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I’m going to put this on record: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is my least favorite Zelda game of all time. But I’m not stopping there; not only is it a poor Zelda game, it’s also a poor videogame in general.

Without even touching upon the love ‘em or hate ‘em motion controls, there’s more than enough evidence to show that Nintendo should’ve taken a step back, looked at Skyward Sword’s innovations, and asked themselves, “Are we sure these ideas are good?”

Syward Sword Fight

Gameplay Mechanics

“Nintendo never innovates with Zelda” and “Every Zelda game is the same” are some of the arguments Zelda detractors tend to throw around. They have some merit; almost every game follows roughly the same structure: you get a slingshot, a bow, some bombs, etc. etc. and then you use that “dungeon item” to defeat the dungeon boss. So with Skyward Sword it seems Nintendo took those complaints to heart. They added new gameplay mechanics and some new items. Too bad many of them are terrible.

Let’s start with the stamina meter. Link gets to sprint now! Yay? Problem is, whenever you start sprinting, a big, green meter shaped like half a lime pops up to show you how much stamina you have left. Not only does it look ugly and out of place with the game’s aesthetic, but Link has the wind of a 70 year-old smoker. In previous games, if you wanted to run faster you’d equip the Bunny Hood, ride Epona, or perhaps do a little bit of Goron rolling. Now you can sprint for a few seconds, wait for the gauge to refill, then sprint some more.

Stamina Meter

But the stamina gauge affects more than just sprinting. Almost every other activity in Skyward Sword is dependent on that little citrusy meter. Climbing, spin attacks, carrying things, pushing and pulling blocks are all dependent on Link’s incredibly tiny stamina pool. While a stamina meter could create a fun sense of risk vs. reward, the fact that it lasts for such a pitiful short time in Skyward Sword makes it more frustrating than anything else. How can Link sprint away from an enemy if they’ll just catch up in a couple of seconds when it runs out? I suppose he can politely ask them to wait to attack him after he’s caught his breath. Everyone knows monsters obey the rules of Time Outs.

Let’s move on to dowsing. Dowsing. I shudder every time I hear that word now. We get it, Nintendo. Skyward Sword is played with the WiiMote–a thing you point at the screen. We don’t need a gameplay mechanic to remind us of this. Dowsing has to be one of the dumbest things ever, and it only gets worse when you realize you have to use it all the damn time.

Skyward Sword Dowsing

Here’s how pretty much all of Skyward Sword goes: you go to a new area, Fi (more on her in a bit) pops up and says that something (or things plural) is hidden in the area, she suggests you dowse for them, and then the game turns into a hot n’ cold, hide n’ seek simulator. Were gamers supposed to be impressed at this “innovative” way Nintendo managed to include the WiiMote’s pointing ability?

You’re trying to find Zelda? Dowse for her! You’re trying to find some lost forest bird/plant things? Dowse for them! Musical notes swimming in a lake? You guessed it; dowse for them! I’m not complaining that dousing required the use of the WiiMote. It still would’ve been a terrible mechanic if you were moving the cursor around the screen with an analogue stick. The problem is that dowsing made the game resemble a bunch of never-ending fetch quests.

There are other mechanics I could touch upon–flying and the loot system–but I have other things I want to talk about. So just know that those two are also filled with bad ideas, but let’s move on to the game’s narrative.

Narrative

I’m a fiction writer, so a game’s narrative is always something I pay attention to (see: Killzone 3). Zelda games aren’t known for their incredibly deep narratives. Rescue the princess, stop Ganon, save Hyrule, rinse and repeat. But I remember reading reviews and other articles that raved about how Skyward Sword had a better narrative than previous Zelda games. Unfortunately that narrative ends up being distilled into: you need to prove yourself; go do these fetch quests; eventually defeat some evil demon monster.

Link Bombs

For the record, I’m not against Zelda’s “save the princess” story. It’s simple, but it works. However, I do have a problem with the way Skyward Sword’s presentation, both its in-game narrative and the design choices surrounding that narrative. You can tell a simple but effective “Zelda story” without having to resort to the same design choices (like how Thompson points out that all of Link’s items function as keys) over and over again.

In Skyward Sword for every new dungeon you encounter, it seems like there’s a new time-consuming sidequest just to “purify yourself” or “cleanse your spirit” or some such nonsense before you can even enter. From a gameplay perspective these quests ruin the flow of the game as they keep you from actually experiencing what Zelda is all about: exploring dungeons, getting new items, and beating bosses.

From a narrative perspective these quests and the reasons given to the player as to why you have to do them break the flow of the narrative. While he tends toward exaggeration, Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw puts it best at around the four minute mark. The fetch quests and weak narrative reasons for them sap any sense of urgency from the story.

The game tells me (over and over again) that I need to stop the Imprisoned and save all of creation, but before actually letting me do that, I have to prove myself worthy. Over and over again. By the end of the game, I’d actually forgotten why I was collecting all the different doodads. I just knew I had to do it to get through the game. It bled any sense of desire to figure out where the story was going right out of me.

Characters

But what’s a story without characters to sell that story? For the most part I have no complaints with Skyward Sword’s iterations of Link and Zelda. They’re both the same archetypes they’ve always been, and by now that’s blandly inoffensive. I don’t care if they get developed more than that or not.

But early on in the story you meet Fi, Skyward Sword’s version of Navi. She’s a Goddess-created computer program that lives in your sword and speaks in auto-tune. At first, her overly verbose way of explaining everything was entertaining. Early on, I exclaimed to my girlfriend, “I like Fi! She’s funny.” I spoke too soon. For as annoyed I got with Navi’s incessant “Hey! Listen!” she’s got nothing on Fi.

Skyward Sword Fight 2

Skyward Sword already has a bad habit of telling the player its story through longwinded conversations instead of showing, or because this is an interactive medium, letting the player do and experience the story more organically. But then Fi has to step in. She steps in after every conversation where an NPC tells Link where to go or what to do and repeats all of that information in the most roundabout way possible and always with made up probability statistics. I grew so tired of having to read lines like “There’s an 85% chance that Zelda is in the vicinity,” that I groaned every time Fi would pop up on the screen. Without her, Skyward Sword would have some fine, if a bit bland, characters, but with her, the game is worse.

“If it ain’t broke…” or Innovation for Innovation’s Sake

Skyward Sword gets so many things wrong because it felt like Nintendo was trying to silence the innovation-demanding subsection of their fan base. Instead all they needed was somebody on the development team to remind them of the old phrase “If it ain’t broke (and this ‘it’ happens to be a beloved, 25 year-old franchise), don’t fix it.”

Skyward Sword Fi

Link never needed a sprint button, dowsing is a mechanic that wouldn’t be needed with more focused level design, and Fi should’ve been scrapped at the drawing board stage. In trying not to make another Ocarina of Time rehash, they’ve moved themselves away from that all-important videogame tenant: fun. And frankly Skyward Sword wasn’t any fun at all.

  1. I thought the game was fine (that’s “fine”; a notch below great), but the controls were at times atrocious.

    Combat wise, swordplay was great, but pretty much everything else was terrible. Rolling and throwing bombs was a chore; swimming was a chore; shimmying across ledges was pointless; beetle aiming constantly deadzoned for me; flying your bird was a chore. This was all with a brand new gold Wii-mote included with the game.

    As for the future of the series with motion controls: I’m very skeptical. I played Twilight Princess twice in the past year. Once on the Wii, and another on the Gamecube. Having never played the Gamecube version before, I was utterly surprised how much easier everything was to control. I thought it was just the game that had the issue, but it turns out it was the Wii-mote (not to mention pretty much every other 3D Zelda in the series was fine without motion). I’m not one to “hate” on motion controls, but in Skyward Sword, I felt like they were getting in the way more than they were a cool feature.

    I mean, why not give us the option? I understand motion is “needed” for the 1:1 swordplay (never mind that modders have emulated versions working perfectly fine, with swordplay mapped to the right analog stick), but why shoehorn it into swimming? Why shoeshorn in into flight?

  2. It all sounds reasonable to me Mr. Hunter. I couldn’t bring myself to finish twilight princess because the controls were just plain god awful. When I saw skyward sword was going for more forced motion control any interest I had in the Zelda series pretty much flew out the window.

    As a guy who grew up on the Legend of Zelda and used to buy every single one of them they made handheld, console, or otherwise…. Where the series is now is pretty much a total disappointment to me. They went from making a great game to making a game that could have been great all in the name of trying to change things that didn’t need any changing.

    • avatar Josimara

      Thanks The thing is, I’m getting a PS3 soon and to be hosnet I probs won’t be using the Wii almost at all, so should I spend the 60 bucks or leave it? I just bought like 4 ps3 games, which I technically got for free (I got LittleBigPlanet, BF3, and Uncharted 1 and 2 in a dual pack, all payed for with my gamestop card) but I also bought Mw3, so what should I do?

  3. avatar emil

    This whole article isn’t even worth responding too.

  4. avatar godzilla1200

    Honestly, I loved Skyward Sword, but maybe because I am a Zelda fan for a very long time. Zelda was my very first video game I played. However, I agree 100% with this article.

    Nintendo did a very poor job with the design choices for this game. They haven’t understood that Wii motion controls are for casual games only. Everyone has tried to proved otherwise but failed. Even Mario Galaxy seldom used motion.

    Fi was a pain in the ass. I can’t believe why she made it to the game. Everyone and their grandmother complained about Navi, and they managed to make something a million times more annoying.

    I am really about video games’ future. With the success of the iPhone and iPad, everyone wants to make the games casual, or “accessible” for everyone, even when they are not. Developers are trying to make games easier in order to have more people playing, but that’s not what games are supposed to be. For instance, is like if the NBA wanted more people to play basketball, and to do so, they lower the basket to 1 foot or make it 3 times bigger, just so everyone is able to score; or if musicians would like more people to play music, so they make 1 string guitar, and 1 drum-drumkit. It just doesn’t make sense, so why do games have to be dumbed down in order for more people to play them??

    • avatar Jonatan

      You must be? joking. The sorcdtuank is better than just about everything any game from any system has come up with. Sure, the motion controls are annoying for some people, but part of that is because the player isn’t patient enough to stop flailing around accomplishing what most of us like to call nothing . You have to realize that this game actually requires some effort to beat, and the controls just make this game more challenging, not terrible.

  5. avatar Bob077

    Agree 100% with this article, this has to be the most anoying Zelda yet.

  6. avatar Ghost250

    couldn’t agree more

  7. avatar Ben McKenna

    Definitely not the best Zelda (OoT still reigns supreme with windwaker in close 2nd imo) but I still enjoyed it for most the part.

    The motion controls weren’t what bothered me, what bothered me was the fact that the game was a lot less than I was expecting it to be, when I heard that the game would have a sky that you can fly over with your loftwing, I was expecting something huge, similar to the great sea in windwaker (I love a big world to roam in games, even if they lack activities)

    The bosses were undoubtedly awesome, who didn’t enjoy climbing up on the imprisoned and smashing the screw into it’s skull? well, it was amazing the first time, but is it really necessary to fight the same boss with slight differences three times? I mean, come on…

    Another thing I loved was the artwork, who needs realism anyway?

  8. avatar coolman229

    I don’t understand your complaints. I can understand having some difficulty with the motion controls (I loved them), or not liking the fetch quests, but I just can’t believe that you think the game is bad in general. I’ll say that I never played TP on the Wii. I didn’t have a Wii at the time, and wanted to play the original, so I got the GC version. I didn’t have any experience with that motion control, and I had no trouble with Skyward Sword’s motion controls. I’ve heard people complain about the stamina meter, but why? If they didn’t limit it, then the challenge of the sand areas would diminish significantly, and you would just spam your special moves. It’s like complaining about the special meter in Street Fighter. And I love the running. It’s not too difficult to stop running for 5 seconds and let your stamina meter recharge. I liked Fi. I was surprised when I got on the internet after playing the game and hear people calling to crucify Nintendo for making a “New Navi.” She was very computer-like. That was established early on when we find out that her only purpose was to help the Chosen Hero, and nothing else. Think Yuki from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I find it hypocritical of the fanbase to scream at Nintendo to do something different than Ocarina of Time’s basic design. They give us Twilight Princess and complain that it’s too similar (still an excellent game). They give us Skyward Sword and suddenly it’s too different (still an excellent game). They can’t account for each person’s tastes, but I find this article insulting. It’s like you’re saying I can’t like Skyward Sword. I would have believed that you were a Zelda fan until I read the article. You just sound like you hate Zelda.

    • avatar Andrea

      One memorable theme= Fib4s theme. You want anehtor one? Fine, the sky one and I can keep going, the soundtrack of this game is amazing! This game is not the hardest but it does require good? effort, and I have 17! Children are good for videogames so it is no surprise your little 6 year old nephew could beat it, my sister beat it too (but not in 3 days). The fact that he beat it in 3 days means that he should have been having some damn fun with it since this game is about 30 hours long!

  9. avatar Kindle

    I´m drifting away from this franchise. Motion controls were a pain in the ass. I found myself avoiding combat as much as I could because of it.

    Nintendo has turned this franchise into somekind of Super zelda galaxy hybrid. I played this through and I thought it was ok, but I´m starting to think this series is not for me anymore. 23 years is along time but nothing lasts forever.

    • avatar Bernadien

      looks great, except those who grew up with LOZ may or may not have chidrlen -_- hmmm But still, the commercial looks great and does a good job of presenting LOZ’s heritage. Should reap some long times customers back in.

  10. avatar Zack

    You have to beat the Lanayru Mining facility (the 3rd teplme) then you have back to go to the sealed grounds and then go in and talk to the old lady inside? the sealed teplme and then the imprisoned will break out then you have to go outside and fight and beat the imprisoned for the first time then go back to skyloft and the guy will have the sacred shield for sale for 500 Rupees

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