My Thoughts on Skyward Sword HD (Not a Review)
Skyward Sword is a delightfully confusing game
On November 18th, 2011, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to critical acclaim and universal praise. It became one of the best games ever to be released on the Wii and one of the best-selling games in the history of the Zelda franchise. A large part of its success was due to its controls; the game featured a unique method of combat which involved using the Wii Remote as Link’s sword - combined with the Wii Motion Plus, this meant that the game had the most immersive combat system ever seen in a Zelda game. For the most part, people responded well to the controls, and it provided players with the ability to control the green-clad hero like never before.
I bought Skyward Sword in 2012 and fell in love with it from the moment I saw the title screen. I thought that it was one of the best video games I ever played, and I thought it was one of, if not the best, Zelda games that I had ever played. I loved it so much that as soon as I beat it for the first time, I immediately started Hero Mode and did it all over again, and I played it one more time a couple of years after that for good measure. As such, I have very fond memories of this game, so you can imagine my reaction when, on February 18th, Nintendo announced The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, a re-release that would not only add new features such as button controls but would also supposedly have several improvements to make the overall experience better. Of course, I was stoked to get the chance to re-experience the game in all its glory, but the more I looked back on the game and my experience with it, I found my excitement fading rather quickly. Even as more information about the game came out, the rush that I usually get when a new Zelda game is announced never came, and it all culminated in the game releasing earlier this week, and me not even being a little bit excited to play it.
Let me get this out of the way first: Although I'm not too fond of the game, I love the fact that it's being re-released on the Switch, and I love that a brand new set of players will be able to experience it for the first time. It's always delightful when a beloved older game makes a comeback and allows a younger generation to see why it's revered so much, and this isn't meant to discourage anyone from buying the game because, at its core, Skyward Sword is definitely not a bad game - far from it, actually, and it's certainly enjoyable if you’re experiencing it for the first time. For me, though, when I look back at it now after so many years, it's with a sense of something akin to disappointment. It is definitely not one of the best video games I’ve ever played, nor is it the best Zelda game. This conundrum is what causes Skyward Sword to be perplexing to me - on the one hand, I really like some parts of this game, but on the other.....well, let's dive into it, shall we? This should go without saying, but there will be full spoilers for the game, so you might want to stop reading here if you haven't played it.
When looking back at the game, the first thing that stood out to me was the unbelievable amount of linearity it possessed. Now, this isn’t inherently a bad thing, and it's definitely not the first Zelda game to do it - it's there to some degree in every other 3D Zelda, except Breath of the Wild. However, the difference between how the other games handle this and how Skyward Sword does is that the surrounding areas feel much more cordoned off. If you look at Ocarina of Time, from the moment you step outside the Kokiri Forest, you can go to Castle Town, Gerudo Valley, Lon Lon Ranch, Kakariko Village, Zora’s Domain, or Lake Hylia. Now, you can’t progress in many areas beyond a certain point because of the lack of certain items, but you do have the freedom to go there and explore. In Skyward Sword, you’re restricted to one new area at a time, almost like the game is spoon-feeding you. It doesn’t help that the game aggressively holds your hand from the moment you enter the first area on the surface, and it never really lets you go. If Fi appeared a lot only in the first area of the game, it would be one thing, but she always seems to show up to explain something fairly obvious, which can get very irritating quickly.
Another part of the game that’s irritating is backtracking. Again, it's not like it hasn’t been done in any other Zelda game - in fact, it's present in some capacity in all of them. In Ocarina of Time, after you get the Master Sword, you have to go back to the three areas you visited as Young Link; in The Wind Waker, you revisit the Forsaken Fortress. However, Skyward Sword repeats it to almost ridiculous levels. For example, let’s take Faron Woods, the first area of the surface that the player gets to go to. You visit the area a total of three times: first to finish the Skyview Temple, then to finish the Ancient Cistern, and finally to get a part of the Song of the Hero. The other two areas follow a similar pattern - the first two times,, you have to finish a dungeon, and the third time you have to meet the guardian dragon of the area. Now, I was excited at the prospect of navigating the area before getting to the actual dungeon - it felt like an extension of the dungeon itself. However, cyclicly going to each area every time did get boring near the end of the game, with the only breaks being when the player is directed to the Sealed Grounds to fight the Imprisoned.
Oh….speaking of…..I hate the Imprisoned.
Having to fight one boss three times with only slight (emphasis on slight) variations between each version was overkill to the highest extent. This is perhaps Skyward’s Sword's worst offender when it comes to backtracking and repeating an area. I have no problem fighting the boss multiple times, as it serves a role to the story - to show that the demon was getting stronger and that the seal was weakening - but why are three fights so similar to one another? It’s virtually the same thing each time! By the third time around, it had become one of the most irritating experiences I’ve ever had in a Zelda game.
Another large part as to why this re-release didn't excite me was the control scheme. For me, the motion controls on the Wii worked perfectly fine - in fact, I would prefer to play the game with motion controls, because that's what the game was built around. While it is nice that Nintendo added button controls for those who would prefer it, I'm sure there's a sizeable number of people who would want to play using the Joy Cons. The problem with this? Joy Con drift. How are people supposed to fully enjoy this game with its original control scheme if Nintendo won't even acknowledge that this is a REAL problem? This fact alone must have stopped alot of people from buying the game, because while the button controls certainly aren't bad, it's not a perfect solution - it still feels awkward, and I am not sure I would be able to enjoy playing the game as much as I would if I was using motion controls.
Despite how much I've criticized Skyward Sword in the above paragraphs, I still believe that underneath all of this, there's a genuinely great video game here. The story is one of the best I’ve seen in a Zelda game, ranking just behind The Wind Waker in my opinion. The dungeon designs were unique, with the game playing host to two of my favorite dungeons in the entire series (click here if you want my full list), and the music…..oh, the music. The soundtrack to this game may just be the franchise’s best ever - a fully orchestrated masterclass with amazing pieces like ‘Ballad of the Goddess’ and the haunting theme of the Guardians. Every song in that game is super powerful, and you can really get the sense that this is an epic that is unfolding before your eyes.
To conclude, Skyward Sword is great, but there are some elements of the game that dissuade me from purchasing it and going through the motions all over again. However, even though I won't be buying it, I am very happy that Nintendo has decided to re-release it for the Switch, because it means that a whole new generation of fans will get to experience it for the first time; seeing them have fun with a game that I grew up with is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s what I felt when Super Mario 3D All-Stars released (as controversial as the release itself was), I was happy that Super Mario Sunshine could be experienced by brand-new players. It’s what I will inevitably feel when the Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl get re-released in December, and it’s what I feel now that this game is released.