Video Game Column: Skyward Sword Hits Rock Bottom

Now that the new releases are taking a break for a few months, I’ve had some time to kick back, relax, and play a game that utterly disappointed me in nearly every major category that can be used to judge a video game. There’s hardly any point in beating around the bush about its identity either—the game in question is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. You gamers out there may gasp and cringe now. Some harsh criticism awaits, but before I get started, I want to point out one thing: Skyward Sword was not a bad game—far above the bottom of the barrel and by no means scraping the contents therein. However, the issues that Skyward Sword presents are representative of certain trends in the industry, which I see as troubling and would like to call attention to early, lest anyone begin to copy the new and flawed model introduced by this latest Zelda game.

Skyward Sword, for those who don’t follow gaming, is the latest installment in a series as old as the venerable Nintendo itself: The Legend of Zelda. Since its breakout game of the same name on the NES, the format of this series has always been to solve puzzles and beat bosses with your sword in a series of non-linear dungeons. Why would you do such a thing? To save a princess of course! Zelda games have existed on every major Nintendo console and have become an absolute anchor for the company—perhaps just below Mario on the Nintendo hierarchy of importance.

How did this latest installment of a classic franchise go awry, then? This question can be answered simply with the following word: gimmicks. Yes, the subject of this column’s ire just one issue previous has reared its ugly head in this most epic of franchises, and the results are even less pretty than the game’s graphics. What specifically went wrong? In another few words: the Wii Motion Plus-enhanced swordplay.

At first glance, even I would find that statement hard to believe. Given the fact that most of us picked up the Wii remote and started swinging it like a sword when we first laid eyes on it, how could a gyroscopic add-on that allows for realistic tracking of your sword slashes feel out of place in a game largely based around swashbuckling combat? Nothing, theoretically, if the technology was simply integrated into the game unobtrusively. Skyward Sword, however, does the complete opposite—the advanced swordplay becomes the driving focus of the game. Instead of complex dungeon puzzles, challenging bosses and detailed environments, the game throws the player wave after wave of enemies which are not so much focused on defeating you, but rather on showing off the fact that they can now track your sword’s movements.

I could perhaps forgive this ham-handed focus on the swordplay if the rest of the game was as good as the world has come to expect from a Zelda game. Sadly, however, the undue amount of time spent focusing on the sword-fighting gimmicks leaves the rest of the game feeling rather lackluster in many fatal regards. In the first place, the game seems to think that the swordplay is so complex that you must be constantly reminded of how it works; an ideology which leads to Fi—a support character whose sole purpose seems to be to break the flow of gameplay just when you were finally getting into the action. The debacle doesn’t stop there, however. Now, instead of having a rich, expansive, exploration-oriented overworld like in all titles previous, we get a rather monotonous cloudscape with tiny floating chunks of earth to explore—a world less focused on the fruits of the exploration than the means by which you get around (you fly on a bird, which, again, demonstrates more Wii Motion Plus gimmicks). Instead of a rich and detailed world, where every stone and blade of grass builds atmosphere, we get a forest, a desert, and a volcano—none of which are unique, detailed, or even particularly explorable. The graphics even manage to look worse than the game’s predecessor Twilight Princess—trading dark environments and a passable attempt at realism for an art style that looks like a Monet up close.

Overall, this game is a perfect example of what happens when a gimmick is forcefully integrated into the gameplay of a classic series. Flow is broken, attention to detail suffers, and the overall quality of the game is diminished due to the inclusion of a feature which was, theoretically, supposed to better experience. So, bravo Skyward Sword for trying something new. Next time, try to shoot for new and better.

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