If there’s anything that I’m just gushing with praise about concerning The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, it’s the depth Wii Motion Plus added to the combat. It’s not just about running up and mashing the B button against unwitting enemies or executing automated quick-time events… I mean flashy sword maneuvers to get the best of monsters’ defenses - you actually have to size up your opponent and respond to his movements. As such, it’s a much more faithful translation of real-life sword combat - basically a Zelda fan’s dream.
I wouldn’t call the execution perfect by any means, but it’s so many strides in the right direction that I keep my fingers crossed that this style of play will remain intact for Zelda HD.
The first thing that strikes me about Wii Motion Plus as it applies to sword combat is that it really opens up the range of motions you can execute using your sword. Instead of being limited to pre-set combos in three main categories - horizontal slices, vertical swings, and stabs - now you get to swing diagonally and in whatever direction you choose. The greater degree of control gave me a greater sense that it was my skill and tactics that brought me to victory than in previous games.
Sure, that’s pretty much where your level of influence ends - there’s no real effort to judge the strength or speed of your swing, and you can’t really perform a fake-out and change directions mid-slice - but it’s such a solid core that any other additions would just seem superfluous. I can’t see much of a meaningful difference being made outside of that near-complete freedom to control the direction of your sword attacks. After all, these are video games we’re talking about, not the real world. Anything that happens has to be meticulously programmed, which means there are only so many possible variables in any case. Better to keep things simple and basic (and thus accessible) than try to over-complicate.
Your increased level of control is matched by added AI for enemies - because you can now attack from multiple angles, now they can block in multiple directions. Enemies’ toughness comes from how effectively and quickly they shift their guard in response to your own movements, and in some later foes’ cases, how many directions they can block off at once. Because this opens up a “weak spot” for players to notice and exploit, many have taken to calling Skyward Sword‘s sword fights a series of “combat puzzles.”
But I think that’s a load of Dodongo dung.
This is how real sword combat works - at least, structurally speaking. You size up your opponent’s defenses, look for weaknesses, and move to take advantage of them. Because this is a video game we’re talking about there are limitations in terms of how much “sizing up” you can really do - these aren’t real people we’re dealing with, after all, but virtual fighters - so those gaps in enemy defenses have to be something that’s fairly visible. Hence, enemies usually leave one easy-to-determine direction open to attack, or have pre-scripted patterns of following your moves. But this isn’t so much a “puzzle” as it is the way patterns of behavior get expressed in video games.
If there’s anything that makes it feel a bit like a puzzle, it’s the lack of enemy aggression. That’s the main thing that sets Skyward Sword‘s framework apart from real-life sword combat - battles are usually one-sided, with you reacting to your opponent’s defensive moves instead of their attacks keeping you on your toes as well. But that’s a whole different issue, and one I’ve already addressed, so I won’t go that deeply into it.
In terms of what Skyward Sword‘s combat does bring to the table, it’s so many steps in the right direction that I’m just aching to see them take it the final mile. I’m not just talking about how you use your sword, either - the shield took on a more up-front and important role, and I’m very glad to see that. Is it perfect? Not quite, but it’s so vastly superior to the two-dimensional combat of past 3D Zeldas that it’s definitely number one on my “styles of play” list for the series.