The Zelda series is a franchise that hasn’t changed much over the years. There’s an over world, dungeons, a princess in distress and an angry, magical, evil enemy. During every Zelda adventure you traverse various elementally themed dungeons and meet strange and colourful characters – this is Zelda as we know it.
For the last ten years or so any changes have been incremental. New features have been added, but the core game stays relatively the same. This is due to the fact that the series’ rabid fan base seems content with the franchise remaining relatively similar game after game. Many fans still even believe that Link and the series’ other characters shouldn’t be voiced by actors (which is an insane idea), but I’ll get to that later.
Skyward Sword seems to be an attempt by producer Eiji Aonuma to break the Zelda mould and return to the series once innovative roots via a revolutionary control scheme. If the words ‘innovative’ and ‘Zelda’ don’t mix in your mind, try to remember Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link for the original NES, a game unlike any other title in the franchise. Looking back, it almost doesn’t seem like a Zelda title and is more akin to Final Fantasy or Mario from a gameplay perspective. The only other extremely innovative Zelda title comes later in the series’ timeline. I’m talking about Ocarina Of Time, of course, a title that completely revolutionized gaming in three dimensions. It’s renowned as one of the only video games to seamlessly move a critically acclaimed 2D franchise into 3D.
When it comes to the latest epic Zelda tale, Skyward Sword, the feature that has impressed me the most is it’s flawless motion controls. They are the epitome of controlling a video game in an intuitive way and showcase the untapped potential motion controls have for advancing gaming accessibility and immersion. Motion based gaming can be more than silly waggle actions and dancing around in front of your television.
At times, figuring out how to control Link felt so natural that it regrettably reminds me of how Apple products often feel (I say that because I’m not a big Apple fan). Every motion, gesture and menu movement makes perfect sense, just like gestures on the iPhone or iPad are easy to pick up and understand. Selecting items and secondary weapons is an absolute breeze and has been substantially from the control scheme that was featured in Twilight Princess. Gone are the days of randomly fiddling the WiiMote around to make your sword move, now your movements must be precise and calculated.
There isn’t much figuring out to do and after a quick tutorial the motions and actions required to move Link around feel fluid and natural. Some reviewers have criticized the game’s motion controls, stating that at times they are unresponsive and awkward. So far I’ve experienced the complete opposite; I slash left, Link slashes his sword instantly left, I do a diagonal strike, Link wings his sword diagonally across the screen. I haven’t experienced any delay and the Motion Plus seems to be working flawlessly giving the WiiMote the extra ability to pinpoint the exact direction I am holding the controller.
Syward Sword does something few other motion based titles actually do, that being the union of motion and traditional button-based directional control. In other words, you control Link’s direction movement with the Nunchuck’s joystick, meaning only Link’s sword is controlled through motion (as well as item selection). Having precise physical control over the direction of your sword also ads to the game’s immersion factor. For the first time ever it’s actually me swinging that sword around in the game, a feat that has been a dream of mine since childhood. I haven’t experienced a title in recent memory (not even Skyrim) that fully engrossed me in it’s world as much as Skyward Sword does. At times, I actually feel like I’m inside the game slicing up plants and various enemies.
Even the way Skyward Sword’s enemies attack you from various angles, forcing you to strike at selected parts of the enemy’s body, feels fresh because of the game’s motion capabilities. You can, however, play the game randomly flailing your arm around and still manage to take down most enemies, but that isn’t how Skyward Sword is supposed to be played. It’s much more satisfying to carefully place your strikes and attack the game’s colourful enemies with calculated precision.
Of course, Skyward Sword isn’t perfect. Certain motion controlled actions are far to finicky to pull off reliably. Rolling bombs across the ground is an example of this. I’ve been blown up countless times while trying to precision bowl a bomb through a ridiculously small hole in a wall. Also, the main plot is less than stellar and, as usual it’s just another basic tale of good vs. evil. Link and Zelda’s blossoming relationship is rather intriguing though.
I’m also still a firm believer that, at the very least, characters other than Link should be voiced by actors. This may seem blasphemous to hardcore Nintendo fans, but I feel like this is long overdue. The fact that the Zelda franchise’s characters don’t speak is making the series feel dated and antiquated and not in the nostalgic good way. Skyward Sword’s characters are quircky, extremely animated individuals and giving them the ablilty to speak would only add to their appeal.
Now, I understand the Link argument, hearing him speak might be rather strange, but I’ve never been able to grasp the argument concerning NPC’s. It’s 2012, Skyward Sword had a multimillion dollar budget, and a simple change like this wouldn’t have made Skyward Sword feel un-Zelda-like. I’m not arguing that the series’ characters aren’t charming, they certainly are, but as I play through Skyward Sword I can’t help but feel that the absence of voice acting makes the entire game feel dated.
Everytime I think about Link talking in a Zelda title I imagine the terrible Phillips CD-I games. Just listen to this awesome quote, “Great, I can’t wait to bomb some dodongos.”
Check out the amazingly sad video here.
But back to the motion controls, the feature that makes Skyward Sword appeal so much to me. As I played Skyward Sword for the first time, I thought to myself, “This is what motion controls should have been like for the last last five years.”
Skyward Sword is the first game that finally gets it.