The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword

On April 7th, 1988, I turned six years old.  I, like many of my friends that year, received the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Unlike any of my friends, however, I had spent the last three months saving every dollar in anticipation of this moment.  I walked to the local Target, walked into the video game section and pointed to the game I had been dreaming of since a chance encounter at a friend’s birthday party in January.  I slid my wadded up bills and spare change across the counter, rushed home and pushed the shiny gold cartridge into my NES.  Unlike most games, this one deviated from the standard play style.  It wasn’t side scrolling adventure and was far from straightforward.  Its design presented you with the opportunity for total freedom.  You could go anywhere and do anything without the game every telling you how to move towards your final goal.  Ultimately, however, it was that very freedom that sent me to bed in tears.  I had spent the six-year-old’s equivalent of a lifetime saving up my money for a game I would never beat.  I was crushed, heartbroken and utterly defeated.

The next morning, however, I woke up with new resolve.  Every day after school, I would dedicate myself to searching Hyrule for clues.  Within a few weeks, I had discovered the rhythm to traversing the game’s many challenges and found my way into a final showdown with the evil sorcerer Ganon.  The joy and excitement I got from accomplishing the seemingly impossible task was something I had never really experienced before.  I had been faced with a challenge that was so far outside of my capability and yet, through perseverance and patience, I had risen as a great hero and conquerer.  It was this that kickstarted my addiction with the world of Hyrule and the Legend of Zelda.  Since then, I have owned every Nintendo console for the sole purpose of tackling each new Zelda title.  Now, twenty five years after its initial release, Nintendo has released its most recent re-invisioning of the mythology with Skyward Sword for the Wii.



Things start off so simply...

Skyloft, a city in the sky, is preparing for its annual Wing Ceremony in which students at the local Knight Academy compete for the honor of receiving a gift from Zelda, the girl chosen to play the goddess in the annual celebration.  After winning the competition, a young knight in training, Link, and Zelda go out flying to celebrate.  Their peaceful and romantic outing is disrupted, however, when a dark figure comes from beneath the clouds and takes Zelda away.  Upon returning to Skyloft to alert his fellow knights, Link learns of his destiny to be the great hero of the goddess and that in order to rescue Zelda, he must venture to the unknown land below the clouds.  With the aid of the goddess sword and its mysterious spirit Fi, Link goes on a grand adventure to unlock the history of his people, defeat evil and rescue Zelda.

The Good

The new interface for selecting tools of the trade

Skyward Sword follows in the footsteps of every great Zelda title, offering a familiar yet refreshingly new gameplay experience.  Old standards like the bow and arrow, slingshot, bombs and clawshot (previously called the hookshot) all return.  This time, they are joined by new tools like the whip, the gust bellows (a powerful reverse vacuum) and the beetle, a golden bug that Link controls remotely to scout ahead, access out of reach areas and drop bombs on enemies.  The game progression, much like previous Zelda titles, takes Link through various quests to the land below where he must traverse dungeons in order to vanquish evil and find the the tools necessary to allow him to continue on his journey.  Unlike most Zelda games, however, this doesn’t take place in Hyrule.  Instead, by introducing the concept of Skyloft and the Loftwings, giant birds the knights use for transportation, Skyward Sword allowing you to travel freely across the open skies instead of riding from field to field.  Unlike Wind Waker, which previously used this model to much frustration and hours of unnecessary sailing, Skyward Sword keeps its world compact and easy to travel, making it simple to get from one end of the map to the other in a matter of about three minutes.  Beams of light signal the portals to the world below and Link is given the ability to jump off his bird and glide to the land below with the use of a sailcloth which bears a striking resemblance to the sail used in Wind Waker.

Link fight good.

Once below the cloud line, Skyward Sword really shines.  In the past, the area leading to a dungeon has been a pretty straightforward path.  In Skyward Sword the path to dungeons are almost like mini-dungeons themselves.  From the moment you first land in the Faron Woods, it is clear how much different things are.  As you move through the landscape, you are faced with battles, challenges and numerous puzzles  on your way to the temple.  This new element of gameplay makes every moment of Skyward Sword a lot more exciting.  Where in the past you spent a lot of time riding Epona through the endless expanse of Hyrule on your way to the next location, Skyward Sword makes you fight your way through challenges at every turn.  The dungeons themselves are also challenging and unique, but that has always been a standard of the Zelda series and Skyward Sword definitely delivers.  Each dungeon offers new gameplay challenges and new problem solving puzzles that tempted even a seasoned veteran like me to look for answers on the internet.

Wooden Bow-Iron Bow-Sacred Bow

Additionally, Skyward Sword introduces a few new functions to the Zelda Universe.  For the first time, Link has the ability to upgrade items using treasures dropped by various enemies he encounters on his adventures.  While you find the Wooden Bow in one of the dungeons, it has limited range and accuracy.  Its only by upgrading it to the Sacred Bow that the tool reaches its full potential.  This adds extra challenge for those of us who are completionists, as we will all, no doubt, spend hours trying to collect the elements necessary to get all of our equipment upgraded.  Also featured are medals which give Link special abilities.  Some increase the drop rate of certain items like hearts or rupees, some increase the effectiveness of potions and some allow you to view previously invisible items and treasures on your map.  Also new is the Adventure Pouch.  In previous Zelda titles, Link had the ability to carry everything he picked up but this isn’t the case in Skyward Sword.  Instead, you have a limited number of slots in which you can carry extra items like shields, bottles and medals making you have to really consider what you need as you trek out into the great unknown.

Wii Motion Plus makes killin' skeletons even more satisfying

It would be hard to discuss Skyward Sword without talking about the controls.  Using Wii Motion Plus technology, Skyward Sword features 1:1 fighting.  What this means is that anything you do with your WiiMote, Link does with his sword.  This introduces some new challenges and fun to the gameplay.  Each enemy that you face presents a new challenge and while early trailers had me scared that this ability would mean tons of stupid motion based puzzles, it instead proves to be a great tool in advancing the gameplay of Zelda games.  It’s hard to imagine going back to button mashing.  Having complete control of The Master Sword is an amazing feeling and I think this new style will prove to be a lasting addition to the Legend of Zelda arsenal.

Groose and his sweet-ass pomp

Lastly, the story.  To call Skyward Sword a revaluation would be an understatement.  The characters are all interesting and develop as the story progresses.  Even Groose, the dumb jock who hides your Loftwing at the beginning of the game becomes a character you care about.  The story, while following the traditional template of the Legend of Zelda games, offers some fresh twists on the plot and some new enemies to fight with.  Most impressively, however, is that Skyward Sword is the story that begins it all.  Skyward Sword introduces us to the origin of the Master Sword, the founding of Hyrule and the LITERAL birth of the cycle that makes every Legend of Zelda game possible.

The Bad


There isn’t much wrong with Skyward Sword, but I can say that sometimes the use of the Wii Motion Plus controls got a little irritating.  While sword fighting was amazing, you will often find yourself annoyed with some of the other tools that find a little too much reliance on the technology.  Flying the beetle, which I thought would be majorly annoying, actually isn’t at all.  What is, however, is flying your Loftwing.  You fly through the clouds on the back of a bird, tilting the WiiMote left or right in order to turn and I’m fine with that.  What I’m annoyed by is that in order to keep your bird moving, you have to constantly flap its wings by jerking the WiiMote upward.  This means that after successfully battling an epic boss with your mad sword skills, you have to sit there practically slapping yourself in the face to get back to Skyloft to learn of the next leg of your adventure.  While it never gets to the point that you want to smash something, it gets old really quick.  Otherwise, the controls are awesome.

The Ugly

Congrats! You found an Amber Relic! These things are only scattered around EVERYWHERE!

The only thing about Skyward Sword I outright hate is the same thing I hate in every Zelda game.  Namely, its ability to slow down the action with prompts.  Every time you fire up the game, it seems to have reset the “annoying prompt” meter.  The first time you pick up a green rupee?  “You got a green rupee.  THATS ONE FUCKIN RUPEE!  YIPPEE!”  And it does this for all droppable items with the exception of hearts.  That means blue rupees, red rupees, silver rupees, gold rupees, any of the sixteen items enemies might drop and any of the twelve bug species you can collect.  Once you’ve collected that item, it will no longer do this, but it does it for each one and as soon as you quit gaming and restart from where you left off, it does it all again.  This seems like a programming issue that should be pretty easy to fix with an if-then-else statement.  “If *item*=0 then play annoying prompt, else continue kicking ass.”

Want me to explain how to play the game again? No? How about I give you some pointers? No? How about I call you some names? Well fuck you. I'm gonna do it anyway. Keep pressing A as fast as you can, it doesn't make things go any faster. At all.

The same can be said for a lot of the dialogue in the game.  I understand and encourage the need to have a lot of dialogue during cutscenes or the first time I’m going to play a minigame, but why do I have to go through four word bubbles each time I want to play the game on FunFun Island?  It gets kind of annoying, especially when certain challenges take multiple tries.  I want to choke that little bitch from the Lumpy Pumpkin out.  Of COURSE I want to try carrying the stack of pumpkins to the shed for you.  I just dropped the stack you gave me for the fifth time and clearly, I’m a man on a mission.  I don’t have time to waste hearing you explain how to do it to me for the sixth time, especially since it takes you five word bubbles before I can try again.

Closing Comments

Suck it Nathan Drake. I'm a god damned icon.

Clearly, Nintendo has outdone themselves yet again.  While they don’t offer the kind of blockbuster games that have made PS3 and XBox360 so popular, there is a reason they are still around and, without a doubt, The Legend of Zelda is one of the major factors in their continued survival.  Skyward Sword is being hailed by many critics as being a more momentous achievement then Ocarina of Time and while I don’t necessarily agree, it is indeed a stellar success in breathing new life into the Zelda Franchise.  From the innovative gameplay to the great story and beautiful visuals, Skyward Sword is, all around, one of the brightest jewels in Zelda’s crown and a must own game for anyone who has ever wanted to call Hyrule home.

RATING: 9.5/10

~ by Andrew Craig on November 25, 2011.

One Response to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword”

  1. I agree with everything you said in this review, however I would like to add that sometimes while sword fighting the game would register a slash when I never intended for one. For example, I’m right handed when trying to attempt a back handed swing I would have to position my hand to execute such an attack. While moving my hand into position the game would register this as an attack. Most times this is a minor inconvenience, but when you are up against those electric sword mother fuckers this can cost you a heart or two to correct this mistake which was frustrating. Otherwise a great game and a great review.

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