I opted against using the term “poor sales” in this article’s title. Why? Because it would be far from the truth: Having sold over 3.5 million units (on an arguably dead platform, no less), Skyward Sword was a commercial success. But comparing those sales to the rest of the main console Zelda titles, Skyward Sword sold less units than all except for Majora’s Mask (unless you consider Four Swords Adventures to be a “main console Zelda title”). Based on this information, I think it’s safe to say that Skyward Sword sold undeniably well for a general video game, but sold terribly as far as Zelda games are concerned.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean this to be a sales analysis piece: The first paragraph right there is really all you need to know regarding sales figures, as far as this piece is concerned. With that out of the way, I want to discuss Nintendo’s reaction to the sales. In a series as popular and as long-running as Zelda, sales can really give developers a louder lesson to learn than any vocal reaction regarding what the fans really like, and unfortunately, I feel like Nintendo is learning the wrong lessons from Skyward Sword.
There are many apparent factors that could easily have led Skyward Sword to its sales predicament. It was released when the Wii was considered by many to be a dead system, and, just as importantly, after the Wii U was already announced at E3 2011. Throw in the fact that Skyward Sword was arguably the last major game to hit the Wii (unless you’re an American who really wanted to play the Operation Rainfall games, or if you adore Mario Party 9), and that makes for a lot of Zelda fans who not only may have moved on from the Wii long ago, but would prefer to wait just wait for the Wii U before playing the series’ newest entry. Heck, I was even in that category (I had never owned a Wii) until I caved in and bought a Wii and Skyward Sword this past Spring… and even then, I ended up grabbing a used copy of the game since it was $10 cheaper (meaning my purchase didn’t even really matter, as far as Nintendo’s sales of the game were concerned).
And then of course, there was the game’s content itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love Skyward Sword, but I’m not alone in thinking that the handholding was the most intrusive in the series yet, and that the linearity and lack of areas to explore killed part of Zelda’s magic. There was no reason a forced cutscene should have pointed out the umpteenth timeshift stone in the center of a small room just because it looked slightly different from the others, and there was no reason a forced description complete with an inventory animation should’ve played every time I first collected the same treasure after resetting the game. I could go on and on. I’m not saying that Skyward Sword was by any means a disaster to the series, like a certain other franchise’s latest entry debateably was, or that Skyward Sword is the only Zelda game guilty of these problems, but I don’t think there’s any denying that it has these issues worse than any other entry in the main console series did.
Of course, I’m sure some people’s natural reaction upon reading the last paragraph would be to point to the reviews. Sure, Skyward Sword got perfect or near perfect scores from the majority of reviewers (Gamespot being a notable exception), and it was apparently the fastest selling game in the series, but after 2011 was over, sales slowed to a crawl. I know that what I’m about to say is a long shot, but I think it makes a lot of sense to think that, in those six weeks or so, fans sounded off on the game, and the vocal group of fans (whether they be a majority or minority) who criticized the aforementioned issues were heard by more potential customers, and scared them away.
And yet, what do Nintendo’s latest comments suggest? That people didn’t like it because of the motion controls.
That’s it. It wasn’t because the game was released on an arguably dead system that many considered outdated. It wasn’t because the game babied players, even though a good number of them had been playing Zelda for a decade, two, or more. It was because people didn’t like the motion controls. And because of that, Nintendo’s statements seem to hint at stepping away from motion controls, and going back to traditional controls, with GamePad input. Am I missing something? I understand that Nintendo wants to promote their newest “way to play,” but why do that when Zelda seems born for 1:1 motion controlled swordplay? It seems to me like they might take a huge opportunity and throw it out the window. I’m not going to defend the motion controls as perfect, but they were still downright beautiful, and every new control style has its growing pains in the first try. I just hate to think Nintendo might throw arguably the best control style for Zelda out the window, while not getting rid of the very real issues of handholding and linearity.
What do you think? Is Nintendo unfairly using Skyward Sword‘s motion controls as a scapegoat for its sales, or are they spot on? Do you think the next Zelda will stick with motion controls, the GamePad, or offer options for both? What did you think of Skyward Sword‘s handholding and linearity? Let us know in the comments!