Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Sword losers
By MITCH KRPATA  |  December 7, 2011
2.5 2.5 Stars

It is fitting that the life cycle of the Nintendo Wii should be bookended by underwhelming Zelda games. The first major release for the Wii, back in 2006, was Twilight Princess, the game that introduced gamers to the concept of "waggle," in which furiously shaking the Wii Remote replaced pressing a button. Now, the Wii's last major release, Skyward Sword, aims to banish waggle and give players true fidelity between their movements and what they see onscreen. Using the Wii Motion Plus add-on, the game maps the Remote's position from your hand to that of your avatar, Link. High, low, to the side — however you're holding the sword, Link mimics you.

Problem is, it's smoke and mirrors. Link's sword matches the Wii Remote's movements on a 1:1 basis only when he's not in combat. In combat, Link has a handful of discrete attacks. He can slash in eight directions, jab, and perform a few super moves, such as a spin and a leaping stab. That may sound like a lot, but it's no more than you'd be able to perform with a traditional gamepad, and less precise to boot. You may be trying to reset the remote to perform a leftward slash, only to have the game interpret the motion as a rightward slash. In a best-case scenario, this is inconvenient; more often it has a significant impact, causing Link to be paralyzed or hurt. Something as small as shifting in your chair or scratching your nose can have disastrous consequences in-game.

REDUX The Wii’s last major release is right back where it started. And that’s not a good thing.

Motion control is also used for the many gadgets Link picks up as the game progresses, with mixed results. Aiming a crosshair by pointing at the screen is organic as can be, and guiding flying creatures by dipping and swooping the Remote provides a tactile feel that a gamepad can't match. But the tracking technology involved is touchy and frequently gets out of whack, so that players must reset the controller's orientation manually, by pointing the Remote at the screen and pressing a button. It's an elegant enough solution to a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place.

Beyond the novelty of the controls, Skyward Sword stays true to the guiding lights of the Zelda series: the hero's journey, intricate dungeon mazes, and heaps of laborious bullshit. I am not sure if all of the Zelda games are supposed to exist within the same timeline or not, but nor do I care, because none of the characters in each game seems to think so. Besides, it's all an excuse to show a plucky young lad finding strength within himself. That's well and good. Any excuse is sufficient to string together the game's perilous labyrinths, which skillfully mesh exploration, puzzle-solving, and boss battles.

Where Zelda games tend to fall down — and Skyward Sword is no exception — is in piling one monotonous task after another onto the player. Here, that usually takes the form of "dowsing," pointing the Remote at the screen to find your next waypoint, but just as often it's reading reams of boring, unskippable dialogue, or having a mission objective subdivided until you find yourself looking for a propeller blade in a volcano, for some reason. It's just chores.

For the sake of building a big world, Skyward Sword is overstuffed with grotesque characters, needless diversions, and unreliable controls. It's not that good stuff is nowhere to be found in this game — it's what you have to wade through to get there.

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  Topics: Videogames , Wii, game reviews, Zelda,  More more >
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