I definitely consider myself a gamer. My PC, Wii, Xbox 360, iPhone and DS all get regular love, I keep up to date on all the news, I even write for a games website! But I have a secret to confess, one that always damages my gamer cred.
Forgive me father, for I have sinned: I’ve never really played a Legend of Zelda game. Ever. I’ve tried them, and thought “I should get into this”, but never have.
I’m sorry. My penance will include a playthrough of Ocarina of Time 3D and on its release, the new Wii title, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Having played a bit of this upcoming adventure at a preview event at Nintendo, I can safely say that, from a noob perspective, it’s definitely shaping up to be something special.
Skyward Sword is the first Zelda game specifically made for the Wii, and it shows in the interesting use of motion controls. Twilight Princess started life on the GameCube, and was promoted to Wii launch title during development, and as such, its motion controls weren’t as refined as what Skyward Sword offers. Link’s new adventure has had six years of Wii progress before it, as well as the advantage provided by the MotionPlus remotes that it relies on, so creative use of motion is pretty much essential.
And it is put to good use here: shake the Wii remote to unsheath your sword, and it will follow your movements almost exactly. So rather than simply wobbling the remote to play one canned sword-swing animation, its swing will closely follow the motion you make with the Wii remote, and the developers have incorporated precise sword play into the game quite well. For example, there’s a particular spider enemy that requires specific motions to defeat. The most effective method is to flick upwards from close range to lift it upwards and off-balance, then perform a quick forward jab into its vulnerable underside.
Hold the remote upright for a short time, and Link’s sword will start glowing. A flick forwards will then send off a wave of energy, damaging multiple enemies in front of you – provided you can find the time to charge it up. The boss fight I got to sample also demonstrates some potential for the much-dismissed MotionPlus accessory. It’s some skeleton thing with a sword and shield, but each time he comes at you, he holds them in a different defensive position. You can’t just spam attacks at him; victory requires timing and precise swings to angle your sword slashes between his defenses. This is the kind of thing that makes motion control earn its keep. The Wii needed more games that utilized it to this level, rather than using vague remote shakes to trigger basic attacks, as though it was simply another button.
A sword is all well and good, but you need an arsenal of other weapons too, and these also use motion effectively. The bow and arrow feel quite intuitive; aim in first person, then hold C and draw the nunchuk back, and release the C button to fire. It’s tactile and satisfying, although the automatic switch to first person to aim can be a little clumsy with multiple enemies closing in. You also have access to some weird, metal, apparently-remote-controlled, flying beetle contraption, with which you can collect hidden goodies or hit out-of-reach switches. Flying this thing requires holding the Wii remote out straight, and tilting it to steer left or right, up or down.
Gameplay wise, Skyward Sword looks like the standard Zelda series fare, which is (from what I understand) a huge compliment. I only got to play a small section of the game, including the boss fight described above, a large dungeon area and a strangely out-of-place bird riding level.
The dungeon is where the game feels most like a Zelda title. You wander around, fighting things, solving puzzles and trying to find the next path. I’m not sure how linear they usually are, but Skyward Sword looks like it offers the choice of several paths at once. Solving puzzles can open new paths or bonus rooms full of loot, and with the intriguing use of motion-controlled combat, and exploration aplenty, this looks like a worthy addition to the series.
The bird riding level plays ok, but feels out of place and somewhat pointless. They involve flying a giant bird around a clear patch of sky, racing against others to chase down another bird in some weird sport. In principle, it works fairly well, but in play, it’s not very interesting for very long. It amounts to steering your bird around by tilting the remote, and occasionally shaking the nunchuk to gain some extra height. But there are few landmarks to be seen, it’s difficult to judge the speed and distance of your target, and the basic gameplay gets tired quite quickly. Unless this demo was just a very basic version of the kind of levels we can expect later in the game, with more involved gameplay and more interesting arenas, this is a fairly arbitrary addition to a game that’s strong enough on its own terms.
That small negative aside, the game looks amazing, and if a Zelda virgin like myself can get so excited for this game, I can only imagine the anticipation of the series’ fans. This game will be the perfect way for fans to celebrate a quarter of a century of dungeon crawling with Link, and likely send off the Wii on a high note.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will be playable during the Nintendo Connection Tour, and will be released on November 18 in Europe, and November 20 in the US and Australia.