REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Friday, June 1st, 2012

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Ever since I was little boy, it has been a dream of mine to wield a sword.  I was extremely excited when Nintendo unveiled the Wii console (then called the Revolution) with a Zelda game, promising motion controls for Link’s sword.  It seemed as though my dream would finally come to virtual fruition.  Needless to say, I was very disappointed when Twilight Princess’s motion controls turned out to be little more than a fancy button.

Nintendo got my hopes up again when they teased a second Zelda game for the Wii.  Then they sent them soaring at the start of E3 2010 when they unveiled The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and confirmed that the game would utilize the Wii Motion Plus for one-to-one swordplay.  After having some time with the game, I am now ready to pass my judgment upon it.  Does Skyward Sword prove once and for all that motion controls can not only work for a core game, but can make it better?

Skyward Sword

Can motion controls work for Link’s newest adventure?

Skyward Sword starts out on Skyloft, a floating city in the sky, where Link and Zelda are students in an academy for knights in training.  It is graduation day, but something goes terribly wrong during the ceremony.  Zelda is sucked into a tornado and thrown to the world beneath the clouds.  Link sets out after her, but not without the aid of a sword and the robotic spirit dwelling within the blade.

Following in the footsteps of Twlight Princess, Skyward Sword places a greater emphasis on its storytelling.  Zelda, for instance, has more characterization and there is an explicit romantic relationship between her and Link.  It is also more cinematic than previous Zelda games, with numerous cutscenes to sit through.  These cutscenes never get boring thanks to the memorable characters and humorous dialogue.  The inhabitants of this Zelda game are as varied as they are memorable.  Some of them are lighthearted and funny, others obnoxious and irritating, others somber, and one is particularly creepy.  Whatever sort of character they are, each one is distinct and breathes life into the game’s world.

Thankfully, players are able to get to know most of these characters through the numerous side quests in the game.  Although these side quests never quite match the complexity of those found in Majora’s Mask, they are no less engaging.  As an added bonus, some side quests even have two separate endings depending on the player’s choices, encouraging additional playthroughs.

It is a testament to the unbridled artistry of Skyward Sword that it was nominated for Best Graphics in more than a few video game award ceremonies, even when stacked up against the numerous HD giants of 2011.  Looking at the game is like seeing an impressionist oil painting come to life.  The colors are bright and have a certain richness about them.  The environments are made up of splotches of color that marry in perfect harmony when viewed from a distance.  The low-resolution textures and lack of finer details accommodate the Wii’s underpowered  technology perfectly.  Whereas the quasi-realistic presentation of Twilight Princess was prone to stuttering, Skyward Sword’s frame rate rarely suffers any such issues.

Who can argue with results like this?

For the first time in the Zelda series, Skyward Sword features a primarily orchestrated soundtrack.  It may have taken Nintendo awhile, but the orchestrated music in a Zelda game was well worth the wait.  Every orchestrated piece is epic, sweeping, and grandiose.  Even the non-instrumental music is memorable, particularly some of the character leitmotifs.  There are also very nice atmospheric pieces.  For instance, there is the background music for the Silent Realm, which is peaceful and serene, yet laced with underlying dread.

Of course, all the aesthetics would amount to nothing if Skyward Sword did not deliver on the gameplay.  Rest assured that it does so and more.  The dungeons are easily the best seen in the series to date, being more compact and dense.  They are filled to the brim with brain twisting puzzles and challenging enemies, but are disappointingly few in number.  The bosses are also excellent, consistently being either challenging, epic, or both at once, even though a few of them permeate throughout the game.

The overworld is a unique aspect in the game.  As the name implies, a portion of the game takes place within the sky.  Instead of riding a horse or sailing a ship, Link is able to fly on the back of an enormous bird known as a Loftwing.  Flight is one of the most exhilarating parts of Skyward Sword.  Although flying a bird through the sky may be exciting, the sky is not as interesting as Wind Waker‘s Great Sea.  There are many landmasses floating in the sky aside from Skyloft, but these are often home to nothing more than a couple treasure chests.  As an added irritation, the sky, and the land below by extension, are unable to be explored during the night.  Seeing how the same environments change by the light of the moon has been one of the joys of the Zelda series since Ocarina of Time and it is a shame to see it limited to only Skyloft in the latest game.

The world below the sky is divided into three parts: a forest area, a mountain area, and a desert area.  Each of these provinces forms a pseudo-dungeon.  They have puzzles, hordes of enemies, and quests for Link to fulfill before he can progress.  Overall, the setup works rather well, but it would have been nice to have some sort of way to travel between the provinces without going up into the sky every time.

By far, the important thing about Skyward Sword has to be its control scheme.  It is the first Zelda game to use one-to-one motion controls.  As such, the question remains as to whether or not it uses motion controls well enough to match the stellar control schemes of previous games.  The answer is yes, to an extent.  Using Link’s sword in synch with the Wii Remote is an exciting feeling that makes besting every enemy a triumph.  Motion controls are even used for Link’s gear and the controls fit every item well.

Though the motion controls work well, they can be rather finicky at times.  This is especially true of actions involving the Nunchuk attachment, like the spin attack or using a shield attack.  Other issues include Link slashing instead of thrusting, not holding his sword up in the air to charge it up for a Skyward Strike, and having to recalibrate the remote often.   In short, the motion controls are excellent and work well in this particular game.  However, they are far too finicky to be any suitable replacement for a traditional controller.

How does Skyward Sword compare to its predecessors?


The developers at Nintendo made Skyward Sword with the intention of making a game that would surmount the endearing classic, Ocarina of Time.  That is a difficult task as Ocarina of Time is seen as one of the most beloved games in not only the Zelda franchise but in the gaming world in general.  Unfortunately, Nintendo failed at their goal of ousting Ocarina of Time, even if only because of  Skyward Sword’s finicky control scheme and limited exploration.  But whether it surpasses Ocarina of Time or not, Skyward Sword definitely proves to the industry, the critics, and the players that motion controls can at least work for a core game.  Skyward Sword is the culmination of 25 years of excellence and sets a new standard for a new age in video gaming. It is a great experience that everybody should have, and will hold up with the other classics in the series for years  to come.

Review Score

oprainfall’s Review Scale:

  • 5 Stars- An Incredible Game. Games don’t get much better than this. We recommend you buy it if you can.
  • 4 Stars- A Great Game. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. If you like the genre, you should like this game.
  • 3 Stars- A Good Game. This game may have some flaws, but is enjoyable. Give it a try.
  • 2 Stars- A Poor Game. There is something off about this game. Fans of the series or genre might like it.
  • 1 Star-  A Bad Game. There are obvious flaws that keep the game from being enjoyable.

About James Best

James Best is a recent addition to the oprainfall staff, joining just before E3 2012. Primarily a video game critic, he also reports on news occasionally. He hopes to become a professional critic sometime in the future. While he does enjoy a good RPG, he can appreciate a wide variety of genres from platformers to shooters.