25 years of awesome games and still coming out with my game of 2011
Remember back in 1998 when Ocarina of Time launched and the 3D suddenly treated us on so many new puzzles and possibilities? I got that exact same feeling while playing through puzzle sections in Skyward Sword. Almost every single puzzle was new and it was nearly impossible not to feel like receiving a treat after Twilight Princess turned out to be just Ocarina of Time with a paint-job (essentially making it an expansion). I haven't had so much fun with puzzles in thirteen years, so that alone makes Skyward Sword worth the purchase.
Skyward Sword refuses to simply lift on the success of the series and gives us a complete redesign of the characters and races.This may seem like it would upset the veteran fans, but it doesn't. SS (worst acronym ever) references the older games and some of it gets really clever along the line, there are still Gorons and Hylians to be found, but you also meet new races such as the Kikwi and the Mogma, making it both a fresh experience without abandoning the things everybody loves and expects from the game.
Instead of a huge overworld with nothing but padding, we now return to a formula very similar to the original game. The overworld is a lot smaller, but it is full of secrets and the areas serve as puzzle sections before the actual temples. You have to find ways to make it past easier obstacles and monsters in order to find where you need to be, the actual temples have puzzles that are a lot harder, but this is still a fun way to keep us going.
The actual temples have improved a lot because no longer will you have to travel all around the place in the hope of finding the right path, linearity is what Nintendo went for and it works great. Your path is not hard to find, you know where to go, but it is up to you to find out how to manipulate the room in a way that allows you to actually do so. It is a lot better than say... the Water Temple from OoT or the Arbiter's grounds from Twilight Princess that were overwhelming and annoying.
If you like dialogue, this is the Zelda game for you. why? Well because the dialogue in Skyward Sword is the best we have ever seen in this franchise and possibly even Nintendo. When characters talk it actually feels like they have a character and motivations, flaws and all that stuff that people in the real world have as well. Ghirahnim is easily one of the creepiest characters I have seen in a long while.
The graphics style really rubs me up the right way, people talked about a mix between Twilight Princess and Wind Waker, but I disagree. The graphics put me more in mind of Majora's Mask with modern day animation and it looks great, from the beautiful areas that could be straight from a painting to the details in the character design, it is all done so damn well. I love it how character clothes move, it sounds like something odd to pick up on, but it is just so entertaining to watch Fi's attire move in the wind.
The side-quests were done very well, if a character has something for you to do there will be a small speech bubble following him around and they will clearly tell you what they need and where you should start looking. This is a lot better than in previous games were finding side-quests was either pure luck or meant asking every single NPC in town if they needed Link and his trusty sword for something. Doing side-quests also yields Gratitude Crystals which are needed for another side-quest.
There are a lot of things to collect in Skyward Sword; bugs, treasure, quest-items and the list goes on. However, instead of just been collectibles for the sake of been collectible you can actually use these items to upgrade your tools and potions. I didn't really need to do any of this and could get around very well with my items at a basic level, but this is sure to help less experienced players get themselves and edge in this adventure.
Aside from the mandatory items that Link carries with him (bow, whip and all that), there is also a separate section for items Link doesn't really need, but help him on his travels (shield, extra space for ammo and bottles). The twist is that there is only limited space, so you will have to decide which items to carry with you when travelling. Are you going to carry a lot of potions with you and a shield, or do you prefer carrying as many medallions as you can find to boost the rate of treasure and hearts you find.
Skyloft is beautiful, it only serves as a HUB world from which you can enter the provinces of Hyrule below, but the time you do spend there is worth every second. I admit getting very excited to play more when I first emerged from the academy and saw the knight of Skyloft fly around on their Loftwings while the floating islands stretched as far as the render distance allowed. When I was allowed to step on a Loftwing myself, damn, that is one sweet moment...
Finally, Link is a lot more agile than in all the previous games. For the first time ever we get a sprint function which allows Link to make a run for it in difficult times at the cost of stamina, once stamina runs down you will have to wait for it to regenerate. Also amusing is his ability to climb on Walls Prince of Persia style and use this to reach areas just slightly out of reach.
There is relatively little to complaint about and only two things are real problems, but I will write everything down anyway starting with the aforementioned "real problems":
The story is not paced very well and tends to drag on, it is certainly a great story with Zelda and Link been classmates (a refreshing idea after years of princess and hero), but after a while it keeps finding arbitrary ways to keep going. The game told me to create a portal to travel back in time, but first I had to spend hours doing three dungeons and a load of puzzles and in the end it was all just for one cutscene that never seemed to end, one puzzle and a boss-fight that could have been avoided if we didn't create that portal. The scene at the end where everything is wrapping up is also abruptly broken up to fit in two more boss-fights (I got the feeling someone showed up at the office with sprites one day and they felt obligated to put them in last-minute) and then there is the final FINAL cutscene where they spend eight minutes wrapping everything up and emotional states jump up and down more often than a hearth monitor with Parkinson during an earthquake. In the end only one minute of that entire scene was actually touching and that came out of bloody nowhere with no rhyme or reason.
The combat is heavily reliant on the Wii Motion Plus which is a shame because the damn thing doesn't work. I got the limited edition, so I have the Wii remote with the built in Motion Plus and Zelda paint-job, but even with that I had to configure the settings every thirty seconds to get the pointer back where it has to be. Fighting often ended up in just wailing on the enemies, leaving them with no chance to fight back. The final boss-fight took me three hours to complete because the second phase required me to hold the sword in the sky to use a special attack, but it has to be 100% 0 degrees into the sky or it does not work >.<
Now unto some minor stuff.
I can't really figure out what to think about Fi, the companion for this game. She is a lot like GlaDos from Portal, she is a robotic character with no real grasp of human emotions and who always talks about scientific stuff and calculations. The calculation jokes start getting annoying and she is often uncanny to the point of been scary from time to time, but the problem is that I get the feeling that this was Nintendo's goal for the character. If that is the case it is a job pretty well done because the scenes where she suddenly acts spontaneous and unpredictable are very memorable.
Some of the puzzles got a little cruel, such as one where I had to find a key to open a door, but the key was apparently located on a small rock outside of the map. Fi doesn't really help here either because all her advice can be summed up as "Look around and experiment" and she only gives advice about boss-fights after you lost half your lives. For real advice you have to go back to Skyloft and visit the Sheikah stone, but that is a waste of time in a day and age that everybody has a phone with internet access.
The music was probably Koji Kondo's worst I have seen so far, which is like saying you just found the ugliest $100 bill ever lying on the grass. The music is not bad by any means, but it is just so forgettable to the point I only cared to look up the song "Message of the Goddess". Unlike previous games that had a musical instrument in it, there is no real way to just jam on the harp you get this time around because you can only play songs during scripted moments and everything else is just randomness.
This entry makes a bit of a mess out of the established story, suddenly and of out nothing there is only one goddess and Din, Naryu and Farore are not really explained despite of been named quite frequently. I know the Zelda timeline is a giant mess already, but this is just taking the piss.
The Bottom Line
Skyward Sword is a positive sign, it shows us that the Zelda franchise can still be fresh and new if the people working on it are willing to strive for that. They have overdone it a little and the game drags on a bit nearing the end (could have saved that for the next game), but I have reason to believe we are finally moving forward after thirteen years of not really getting anywhere. This game is a wonderful experience with interesting characters, puzzles we never experienced before, an art style that makes the most out of the Wii and just an endless amount of fun from start to end. The few issues I do have with the game are far too minor to actually ruin the experience for me and I love it.
A recommendation for Skyward Sword is quite easy, if you are a fan of the franchise, you'll love it. If you stopped playing because the series started feeling stale, you'll love it and if you are just looking for an awesome adventure, you'll definitely love this. If you were hoping for a much darker story like with Hyrule: Total War (Mobygames doesn't want this game in their database sadly, but I can understand that) than this might disappoint you. Nintendo, good job.