February 26, 2012

'skyward sword' aims for the sky, misses

First published in the Runner on Feb. 15, 2012

I've loved The Legend of Zelda my whole life.

No joke. One of my most vivid childhood memories is playing Link to the Past with my uncle, and I've run so many stints through Ocarina of Time I could probably play it in my sleep. I have the fraking Master Sword tattooed on my arm, for crying out loud. So when I say I have mixed feelings about Skyward Sword, I want you to really grasp my full meaning.

First, the most obvious: the controls. We all know controls on the Wii are way hit-and-miss; this one, fortunately, is a fantastic hit. When it comes to combat, this game is everything Twilight Princess wishes it was, and the attack/block interface is super fun and realistic. I fought more than one heated battle that got me on my feet and my family making fun of me.

Secondly, the most recent Zelda installment is easily the best written of the series. The plot is solid, and it contributes significantly to overall Hylian mythology -- much more so than any of the handheld titles or Majora's Mask, my personal favorite. It takes place much earlier in the timeline than the archetypal Ocarina -- before humans have descended to Earth -- and concerns the making of the Master Sword and finding of the Triforce, among other things.

It also finally answers the question of why Zelda herself is so important when all she ever does is get captured and pray. Shocking, I know.

Actually, this is the first time Zelda, perhaps even more so than Link, has contributed to the actual workings of the story in any real way since Wind Waker. Skyward Sword has other things in common with the wacky GameCube title as well. It is similarly cell-shaded, though much less cartoony than its whimsical cousin. Building architecture and environmental aesthetics are a throwback to Wind Waker, too, as many details and reliefs throughout the world are constructed in neon and linear designs.

While the game world itself is interesting and varied (I was surprised to find the water-themed dungeon, unlike every other Zelda title, was my favorite area), it is a little on the small side. This isn't an inherently bad thing; Majora's Mask showed us how to make a small world, use it over and over on a loop, and keep things interesting and fresh, as opposed to making us run through the exact same environment over and over again picking up different MacGuffins.

This leads me to what I find to be a gigantic, glaring error in an otherwise awesome game: Halfway through Skyward Sword, I suddenly found myself in a Rare-tastic collect-a-thon a la Banjo Kazooie. No hate for the bear and bird, but if I wanted to pick up a bunch of color-coded bullshit items, I'd go play some bloody Banjo Kazooie. I expect better from Zelda, especially when the series' signature element is solving the giant, complex puzzle that is the environment -- not picking up a bunch of goddamn tadpoles.

You think I'm joking. I wish I was.

There are other things about Skyward Sword that bug me, too. Like the Silent Realms. Remember the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass, where you couldn't properly explore because you had invincible jerks with giant swords crawling up your ass the whole time? Yeah, that's what the Silent Realms in this game are like, except you have the added bonus of collecting a bunch of MacGuf- I mean, uh, passing a "trial" to experience "spiritual growth." Doesn't that sound awesome?

And every time you fail by getting your face smashed into the ground by a comically large Phantom sword, Navi Midna Fi feels compelled to say, "Master Link, I can unfortunately confirm that you have failed to pass the trial." Every. Time.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. I'll show you some SPIRITUAL FUCKING GROWTH. And then I'll go spend another hour collecting bugs.

All of this, while it does make me frustrated and angry, ultimately just makes me sad. Like I said before, this is easily the best-written of all the Zelda games, including Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess, but it stumbles so hard in the second half that it almost becomes unplayable -- for a time, anyway, as I did find myself enjoying the endgame sequence. The final boss fight was also awesome and, frankly, quite challenging -- an unfortunate rarity in the Zelda universe.

Even with all its flaws, true fans will find something worthwhile in Skyward Sword. They will also, most likely, find themselves grinding through some portions because they know better things are coming. I can't sum up my whole feeling on this game in a single statement; it's far too much of a clashing, competing mess of tropes for that.

I can say, though, that I would ultimately like to see Nintendo return to the older Zelda formula, where the world itself is a complex character worth getting to know and all the layers don't seem like the same ol' thing, re-dressed to save time and money.


  1. I've watched my boyfriend play this hours on end. I am not impressed and the presentation is a step backwards in my opinion. I enjoyed twilight princess far more. oh and what the fuck is the deal with the gay ass nemesis in this one? first encounter I thought he was going to make out with link.

    1. Thank you so much for reminding me of Ghirahim, who's name I totally had to just look up because I called him Fiore the whole time. I really should have talked about him in this review because he entertained the hell out of me. And yeah, I totally thought things were about to get sexy when he first came around. Good times.