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New Zelda gazes beyond the sky

Jan 4, 2012

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward SwordLink, the iconic protagonist of the Legend of Zelda series, has taken on a dizzying array of enemies over the last 25 years. Everything from Octoroks and Skulltulas, to the grotesque Ganon and even a dark version of Link himself have been felled by the Master Sword's blade.

With the newest adventure in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, it seems the biggest battle being fought is the one that aims to stave off tired clich├ęs and predictability.

Very few video game series can toast their silver anniversary, but the popularity of Zelda and Co. has grown to mammoth proportions since its humble beginnings on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It has a legion of extremely loyal followers, along with some of the most critically-acclaimed and highly-rated titles ever created.

The problem with this is that familiarity (not the good kind) has slowly but surely begun to creep in. Each Zelda game throws something new into the mix, but the general blueprint is generally the same, and involves Zelda being threatened and Link traversing temples as he acquires new gadgets, all culminating in the defeat of some version of Ganondorf, with everyone else living happily ever after.

Without giving too much away, there's no denying Skyward Sword follows much - though not all - of this design, but the hopes are the nifty new 1:1 Wii Remote Plus controls do enough to keep things feeling fresh and new.

In Skyward Sword, Link lives on an island in the clouds known as Skyloft. Instead of a trusty steed to race him from one objective to the next, a loyal bird known as a Loftwing takes Link throughout the clouds.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword As you can probably guess, it's not long before Zelda, who also resides in Skyloft, is lost. A giant tornado blows her off her own Loftwing into whatever exists below the clouds. It seems no one in Skyloft has ever actually travelled there, making it a complete mystery as to where Zelda may be.

Link's grandiose adventure starts here, as he's called upon to travel below the clouds and seek out Zelda's whereabouts.

It's clear right from the get-go that the player won't just be wildly swinging his or her Wii Remote like in the last Wii Zelda adventure, Twilight Princess. With significantly more accurate controls, players will be forced to carefully figure out enemy weaknesses and attack in a precise manner.

Examples are numerous, from plants whose mouths open either horizontally or vertically (or both) to soldiers that will block with their own weapons based on where your sword is being held.

There is a serious learning curve, and at first, some of the most basic enemies will seem far too difficult to defeat. Over time, though, the game teaches the player that laziness is not an option, and you'll constantly have to have your wits about you to take down baddies.

The thing is, you'll most certainly become a more skilled sword master as you progress through the game, and enemies that once seemed nigh-impossible to get past, will be swatted away with a few well-placed and well-timed swipes of the Wii Remote.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword All of the items that Link acquires also use Wii Motion Plus. Whether it's throwing a bomb in an underhand motion to reach a tiny crack in a hole in a wall, or cracking a whip from left to right to activate a lever, it's all very clever and only adds to the devious level design found throughout the game.

Best of all, Link won't have to wait until the last few hours of the game to acquire, use, and enjoy all the items. He'll earn them fairly quickly, and they'll all be employed liberally wherever you go in the area below the clouds, and above.

Not all of the motion controls work though. Having to "flap" the Wii Remote while aiming to control your Loftwing is somewhat cumbersome and never feels natural. Doing the same to move Link through water, meanwhile, is downright maddening.

Another staple of the Legend of Zelda series is the sense of adventure and discovery as you travel across a massive world teeming with life. It's here that Nintendo once again scores major points, but also falters.

In Skyward Sword, players will really only have three main places to explore in addition to Skyloft (which isn't all that big in the first place). There are the lush forests of Faron Woods, the arid environments found in Lanayru Desert, and the sweltering heat of Eldin Volcano.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword There's nothing wrong with these areas per se, but it's the fact you visit them repeatedly throughout the course of the game. A new section may open up each time you visit the woods, desert, or volcano, but you're still travelling through or around woods, sand or lava, respectively.

The same goes for the temples. The developers did their best to mix things up by having the player go through an abandoned ship, for example, but you're still going through the same methods to complete each one.

The Zelda series has had some superb boss fights throughout its history, and Skyward Sword does its best to live up to some lofty expectations in this respect. Once again, the Wii Remote Plus factors heavily into every boss fight, whether it's pinpointing the exact angle a giant sand creature is holding its claws, or pointing the controller at the screen to hit the single eye of a water-dwelling behemoth.

Some of these battles are quite long and involved, while others are over surprisingly quickly. They're all solid for the most part, though I did expect a little more with a few of them, and some are recycled from earlier parts of the game.

Another aspect of the Zelda series that could really be adjusted is the seemingly endless number of fetch quests. The beginning and especially the latter part of Skyward Sword is so full of them, it would be laughable if it wasn't so tedious. Some require you to repeatedly cycle through day and night (meaning you have to find a bed and sleep), while others still have you travelling back and forth between Skyloft and the ground levels just to find another item that will allow the story to progress.

It's worth noting that unlike past games in the series, players will almost always have an answer if - or really, when - they become stumped. The progressively fascinating character Fi - Skyward Sword's version of Navi - can be called upon at any time to help nudge you in the right direction.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword In addition, a special stone can be found in Skyloft that will literally provide videos illustrating how to complete virtually every objective and quest in the game. Keep in mind this doesn't apply to solving temples, which were the only places I actually got stuck in for several minutes.

One way in which Skyward Sword shines - once the gears really get moving after more than 10 hours of gameplay - is in the story department. Character development is usually unheard of in other video games, but in this latest Zelda adventure, you'll see jealous buffoons transform into heroes and Zelda herself become much, much more than a simple damsel in distress.

Surprises are in store right up to the final moments of the game, one of which in particular I didn't see coming at all but had me saddened and smiling at the same time.

The score, meanwhile, is absolutely rock-solid and completely thrilling in every way. Tunes from past games are sure to tug at the heartstrings of longtime Zelda fans, and the game's new theme song (which isn't quite so new if you play it backwards) is superb.

If you're expecting voice acting to make its Zelda debut here, think again. All characters are voiceless, with Nintendo relying on written text to progress the story. This is an item of endless debate, but as far as I'm concerned, Link's eyes can still emote more pain, bravery, happiness and fear than the entire scripts of many other video games.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword The world Link traverses is full of vibrant colours, and while it doesn't hold up technically to games on Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 - some details are downright ugly when viewed up close - Skyward Sword is still a treat for the eyes. I especially enjoyed the impressive draw distances and never tired, for instance, of seeing the details of Skyloft appear as I flew closer and closer on my Loftwing.

When the final credits begin rolling, chances are the game will have managed to steal at least 40 hours of your life, but with side quests, minigames, bug collecting and more, that number could be much, much higher.

In terms of the campaign itself, it feels like Nintendo was trying to fit too much in without having a way to justify it. Like a music album with too much filler, Skyward Sword could use a little fat cut from the edges to make it a leaner and more enjoyable experience overall.

That said, Nintendo did some truly wonderful things with Skyward Sword to make it stand out as one of 2011's more memorable and ambitious titles. It doesn't quite live up to the legacy of the last two Zelda games to grace home consoles, but it's still more than worthy of carrying the Triforce emblem on its cover.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Format: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Everyone 10+
Official Site: http://zelda.com/skywardsword

Rating: 8.5 / 10

 
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