The Nintendo Wii has a bad reputation with passionate gamers on the internet. Look at any story online about how successful the Wii has been and you’ll see dozens of comments dismissing the console as a casual player’s little exercise box that is drowning in shovelware. This, like many other things written on the internet, is not entirely true. We have written a number of articles over the years highlighting many of the Wii’s best games without even one exercise game in sight.
The latest great game to be released on Wii is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Yes, we’ll come right out and say it now; this is a great game that deserves to be played by as many people as possible.
This is Link’s second outing on the Wii, discounting Link’s Crossbow Training, and in true Zelda fashion this game is another reinterpretation of the same basic story. This time the Legend of Zelda takes place in the sky kingdom of Skyloft, a safe haven created by a goddess many years ago following a cataclysmic event that took place on the surface.
The first thing to strike you about Skyward Sword is how beautiful it looks. Boasting a rich watercolour art style that is something between the grim realism of Twilight Princess and the cartoony style of Wind Waker, Skyward Sword is easily one of the best looking games available on the Wii. Even though the Wii is incapable of running in HD Skyward Sword still manages to look decent on large HD TVs, which is a tremendous accomplishment.
A lot needs to be said about the game’s narrative. Nintendo go to great lengths to set up the entire world and establish relationships before everything goes to hell. The first few hours of the game are spent enlightening you as to why the relationship between Link and Zelda is so special, as well as teaching you the basic gameplay mechanics. The rest of the game features a fairly convoluted plot (revolving around time travel and dead enemies that get resurrected) but overall the relationship between Link and Zelda, and the way the game manages to stay fresh despite repeating itself makes this game stand out.
Skyward Sword makes use of the Wii Motion Plus peripheral, which brings with it a higher fidelity of motion tracking. You cannot play this game without either a motion plus controller, or a regular Wiimote with the motion plus attachment plugged in. What this allows you to do is map your movements directly to Link. So, for instance, when you raise your Wiimote above your head link holds his sword in the air, and so on.
This allows for some simple puzzles that are really quite inspired, ranging from performing precise slashes with your sword to cut ropes, to rapidly twisting your sword in order to make an enemy dizzy.
Nintendo have gone to great lengths to make this as casual-friendly as possible. Controls are permanently displayed on screen, unless you choose to disable them, and pressing the 2 button brings up a list of actions you can perform and how to perform them. Should you ever find yourself lost you can press the C button to bring up the game’s version of an objective radar. Simply point your remote at various places on screen, and the closer you are to the right direction to go the more your remote will beep. The solution to any given problem is always right in front of you, even if you can’t see it straight away.
It also incorporates control elements from the Wii Sports games – you can bowl bombs, and the sword fighting is mapped almost 100% in real time to your controller movements. One slight issue with the Sword fighting is that, on occasion, the controller would find it hard to differentiate between an upward strike and downward strike. This can be quite frustrating in combat, when trying to strike at a specific exposed area on an enemy’s body.
If you are a long time player of the series then you will likely already know exactly what to expect in terms of gameplay structure. You travel to a location, solve basic puzzles, and eventually gain access to a dungeon. Inside of the dungeon there will be a collectable item of some sort that will allow you to solve puzzles and venture further into the dungeon, before you face off against a boss. Upon defeating the boss you collect another item, which propels you on to the next environment, where the whole process is repeated over again.
Normally this level of repetition would be problematic, however Nintendo have done an excellent job in making each item you collect a feel different from the last. These items range from your basic slingshot and bow and arrow, to a remote controlled beetle that you can fire off in search of items.
Aside from the motion controls, the biggest addition to the game is the focus on flying. All of the inhabitants of Skyloft have their own gigantic birds upon which they fly. Controlling your bird is fairly simple – the Wiimote acts as if it were the leash around the bird’s neck: pull back to make him go up, and push forward to make him go down. Your bird can perform a dash attack to help maintain your momentum in sticky situations, as well at damage foes.
There is also a fairly basic upgrade system in which you take objects that are dropped by enemies and use them at the Skyloft blacksmith to upgrade your items. This can make your shield stronger or make your weapons deal more damage.
For the first half of the game you must collect shards of stones that, once returned to Skyloft, open small doorways in the dense cloud cover below. This allows you to travel down to the surface. Navigating the sky feels very reminiscent of the sea navigation in The Wind Waker; there are numerous islands to be found floating in the sky, each with their own side missions or hidden collectables to find.
There is a wealth of content to keep you occupied in this game, even if you do not want to complete every single side mission and collect every item… although, why wouldn’t you want to keep this epic adventure going for as long as possible?
Graphics: 5/5 – Boasting a brilliant watercolour art style, Skyward Sword is one of the best-looking games on Wii.
Sound: 4/5 – While there is no voice acting to speak of, the game’s soundtrack is phenomenal.
Gameplay: 5/5 – We may’ve seen the same basic structure before, but if it works don’t fix it. The implementation of motion controls, which also happen to be fantastic by the way, really makes this game stand out.
Longevity: 4.5/5 – There are over half a dozen dungeons to fight your way through, each with their own gigantic memorable boss battle, as well as dozens of side missions. Longevity can be increased dramatically if you wish to collect all heart pieces, with every four pieces extending your health.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
If Skyward Sword had been released a few years ago then there would never have been any doubts about the capabilities of “proper” motion controlled adventure games. This is easily one of the best games of the year. Fans of old school adventure games should not miss this.