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When the Wii launched in 2006, it did so alongside Twilight Princess, a Zelda game that was originally intended for the Gamecube. It was, like many early Wii games let down by the waggly, not-exactly accurate afterthought implementation of motion control that wholly tacked on. It wasn’t the Zelda game Wii owners deserved.

Nintendo promised to undo that damage with Skyward Sword, utilising the more accurate WiiMotionPlus to give gamers something more befitting of the series legacy. It’s fitting that Skyward Sword, in the 25th Anniversary of the Zelda franchise is one of the very best adventure games available – and quite possibly the best game to feature the Legend of Zelda name.

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It sticks with the template – or formula if you’re so inclined – that we’ve seen in Legend of Zelda games since Ocarina of Time – so much so, that it’s easy, natural even, at first to see feel that Skyward Sword is yet another Ocarina facsimile. Of course, Zelda’s gone missing and it’s up to the green-tunic clad, pointy-eared Link to save her.  Instead of an annoying blue fairy, Link has a guide and companion in the clinical, but far less exasperating Fi, a spirit contained within a sword. Instead of Ocarina’s eponymous musical instrument, Link has a harp and instead of a horse, he rides about on a great big bird. If you’ve played any of the 3D legend of Zelda games, you’ll believe you’ll know exactly what to expect.  But you’d be wrong.

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Skyward Sword, curiously, takes place before any of the other Zelda games – becoming the first game in a rather confusing Zelda timeline, giving it a bit of an origin story feel to it, and also making it easy for somebody who’s never played a Zelda game before to come to terms with. As always Link is the hero of the story, but the difference here is that Zelda, the series namesake, plays a more prominent role.  She’s not a princess – but rather Link’s childhood friend, and obvious romantic interest, giving her a little more actual personality. The game begins in Skyloft, an island in the sky – given to its inhabitants by the goddess. There’s nothing below the blanketing clouds beneath Skyloft – or so its skybound inhabitants believe. Zelda somehow topples from the sky, plummeting into the layer of cloud below. It is, of course, up to Link to saddle up his crimson Loftwing, the bird that serves as his Epona to go after her.

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In typical Zelda form, your quest will take you from an enchanted woodland to an ancient desert to a fiery volcano to ancient desert (Hyrule, essentially) – encountering dungeons and mid-level bosses in each. As you’d expect from Zelda, these dungeons and their bosses are so involved, so intricately and masterfully designed that the only word to really describe them is genius. What’s different this time around is that many of the dungeons aren’t dungeons at all – and all that distilled cleverness you’d expect to find within the confines of dungeons is often scattered all throughout the environment. About half way through the game you’ll revisit the areas you’ve already completed – new tricks in hand – and rediscover them. What could have been a way for Nintendo to artificially increase the game’s length becomes an exercise, rather, in brilliance. Especially considering there’s not a single “light the torch” puzzle to be found.

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There’s a little more RPG in the action this time. There’s a new stamina bar in place that allows link only limited sprinting, special moves or climbing before its depleted. Links stalwart weapons , like clawshots, the bow and the slingshot make a return, but Link’s new gear, which include a whip that can attach to the environment to swing, or steal items from enemies are a highlight. The big standout, especially in the earlier stages of the game is the remote controlled beetle – a magical, mechanical bug that Link can use to scout locations, hit switches or later, carry bombs and other items to otherwise inaccessible areas. The RPG comes in the fact that many of these, and other items are upgradeable. During your adventure you find loot and collect bugs from chests and enemies. These can be used in the store on Skyloft to upgrade accessories, making them more faster or powerful. It’s hardly the deep role-playing mechanics of games like Dark Souls or Skyrim, but it adds a welcome level of depth to the series.

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Skyward Sword’s big bulletpoint is that, thanks to the MotionPlus you have more direct control of Link than ever before. It’s no mean gimmick – and it’s most obvious in your sword handling. Though still not quite the advertised 1:1 movement, it does for the most part track your movement of the Wiimote more than adequately  – and you’re no longer left waggling your arms about to get things done. And though you could, if you choose, flail about wildly the clever enemy design that requires you to direct attacks with intuition and precision means you’ll be doing so to your detriment. Motion controls aren’t just limited to swashbuckling. Many of the items Link will find on use on his adventure require careful and considered use of the Wiimote. You’ll control the aforementioned beetle by steering the controller up and down for height, and tilting left and right to turn – as you would a paper plane. Bombs can now be thrown overhead like a basketball, or bowled along the ground, echoing Wii Sports bowling. And though the WiiMotion Plus’ calibration gets thrown out every so often, there’s no doubt that this is the best marriage of motion controls to traditional gaming as you’re likely to experience.

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It’s difficult to even look at Skyward Sword without remarking how damned beautiful it all is. Sure, it’s running on what’s essentially decade old hardware, but its art design – looking like a paint-daubed watercolour masterpiece – makes up for, and masks
the lack of technology. It does, however, make you long for a time when a game of this scope and magnitude, with that dash of special Nintendo polish won’t be held back by the Wii’s constraints. With an aesthetic that straddles the line between the darker Twilight Princess and the cartoony Wind Waker, Skyward Sword’s visuals, embracing child-like imagination might deter many modern gamers, but it’s really their loss. Skyward Sword is not only a contender for Game of the Year lists the world over, but a likely winner.

Scoring:

Gameplay: 9/10

For the first time that I can recall a proper, traditional game makes use of motion controls in a way that has meaning and isn’t needlessly tacked on. You’ll be swashbuckling your way to victory, using an array of new gadgets and gizmos, each of which play up the strengths of the MotionPlus. If adventuring’s your thing, you’re in for a good time.

Design and Presentation: 9/10

The blend of technical wizardry and faultless design hides the Wii’s lack of graphical prowess – resulting in a game that’s wonderfully, magically beautiful 0 and It’s all made better through the use of a fully orchestrated score, a sample of which is included with the game on a separate audio CD.

Value: 10/10

It’s the biggest Zelda yet, and though it reuses many locations, it’s done with driven purpose giving you an adventure that’ll last 35 to 40 hours, ignoring the side quests which’ll add longevity. Finishing the game unlocks Hero mode – similar to Ocarina of Time’s Master Quest – that increases the game’s difficulty.

Overall: 9/10

The Wii is entering its twilight – and what better way to send it off than with this swansong; a wonderful, sublimely polished adventure game that actually makes a good case for motion controls. If there was ever a reason for a “core” gamer to own a Wii, this is it.

Last Updated: December 5, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Summary
9.0

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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