The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Drew Hurley 09.08.2021

Review for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch

While the 35th Anniversary of Zelda was rather lacking in comparison to the avalanche of Mario's 35th, at least it resulted in the black sheep of the Zelda series finally getting its Switch port. The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword received a bad rap thanks to a disastrous live show presentation along with the game stepping far outside the formula of what Zelda had become. However, for some, the innovation and changes delivered a memorable and original experience. This precursor to the Zelda timeline divided the fandom like no other in the franchise history, breaking away from so many of the series' mainstay elements and introducing some controversial features. Whether it is the dodgy camera controls, the stamina bar, or the repeated revisits of areas, there were plenty of areas for fans to argue over. Now, a full decade since the original release of Skyward Sword, it's back with some small improvements. Everyone deserves a second chance (or hey, even a third since this got a Wii U release too!) and since fresh life has been given to plenty of games on Switch, perhaps the fresh experience will garner a better reaction.

Officially, this is the very first entry in the Zelda story, at least chronologically, for those who want to delve into the madness of the canon storyline. While the series has never provided big links (pun intended) between titles, this certainly sets up certain key moments and elements that echo into future entries in the franchise, giving fans a chance to understand the history of things like the Triforce and the Master Sword.

Opening in a tiny town far above the clouds, Link is a trainee knight on this peaceful floating island. His childhood friend Zelda is the daughter of the chief and there's a budding romance between the two. Right off the bat, this is something that helps set this entry apart. It was the first time the characters were really given much personality. Out of all of these, the breakout star has to be Zelda who finally feels like a real person. Even the seemingly one-dimensional bully Groose gets a decent arc as the character develops from a strutting, chad-like, Gaston character into a supporting member of this story.

The idyllic and tranquil land is quickly thrown into chaos when Zelda is drawn into what seems to be a living storm, a black nightmare of clouds and teeth. This drags Link into a legendary quest, delving below the impenetrable clouds beneath his land to the legendary "Surface" to find out what fate has in store for him and his childhood beloved.

Descending to the Surface Link is led along the path by a magical sword known as the Goddess Sword and a spirit within it named Fi. Fi acts as a decent living tutorial and exposition machine in much the same way as the Owl, Navi and the like of the past. Link has to regularly travel between the surface and the sky, trekking to numerous locations - then trekking back to them later on once he has acquired new equipment. Those first few hours are honestly a little of a slog, with the dull Faron Woods offering up little outside of some hide and seek exercises. However, it's worth sticking with it as subsequent areas more than make up for it. And within these areas sits the classic Zelda dungeon; areas filled with themed puzzles that provide Link with a new piece of equipment and are topped off with some big old boss battles!

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch

Every Zelda title has a few dungeons that are truly memorable and Skyward Sword has plenty.
There's the blazing Magma of the Earth Temple, where Link rides rolling balls of stone through the lava rivers, and blasts through rock with bombs. Then there is the duality of Ancient Cistern. This begins as a lush and vibrant temple of pools and floating lily pads that develops into a toxic corruption. One of the absolute best though, is the Sandship. It's a location that provides one of the best experiences in the whole franchise. A superbly designed experience, it allows exploring a classic galleon, facing off against a robotic pirate, and utilising a mechanic to switch the time in the area.

While these dungeons are fantastic, the overall areas the game is made up of were another area of heavy criticism, mostly due to the need to regularly return to the same areas repeatedly, and around their linear nature. It's something that feels out of place these days after experiencing Breath of the Wild. However, it's not necessarily a bad thing, as some players prefer the clear path and guidance on their journey after all.

Skyward Sword does not disappoint on any of these fronts… well, perhaps slightly in the puzzles. While many of the previous titles' puzzles were themed around specific themes of the game like switching between times in A Link to the Past, the majority of the puzzles in Skyward Sword are based around the motion controls. They're not quite on par with the best of other entries.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch

The equipment meanwhile has some of the best in the series. The old favourites like bombs, bow and arrow, and the Hookshot are all on hand. Then there are items like the whip that can be used to swing across chasms, the Mogma Mitts that allow Link to dig underground and even the Sailcloth from Breath of the Wild originated here.

Link must make the best of these pieces of equipment to overcome some truly fantastic boss battles. The bosses of Skyward Sword run a wide gambit of style, but each are memorable in their style and designs, both the mechanics and appearance. There is a battle against a monstrous Scorpion with eyeballs in its pincers that Harryhausen would adore, combat in the skies where Link atop his Loftwing must take on a monstrous flying Whale as well as a Lovecraftian tentacled monstrosity in a sea of sand. Each battle is filled with the signature style that made the franchise famous, learning the tactics and patterns of each boss while finding the little weak spots. However, even these great encounters are nothing compared to what awaits at the end of the game.

Standing at the pinnacle of the enemies is a new nemesis for Link. Lording over the lands of the surface is a wonderfully flamboyant and eccentric villain. It is not Ganon this time, but Ghirahim. He is a character that feels like he's decided to cameo in a Zelda title from his regular time living in a whole different, utterly "Bizarre" universe with "Stands" and chiselled young men, named after 80s Rock Bands who bust into eccentric and explosive poses. Ghirahim is like a classic Disney villain, with a memorable theme, an even more memorable laugh, dripping in suave swagger and with plenty of evil narcissism. It's a shame he hasn't been revisited outside of Hyrule Warriors.

This HD Remaster has upped the resolution from 480p to 720p in handheld mode and 1080p in docked mode. The visuals seem to have been given a bit of a spit-polish too, with everything just looking a little cleaner, a little better, such as smoothness of skin and textures on environments. It all looks improved. Outside of these presentation improvements, there are some small quality of life changes that help to improve the experience. There is an ability to skip tutorials and to speed through dialogue, both of which are improvements that remasters desperately need to utilise more.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch

Then there's the ability to return to the sky from anywhere this time instead of only when at a save point… for those who purchased the new stunning Zelda and Loftwing amiibo. This is something that caused serious outrage throughout the online community. "Nintendo gonna Nintendo!" and "How can they lock such a KEY feature behind this? Pay to win!" This is a pretty big overreaction. The ability is hardly much of a benefit. The alternative is to return to a Bird Statue, which are pretty much everywhere. It saves very little time in reality, though the amiibo is still definitely worth a purchase. It's a gorgeous little collectable.

However, when it comes to changes, there's one area that is always the first thing that comes to mind: the motion controls. Motion controls have always been a divisive feature, whether done right or not. Sadly, the motion controls were certainly not done right in Skyward Sword. For those who have not had the chance, it's definitely worth checking out the now infamous Miyamoto presentation on Youtube; the gaming legend is struggling to get his swipes to pay any sort of passing resemblance to the actions of Link on screen. So, thankfully, one of the biggest changes here is the ability to completely ignore the motion controls.

Those who are fans of motion controls, or wish to give them a shot, will find that replacing the Wii remote with the Joy-Con has not achieved the improvements one would expect. If anything, at points, they actually feel worse. It could mostly be forgivable, if the issue was just around the combat, but the motion controls were tacked into every part of the game, such as controlling the flight of the Loftwing, balancing across a tightrope, and controlling a remote-control bug as it drops bombs.

Unfortunately, the replacement control scheme isn't much better. The flicking of the Joy-Con is replaced with flicks of the right analogue stick. These flicks require sharp, quick movements that are not satisfying, often not reactive, and just frustrating. Equally as frustrating are the camera controls. That same right analogue being used to control the camera, but only when the L trigger is held down, again, feeling unnatural and uncomfortable. It's better to just use the ZL trigger to snap the camera to face forward instead.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The bad rap that Skyward Sword received is evidenced here to be undeserved. Even the worst Zelda game is still a good game, and this is by no means the worst Zelda game. It has some dungeons and experiences that are standing side by side with the very best of the whole franchise. While the controls aren't as good as they could have been, and some of the early annoyances remain, this is absolutely a must-buy. It's not the worst Zelda game, not a bad Zelda game, but a great Zelda game.






Action Adventure



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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