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Gaming Review

'Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword' review (Wii)

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Released on Friday, Nov 18 2011

Gaming Review: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

© Nintendo


Also available on: N/A
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Action-Adventure

Providing rogue agents from a rival studio don't sabotage the development of the Wii U, this will be the Wii's final Christmas as Nintendo's flagship console. It's also the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise, so the pressure is on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to mark both occasions accordingly.

Whatever your feelings towards Zelda, Link and co, we as gamers owe them a great deal. Few series have played such a prominent role in shaping the industry, and although it's emerged on a console that's beginning to look underpowered, Zelda: Skyward Sword is no less revolutionary than its predecessors.

We've long given up trying to work out exactly where each series entry falls on the Zelda timeline, but Nintendo makes it clear that Zelda: Skyward Sword takes place in somewhere in the distant past. We start off with an opening cinematic that explains how a war between shadowy forces and a benevolent goddess shaped the game's world. It also introduces us to teenage incarnations of Zelda and Link, who reside on a group of floating islands called Skyloft, hovering high above what is probably Hyrule.

The residents of Skyloft each own a giant bird as means of transportation. Link's first port of call is to ride his to victory in a race that serves as a rites of passage for adolescents on the airborne land mass, but shortly after this Zelda is whisked away by the dark forces that reared their head in the intro. As usual, it's up to our pointy-eared protagonist to save her, so he embarks on another epic adventure.

Epic is one way of describing Zelda: Skyward Sword. A great deal has changed since the original Zelda was released for the NES two and a half decades ago, and there's a sense that everything the folks at Nintendo have learned about game development in that time has come together here. The in-game world is incredibly vast on the surface, and more so beneath it. The caves and concealed areas are a joy to explore, and there are enough side quests to keep you busy long after the campaign is over.

With dozens of weapons to wield, dungeons to explore and minigames to take part in, this is every inch a Zelda game, but like its predecessors, it isn't afraid to innovate. Zelda: Skyward Sword's groundbreaking feature is the integration of full motion controls. Zelda: Twilight Princess dipped its toes in this pond, but the latest entry in the series takes it to the next level.

Through use of the Wii MotionPlus expansion, which is mandatory, Link mirrors the player's movements to add precision to the swordplay. There are so many games in the Wii library where motion support has been shoehorned in simply because developers feel they have to take advantage of it, but that is certainly not the case here. The level of finesse makes this perhaps the most immersive Zelda yet. This is best illustrated during the early boss battles, where sleight of hand and deft movements are the key to victory.

It just wouldn't be Zelda if you didn't add to your arsenal in each dungeon, and this one is true to tradition. Several of the other weapons benefit from the way Zelda: Skyward Sword embraces motion control. The slingshot and the new flying mechanical beetle device are particularly fun to wield, not to mention useful for hitting switches from a distance.


While the interface is ideal for the action-based gameplay, Zelda: Skyward Sword isn't all slicing and dicing. There are numerous platform elements throughout the game, despite the absence of a jump button. While the camera controls are flawless, these segments can be tricky because you don't feel completely in control of Link as he performs a leap.

It'll take some getting used to, particularly if you were born and raised on traditional 3D platformers. There's also a stamina gauge, which determines how long you can grip on to a ledge or tackle a slope before stopping for a breather, adding more strategic depth to this aspect of the game.

Puzzles are as inventive as ever, starting off tough and growing progressively harder. Some make use of the Wii's motion functionality, while others are based purely on logic. Age-old concepts like pushing blocks over switches and lighting torches aren't nearly as overused as they were in the past, making way for more creative conundrums that call upon the player to continually delve into their inventory. Weapons aren't just means of attack, they're useful tools. While this isn't the first game in the series to peddle this concept, it's used to maximum effect here.

It's the pacing and balance that make Zelda: Skyward Sword a masterclass in game development. The game will take you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, but it does so in a way that gives you time to stop and draw breath as and when it's needed. An adrenaline-pumping boss battle will be followed by a restful segment in a village, and you'll spend as much time exploring the wilderness as you will crawling the expertly-designed dungeons.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Zelda: Skyward Sword has been rendered using a semi-realistic art style that places it somewhere in between The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. It captures the cartoon-like wonder of the former, while the realism of the latter works well during darker moments. It's a good fit for the series, one that's likely to cause minimum complaints from the fanbase. While there's no shortage of charm and masterful level design on show here, the game does highlight the technological shortcomings of the Wii.

It would be unfair to criticise the developers for not turning out something that rivals high-end PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 titles from a graphical standpoint, but Zelda: Skyward Sword appears a little rough around the edges. With the Wii showing its age more than ever, Nintendo's strategy is to compensate with an immersive interface, mesmerising world and engaging story. It's an approach that pays off, proving that gameplay should be valued above all else.

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a worthy entry in one of gaming's most important franchises. It contains all of the hallmarks of Nintendo's epic saga and breaks new ground in motion control. The Wii's days as a state-of-the-art console may be behind it, but it's still managed to produce a strong contender for game of the year.


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