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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Not So Fresh" Review: The Legend of Zelda- Skyward Sword

Where is your Goddess now...?


I finished this game.

Just a few hours ago.

...I haven't had a lot of time to play it.

But now that I'm done, it's time to write one hell of a review for it.

So, Skyward Sword is the triumphant Legend of Zelda 25th anniversary present to we gamers that love our stories deep, our environments open and accessible, and our gameplay intuitive and slick. It is the culmination of our years of playing the franchise- filled with nods to the past titles, revelations as to the origins of persisting plot elements, and a buttload of dungeons and crafty puzzles. To put it truthfully, Skyward Sword is the best Zelda game because it is every Zelda game, rolled into one. However, it succeeds in not feeling stale because of the steps it takes to reinvent the franchise, as well. Starting with one key element: motion controls.

Now, I don't care what any of the naysayers have to say about the Wii, or its graphic inferiority, or its gimmickry- Skyward Sword is the reason to own a Wii. Hell, it's what the Wii was built for. It utilizes motion controls in almost every task you perform... and I'm not joking. Swordfighting, looking around, leaping from vine-to-vine, controlling a flying or swimming body, opening your inventories, and making use of all the tools in the game. I could write a whole damn review on how great the motion controls are- responsive, intuitive, and just plain fun. They are integrated into the game in a way that immerses you just a little bit more- and makes you feel as though it is your skill that Link is relying on this time. At the same time, it proves that sometimes a balance between motion control and tradition button use can create a winning formula- one that truly fits just right.

Now, that doesn't mean that all of the motion control is perfect- swimming is a little bit annoying, because it could have just as easily been accomplished with the analog stick. Balancing on tightropes is a little finicky until you realize that it works based on Link's feet, too. Also, it's kind of silly to have two items as similar as the bow and the slingshot, in which getting one makes the other obsolete, but that goes against the traditional Zelda design. However, those really are my only qualms with the motion controls- the rest of the game just works so well.

Sword fighting is a pleasure in Skyward Sword, allowing you to finally take command of the action and fight your enemies much more intimately than before. Even grunt enemies become an obstacle not easily overcome- in the beginning, at least. Eventually, your personal expertise improves to a point where you can strike down grunts with ease. Even actions like shield bashing, deflecting projectiles, the classic spin attack, and the downward strike are given motion commands that allow them to be pulled off with ease. Every enemy that utilizes pinpoint sword accuracy is a pleasure to take on- and at the start of the game, where your only option is sword fighting, you have a blast getting up close and personal with your foes. Even the first boss is a sword fight, rather unconventionally, and he ups the difficulty by having quicker reactions and tougher defenses. But when Link starts getting more items in his inventory, you start having a lot of fun with taking out foes.

Another innovation is the inclusion of a stamina bar, both on the ground and underwater. Link can finally sprint, spin, and run up walls for a little bit thanks to this ability. Too much work can tire Link out, and that adds another level of complexity to approaching and avoiding your foes. Lastly, the game's environments were designed with all three dimensions in mind, and the terrain feels much more natural and interesting because of its levels.

And yet, even with all of these new aspects, Skyward Sword throws more and more fantastic gameplay elements at you as it progresses. It features some of the most puzzling and rewarding dungeon design in the franchise's history, with visual cues and clever mechanics abound. My favorite dungeons revolved around the use of timestones, personally. The items that Link receives in each dungeon are usually detrimental to moving forward, but almost always find themselves needed in other areas and dungeons further on- the final two dungeons utilize a fantastic balance of all of the items and use them in new and better ways.

I could go on and on about why the game is good. It deserves every bit of praise it has received thus far... but there are some gripes I have with it. Keep in mind, I still have a very high opinion of this game, but I also have some high expectations, too.

When Nintendo announced that this game would be fully orchestrated, I nearly peed my pants. Zelda's epic score with a full orchestra? Sign me up! Especially after the gorgeous soundtrack Super Mario Galaxy and SMG2 had. But the music in this game is surprisingly lackluster. Too many of the songs are simple and not very memorable at all- though when the full orchestra kicks in for boss battles and epic cutscene music, the soundtrack really shines. We spend so little of the game in these areas, though, that the majority of the game just ends up sounding subdued and a little boring, and I was hoping for a more epic romp through Hyrule. There are very few points where a memorable Zelda song even appears. However, major props are given for making all of the dungeons have drastically different background music- it made them feel a lot more unique and recognizable as soon as they were entered. I'm not really sure how many songs I'm going to remember from this game- obviously the main theme, and the defeated Imprisoned theme, but not much else. It's a shame, because there was a lot more potential to be had.

Also, the game's design is very streamlined and direct, and you always know where you have to go- but Hyrule seems very small in this iteration. The sky is a big part of this game, but it's one of the most uninteresting overworlds in any Zelda game. Sure, there's a few floating islands with minigames and a sidequest or two to be accomplished, but it's even emptier than the Great Sea in the Wind Waker, and that's a little upsetting. It does serve as a connecting point for the various surface areas, but I wish there was more going on up there, so I felt like it was actually necessary to go to. Skyloft is a beautiful town, and it certainly drives across the point that Hyrule below is not populated, but the game's fields just feel lonely sometimes- even if they're populated with grunts and wildlife, they lack a lot of energy. The new and talkative wildlife are fun to converse with, but they aren't very organized, and they can't offer you as much help as the natives of Skyloft can, only offering a few minigames.

Also, when you only have three sections of your real overworld, you tend to run out of ideas. While Skyward Sword gives you a reason to return to each previously visited area for treasure or otherwise, too often if feels as though you're scouring the same places just to buff the game's play time a little longer. Dowsing is also silly, and should be a little more responsive- many times I felt like I was walking around in circles not catching a signal. I wish that there had been more playing fields, truthfully, and some more varied environments, like a snow region, or at least a larger lake- Upon first glace, Lake Floria seemed pretty big, but it's... not.

It's strange, because even with these little nitpicks, one has to remember that Skyward Sword is not how every Zelda game is going to be from this point on- Hyrule will not always be structured this way. The music will probably improve. So for now, we just have to deal with the fact that it's a very unique Zelda game that does a lot of the same, but a lot of new stuff, too. The things that do make it different from any other Zelda game are that way for a reason- there are no humans on the surface, it is supposed to be an unpopulated place. And even if there are only three areas, there's enough interesting curveballs thrown that it each area gets to be approached in a different way. Most importantly, even with its repetition, Skyward Sword polishes every part of the traditional Zelda gameplay formula and lets it shine brightly and with glorious charm. Each dungeon is an absolutely fantastic creation- each boss is either a fresh take on an old concept, an epic test of swordplay, or a downright epic experience.

And even in it's stellar triumph, this is only the beginning of a brighter future for the Zelda franchise. You won't want to play a new Zelda without motion controls, that much I guarantee you. And this is all happening before a mighty large step into HD for Nintendo, which means the continuation of this franchise is going to bring bigger and better things- but this is going to be one hell of a game to top. Because Skyward Sword is an amazing journey, and whether or not you're a fan of Zelda, whether or not you're a fan of motion controls, you should play this game. Remove yourself from all preconceptions, because it's one that is so vastly different, yet so much the same, that you will enjoy it in some way. It's a shame if you can't pick up your Wii remote and nunchuk and slash away at your enemies with glee- because, Zelda game or not, isn't that what we've always wanted in a video game?

Concensus- HIGHLY Recommended. For fans of innovation, tough puzzles, challenging gameplay, and those who love a damn good story.

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