Zelda: Skyward Sword First Impressions

I found myself in a Best Buy store for a brief time this evening. Wondering if their Wii display might be have the latest Zelda game just released yesterday, I wandered to the video game section. Sure enough, there was a Skyward Sword demo in the system. Awesome.

The latest Zelda game has been getting lots of buzz. Some reviewers have called it the "best" Zelda game ever. That Skyward Sword might be the best game of a 25-year-old critically acclaimed series is a huge statement.

The biggest question for me regards the touted motion controls. I have no doubt that the level design, art, and gameplay is all good stuff. Nintendo's pretty consistently good at that. But did they ruin it with their own attempts to innovate with motion control?

I am a motion control skeptic. No. That's not accurate. I hate motion controls. I can and have ranted on this topic to various people who were polite enough to listen. In summation, I feel motion controls are either annoying gimmicks tacked-on to games like 3D is tacked-on to movies or integral components which ruin otherwise good games (i.e. Metroid Prime 3.) It is rare that motion controls actually make games better or even come close to working as well as advertised.

Nintendo, ironically, gained huge praise and notoriety in its early days for tight controls in games like Super Mario Bros. and the original Legend of Zelda. But for the life of the Wii, they've been making, in my opinion, the aforementioned mistakes with motion control in their flagship franchise games.

Ask anyone who played Twilight Princess. Did the motion controls help? No. Everyone I've ever talked to who played the Wii version complained that the small amount of motion control added to the game at the last minute degraded the experience. I thought the control was great. I played it on the good ol' GameCube. With buttons. Real buttons.

The Skyward Sword demo had three selections: flying a bird (that's how you get around the overworld), a dungeon, and a boss fight. I didn't have much time so I opted for the dungeon as a way of experiencing the broadest range of gameplay in a short time.

The dungeon turned out to be a large circular room with a tower in the center of it and doors around the outside perimeter. Typical Zelda stuff.

Wanting to try out the combat, I looked around an enemy. Quickly I found a Skulltula (a spider, for the uninitiated) which swooped down from the ceiling on a web. I tried to fight it while it was hanging there. I swung the remote a few times. My swings did no damage at all. Oh, yeah. They have hard shells. It's been awhile since my last Zelda game.

I had a bit of a hard time with this my first enemy encounter. A single Skulltula kicked my butt. It was bad.

After that I figured out a few things. I decided to take on a ground-borne enemy. I found a goblin-type thing (don't know the "official" name) and engaged it.

Swinging the remote swings the sword. You're supposed to be able to swing it in eight directions for different angles, but I didn't feel like it was always very accurate about that. Thrusting it forward causes Link to stab. Shaking the nunchuck raises your shield.

Despite the motion control changes, the combat still feels distinctly Zelda. You find an enemy, Z-target it, and attack using the A-button and a direction to strafe around your target while you wait for the appropriate moment to strike. It's a proven, solid system. Lots of fun.

I had a lot more luck with the goblin. I killed it pretty easily. Other enemies in the level included plant-like Deku Babas, Keese (bats), and a Stalfos (skeleton) mini-boss. Fighting the Stalfos was fairly fun. Enemies with swords can not only attack but also block with them. In order to hit them, you have to perform the proper swing. In fairness, I think the controls worked reasonably well. I think it's system I could get used to with practice.

The motion controls also worked well with some of Link's other gadgets: a bow, bombs, and a new item which I'll come to in a moment. I was pleasantly surprised that the archery worked fairly well. The WiiMotionPlus attachment has markedly improved accuracy. I felt like I was bad at archery because I needed practice and not merely because the Wii control was holding me back.

The new item is called the beetle which is a flying drone-like device. You launch it and take control of its flight using the remote. It can hit switches and grab items Link can't reach otherwise. It works quite well and seems like it adds a lot of gameplay potential. After I beat the Stalfos I got a chest with an upgrade for the beetle which gave it a claw for grasping things.

One place I didn't like the motion control was in walking across a tightrope. You have to hold the remote upright and keep Link balanced on the rope to move. It's needless and not any fun. I'm guessing there are a few other areas where needless motion control is employed. Hopefully I'm wrong.

I have one more really, really petty complaint. The famous Zelda puzzle-solve chime sounds super lame in this game. Seriously, guys. It's a cool sound. How could you mess that up?

My brief time with the game left me wanting more. Even though this is a Zelda game we're talking about here, this is a somewhat surprising statement given my prejudice against the Wii and all things motion-controlled. It's not quite as good as I was hoping for. It still doesn't feel like you have full control over Link's sword. There are still minor annoyances with controls and the camera. But overall I was pleasantly surprised.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is definitely a game I'll be playing at some point in the future, though no game can eclipse my currently level of excitement for Skyrim which, due to school, I still have yet to play. Maybe after I've played them both I'll do a joint review called "Skyrim Sword" or something corny like that.


Why The Alloy of Law is Awesome

Right, so I'm sorry for the rather scatter-brained review last week. I realize I was all over the place with the praise and the criticism and you might not have been able to follow my internal logic (it sometimes moves too fast for even myself to keep up). As I explained, the self-imposed deadline kind of snuck up on me. While that's not a very professional excuse, at least it's an explanation.

This post, if I say so myself, is much better thought-out. So I hope you appreciate it (or at least understand it).

Now, onwards with the review!

The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson

A few of my friends have a saying when it comes to describing types of books -- it's a saying I'm somewhat hesitant to share here, but I'm going to nevertheless.

"Jim Butcher is like a gourmet cheeseburger, while George Martin is a five-course meal."

Now, I don't know about you, but I like food. I enjoy eating and I appreciate a well-made meal. But I definitely have cravings for different types of food at different times, and I definitely would not want to eat the same food or even the same category of food all the time.

The same is true for books.


Why Portal 2 is Awesome

Goodness, look at that, Monday again already? And it's Monday night at that. Yeesh, I need to start making a weekly to-do list or something if I'm going to remember all of these personal blogging goals that I haven't made public yet.

Oh, wait. I did that. Last week. It worked pretty well.

Huh, okay. New item on the nonexistent to-do list for this week: "Write to-do list for next week."

Okay, on with the review.

So I finished Portal over the weekend. (Yes, I know I'm late, that's going to be a theme of this series.) Then I went straight into playing Portal 2 because the ending of the first game was so flipping fantastic.

The near-seamless transition into the second game was beautiful, though there was a slight disconnect in the immersion at first because some of the controls and effects felt ever so slightly different (movement was a bit too responsive, the portal gun no longer fires "bullets" but instead opens the portals with a near-invisible projectile, etc). Regardless, I was very impressed.


Pause for dramatic effect and topical disassociation.


So I finished Portal 2 this afternoon.

Yeah, it kind of grabbed hold of me.


November is Insanity

Well, it's been awhile. As usual, I didn't intend to fall off the face of the earth... or blog as it were. It's been a busy semester and continues to be.

Speaking of busy, my buddy Joshua Kehe convinced me over the weekend against my better judgement to participate in National Novel Writing Month. For those unaware, National Novel Writing Month (abbreviated NaNoWriMo, yes really) is an event wherein participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November.

For students (like me) November is not always a great month for this. My schedule was already hectic with work, school, and the maintenance of a social life to keep me sane. With the semester drawing to a close, it's time to seriously work on final projects and make sure other class requirements are finished. Moreover, the holidays are approaching which can take a few days away from writing. This puts the daily required word count at 1,786 per day assuming I only miss two days for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. This is almost certainly an incorrect assumption.

I have been trying to write a novel for years and have attempted NaNo a few times in the past. But this year I feel a bit more dedicated. Maybe it's because it's crazier. Hey, the Cardinals just won the World Series and they were underdogs all the way. The odds are against me, but I don't care. I'm going for it.

You can follow my progress here. Any words of encouragement or advice are most welcome. So is prayer. It's gonna be a crazy month.

Bring it on.