Long reviews are difficult to write.
Not so much because they take a lot of time and planning to produce, but also because nobody wants to read what can amount to a short novel, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.
That’s why I’m always afraid to start writing a review for any game, because I keep asking myself if anyone is even going to get past the intro. Since this is my second review for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I think it will be best to open up with a concise summary of exactly what I find wrong with this game, hopefully in a way that both fans and, should the planets line up, Nintendo can understand.
And just to get it out of the way, I’m not giving Skyward Sword a 5 out of 10 because it’s a bad, broken game, but because it’s a very mediocre one, a title that feels like an imitation of a real Zelda game, one that time won’t treat nicely.
What Exactly is Wrong with Skyward Sword?
It’s hard to put into one sentence exactly what Skyward Sword did wrong, but this is one of those kinds of games where every little thing that could go wrong did go wrong, bringing what could have been a great experience down to a very tedious one.
To put it simply, Skyward Sword is a game that can only be appreciated by the most hardcore Zelda fans.
The story? The relationship depicted between the two leads, in this case being Link and Zelda, may be new, but not in the broad scope of things; it’s only new for a Zelda game. There is a problem with this relationship and the story itself, not to mention the villain, but that’s for later in the review.
The gameplay? Nintendo may have changed the formula, but that doesn’t change the core gameplay mechanics. All it really does is ensure that you’re fighting enemies, solving puzzles, and navigating platforms way more than usual. Again, I’ll explain why this is a problem later in the review.
In short, if you never liked the Zelda franchise, Skyward Sword will not change your opinion. Even if you were indifferent to the series, there simply is not enough here to explain exactly what makes this series great. If you like the series, but aren’t that heavily invested in it, like I am, there’s a good chance this title will turn you away from the franchise.
It’s a game for Zelda fans and Zelda fans only. If this is really indicative of where the franchise will go from here, it will not last long. Most of what makes this game great in the eyes of its fans comes from small references that will easily go over the heads of everyone else, and the gameplay makes use of a number of design flaws normally called out in other games.
If Nintendo really wants to pull in new fans and help the franchise grow, they need to understand how Skyward Sword’s design philosophy will achieve the exact opposite effect.
What makes Skyward Sword’s plot different from past Zelda titles is that Link and Zelda are no longer acquaintances but now childhood friends and possible love interests.
Remember that mention earlier that there was a problem with this relationship? The little tease fairly early in the game that Link and Zelda are more than friends is the most the game offers in terms of describing their relationship. Afterwards, it’s never developed nor explored.
Nonetheless, this would have been an interesting setup for a plot involving one party having to rescue the other. It would have been, if not for the fact that it feels like the game is actively trying to downplay its own plot at every turn.
The story kicks off with Zelda falling off of her bird and landing somewhere beneath the clouds. This is when Link leaves his home for the first time, but not before Zelda’s own father tells you that she’s probably okay and that there’s no need to worry. My guess is that Nintendo didn’t want Zelda to come off as a complete damsel in distress, but ignoring how calm and cool the father is when he learns that his daughter has fallen somewhere potentially dangerous that nobody has seen before, this has the adverse effect of losing some of the urgency from the plot.
This would have been merely a minor blemish on the story if it didn’t turn out that Zelda’s father was right. When you land on the world below, everything has the same feel as Link’s home of Skyloft: everything is so bright, colorful, warm, and inviting with upbeat music and comic relief characters. This doesn’t exactly give me the impression that Zelda would be in any need of rescuing.
And it turns out that she’s not. As you play through the game, you find out that Zelda is moving just fine on her own. No matter how quickly you progress through the game, she’s always moving just out of your reach. In hindsight, this creates an unintentionally hilarious image of Link not so much trying to save Zelda as much as he is trying to chase her down.
After the second dungeon, she even gets her own guardian. This makes Link’s role in the story incredibly vague for a good two to three hours, because it’s not clear anymore exactly what he’s supposed to do. The game flat out tells you that she doesn’t need to be rescued, and Link even gets belittled for taking too long to reach her. If I weren’t a fan of the franchise, I’d have probably turned off the game at that point, considering this is about eight hours into the game.
The story picks up after the third dungeon, but only slightly so; it becomes increasingly evident that the ‘save Zelda’ plot by itself isn’t enough to fill a full adventure game, so it does everything it can to artificially lengthen itself, which I’ll explain later in the review.
But the overall problem with the story is that there’s no sense of urgency or atmosphere. I’m wondering if this was a conscious decision, because the more I think about it, if the story made it clear that Zelda needed to be rescued as soon as possible, taking on sidequests and playing minigames would feel really out of place.
That said, the plot should never have been about saving Zelda, or at least not having the whole plot center around that. Wind Waker seemed to handle this idea just fine with Link having to save his sister, and it’s a shame that it’s not handled well here.
But this is only made worse by what I feel is one of the worst villains I have encountered in any story as of late.
Any writer will tell you that what makes a great villain isn’t who he or she is, but what he or she does, or rather, what he or she accomplishes.
Ganondorf from Ocarina of Time and the Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask are two great, simple examples of how to write villains properly. Ganondorf has little screen time, but you know he’s a threatening bad guy just by playing the game: he kills the Great Deku Tree, causes the Gorons to almost starve to death, curses the Zora’s guardian god, and, after seven years, actually conquers Hyrule. His castle stands where Hyrule Castle used to stand, the marketplace is burnt to the ground, Link’s home is filled with monsters, the Gorons are about to be fed to a dragon, and the Zora are trapped underneath a thick sheet of ice.
All of this adds weight to what would otherwise be a very simple save the world plot, because the player actually sees that the world is in danger. The Skull Kid has a somewhat different, but still quite effective, approach: from the outset, he turns Link into a helpless Deku Scrub and then proceeds to try bringing the moon crashing down onto the planet. The player feels compelled to stop these villains because they’re clear threats.
But Ghirahim? He’s no Ganondorf. He’s no Skull Kid, either. He’s just a pansy.
I don’t want to be that blunt, but I have to be. That’s the only reason people seem to like him and remember him.
When Ghirahim first appears, he tries to toy with Link, allowing him to beat him and cause him to retreat. This happens twice. Also, despite his ability to teleport all across the world, he somehow never manages to catch up to Zelda before Link does. At the end of the game, when he finally takes Link seriously, it’s too late; he allowed Link to become strong enough to actually defeat him, ultimately thwarting what he was hoping to accomplish.
The writers must have known that Ghirahim was a completely incompetent villain, so they tried to make him overly melodramatic and effeminate as compensation. Add in his clown-like appearance and he’s basically Kefka from Final Fantasy 6, what with all of the one liners and monologues, but without any of the intimidation needed to make him a villain that needed to be stopped.
Just to drive home exactly how poor of a villain Ghirahim is, the reason he comes close to winning in the end is because everyone quite literally forgets that he’s still around, allowing him to catch them off guard. He has such a small presence throughout the game that nobody, not one person in Skyloft or the world below, seems to know or care that he even exists.
You’re not even told that he needs to be stopped. He’s just... there.
Some might say that this was intentional, to make a villain who grows more angry as his failures stack up, but there are two problems with this. First off, again, this completely ruins any chance at adding urgency or atmosphere to the story. Secondly, the game actually does try to treat Ghirahim as a threatening bad guy, and he simply isn’t. Again, he’s the first boss you defeat in the game.
In the end, Skyward Sword’s story just doesn’t work. It wants to create a character driven plot where the player wants to rescue Zelda, but it doesn’t bother to create any reason why she needs to be rescued. There’s just no tension to be had. On top of that, the story is incredibly slow paced; once you leave Skyloft, everything in between each set of dungeons is filler, nothing that contributes to the plot. It’s a very empty game that feels all the more empty thanks to the padding I’ll be discussing later.
A lack of progression elements
As much as I’d like to say that the gameplay makes up for the story problems, I can’t. It’s strange to say that I can’t, because, all things considered, Skyward Sword retains all of the elements one would expect from the franchise. The only major difference is that the structure has been changed.
And that’s exactly where the problem is stemming from. Let it be known here: great gameplay elements don’t mean anything if they’re not structured well.
Skyward Sword’s new structure means that the player won’t be going to towns and villages before entering dungeons, but areas filled with enemies, puzzles, and platforms. These areas act like pseudo-dungeons, because the only real difference between the two is the lack of keys and separate rooms.
In other words, Skyward Sword’s new formula ensures that the player will be doing the same things over and over for almost hours on end.
You’re constantly fighting enemies. You’re constantly solving puzzles. You’re constantly navigating platforms. Since the areas you visit are so large and don’t have a clear destination, it’s very hard to tell exactly how far you have progressed. All you know is that you moved forward to some degree.
This is made worse by the fact that, just like I mentioned before, these areas function exactly like dungeons. In other words, your reward for making your way through these areas and entering the dungeon at hand is to continue doing what you have already been doing. I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if it weren’t for the fact that these new areas can take anywhere from half to a full hour to complete.
This creates what’s called ‘drag.’ The game becomes incredibly tiresome, not because of the excessive use of motion controls, ironically, which I’ll dive into later, but because you find yourself doing repetitive tasks for lengthy periods of time with no clear end in sight. It’s impossible to tell if you’re actually making any headway, which is not how a game is supposed to feel.
With that said, the best way to avoid drag is to take your time and see what else the game has to offer: go to islands that are unlocked as you play, take on sidequests in Skyloft, and the like. But that’s exactly the problem; a player should never have to stop playing what should be considered the core experience to avoid boredom.
Gameplay barely moves the plot; a lack of subplots
This sort of ties into what I was saying about progression elements, but it needs a section of its own.
To make my point clearer, I need to use Ocarina of Time as an example again. Each section of the game had a clear purpose: find the three stones, get the Master Sword. Find the five sages, fight Ganondorf. This is further aided by a number of subplots to help add context to each section of the game; basically, every time Link obtains a stone or awakens a sage, he’s helping someone or a group of people in the process, restoring Hyrule back to peace. Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess did the exact same thing.
To put it another way, all of this makes each part of the game feel meaningful. For as long as the game was, having you visit a number of areas and playing through all sorts of dungeons, it never got tedious.
Skyward Sword, however, suffers from this exact problem. Like I said earlier in my review, the ‘save Zelda’ plot just isn’t enough to fill a full Zelda game, and most of the events that happen feel utterly insignificant. The first part of the game serves to unlock the three key areas. The second part is an effort to speak with Zelda. The last is to wake her from a form of deep sleep.
Again, this wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the fact that this is all the story has to offer. There aren’t any subplots to help keep the player distracted as they put in the hours required to complete the game. There are some cutscenes here and there, but the main plot itself doesn’t progress until after you complete each set of three dungeons. It takes somewhere between six to eight hours to complete each portion of the game, and the cutscenes you’re rewarded with will be lucky to last more than five minutes.
In other words, whereas completing previous Zelda games’ dungeons felt satisfying and significant, Skyward Sword’s gameplay just feels more like busywork. Completing dungeons doesn’t amount to anything other than being able to move on to the next one to continue doing what you have already been doing. There’s barely any incentive to keep playing.
Then you have the game’s deliberate use of padding. Like I said before, the game is doing everything it can to make itself as long as possible, and often resorts to having you retread areas you just visited to complete a fetch quest.
You can’t enter the first dungeon until you find three missing forest folk. You can’t enter the second dungeon because you need to find five missing key parts. There’s even one dungeon that you can’t enter until you replay a dungeon that you already completed. I really, really wish I was kidding about that last example.
One could say that the Zelda series was always guilty of this to some extent. It’s true; even Ocarina of Time was. To enter the Great Deku Tree, you need to buy a sword and shield. To enter Dodongo’s Cavern, you need to learn Saria’s Song. To enter Jabu Jabu’s Belly, you need to find Ruto’s letter, which can only be done after playing a game that nets you the Zora Scale.
So what’s the difference between these and Skyward Sword’s padding sequences? About 45 minutes of playtime.
It doesn’t take long to learn what you need to do in order to advance in Ocarina of Time. All it takes is a quick conversation with a certain character to get an idea on what to do. On top of that, you’re either in towns or villages, which are free of enemies, puzzles, and hazards, or areas you’ve never been to before, such as the Lost Woods, performing tasks and challenges you’ve never done before.
But in Skyward Sword, you will spend somewhere between half and a full hour fighting enemies, solving puzzles, and navigating platforms. Once you reach a specific point, you’re told that you can’t go on, and are more often than not forced to go back to complete a very arbitrary task.
It’s not just fetch quests, either. Some sections of the game force you through a series of challenges that serve no purpose whatsoever, and even the game itself admits it. There’s one part where you’re traveling by boat, looking for clues to the location of a much bigger boat. Your boat mate takes you to a shipyard, telling you there’s probably a clue here. You go through a series of mine cart sequences, fight a dungeon boss you already beat, and return to your boat mate empty-handed. He says, “Oh, you didn’t find anything? Let’s move on, then.”
There’s literally no reason for this sequence to be here. Again, not only does the game admit it, but the only reason you have to complete it, as opposed to other challenges in the game, is that your boat mate pretty much forces you to go there. There’s no gameplay nor story reason why this instance exists. The boss that you already beat being thrown in doesn’t help, either.
Then you have some obnoxious sequences like the escort mission at Eldin Volcano. You work your way through the volcano and reach the entrance to a new dungeon. However, you need a large supply of water to get in. You return to the sky, fly all the way back to Faron Woods, meet up with an NPC and ask for her water basin, have another NPC come pick it up, fly all the way back to the volcano, and then start the escort mission because the NPC carrying the basin decided to race you to the surface without knowing where to land.
The problem with these instances of padding isn’t just how tacked on they feel, but also that the game simply didn’t need them. The areas you visit are so big that they already take long enough to complete, and forcing the player to backtrack when they think that they’re done just isn’t fun; in fact, it’s pretty much a surefire way to kill one’s interest in the game. Think of it like being told to work overtime just when you think that your shift is about to come to an end.
I probably wouldn’t have minded if this were a rare occurrence. However, the game just. Keeps. Doing it. Literally; there’s not one instance in the game where a deceptively simple objective such as ‘go to location A’ isn’t met with having you going somewhere else first. It kills the pacing of the game.
A lack of difficulty; combat reduced to puzzle solving
What bothers me the most about the aforementioned padding sequences is that they’re not designed to be difficult. Whenever you’re put on a fetch quest, you know exactly where to go.
This is due to a new mechanic called ‘dowsing,’ where you point your sword and it blips like a sonar, letting you know where items or people of interest are located.
The problem this creates is that it completely removes the exploration factor of the game. You lose that sensation of figuring out where to go and what to do. I would like to say that it’s an optional mechanic, but you pretty much need to use it; the areas you visit are too big in scale to explore easily, so you’ll more than likely waste more time than is necessary if you try to find items without any sort of guidance.
Unfortunately, the difficulty is skewed against the combat as well. Enemies don’t feel so much like enemies as much as they do like reoccurring puzzles.
Speaking of reoccurring, I really need to put this out there: Skyward Sword is plagued with bokoblins and deku babas. Literally every other enemy in this game is one of the two.
Because of this, combat boils down to usually one of two scenarios: you’ll either have an enemy with an obvious weak point that can only get hurt by a specific directional swing, or combative enemies that can only be struck in certain directions due to how they’re guarding themselves.
In regards to the former, not only is this really easy to figure out at first, but the game recycles these kinds of enemies, such as the aforementioned deku babas, so much that it feels purely mechanical. It really requires no thought; if an enemy has a horizontal opening, you swing horizontal. Vertical, vertical.
But the real waste of an opportunity is with the combative enemies, such as the aforementioned bokoblins. When you’re spotted, they make a beeline towards you, but then stop and start circle strafing you. They then hold their weapons in obviously telling fashions, begging you to figure out which ways you can attack them where they won’t block.
Again, these enemies are recycled so often that not only does it cease to be difficult, but it just feels so fake. They’re purposely exposing themselves every time they put themselves within striking distance of you, and then make no effort to actually attack you.
As much as I didn’t like Red Steel 2, at least the combat actually felt like combat. I didn’t like how you were basically decimating your enemies as you progressed through the game (which is pretty much what happens in Skyward Sword since you very rarely encounter new enemy types), but it actually felt as if the enemies were trying to kill you, and there were plenty of reoccurring enemies that required careful movements and blocking techniques.
Skyward Sword doesn’t require any of this, save for the rare encounters with the lizalfos and the final boss, two kinds of instances that I wished occurred more often throughout the game. On top of that, the game ditches almost all of the combat mechanics from Twilight Princess which would have worked incredibly well if doubled with the Wii Motion Plus. It’s a real missed opportunity, to have a game where combat was supposed to be integral to the experience, but there is very little depth to it.
And since I should probably put this into the review somewhere, one of the final challenges the game throws at you is a horde of bokoblins. To put it another way, the game’s final challenge is to throw a large amount of enemies that you have already been slaughtering by the hundreds throughout the entire game. I don’t know if this was a poor idea by the developers or just another showcasing of Ghirahim’s incompetence.
Difficult dungeons, but there’s a flaw. A big one.
Not everything about Skyward Sword feels easy. I did find myself having to stop and assess how to get through each dungeon as I played through them. There were a number of reasons why, but none of them felt cheap.
This was thanks to a simpler dungeon layout. The dungeons are smaller compared to those of, say, Twilight Princess. One would think that smaller equals worse, but I see this as a plus, because it means less running around and more thinking about how to progress.
But this is a double-edged sword, of sorts. If this were any other game, I’d think of the dungeon designs as a step forward. Again, in a way, they still are. But they’re hampered by one critical flaw.
Due to the padded structure of the overall game, the dungeons are actually the shortest parts of Skyward Sword. It actually takes longer to reach dungeons than it does to complete them.
Words can’t describe just how backwards this design philosophy is. Anybody would agree that the dungeons were meant to represent the most exciting parts of each Zelda game, where enemies, puzzles, and platforms come together to form a series of challenges before an epic boss fight at the end. This made the journey feel worthwhile.
Now, they feel more like an afterthought. The fact that one dungeon boss is reduced to a miniboss later in the game, two boss fights are exactly the same with minor changes, and a dungeon is reduced to being used for a fetch quest doesn’t help dispel that notion.
A very ‘samey’ feeling Zelda title
In entertainment, there’s a term called ‘pacing.’ It’s not just the rate at which the story moves, but also how ‘intense’ it feels from time to time.
It’s difficult to explain, so let me use Zelda as a point of reference. In Ocarina of Time, the towns felt calm and peaceful. This obviously contrasted the feel of dungeons, which were dark and dangerous.
This, in a nutshell, is pacing, because there’s an obvious, continuous change in ‘intensity’ as you played through the game. Going from a town to a dungeon felt different, and beating that dungeon to return to town was a welcoming change of pace.
This constant change of pace is considered good, because it holds your interest. If, for example, an action movie constantly switched between action and moments of calm, it would give the audience a chance to anticipate the next piece of action instead of feeling overwhelmed by too much action.
That’s a good word to explain what I’m getting at in Skyward Sword: it’s overwhelming. This is a very, very long game, and it doesn’t help that most of it just feels the same. Again, the new structure means visiting areas that feel like dungeons, and the dungeons lead to more areas that feel like dungeons, and this goes on for hours. On top of all that, there’s only one town and three key areas that you’re forced to visit multiple times over, making the game feel really small and really repetitive.
Then you have the aforementioned ‘intensity,’ which is sorely lacking in this game. Almost every area and instance of this game carries the same bright, cheery, danger-free feeling that Link’s home of Skyloft had. It’s almost impossible to tell at times when the game is trying to up the ante.
Even the ending of the game, in hindsight, tries its best to keep the intensity low. At first, it seems like something earth-shattering is about to take place, but then you fight the final boss in a bleak, empty void on a completely different plane of existence.
The only real way to avoid this samey feeling, at least as far as gameplay is concerned, is to take breaks away from the main quest. There are a lot of sidequests that involve different objectives than what you’d expect from the main story. But I don’t consider that a fix. If the main story can’t hold my interest, something has gone terribly wrong.
And that’s why it bothers me that many praise this new formula as revolutionary, a step in the right direction, because it just means that they’ll, more than likely, repeat the same mistake. Nintendo is essentially being praised for replacing the standard Zelda formula with one that I guarantee fans will grow tired of more quickly than the last.
Directionless visuals; a stylized uncanny valley
Skyward Sword, at a glance, looks to be a very good looking game. Not only does it use a wide variety of colors, but there’s even some technical prowess. The water shimmers and refracts like real water, and fire illuminates everything around it like real fire does.
But that’s before you set your eyes on the characters.
I really don’t know what went wrong here. It’s like every artist for the game was locked in a different room and given different ideas of what the final product was supposed to look like. Every character looks so different from one another that it’s distracting. Some characters look like they belong in Ocarina of Time while others look like rejects from Wind Waker. Link’s partner Fi looks like she dropped out of an entirely different genre.
However, the last thing I was expecting was just how awkward these characters look. If someone wanted an example of a stylized game falling into the uncanny valley, this would be it.
For those wondering, what is the uncanny valley? It’s a theory by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. To put it simply, it states that if something that’s human-like looks clearly fake, where its non-human characteristics stand out, we feel uncomfortable, possibly even revolted.
That’s why I find it so strange that it feels like Skyward Sword falls into the uncanny valley. It’s so cartoony that, by default, it shouldn’t, but I can’t even begin to describe just how wrong these characters look. Their eyes are soulless. Their mouths open and shut like automatons, clearly not mouthing anything close to human speech. Facial expressions in general are stilted and off.
Link is probably the worst offender of all of this. From his painted on nostrils to his unnaturally full and colored lips, every cutscene he’s in makes me either want to laugh or wince when the camera zooms in on his face.
Unfortunately, this problem even extends to the animations. Although Link more closely resembles his Twilight Princess counterpart, he moves like a cartoon caricature. He runs, attacks, climbs, and even reacts to damage in such over-the-top ways that none of it meshes. I was really taken aback when Link fell into lava, only to shoot up like a Looney Tunes character as he tries to pat the fire out on his butt.
As for the ‘voice acting,’ the monosyllabic grunts that the series has become known for seriously needs to tone itself down a bit. I can handle a laugh or two or the occasional sound to accentuate a character’s expression, but in Skyward Sword, it’s just overkill. Some characters go entire text scrawls while making noises that no real human should be making. When Ghirahim started making these long, creepy moaning noises as he monologued, the images that popped in my head of what the voice actor was probably looking like in the recording booth just caused me to laugh hysterically.
Recycled content, lazy design
Nintendo claims that they worked on Skyward Sword for about five years. To be perfectly blunt, I’m having a really hard time believing that.
The first obvious reason is Eiji Aonuma himself stating in an interview in 2009 that he was planning Link’s Crossbow Training 2 before Nintendo told him to stop and make a real Zelda game.
With that, it’s much more likely that Skyward Sword was in development for about two years, and even if that were the case, it amazes me that the title still somehow manages to be smaller than almost every other console Zelda title released.
You fight two bosses three times. You fight another twice. Every instance of the game puts you on a mandatory fetch quest where you need to retread areas you’ve already completed. This also includes a dungeon you’ve already beaten.
There are only three key areas in the game and one town. Though you discover extensions to these areas as you play, they are just that: extensions. When you go back to Faron Woods, you find the Water Dragon’s home, which you don’t spend more than five minutes in for the whole game.
There is a disturbing lack of enemy variety throughout the game. Again, you practically trip over bokoblins and deku babas everywhere you go with not enough of every other kind of enemy to make up for them.
It’s also clear that the developers really loved their timeshift stone gameplay mechanic, because it reappears so often throughout the game that it loses its novelty.
There are even some mechanics tossed in that are used for only one instance in the game and then never appear again. There’s one sequence where you need to draw a symbol on a stone slab to progress through the game, and this happens exactly once.
I just find it incredibly hard to believe that a company like Nintendo, who have been making as much money as they have, in spite of working completely unrestricted due to the use of DVDs as a storage medium and all of the extra space due to no voice overs, could churn out a game so small that it feels the need to reuse assets as much as it does.
Not only that, but how did nobody on the development team realize over the course of five years that, whenever the game was booted up, a variation of the blue rupee glitch from Twilight Princess kept popping up where you’d be told what every item you picked up was? The game was even delayed, and they still couldn’t fix this.
Plus, the game is filled with design choices that really make you wonder whether or not the developers were rushing to complete the game, just tacking things together as they went. In one of the dungeons halfway through the game, your first challenge is opening a barred off door. You open it by pulling the lever right next to it.
Motion control overkill
This is probably the part of the game that made me wonder if the hype for Skyward Sword start skewing opinions in its favor.
Normally, games and developers get called out when they shoehorn motion controls into their games to the point that some motions don’t even make sense. That said, I’m baffled as to why nobody seems to have an issue with Skyward Sword’s control choices.
Literally everything in this game uses motion controls to some extent. Some things like the swordplay make sense, but flying your bird? Swimming? Skydiving? Controlling airborne items? Tightrope walking? All of these require you to point or tilt the Wii Remote properly, despite the fact that the analog stick on the Nunchuck remains entirely unused.
What I want to understand is why. These motion controls don’t add anything to the experience, and actually detract from it in some ways. They’re unnatural and sometimes uncomfortable. Since the game uses the Wii Motion Plus instead of the sensor bar, when motion controls kick in, you’ll find yourself having to recalibrate if you weren’t holding the Wii Remote properly.
It just becomes very obvious that Nintendo implemented these motion controls not because they benefitted the experience, but because they wanted to showcase the Wii Motion Plus.
Then there’s the abundance of ‘motion control quicktime events.’ There are several instances in the game where you have to move the controller to initiate a cutscene or something to that effect. Considering that there’s no time limit or any real way to ‘fail,’ these instances come off as incredibly gimmicky.
So what is Skyward Sword’s biggest problem?
At the beginning of my review, I mentioned that I couldn’t explain exactly what’s wrong with Skyward Sword that makes it such a weak experience with one sentence. But if I had to try to give a broad reason, I’d have to say that the main quest is not only the weakest part of the experience, but also actually brings the experience as a whole down.
As I said earlier in the review, it’s important for a game to have the player feel like they’re making progress. Whether it’s through the story advancing at a consistent rate or through individual level designs like Super Mario Bros. or the recently released Kid Icarus: Uprising, progression is what keeps the player motivated.
That said, all of the sidequests, many of which you can take on in Link’s hometown of Skyloft, are infinitely more satisfying than anything the main quest has to offer. While sidequests can be completed in a single sitting, Skyward Sword’s story literally stays at a standstill for hours on end. Add in the fact that the relationship between Link and Zelda is never explored or developed and the villain is probably the least competent and least intimidating character I’ve seen in quite some time and the story just isn’t interesting enough to fill a full adventure game.
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t make up for this, either. The game’s new structure means constantly fighting enemies, constantly solving puzzles, and constantly navigating platforms to the point that it becomes played out and unsatisfying. Considering how long the game is, the blatant and contrived instances of padding and the constant recycling of content just make the experience that much worse.
In every other Zelda game, this wasn’t a problem, because you had other places to go and things to do that didn’t involve surviving enemy encounters; for example, you had towns to explore. This allowed you to take a break from the combat, puzzles, and platforming sections of the game to prevent them from becoming boring and played out. With only one town and a bulk of the game being dungeons and areas that function like dungeons, not to mention having to revisit these areas constantly, Skyward Sword quickly becomes monotonous. The overuse of the same enemies and even certain bosses doesn’t help.
In the end, I understand why some people like Skyward Sword. It seems that a number of people that did enjoy the title took their time to see what else the game had to offer outside the main quest. But like I said earlier in the review, if the only way to have fun in a game is to take a break from the main quest, something went terribly wrong. The main quest should be consistently fun and rewarding that the player shouldn’t want to take a break. I would hope that Nintendo learns from this mistake and corrects it with the next Zelda title, but considering the number of 10’s reviewers and fans have been giving it, being quick to label it the ‘best Zelda game ever made,’ it’s probably not going to happen.
Even then, the series will probably continue to be great for Zelda fans, but if you’re not already a fan, you probably never will be at this point. That's why I give it a 5 out of 10, not because it's a broken game, but because it's nothing more than fan service. This is a game that only exists for the moment, a holiday release that marks not only the end of the Wii’s life cycle, but the 25th anniversary of the franchise. Time will not treat this game nicely, and it will become one of the least remembered entries in the franchise.