Having played every console entry in the Legend of Zelda series, I was as giddy as a school girl meeting Justin Bieber when I unwrapped The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on Christmas Day. While at first it proved to be the standard Zelda fare, including swordplay, shields, dungeons, and the lovely Zelda herself (sporting some sexy new bangs), I had a growing sense of frustration at some of the new features, degrading my love of all things Zelda. These grew and grew until I was hurling my Wiimote at the TV, wondering why Nintendo would implement these annoying features in their flagship RPG.
1. The Companion
I never understood the hate for Navi in Ocarina of Time, and I had one of those awkward moments at the end of Twilight Princess when Midna’s true form was revealed (i.e. she is very sexy). But the companion in Skyward Sword is, in fact, the titular sword, or rather Fi, the spirit that inhabits it.
And I despise her, to the point now where I loudly verbally berate her whenever she appears. It is not an irrational hatred; for whatever reason, the creators have decided to give Fi the “voice” of a futuristic automaton: “You have defeated 0 of this enemy type. I am unable to analyse your battle performance rating with this opponent due to insufficient data.” It seems odd to have the sidekick speak like some technobabble bint cousin of Commander Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when the game is meant to be set in a mythical land of, you know, myth, and um, legend (it’s in the title).
What’s worse is that most of the thing Fi drivels on about are either things the player already knows or doesn’t actually care about. For example, if you are running low on hearts, not only will a siren sound like an early morning alarm call, but Fi will also appear to point out that “Your hearts have decreased quite dramatically. Replenish some of your life at the earliest opportunity.” Really? I couldn’t tell what with me using my eyes to see my heart meter is empty accompanied by the foghorn alert. You are meant to be the Skyward Sword, not the State-The-Obvious Sword!
2. Motion Controls and Normal Controls
The first time I flew into a rage with this game and nearly drove my Wii-mote into my TV screen occurred during the first dungeon. As Link steps across a tightrope bridge, you have to wave the Wii-mote back and forth to keep his balance. I fell off about ten times before I hit the power button and went away to vent some frustration.
A small niggle, but it underlines the fundamental problem with Skyward Sword; Nintendo has invested so much in motion controls, they throw them in everywhere. Before this I was a fan of motion controls, because they were used sparingly (such as in Super Mario Galaxy, where flicking the wrist seems intuitive to spin). But here, everything is about motion controls, most notably combat, which Nintendo has designed as if the Wii-mote Plus has 1:1 movement, which it does not. Precise strikes on enemies as advertised just do not happen, and thus you are left to wave your arm around like a maniac with a knife, killing your wrists in the process.
Beyond combat, there are other little things that Nintendo makes you do with motion that could be done easier by just having the option to press a button. For example, when in the game you have two choices (e.g. Yes or No, Quit or Continue) it would be simpler to attribute one to the A Button and another to the B Button. But no, you have to move the Wii-mote to the option and hit A.
But it doesn’t end there. There seems to have been a lack of common sense not just with the motion controls, but button mapping in general. The A Button does everything, and some contradictory movements. For example, if you dash at a wall to climb it, you hold down A. But as you start climbing, if you want to let go of the wall, you must also press A to let go. Most games have an action button and a negative button, usually A and B, or X and O on the PS3. It becomes intuitive; they become Yes and No to us. When did motion control become more important than intuitive gaming?
3. Camera Controls
Speaking of intuitive, I remember when Nintendo first released the N64 with its C-stick for the camera – an amazing evolution in 3D-world gaming. Skyward Sword seems to have stepped back from any type of camera control. Countless times I have found myself pressing the C button and trying to move the camera with the D-Pad as is natural, but the C button opens the dowsing option (more on that below). What you have to do is turn Link and then hit Z so the camera jumps to behind him, in a clunky, unfluid manner. You can look through Link’s eyes with the C Button held down, but as the game is third person, it would be ideal to move the camera around him.
The worst new addition to the game is dowsing, whereby Fi can sense certain auras and if you point the sword, you will be able to follow them. While I see the benefits, it frustrates with equal measure. For one, it feels like Nintendo is pandering to you, in that they don’t trust you to explore thoroughly enough to find, for example, five pieces of a key. Another reason is that it is not optional; Fi will make her annoying sound until you go dowsing. Lastly, if what you are searching for is, say, behind a wall, it will point you to that wall, rather than the path you need to take to find it.
For a trainee air-knight, Link has all the stamina of an obese fifty-year-old Scottish chain-smoking alcoholic suddenly introduced to the high altitudes of Bolivia. No deep fried Mars Bars up there, that’s for sure. But Link barely runs 10 seconds before stopping to cough up a lung. At the end of all this, how in the name of the Sages is Link going to show Zelda a good time in the sack? Seriously, that princess deserves a proper pounding after the stress of her life, and what will she get? Five seconds if she is lucky.
6. Character Voices
While I understand the Wii has limits, other games with far more expansive dialogue have made it onto the system, and I wish Nintendo, finally bringing a full orchestra to score a Zelda game, had also brought in a few actors as well.
But the other gripe I had was that even when you converse with characters in the game as it is now, their character names do not appear when they ‘speak’, and some do not introduce themselves, which becomes very annoying later in the game when you have to find certain people to complete side quests.
7. A Lack of Epona
And, by design, there is a lack of Hyrule Field to run around on with the faithful steed. Instead we have the sky to fly in, which is nice to begin with, but at the same time, it is a huge, empty, boring sky. The Crimson Loftwin is no Epona (or even the King of Red Lions from Wind Waker, but there the creators had him as both transport and guide, as well as being an integral part of the story). Add to this the tiny levels and dungeons, and it feels suddenly restrictive, closed off, almost the opposite of the epic size and scope of Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker.
All this is not to say Skyward Sword is terrible – far from it. Yet at the same time, it has not evoked the emotions and excitement of its predecessors. Would correcting all of these gripes make for a better game? Possibly. But would it return what I feel is the Zelda magic? I’m not so sure. The last Zelda entry was actually last generation, and this feels as if it has not moved on, while video gaming has. Consider that in the time between Zelda games, we have had three Uncharted games. I pick Uncharted specifically because it is at the forefront of changing how stories in games are told. We are invested, we care… but not about Zelda anymore. Perhaps it is unfair to compare these two games, with different genres and different systems. A fairer comparison would be Xenoblade Chronicles, a true RPG experience on the Wii, one that the Zelda series should not only aspire to be, but to improve upon and surpass. If Nintendo were looking for a studio to take over the reins of this flagging franchise, Monolith Soft should be top of the list.