As an homage to his childhood exploring forests around his hometown, Shigeru Miyamoto captured the thrill and whimsy of his adventures as the creator of “The Legend of Zelda” series.
This year celebrates the 25th anniversary of that first game from 1986, and in all of that time, “The Legend of Zelda” games have never lost the pure joy and excitement of exploring the unknown. “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” sticks to the effective storytelling model from previous installments.
In “Skyward Sword,” players are yet again put in control of Link, a green-garbed, sword-wielding hero who must rescue the fair Zelda. This time, the two characters are childhood friends who live on Skyland — a floating island. The island rests above the clouds, and all of its inhabitants fly around on giant birds. Stories of a land below the clouds are considered nothing more than fairy tales, and they would remain that way if Zelda was not taken below the clouds by some unknown evil in the beginning of the game, forcing Link to pursue her.
“Skyward Sword” is the first Zelda game to make use of the Wii’s “Motion Plus” controllers. “Motion Plus” is Nintendo’s latest advancement in motion control and offers 1:1 recognition where hand movements with the controller are precisely replicated within the game. “Skyward Sword” uses this feature in nearly every aspect, from sword-swinging to swimming. Unfortunately, it comes with mixed results. Some in-game experiences, such as riding on a bird through the sky, are
nothing but a joy thanks to the controls. But the majority of actions feel as if the player is merely going through the motions, and it often seems like pressing a button would have been a lot simpler. This is especially true of the swordplay, which is unfortunate, because sword fighting is a crucial part of the game.
The dungeons, however, are slick and crafted well. Every dungeon in the game is visually and thematically unique. In one dungeon, the player must use portable stones that warp time hundreds of years into the past, but only in Link’s immediate vicinity. And speaking of the puzzles, their difficulty is balanced supremely well. The dungeons are always challenging, but never enough to completely stump the player. The answer to every puzzle is always within reach after a reasonable amount of time.
Outside of dungeons, the game is not as streamlined. Many quests feature Link simply taking long trips to talk to someone, only to find that yet another long trek is required. It feels like the game’s length is being padded. This extra length comes to a head near the end. Right when the player approaches the final boss, Link is given a new quest to go talk to three dragons to get the parts of a song that they know. One of the dragons says she is not going to give out the song needed to save the world — at least, not without a test first. It is as if the developers ran out of ideas to justify their fetch-quests.
Past Zelda games have leaned heavily on music. “Skyward” tries to do the same, giving Link a harp. It is sad to say the score of the game is completely forgettable, even though a full orchestra recorded the music. The new songs are not helped by the few classic songs sprinkled into the score.
What keeps the game from falling into mediocrity is the charm of the story. The side characters are important and memorable, and Link is still dynamic as the protagonist. Plus, the main villain, the demon king Ghirahim, is alternatively terrifying and flamboyant. He steals the show and masters an archetype that hasn’t been used this well since the character Kefka, a clown-like psychopath, in “Final Fantasy VI.”
In the end, the newest Zelda game keeps the spellbinding series alive and soars with innovative puzzles and game play.