Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda soars high yet again with this incredible experience.

By Jack Taylor – 13 January 2012
Reviewed on Wii

For many Wii owners, this is the game that's been at the top of their wishlist for much of the past five years. The idea of a Zelda game developed solely and specifically for the console has been an exciting prospect, especially after Twilight Princess - despite being created primarily for the GameCube - gave us a sneak peek of what could be done with the system's unique controls. Five years on from that, we have a game which is arguably one of the most refreshing Zelda titles in years - and for so many more reasons than just the Wii Remote.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the earliest game in the much-discussed Zelda timeline, taking place before many of the series' landmark icons even existed. As far as the basic premise of the game is concerned, the opening scenes take place in the town of Skyloft, floating high above the clouds. Link is training at the Knight Academy along with his best friend Zelda, whose father Gaebora is the academy's headmaster. At the start of the game, Link is taking part in a competition with other knights, all vying for a place in a special ceremony which Zelda is to play a key role in. It's a cute opening act, and the events within set the stage for the rest of the game in excellent fashion.

As you'd expect, it's not that long before you obtain your first sword, which is where the use of the Wii Remote comes in. It's worth noting that a standard Wii Remote won't do the job and isn't compatible with the game: you'll need either a Wii MotionPlus add-on, which clicks onto the end of the Wii Remote, or the new and updated Wii Remote Plus, which combines the two. It's easy to see why this route has been taken, as with the added MotionPlus tech, the game's controls are highly responsive - this might not be new technology, per se, but its use in a Zelda game is a pretty special thing to behold. There are many enemies in the game that have to be defeated a certain way, such as spiders with a weak spot you'll have to thrust the sword into and Stalfos with two swords preventing you from striking them any old way, adding that extra layer of strategy to the controls and swordplay.

With the obvious exception of the use of Wii MotionPlus, Skyward Sword plays a little differently to previous Zelda games. Anyone who's played Zelda before will be aware of the usual format: the main bulk of each game is usually taken up by visiting new areas, each often with its own temple or dungeon which  will include a new item to help out with the dungeon's boss and the game's overall progression. Skyward Sword has only four main areas including Skyloft (and a couple of smaller areas dotted around), though you'll find yourself returning to each area a number of times throughout the game.

Each time you return to an area at a specific point in the story, something will be different: either you'll have a new item which will allow you to get to more places, or something in the area itself will have changed to present you with a new challenge. Items are found all over the place and it's safe to say only a few of the items you'll use will be found in dungeons, as others will be given to you by certain characters or will be rewarded in particular circumstances. Knowledge of previous Zelda games is certainly not necessary here.

There are two distinct areas in Skyward Sword, as you'll begin in the sky and eventually travel down to the world known as the Surface. The sky is similar to the Great Sea from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker insomuch that it's made up of a number of different islands, some empty and some with extras such as minigames and sidequests. You'll be able to travel to islands by flying on your Loftwing - each person in Skyloft has their own Loftwing, a giant bird which helps them travel around - which is done by using the Wii Remote to steer, as well as control your speed. When you're soaring above the island you want to drop to, you can leap off your Loftwing and use your sailcloth to gently land on the ground. There's an air of thrill  to leaping to and from your Loftwing, as you also need to leap off islands to call him to you.

Skyward Sword also introduces a new guide to aid you in your quest: when you encounter the mythical Goddess Sword early in the game, you'll be met by Fi, the spirit of the sword, who will give you hints and suggestions as you go along as well as teaching you about certain aspects of the sword. Fi likes numbers, percentages and being deadpan without even trying, which means you'll either enjoy her company or really, really wish she'd go away. There's no denying she comes in very handy, especially while dowsing (which lets you hunt for items using your sword), and she's certainly one of the better companions in the series.

It's already clear that Skyward Sword is markedly different to previous Zelda games in terms of gameplay: so much is different about the game, more than in any other Zelda game, yet it still manages to stay true to the series by retaining classic elements such as items, traits and sounds. Forget for a moment the game's use of MotionPlus technology, because in fairness, you'll soon forget you're using it while you're playing it: it soon becomes second nature to you to swipe where you want to strike the sword or to aim exactly where you want to shoot with your slingshot or bow. The game would be an awful lot of fun even without MotionPlus thanks to the vast areas, the fun games and the items to collect, but with it it's even more of a joy to play.

Item collection can play quite a big part in Skyward Sword if you want it to. There are two main kinds of item to collect, each of which can help you improve and upgrade your items, another big addition to the game: you can collect bugs using a net, then take them to the potion shop in Skyloft and use them to improve your potions; on a grander scale, you can also collect a number of different materials, which you can take to the scrap shop and have them used to upgrade your items. Almost anything can be upgraded, like your shield, bow, slingshot, bug net and so on. You'll need a certain number of the necessary materials to have the upgrades done, and it'll cost a small amount of money, but you'll end up with greatly improved items.

The way you store items has also been changed considerably: you now have two separate pouches, one for necessary quest items (bow, bombs, slingshot and so on) and a pouch for optional items (like shields, potions, bomb bags, quivers and more). You start with four pockets in the latter pouch and you can buy up to four extra pouches to enable you to carry more items with you, though any items you don't have room for can be kept at the lotcheck in Skyloft. In a big change from previous games, you can carry multiple quivers, bomb bags and seed bags to increase the ammo you can carry, and these can also be upgraded to make them even larger. You can also carry medals, which will affect the items you come across: the Treasure Medal, for example, makes even more materials appear, while the rare Life Medal gives you an extra heart container.

Skyward Sword also introduces a couple of new "strength" meters: one is a stamina meter, which depletes as Link dashes around (one of his new moves), leaps up walls or pulls off certain sword techniques such as spin attacks or uppercuts; the other is a meter connected to shields, as shields can now be damaged and, if damaged too much, break completely. Depending on the shield you have (there are several types), you can be protected against fire, electricity or a combination of the two, but different shields have different strengths (an iron shield is stronger than a wooden shield, for instance). Certain shields will also protect you from being cursed: as in some previous Zelda games, you can be cursed by certain enemies for a short time, thus preventing you from using your sword.

A lot of these new features - lotcheck, the scrap shop, potion upgrades and other shops - are all found in Skyloft, for which there's good reason: while you'll find friendly beings such as Gorons and the underwater Parella tribe on the Surface, there are no shops or utilities around because this is a place humans haven't lived in for lifetimes. Because of this, Skyloft is very much like a hub: while it's of great importance at the start of (and at various points throughout) the game, you'll go back constantly to carry out some helpful tasks, like buying potions and upgrading new items. Other than when the story dictates, you'll never have to go back to the sky when it's not convenient, and the same applies in reverse: if you're spending some time in Skyloft or on the other islands and you feel as though you need to head to the Surface to pick up materials, rupees or other goodies, you always have the option to do that whenever you like, so you only need to do it when it's convenient to you.

While you're going about your business collecting items and kicking enemies' backsides with a satisfying amount of precision, take a moment to look around at the game's incredible locations. Skyward Sword blends the realistic style of locations and characters from Twilight Princess with the vivid colours and cel-shaded graphics of The Wind Waker to create an incredible fantasy world unlike anything that's been seen in a Zelda game before. The attention to detail is second-to-none, which is all the more obvious when you take a look at the backgrounds in any location: the further away you get, the more they almost turn into paintings, as was Shigeru Miyamoto's desire in the first place. These are some of the best visuals on Wii and they've allowed for some incredible character and location designs.

The game's music is equally pleasing, with new tracks taking up the bulk of the soundtrack as always but with a number of classic sounds and tunes making their way into the game. The Ballad of the Goddess is the perfect Zelda theme in every way possible (including being played backwards) and fits the game wonderfully, as does much of the other music. Some of the location themes, such as the music for Faron Woods and Eldin Volcano, are much more understated than you might be used to in a Zelda game, but it works better that way as you don't have overbearing music bothering you, nor are you missing out on fantastic tunes due to having to concentrate on what you're doing. The entire soundtrack is orchestrated, right down to the "got item" jingle, and is an absolute joy to listen to. It might just be one of Nintendo's finest soundtracks.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of Nintendo's greatest games. The amount of effort that's been put into it - more than one hundred people have spent five years making it - is staggering and, more importantly, very obvious. The finest detail has been put into every aspect of the game: the locations, the soundtrack, the characters, the controls, the graphics, everything is absolutely sublime. There isn't enough praise in the world: Skyward Sword is, by far, one of the best games on Wii, rivalled only by the Super Mario Galaxy games. It's a testament to the history of The Legend of Zelda that its best ever entry would be released in the year of its 25th anniversary and you owe it to yourself to own this incredible game. This is the game we've been waiting five years for and it's safe to say it's been worth the wait. Miyamoto has crafted yet another masterpiece.

Verdict: Incredible

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Published by Nintendo
Developed by Nintendo