The Legend of Zelda is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and Nintendo made sure to make it as sweet as possible for all the dedicated Zelda fans all over the world. A fantastic 3DS remake of the masterful Ocarina of Time earlier this year and a free download of an improved version of Four Swords for DSi and 3DS owners were only just the beginning as Nintendo kept the best thing for last, the long-awaited Wii Zelda game Skyward Sword.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword marks the earliest point in the Zelda timeline and offers an origin story of the long-running series. While the spotlight of this story is taken by the creation of the Master Sword that appeared in many previous Zelda games, there are still a lot of mysteries that are being explained or hinted at which is most welcome for many people who were wondering just how everything came to be in the world of Zelda.
While the story keeps some familiar elements, it is told in such a great way that it marks Nintendo's best storytelling to date. The cutscenes are of excellent quality and characters are animated so well that they are able to convey lots of different emotions without the need of voice acting. The main story is also supported by a number of memorable, and sometimes whacky, secondary characters that feel right at home in Zelda's universe.
The gameplay is probably Skyward Sword's strongest point, as it implements motion controls so well that you'll never want to go back to traditional controls for a Zelda game. When Twilight Princess was released on the Wii with added motion controls back in 2006, many players were wondering just how a Zelda game with 1:1 sword controls would feel like. It took five years for such a game to come out but it clearly shows that this time was well spent making sure that the motion controls feel nothing like a gimmick. Enemies are designed around this concept and will give you a hard time if you are slashing frantically in hope to kill them. Fighting normal enemies feels meaningful and engaging for the first time in ages, as every enemy requires a different tactic to beat. For example, Bokoblins or Stalfos will try to block your hits and you'll have to find out where they leave themselves open and strike before they change their stance.
While bosses in previous 3D Zelda games looked big and dangerous, they were complete pushovers for the most part. Thankfully this isn't longer the case as Skyward Sword delivers some of the best bosses in Zelda history that are not only extremely well designed but also actually challenging. They're not difficult enough to be called hard but they give you a feeling of accomplishment after taking them down that wasn't present after beating many previous 3D Zelda bosses.
Similar to the combat, the puzzles are nothing like any seen in previous titles. They aren't near impossible to figure out but they still manage to make you scratch your head from time to time. The amount of creativity that's poured into the puzzles and dungeon design is unmatched, with dungeons always introducing new, clever ways to use all of the items in Link's arsenal.
The gameplay isn't the only aspect of the game that saw big changes, though. Skyward Sword took the stagnant Zelda formula that's been used for the 3D Zelda games since Ocarina of Time and while it didn't reinvent the formula, it added and changed just enough things to make everything feel fresh again. For the first time in Zelda history, the segments between dungeons aren't just filler to get you to your next destination. You still go from one dungeon to the next just the same, but this time the way between them is packed with content, like puzzles and enemy encounters. Gone are the days of giant overworlds that feel completely empty and only serve as filler between dungeons. The overworld in Skyward Sword is split into two distinct parts, Skyloft and the 'surface' below. Skyloft is the hub of the game to which you'll be returning at a regular basis, while the 'surface' below the clouds is where the dungeons and the main challenges of the game are located.
Another new addition to the series is the Upgrading system. Throughout the game, you can collect various materials and insects which you can use to upgrade your shields, potions and a few of your main items. It's a nice addition that adds to the game without becoming tedious.
Just like The Wind Waker so many years ago, many fans were shocked when Skyward Sword's graphical style was revealed at E3 2010, especially after we've seen an artwork that implied the use of Twilight Princess' artstyle. At first, I was surprised by their choice as well but the mix of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess grew on me rapidly. It takes the best of both worlds and effectively captures the essence of Zelda. With the impressionistic style Nintendo has chosen for Skyward Sword, they've essentially turned one of the Wii's weaknesses into a strength of this game. It's not just the artstyle that manages to impress though, as the game features many diverse locales and extremely fluid animation. It's definitely one of the best looking games on the Wii, easily able to rival Nintendo's own Super Mario Galaxy games.
For the first time in Zelda history, Nintendo used an orchestra to record a majority of the soundtrack and it sounds glorious. I did have a problem with Skyward Sword's soundtrack at first, as I thought it wasn't as memorable as past Zelda games but that opinion of mine quickly changed after I finished the game and started thoroughly listening to the entire soundtrack. It's just as good as any other Zelda soundtrack and it takes time to really appreciate just how brilliant they are, so I feel it's unfair to compare them straight away. Give it a year or two, and Skyward Sword's music will be ranked just as high as Ocarina of Time's, The Wind Waker's or Twilight Princess' soundtracks. The Ballad of Goddess, which is also Skyward Sword's main theme, is certainly already on its way to become a fan favourite as it's probably the most memorable song in the game.
The main game will usually take about 30-40 hours to finish, but doing sidequests, upgrading equipment and fully exploring the world will likely add 10-20 hours to an already very lengthy game. Like most Zelda games, at some point you'll probably feel like playing through the game again just to experience everything one more time. If you want to relive the epic adventure with an increased difficulty, Hero Mode is perfectly suited for that desire as enemies will deal double damage and there won't be any recovery hearts lying around, so you'll have to rely on your pure skill and potions to beat the game.
A brilliant artstyle that wonderfully brings Skyward Sword's world to life and a massive amount of polish make this one of the best graphical offerings on Wii, easily able to rival Nintendo's own Super Mario Galaxy games.
The biggest and most epic sounding soundtrack in any Zelda game yet thanks to the multitude of orchestrated music that's playing throughout the adventure. The soundtracks, except for the Ballad of the Goddess, might not be instantly memorable like many from previous Zelda games but they are excellent nonetheless and make you wish Nintendo started using an orchestra for Zelda soundtracks earlier than they did.
Skyward Sword perfects motion gaming and brings exciting, new changes to Zelda's formula. Puzzles make you think a lot more than they did in previous Zelda titles and combat, thanks to 1:1 sword controls, is much more challenging and engaging than ever before.
Depending on your playstyle, this huge adventure will likely take you 30-40 hours to finish and that's not even counting the big amount of sidequests Skyward Sword offers. If you are longing for a real challenge after the first time through, you'll be very happy with Skyward Sword's second quest, called Hero Mode.
Nintendo managed to deliver on their promise and created the best Zelda game yet while making full use of the Wii's capabilities and showing us just how good motion gaming can be if done right. The Legend of Zelda's future is certainly looking brighter than ever, with Nintendo having nailed motion controls and moving over to the Wii U. We've only just received Skyward Sword but I can already hear all the speculation beginning. "What artstyle are they going to choose?", "When is it going to take place in the timeline?" or "How are they going to use the Wii U controller?" are just a few questions on the minds of many Zelda fans out there but for now, let's simply enjoy the latest of Nintendo's masterpieces that shows yet again their ability to craft some of the greatest games in the industry.
Final Score: 10