In many ways Skyward Sword can be seen as a new beginning for the Zelda series. From Miyamoto proclaiming Twilight Princess as the “last Zelda of its kind”, to Aonuma encouraging new ideas to be implemented in Link’s latest adventure, Skyward Sword can be seen as Nintendo’s first step towards a new kind of Zelda experience. When reviewing Skyward Sword, I prefer to look at it not only in light of what it accomplishes as its own game, but also in terms of what it means for the future of Zelda. With new Zelda titles currently in development for both the Wii U and the 3DS, there is nearly limitless potential for the ideas we saw in Skyward Sword to be perfected and expanded on Nintendo’s new hardware.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing all of the various elements that went into making Skyward Sword, as well what we can expect and hope for in future titles. In this first article I’ll be examining arguably the most important and innovative feature of Skyward Sword: motion controls. As a focal point of Skyward Sword’s design, much of the gaming experience revolved around these new controls. So how did Nintendo do? What should we expect from Nintendo in the future?
From the beginning, Zelda has always been about immersing the player in the experience. It has always been Miyamoto’s goal to try to connect the player to the game in a way that really puts them inside the adventure. From the first moment when Link receives a sword I immediately felt this accomplished. With motion controls the player can finally feel what it’s truly like to not only play as Link, but to be the Hero. Transforming your controller into a blade, Skyward Sword extends the combat from your television screen to your living room, encompassing you in the action.
In the time since playing Skyward Sword, going back to previous titles just doesn’t feel quite the same anymore. Recent titles like Twilight Princess have found ways to spice the combat up a bit, but after 25 years of standard controls that mostly require mashing the B button, the change of pace in Skyward Sword just feels right.
Of course, fancy new control scheme of Skyward Sword means much more than just a switch from the press of a button to the swing of your arm. Motion controls allow for more precision in swordplay, completely changing up enemy interaction. Timing and strategy come into play, as most enemies can only be killed in specific ways. As the Zelda development team has stated at various points in time, each and every enemy was supposed to be a sort of puzzle in of itself.
In the early moments of Skyward Sword, discovering and exploiting enemy weaknesses is a joy. Figuring out strategies and getting just the right timing down to vanquish your foes is exciting and entertaining, but the action soon loses the fresh feel, and excitement slows from a flood to a trickle in time. The main reason for this has nothing to do with the control scheme, but the enemies. There is a quickly noticeable lack of diversity among the baddies, and it’s not long before you find yourself saying, “More Bokoblins?” To be fair, each new area introduces new versions of the various enemies, but the methods for fighting them differ very little.
Over the span of 25 years and 16 games, the Zelda franchise has seen quite a few different enemies. There was certainly no shortage of familiar foes for Skyward Sword to choose from, yet we find ourselves slashing hordes of Bokoblins, Deku Babas, and Chuchus everywhere we go. Skyward Sword introduced a few new interesting enemies, and did a solid job of re-designing some older ones, such as the Beamos statues, but it wasn’t enough. For a game where combat is king, there should have been a bigger, better, and more challenging array of enemies.
Equally important as the target of Link’s attacks are the weapons he uses. Motion controls open the door to recreate our old, favorite weapons, as well as to introduce new ones. This is another area where I feel Skyward Sword fell a little short. The majority of the older weapons were upgraded in fairly suitable fashion, although our good friend Tom McShea might argue otherwise about the Bow, but the arsenal lacked excitement, and only one truly new item was introduced. What Zelda fan wouldn’t want an opportunity to use motion controls with items like the Fire, Ice, and Sand Wands, the Ball and Chain, or Bombchus? And even better than spicing up old weapons would be the inclusion of more fantastic new items like the Beetle.
The final element of combat is boss battles. It’s no secret that there’s an established, and arguably stale, formula when fighting Zelda bosses. Step one: Take down whatever defenses the boss has, usually using a recently acquired item. Step two: Hit it in the eye or other obvious weak point to stun it. Step three: Slash away! Longtime fans of Zelda are getting a little sick of this, and Skyward Sword was supposed to finally freshen things up a bit.
Link’s first boss encounter in Skyward Sword showed major promise. Not only was Ghirahim challenging for newcomers, but he also had no obvious weakness, and no eye-stabbing was necessary. Having a true sword fight to kick things off was refreshing, challenging, and fun. However, as the game progressed, the old Zelda boss formula reared its head. Bosses like Moldarach and Tentalus offered little to separate themselves from the various boss fights of the past, and even fan-favorite boss Koloktos, although fun, still pretty much followed the tired, old formula. Meanwhile, fighting Ghirahim and The Imprisoned three separate times each by the game’s ending felt forced and redundant. Sure, they changed things up a bit each time, but those six battles could have and should have been scaled back to four or less, leaving room for at least two new bosses.
Gee, I wonder where its weak spots are…
Negativity aside, I have to admit I still enjoyed all of the Skyward Sword bosses, with the possible exception of Moldarach, more than a lot of other recent Zelda bosses. I always felt a bit of an adrenaline rush when I went into battle, even if the battle itself wasn’t especially exciting. This is a sign to me that the control scheme works. It can make relatively bland combat feel exciting, but Zelda shouldn’t settle for that. A fantastic new control scheme doesn’t give Nintendo an excuse to drop the ball in other aspects.
So how did Skyward Sword fare with motion controls, and what does this mean for the future of Zelda? I believed motion controls are the right move for Zelda. They bring the series to life in a way that can’t be done with regular controls. However, Skyward Sword only scratched the surface of the potential they have for Zelda. With more diversity in enemies, items, weapons, and boss strategies, Zelda Wii U can take the solid foundation that Skyward Sword established and create a Zelda experience that truly sweeps fans off their feet.
There’s still one possibility that hasn’t been discussed. What if the Zelda team ops to abandon motion controls for Zelda Wii U? Aonuma has stated emphatically that they are the future of the franchise, but the combination of Skyward Sword’s underwhelming sales and that fancy new Wii U tablet has to be at least tempt him to reconsider. If this should be the case, I think the upcoming Zelda title for 3DS could be very indicative of what we’ll see for Zelda Wii U. With two screens and built in gyroscope, the 3DS is capable of doing many of the same things that the Wii U will be able to, with a few limitations. Just as Skyward Sword has set the foundation for future motion controls, Zelda 3DS could be the stepping stone for Zelda Wii U should Nintendo decided to use the tablet instead of Wii Motion Plus.
As Zelda fans, what did you think of the controls for Skyward Sword? Would you like to see them return for Zelda Wii U, or would you rather see the tablet in action? In either scenario, what kinds of exciting new innovations would you like to see? Make yourself heard in the comments!