Until this year, Skyward Sword was the only Zelda game that I have played and not completed. It’s something that’s haunted me for a long time, as I adore the Zelda series and have done since I played A Link to the Past on my SNES one Christmas. I devoured Ocarina and Majora. Link’s Awakening was played in black & white and again in colour. I loved Wind Waker, grumbled my way through Twilight Princess, and forgave Breath of the Wild it’s lack of dungeons. The Oracle games, Four Swords, Minish Cap and Link between Worlds all ticked off the list.
So what happened with Skyward Sword? It was the controls and the camera. I was forced to give up in the Lanayru Mining Facility as it became so frustrating it was just not fun. And I was a fan of waggle control in games, but in Skyward Sword, it was just too awkward. So as someone who played Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild using motion controls I was more than happy to see the release of Skyward Sword HD on the Switch.
I’m not going to go into masses of detail, that would spoil the experience. This is more my general impressions of the game, as I think you should go into game this pretty blind and just enjoy the ride.
And this time I loved it. It still has some problems, which I will get too later, but overall I had an amazing experience. After BotW it was great to go back to a tighter Zelda experience with some amazing dungeons, and that’s not taking anything away from Breath, this was a different type of game that I still thinks works incredibly well. So let’s take a look at the various aspects of the game and how well they hold up in 2021.
The Visuals. For me, the art style is almost perfect. It’s as though Nintendo stuck two fingers up at the complainers from Wind Waker that led to the dreary looking Twilight Princess, and said “No. This is how a Zelda game should look, like it or lump it.” It’s colourful and vibrant, the slightly cel shaded look adds a unique style element, and the developers just go big and bold with all the character and monster designs. It’s stunning to look at, and though some texture work shows it’s age, the art design hides that really well. It’s a beautiful game.
The Controls. As I have said, I only used motion controls, and they worked fine. Link did’t always do what I expected, and sometimes I ended up flailing around like a madman, but 95% of the time, it was great. The joycons do lose their centre point on the screen a lot, but a tap of the Y buttons recalibrates it, and I just got used to pressing that a lot. It’s a lot more responsive and precise than the Wii remote. But they biggest game changer is the camera control. Having direct control of the camera made the trip the Mining Facility a breeze, and I really was not looking forward to that. It makes it a whole different game, and I am so glad they included it.
The World. The game takes place on Skyloft, an island that sits above the clouds and is surrounded by smaller islands to visit. It feels a little small and cramped compared to previous games, this can’t be ignored. The exploration of those other islands is pretty uninspired too, you are only going there to find chests that you unlock through the game, and for a dew quests and mini games. Skyloft itself is wonderful, with some brilliant and fun characters, but it does feel all very small scale.
The majority of your time is spent exploring under the clouds on the surface, and again this feels small scale as there are only 3 main areas that you revisit multiple times. Each time you go back, there is a new area to explore, and a new dungeon to puzzle out, but there is not the variety there has been in other games. The dungeons themselves are pretty fantastic, they are not too tough to figure out, but some areas require some clever thinking to uncover all of their secrets. The bosses are generally pretty fun too, except for a couple that nearly saw my joycons fly out of the window, but thats probably more due to my lack of skills than anything.
There is also a new challenge called Silent Realms, which are ethereal versions of locations you know well where you have to find 15 orbs spread over the map. The only problem is, once you grab an orb you have 90 seconds to grab another before some relentless, fast and deadly guardians will chase you down. One hit, you fail the challenge. There are also wandering ghosts, and if they spot you, the guardians are activated too. These were tense and brilliant, not too frustrating, but also not too easy.
The Story and Mechanics. The story really shines in this game. Skyward Sword is set at the start of the Zelda timeline, and it sets the scene for all of the later games in an understated but really well thought out way. There has been no Hero before, our Zelda here is the first one in that line, and there is no Master Sword to go and pick up. There are so many musical cues that refer back to the earlier games, it creates great feelings of nostalgia and so many nice touches that reference the whole timeline. There is even a Tingle doll hiding in there if you can spot it.
The highlight of all this is the reveal of the final boss and the cut scenes that go with it. It sets up all of the other games with a really underplayed confrontation which was a lot better written than I expected it to be. No spoilers here, but it was a Zelda series highlight for me.
The tools that link gets to use through his adventure are pretty inventive too, there are some new additions that open up new ways to solve puzzles. The final dungeons need you to utilise almost everything in your toolbag to complete them, the final dungeon is almost like a compilation album of the dungeons you have played through and plays like a last hurrah to all your gadgets. But it’s very fitting that the end of the game just sees you needing sword and shield.
The Bad Stuff. But yes, Skyward Sword has some problems. The overworld is limited. The areas are reused. The controls can be a bit janky at times. But I forgave the game all that, as I was having so much fun. But Skyward Sword commits the same sin as Wind Waker about three quarters of the way through the game, and it nearly killed me.
At this point in the game, I had completed 6 dungeons and 3 Silent Realms. I thought I had everything I needed to crack on to the final dungeon and the end game. But no. I was told I needed the various parts of a song to reveal the final section, and this involved going back to each area on the surface, where something had changed the environment and carry out some pointless, excruciating, annoying tasks. One is “Find about 100 notes, but we won’t tell you where they are. And it’s all underwater”. One is an escort mission through an entire area. And other is a hybrid combat escort mission that is just incredibly frustrating.
All this made me question if I was going to finish the game. It’s pointless padding that is no fun to play, it didn’t need to be there. And then, to top it off, if you want to get your hands on an iconic Zelda item that is the best version of it’s kind in the game, you have to do a Boss Rush. Again, being honest this just made me question wether I was going to finish. I passed on the boss rush after a few goes, and found that I didn’t need the item for the final boss, but it still irked me. A lot.
The Summary. Despite the padding section, I had a blast with this, and had a big grin on my face most of the time. It bridges the gap to BotW in a lot of ways. You use stamina for climbing and running, you collect items and bugs to upgrade your weapons and potions and you can use motion controls. But it has a foot firmly in the past, with a linear structure, dungeons and the hints of everything that is to come with the other games. I’d recommend this to anyone who has ever enjoyed a Zelda game, and if you found it frustrating on the Wii, give it another go.