Reach for the skies: ‘Skyward Sword’ impresses

December 8th, 2011

When the Nintendo Wii was released in 2006, it promised a revolution in gaming. Motion controls were the future, and would give the player complete control of their in-game actions. Yet, for the most part, the Wii was littered with lazy, gimmicky games that tacked on “waggle” controls in ineffective and often annoying ways.

If the Wii had launched with “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword,” things may have been different. Not only does the game finally deliver on the promise of incredible motion controls, but it is one of the greatest, most satisfying games of all time.

The story is pretty much what one would expect from a “Zelda” game. Zelda is in trouble, and the heroic Link must save her from the clutches of some evil entity through completing dungeons and battling bosses. But with “Skyward Sword,” the developers have tinkered with the classic “Zelda” formula. Having to deal with the limited power of the Wii, Nintendo has decided to opt out of a huge open-world area similar to “The Wind Waker” and “Twilight Princess” this time around. Instead, Link travels through the sky on a giant bird called a Loftwing, and can descend down to any of the three areas available: a forest, a desert and a volcano. The result is a tightened, much more streamlined experience.

Gone are overlong fetch quests between each dungeon. Nintendo has instead combined the dungeon experience with the levels before and after them. This may be a disappointment to those who love the sense of open-world exploration and discovery, but the areas in “Skyward Sword” are still gigantic, and an open world would have been more of the same.

In terms of graphics, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The art style perfectly combines the cartoonish charm of “The Wind Waker” and the mature sophistication of “Twilight Princess” into what is the perfect look for the series. The game uses a filter that makes far away objects and landscapes look like a breathtaking watercolor painting. Character models are all masterfully designed and unforgettable, especially the creepy new villain, Ghirahim. The game is visually a joy.

The real game-changer though, is the game’s perfect implementation of motion controls. The Wiimote acts as Link’s sword, and the control is more accurate and precise than any Wii game before it. Most importantly, it feels natural. This has changed the way the series deals with combat. You can’t simply engage an enemy and proceed to button mash or swing the controller wildly. If you do so, you will be destroyed in the game.

Every enemy requires a different strategy from the player, and whacking a goblin in the face has never felt so satisfying. This feeling is exemplified in the boss battles. The sword gameplay enacts a very “mano-a-mano” feel to these fights. There were times I found myself getting so riled up during certain boss fights that I stood up and shouted “bring it!”

The fact that this game can provoke this behavior from a grown man[child] speaks to how undeniably fun it is. The other motion gameplay is fantastic as well. Tilting the Wiimote to control your Loftwing is easy and engaging, as well as aiming with the Wiimote. It all adds to a sense of immersion rarely seen in games today.

The only things that can possibly outshine the motion controls are the characters themselves. Character development has never been a staple of the “Zelda” series, but this time the characters and their relationships are fully realized. By the end of “Skyward Sword,” you will genuinely care about the characters.

This version of Link could be the best of the series. He feels like a real person this time, rather than a vessel for the player. Zelda is absolutely adorable as Link’s childhood crush, and the members of the vast supporting cast all have personalities of their own.

Whether they be singing dragons, treasure hunting moles or pirate robots, you can tell the amount of love that was put into each character; in each little line of dialogue.

“Skyward Sword” is the model for the ideal video game. It looks beautiful, it’s loaded with content, and it’s a blast to play. It’s one of the most charming and stellar games of the year.

Most of all, it is, like every “Zelda” game before it: an instant classic.