It’s been ten years since Skyward Sword came out on the Wii. Ten years since Nintendo tried to do something new with the Zelda franchise while retaining what made the franchise so much more popular since Ocarina of Time came out and changed our perceptions of the series and where it would go. Skyward Sword split the player base, some loving the motion controlled systems, others. . . not so much.
I missed out on Skyward Sword on its initial release, and missed out on it again when I finally got my hands on a WiiU and tracked a copy down, simply because I hate motion controls. With an ardent passion. So when I heard that Skyward Sword was coming to Switch with some changes for those who don’t want to swing their arms around wildly, I was over the moon. Also because I just love playing action RPG’s on Ninty’s wonderful little console wherever I may be.
Of course, the real question would be, how exactly would Nintendo bring the game across for this HD remaster and how would they appease everyone in the control department. But before we get to that. . .
Despite been the sixteenth entry in the Zelda series, Skyward Sword is actually an origin story. How did it all begin and why are Link and Zelda destined to forever be saving the world? Along with the creation of the Master Sword and the bond that ties Link and Zelda together, these are the questions that the developers of Skyward Sword set out to answer.
During a great war between the goddess Hylia and the Demon King Demise, Hylia gathered the survivors and sent them to land in the sky. The world was irreparably ravaged and locked off from the inhabitants of what came to be known as Skyloft, ultimately becoming myth as they lived far above the clouds. But time and prophecy don’t care for peace and with the resurrection of Demise imminent, a great warrior is needed. With Zelda been kidnapped and taken to the world below, it’s up to her best friend Link to adorn that mantle and set off upon a great adventure that will change the world, and them, forever.
Essentially Skyward Sword gives you two worlds to explore, three if you count the time travel mechanics that come into play later between the present version of the world and its past. You have the wonderful, sky island sanctuary above the clouds, full of their own interesting locations and mini games to explore, and then you have the surface that lurks beneath the heavy, all-consuming cloud layer.
Exploring Skyloft at the beginning of the game is a sedate experience, meant to ground you into the world and get you ready with its mechanics while setting up characters that you’ll come to love or hate, that are quirky, interesting, or downright antagonising. Even more impressive is watching the growth that some of them go through over the course of the adventure. Link remains his steadfast, stalwart self though with nary a line of dialogue. Here you’ll be instructed in the games flight mechanics as you take to the air aboard your trusty Loftwing, flying across the ocean of clouds to your various destinations.
And then there’s the surface world which is also full of quirky characters and wonderful locations to explore. This is where the game is at its most traditional Zelda-ness. There are characters to meet, new tools to help you in your adventure, and plenty of dungeons to explore replete with puzzles to solve. In many ways it’s exactly what you’ve come to expect from a Zelda game, more of the same in fact, and yet, as always, it’s so perfectly set up and mesmerising that I couldn’t stop exploring, fighting, and figuring the dungeons out.
Visually the game looks splendid in this remastered HD form. The stylised art style, heavily inspired by impressionist paintings, looks glorious and beautiful. True, the environments may look somewhat empty by today’s standards, but they never look anything less than luxurious thanks to the painterly textures. The layout of the environment and the thought put into how you traverse it and solve its puzzles definitely proves that more is not always best.
Now, however, we come to the elephant in the room. The control system.
There are two ways to control Link. The first is with the traditional control system which, apparently, has been beefed up and stabilised for a better playing experience. The second is a button and analogue stick control system for those who don’t want to be swinging their arms around or possess only a Switch Lite. Unfortunately, I could only test the game out on a Switch Lite so I can’t tell you just how well the traditional control systems, using the Switch’s Joycons, works.
As for the button control system, well. . .
Link can dash by holding down the B button and roll with a click of the left analogue stick. Holding ZL keeps you locked onto a target and the right analogue stick is now linked to Links sword arm. The camera is also now controllable but because the right analogue is your weapon, you need to hold down an extra button – L – to enable camera control mode. You have to train yourself to forget the simple things we’ve gotten used to over the years with 3rd person games with the right analogue been used for camera control as is. It’s an awkward system that takes a long time to get used to and I often found myself drawing and swinging my sword because I’d forgotten to hold down L, or didn’t hold it down hard enough.
In combat is when it’s at its most infuriating as we’re so used to turning to aim at opponents with the analogue that I usually found myself having to rely on the lock-on button to orient Link fast enough towards another enemy or I’d be flailing around uselessly in the opposite direction. It’s also a cumbersome system during fast exploration navigation when you’re trying to run somewhere quickly or having to throw a bomb in a specific direction fast enough as your bomb throws are now also controlled by the right stick. Holding up or down deciding between a throw or a roll.
Push up, and Link lifts the sword skyward, down aims it down, etc. To attack you have to flick the analogue stick in the desired direction with a fair amount of force, making me wary of the wear and tear on the stick itself. Interestingly, when in a fight, opponents will react to how Link is holding his sword, blocking in the direction that it looks as though the attack will come from. It actually adds a lot of strategic depth to combat, but the system never feels smooth or natural enough. Even after a dozen hours, I still found myself fighting the combat control system and relying more on wild stick swinging to get me somewhere.
And yet. . . I still couldn’t put the game down. True the combat is awkward and unwieldy and makes the experience more aggravating than it should be, but it wasn’t game-breaking and couldn’t stop me from enjoying the experience.
For all that Skyward Sword gets wrong – I’m looking at your stamina meter, shield durability, and combat controls – what it gets right far outweighs that awkwardness. The story is fantastic and the overall sensation of playing Skyward Sword is akin to rediscovering the magic of the series that keeps us flocking to each new incarnation. It may not be a perfect playing experience, but it’s a fantastic one all the same and quite frankly the best way to experience the awkward, flawed masterpiece that is Skyward Sword today.
You can purchase this game here for £49.99
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