version of the game features a snazzy gold wii remote and a CD of symphonic recordings of some of the music from the series (including a nice medley that opens with the great overworld theme from spirit tracks).
i’m continually hoping that nintendo reworks their core franchises more, and although there is the sense that the developers were trying to break new ground, by borrowing so heavily from themselves the team has missed out in exploring something that’s really new. as it is skyward sword lands pretty much smack in the middle of my ranking of the zelda series, and although it’s a high-quality game that beats out the majority of games by other developers, for me it just doesn’t match the high bar the zelda series sets.
raise your sword skyward to these skyward sword links:
– zeldadungeon.net provides the best site on the game
– nintendojo’s review is also worth a read
– official site: includes a spoiler-filled run-down of all the items and loads of videos
– iwata asks feature
– if you’re wondering what happens if you choose the other option for what to do with cawlin’s letter, check out this video on youtube
– in case you don’t already know about the game-breaking glitch check out this link. you can find the info on the fix here.
– observant fans quickly discovered that the game’s main theme, “the ballad of the goddess”, was actually “zelda’s lullaby” backwards. sweeet.
– entry at metacritic
– entry at zelda.wikia.com
– entry at wikipedia