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.
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.