|Release: November 20, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p||Fantasy Violence|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
At E3, I got to go hands-on with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and boy is it ever shaping up. This is the Wii's last great swan song before the Wii U takes over, and it certainly does the console justice. The game easily shows gamers what motion control is all about, and proves that even serious action games can utilize motion feedback without degenerating into a waggle fest.
Skyward Sword was playable at last year's E3, but it was basically just Wii Sports Resort with Zelda painted over it. The controls were loose, the motion tracking was accurate only about fifty percent of the time, and Miyamoto himself couldn't get the game to work up on stage during the Nintendo press conference. The first thing I noticed about the E3 2011 build of Skyward Sword was that all of those issues from E3 2010 were fixed. There were three demos to choose from on the show floor, and in none of them did I feel like I was wrestling against the control scheme.
The first demo takes place sometime near the beginning of the game, before Link dons his familiar green tunic and cap. Link, dressed in his civvies, and Zelda, who is most decidedly not in distress nor particularly a princess at this point, are riding on the back of giant birds in some sort of village tournament.
You see, in the world of Skyward Sword, everyone has migrated to floating villages in the sky. They don't remember what the world was like down below. All they know is that there is great evil and ruin down there, and up in the skies everyone is safe. My bet is that Gannondorf is down there somewhere, stomping around the ruins of old Hyrule. So the people in each village train giant birds as mounts to get from place to place. It's like a greater fantasy version of James Cameron's Avatar.
The bird was controlled almost entirely by motion. The orientation of the Wiimote corresponded 1:1 with the orientation of the bird. You pointed the Wiimote at the screen to start, and from there tilting and twisting the Wiimote controlled the pitch, yaw, and roll of the bird. It felt very natural and easy to do. It was almost like you were a kid, running around with a toy airplane in your hand and making engine noises. The B button allowed you to slow down (though there was no real reason to do that) and the A button worked like Epona's carrots, giving your bird a short speed boost.
The next demo we saw featured some more traditional Zelda gameplay, but even this integrated motion controls into every aspect of Link's arsenal. The bow and arrow feels almost exactly like Wii Sports Archery, only with a much more accurate targeting system. Bombs are actually rather simple to use, as you simply pick them up and put them down, but if you prefer, you can actually roll them in homage to Wii Sports Bowling. One of Link's new tools is the remote-controlled beetle which, when launched, is controlled much like Link's bird. You use the beetle to reach far away switches and items. It's almost like a controllable boomerang.
However, the bag of tricks Link has at his disposal is really mostly used for solving puzzles. Battle is all about the swordplay, and I have to hand it to Nintendo for making one of the first motion-controlled swordplay systems that actually feels like there's some skill involved. Every enemy you fight will have a certain "opening" in their stance. Monsters like the Skulltulla spider, for example, can only be damaged on their belly, while more human-like beasties, like the undead Stalfos Knights, will move their shields into different positions to defend themselves, requiring you to slash in different directions to get around their defenses. The demo even had us facing off against the game's main antagonist (no spoilers for you) which required expert usage of horizontal and vertical attacks, thrusting, blocking, dodging, and much more. Unlike previous Zelda titles, your enemies don't have a pattern. Instead, sword fighting is all about reaction and noticing openings in the opponent's defense. It's one of the most realistic combat engines I have ever seen.
Link has a bunch of other tricks at his disposal as well. For one, he seems to have learned several parkour-style moves that let him scale cliffs and jump wide chasms. He can also sprint, which makes him move very fast at the cost of a draining a stamina meter which, if totally depleted, makes Link sluggish and out of breath for a while. His shield also has its own durability gauge now, and, once depleted, the shield will shatter, leaving Link defenseless against his enemies. He will have to go to shops to get his shields repaired and/or upgraded if he wants to stand a chance in the more complex swordfights the game has to offer. Finally, Link can also use his sword as a dousing rod to find where he has to go next.
The final Skyward Sword demo was only shown behind closed doors, and it showcased the game's "Dark World" called the Siren World. Link has to give up his sword just to enter the Siren World, so here he is totally defenseless. In addition, he is constantly stalked by ferocious "guardians" that can kill him in one hit. Luckily enough, there are safe zones in the Siren World that render Link invisible to the guardians. So the majority of the gameplay in this world is running, hiding, busting out awesome parkour moves, and getting to the next safe zone before you die. Most likely, Link will eventually find a way to defend himself in this realm, but that will probably be saved until later in the game.
We were told that the game will be very heavy on backtracking. Unlike other Zelda tittles that have you going through a dungeon and then never coming back for the rest of the game (except for optional unlockables), dungeons in Skyward Sword are integrated into the game world. As such, you'll be backtracking quite a bit after you gain new abilities, making the game feel far more like Metroid than a traditional Zelda title.
Overall, Skyward Sword is looking like a pretty solid Zelda game. The combat is fun, the story seems interesting, and the graphics were great for the Wii. The music is also amazing. (In fact, when Nintendo had the Zelda medley played by a live orchestra at their press conference, I had to hold back tears.) If you are a Zelda fan, then you will love Skyward Sword. Be on the lookout for it when it releases later this year.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
CCC Contributing Writer