Another title we recently had a second opportunity to take a closer look at was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which is coming to the Wii on November 20th.
As one might recall from our E3 write-up, Skyward Sword failed to leave a very good impression on us. In fact, it was bad enough that we knew something must be up, and left craving another opportunity to try the game, albeit in a more controlled and arguably more professional environment than the chaos provided by the Electronic Entertainment Expo. And are we ever grateful that Nintendo of Canada provided just such an opportunity.
We spoke of what the E3 demo contained in our previous article, and this demo was very much the same. A lot of articles have come forth recently, speaking to the content of the game, but here, we would like to focus on the feel and experience we got to enjoy– as well as some do’s and don’ts for when you first play the game.
As it turns out, the booth lady who assisted us at E3 was not as knowledgable about the game as would have been helpful; fortunately, this event had some of the pros from Nintendo of America itself on hand to help properly guide us.
Perhaps the single biggest mistake we (and others, apparently) had made when we first tried to play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is to try to play it as we would other sword titles for the Wii, such as Red Steel 2, or how we would expect a game boasting 1:1 sword motion to play. That is, we attempted to act as though we were actually holding a sword, swinging the Wii Remote through the air in front of us.
Simply put: this is wrong, and will more than likely lead to frustration on your part as Link almost seems to be on the other end of a game of “Telephone” between himself and the Wii Remote.
What we learned should satisfy those gamers who want to play The Legend of Zelda, but don’t want to be up on their feet, swinging remotes about and worrying about tiring themselves out before reaching the first dungeon. What we learned is that the swordplay in this game is all in the wrist.
Whether tying Link’s broad motions to simple wrist movements can truly be called “1:1” is a subject which will no doubt permeate forums and articles for years to come, but once you get used to it, it plays like a dream.
Nintendo undoubtedly knew that a quest as long as Zelda provides– especially this Zelda, which is boasting a running time of 50 to 100 hours– would no doubt last much longer than that and tire players out more frequently if it used a full range of motion, so the simplified movements will no doubt prove to be welcome.
We wrote before that we were concerned when merely holding the remote in front of us like a sword caused Link to raise his to the sky, but understanding the controls provided a much-needed sense of relief. Holding the Wii Remote up straight raises the sword– no He-Man-like pose required–, while pointing it forward has Link hold it forward at arm’s length. Turning it left or right has him hold it in the appropriate direction, still at arm’s length, and this will prove important later.
With a firm grasp of this knowledge, we went forth to take on the dungeon of the game, assistance from Nintendo of America’s representatives guiding us, and we were able to slay bats, spiders, and even the skeletal Stalfos boss, whose guard you must penetrate by swinging the sword according to how his arms are positioned. With that done, we were rewarded with an upgrade for our mechanical beetle, which we then used to free us from the boss room by guiding it with the Wii Remote to fly through a hole and trigger the switch we hit for access in the first place.
Craving more swashbuckling action, we ventured to the part of the demo we opted to pass over at E3, following our poor performance: a one-on-one showdown with the big, bad boss named Ghirahim.
Whereas series antagonist Ganondorf symbolizes raw power and brute strength wrapped in black and red, Demon Lord Ghirahim feels like the exact opposite. Clad in white, he seems much more sleek, svelte, and agile. With but a gesture, he stops your blade in its tracks by catching it between his middle and forefingers, leaving you to pull with the Wii Remote to free your blade.
But by carefully observing your foe, you can still get in a few hits… and that’s when Ghirahim decides it’s time to get serious. Summoning forth his own blade, it is well and truly on as he parries your attacks and returns with his own in kind. His favorite tactic, and a rather devastating one, is where he teleports across the room with his sword drawn, and dashes at you for a large slash attack.
Observing your foe reveals whether he will be swinging left or right, and if you prepare yourself for the oncoming rush by holding your sword to the opposite side, you can get him before he gets you. Additionally, a well-timed raising of your shield with the Nunchuk controller can thwart his attack, and even smack him silly, leaving him open for more attacks from your own blade.
Truth be told, the battle was immensely satisfying, perhaps more than any other we have played in a 3D Zelda (or perhaps any Zelda, period) to date, and we went back to it repeatedly (when not testing the other portions, of course). In fact… well, this next part may actually make some gamers cringe, but we ask that you hear us out.
The swordplay in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword reminds us a lot of the combat in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Incidentally, we would also just like to put out there that Zelda II remains one of our favorites in the series, even all these years later.
The combat in the original Legend of Zelda was fairly basic: you moved around, and you stabbed guys. In some cases, you had to move around to the side or back to hit them in their weak spot, or wait for a vulnerability to appear.
Zelda II, meanwhile, for whatever faults some of you may perceive, had a much more robust and intricate combat system. You could attack high or low, and had to take into account whether your foes were attacking the same way. Plus, some also had defenses which were high or low, and you needed to know not only when and where to strike, but when and where to guard. Add to this attacks such as the upward and downward thrusts, each of which had their own uses in a battle, and you had a pretty deep system for the time.
Sword combat in previous 3D Zeldas feels relatively basic by comparison, more like that found in the original game, or A Link to the Past. Skyward Sword, meanwhile, seems to swap out the vertical nature of Zelda II‘s swordplay for horizontal. That is, instead of worrying about jumping or striking high or low, your concern is instead placed more on whether attacks and defenses come from the left or the right, or whether a sideways slash would be ineffective, instead necessitating one from top to bottom, or even a simple stab.
In summation, the sword combat in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is like nothing we’ve ever really played before, yet at the same time brings back some of our fonder memories of a classic and often underrated NES title from early in the series’ life. And we can’t wait for more.
Before we wrap this up, we also want to address our time with the bird-riding portion of the game. While we were unable to personally try this at E3, our colleague Matthew Green from Press the Buttons was less than impressed. And when we gave it a shot here, we were equally unimpressed as the stage seemed to carry on forever…
…that is, until another Nintendo of America representative came to help us out. She pointed out that this portion of the game needed you to not only steer the bird, but to flap its wings with a motion of the Wii Remote– a fact a lot of people were not informed of at E3, according to her testimony. Once we began having our bird flap, things became much, much easier as we used it in tandem with our speed boosts. What once dragged on for many minutes became a snap.
Incidentally, it seems that finishing this portion is possible without the flapping, but to do so makes it incredibly long, boring, and perhaps worst of all, a bit frustrating. Luckily, our refined experience has left us with significantly less dread, and maybe even a bit of anticipation for further flying portions.
November 20th is only a little over a month away, but after our second time with the game, it still cannot come soon enough for our liking.