The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Review

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword reviewby Ben Adkins

7.25 / 10 Banzai!s

To celebrate Breath of the Wild and the launch of the Nintendo Switch, I created the ’31 Days of Zelda’ event, in which I played The Legend of Zelda games (or did other “Zelda-related activities”) for the entire month of March.

This included two run-throughs of the original FCD/NES The Legend of Zelda as well as Breath of the Wild’s immediate predecessor, Skyward Sword for the Nintendo Wii.

In fact, the last day will be spent writing this review.

If you are not a fan of the series, or despise the Wiimote ‘controller,’ this game should be avoided (unless Nintendo releases an HD version compatible with a standard controller.)

The controls for the Zelda series have been fairly standard since Ocarina of Time. In Skyward Sword, Z-targeting has been changed slightly so that you target the nearest enemy in front of you, which is not always the nearest enemy.  This makes the game more tense, but can be annoying if switching between games and you prefer the old system which always targets the closest monster.

The Wiimote Plus itself works fairly well for swordplay. Whether you want to do a horizontal slash, vertical slash or diagonal slash, the controls are very sensitive and responsive. But it can be too sensitive at times–say you need to change angles quickly, the game might register your repositioning as an attack, which will likely then be blocked, leaving you open to a counter-attack.

The majority of the time can be spent just slashing back and forth, and the controls only get worse from there.

One of the key techniques is the Skyward Strike, which requires you to point the Wiimote to the sky straight up above your head.  I found it very difficult to find the best positioning, as the game wants a very precise location. What you may consider as straight up the game may not, and this is very frustrating, especially in the heat of battle, as two bosses require you to use this technique.

The flying controls are simply bad. Your Loftwing will stall, requiring you to flap the Wiimote, and it will suddenly start veering to the side for no reason whatsoever.  Flying is a tedious effort in itself, and if you were not a fan of sailing across the map in Wind Waker, you will experience the same issues flying from island to island in the sky in Skyloft.  There isn’t much of a tutorial before you are thrust into the first of two story-related flying events, which is basically a game of Quidditch.  It sounds fun, but with these controls it most certainly is not.  Thankfully, you can choose where you want to land (most of the time) when you do go down to the ground, but there is no map travel in the sky, nor is there map travel from place to place on the ground.

Swimming controls are worse, as you hold a button to dive and then tilt the Wiimote to swim in three dimensions.  It makes for very awkward movement, and is counter-intuitive as you use your button hand (on a standard controller) for movement and your analog stick hand to shake the nunchuck for a spin attack to fight enemies, break barriers and leap out of the water.

legend of zelda skyward sword reviewAiming, however, has to be the worst of the control schemes. Instead of aiming at a target on screen with the bow or slingshot, your Wiimote will be pointing at the ceiling or off into space to hit certain targets.  It makes absolutely no sense that the Wiimote and the target cursor should not be pointing at the same location and ON THE TELEVISION.

Also standard since 1998 has been the ability to equip multiple subweapons. In Skyward Sword you are limited to one at a time, and have to switch on the fly by opening a wheel and selecting the one you want.  Bottles are kept in a different pocket, and alternating between the B button for subweapons and the – button for pouch items can be confusing until you are accustomed to the controls, which is most of the game as it is so short.

I do not understand how Nintendo could have made such grievous errors with the controls, and as fundamentally unsound as they are the game is frustrating to play.

What the game lacks in controls, it makes up for with story.  The main reason I kept playing was not to explore the dungeons (usually a main Zelda selling point) or collecting subweapons (of which there are only eight,) but (only) to finish the story.

(SPOILERS) It is yet another origin story, and pre-dates Ocarina of Time in that it goes all the way back to the first discovery of the Triforce, after the first war between the demon Demise and the goddess Hylia.  The goddess, in her last immortal act, transports her temple into the sky to keep the Triforce out of evil hands.  Then the chosen hero and the reincarnation of the goddess play their part to ensure that minions of Demise do not break the seal of his imprisonment.  All this should be familiar to fans of the series, and marks the start of the endless cycle (if you follow the Zelda timeline) of Link, Zelda and Ganon.

It serves as a good origin story but is somewhat unnecessary in the grand Zelda scheme.

Fans of the series may also take issue with both the types as well as number of subweapons.  Among the standards that have been brought back are the bow and arrow, the Clawshots (which are an upgraded Hookshot that you can use to cling to various surfaces and target the next area to shoot towards) and bombs.  The slingshot seems very out of place as you play as an adult for the entire game.

The other weapons include a whip, which you can use to swing from place to place, take items from enemies and operate levers, but has been better served by other items in the past; the Gust Bellows, which is basically a leaf blower that you use to blow sand away to uncover treasure or enemies and move swinging platforms; and the bug net, which has extremely poor responsiveness and makes it very difficult to catch bugs, especially quick moving ones.

The most interesting new item is the beetle, which you can fly to hit switches, cut ropes, and drop items on targets from above.  Unfortunately, it also suffers from the same control problems as most of the other Wiimote control schemes in this game.

Finally, instead of upgrading your storage automatically, bomb bags, quivers and seed bags must be placed in your utility pouches.  This means that you have to make a choice between carrying a potential life-saving potion or fairy bottle or having extra arrows and such.  You can get up to eight pouches, but if you want to carry a medal that increases the drop rate for hearts, rupees or crafting materials you really have to manage your inventory.  This is not a bad thing, but it is a departure from previous Zelda titles that upgraded capacity automatically.

Even the core elements that make a Zelda game great seem to play second fiddle to the control scheme, which was ultimately what Nintendo was moving toward, and was the drive behind sales gimmick of the Wiimote Plus controller and add-on.

legend of zelda skyward sword reviewThe puzzles are largely dumbed-down and are simple to complete for the most part.  A few make you think, but at no point should a strategy guide be necessary unless you are trying to rush through the game.

An interesting twist on finding your objective is the dowsing system, which uses your Goddess Sword as a beacon that beeps more loudly and quickly according to proper direction and proximity.  It’s different from the standard objective markers you see in most games today, and encourages exploration over arriving at a specific point to update the quest.

However, the number of explorable areas is extremely disappointing, as only the Lanaryu Desert truly evolves past its primary area. Eldin Volcano and Faron Woods use the same area three times throughout the game, and although they are slightly altered each time, there is little to no new exploration to be done.  You even have to tread through the same temple twice as one of the numerous fetch-and-return quests.

Unfortunately, this also means that the game is very linear.  The only time you can truly choose what order you want to play is when you are collecting the pieces for the Song of the Hero, and even then there isn’t much to do.  Part of what made The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past so great was that you could play the dungeons in any order if you had the right items and skill; even Ocarina, Majora’s Mask, and Wind Waker were less linear than Skyward Sword.

The boss battles are hit and miss.  The Ancient Cistern, one of the best temples in the game, also has the best boss; unfortunately you don’t come to it until the halfway point of the game.  Other than that the fights are mostly unmemorable.

The first boss fight is boring, frustrating and repetitive, and is repeated…twice.  If you can make it past the first battle without throwing your Wiimote at the TV, you should be able to finish the game.  Another boss is battled three times, and yet another is fought twice.  Even the final fight is sub par, as it is less about strategy and more about hack and slash until the second phase.

The crafting system is okay but needs refining.  Instead of finding upgrades as in previous games, you can take your standard item and some collectable materials and upgrade at one of the shops.  It’s a good way for players to customize the way they want to play, but the lack of subweapons and availability of crafting materials makes it unnecessary.

Overall, the game is frustrating to play but does still work because it retains the core Zelda components, even if it is a watered-down version.  There are a few cheap pops that are amusing (“It’s a secret to everybody”) or nostalgic (Zelda’s Theme,) but when you realize that they hark back to the glory days of the series, you might find yourself wanting to play those games again instead of this one, and that’s not a good sign.  Every great moment in this game seemed to be immediately preceded or followed by a “what the hell” moment.

As a fan of the series, I was dismayed to find that I did not want to play the game to 100% completion.  Skyward Sword is the first Zelda game I can say that about.

Is it worth a play?  If you can get past the funky control scheme, yes.  If they do release an HD version that can use a standard controller then definitely.

Is it worth the perfect 40/40 Famitsu gave it?

Hell no.

Graphics:  7.75.  Nintendo seems to have found a good balance between realism and cel shading, but any game in 2011 should be in HD.
Sound:  8
Story:  8
Controls:  4.  I get what they were trying to do, but…
Replay Value:  3.  You really have to love this game to collect all the items, get all the upgrades, and to play it again in Hero Mode.

Overall:  7.25 Banzais



Damon Finos was born in Ontario, Canada, and has been living in Japan for over a decade. When he's not writing his next big novel, Damon spends his free time playing video games - ranging from old school Nintendo to Playstation 3. He's also a huge movie buff, avid reader, and enjoys organizing his Thai spices.