MotionPlus Gave Skyward Sword a 1-Up

A limited edition gold Zelda Wiimote with built-in MotionPlus technology.

On November 20, 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Nintendo Wii made its grand entrance. If it wasn’t obvious by the article I written two days beforehand, Hype: My Cautious Approach to Skyward Sword, the onslaught of raving reviews had me excited to get my hands on Link’s latest adventure. It has been nearly eight months since its release, I’ve  played through Skyward Sword (SS) twice, and I have yet to follow-up with my preview. Did SS live up to the hype? Did SS meet my expectations? As they say, it’s better being late than never.

Shigeru Miyamoto demonstrates Skyward Sword’s controls during E3 2010.

Three issues I had with Skyward Sword’s console predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, was the lack of character development, an anti-climatic story, and the game’s ease. Not only did SS have a captivating story and memorable characters, it also had some of the most engaging enemies in a Zelda game to date. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was definitely a step in the right direction. So much so, after 13 years, SS has replaced Ocarina of Time as my favorite Zelda game. Of course, my review of this game would only be a dime a dozen compared to all of the reviews already out there for this game.  Therefore, I am going to focus on one aspect of the game which I believe made Skyward Sword a cut above the rest, and that is its superb use of motion control.

Back in 2006, Twilight Princess (TP) was Link’s first foray into the world of motion control. Originally made for the Nintendo GameCube, the game was being produce so late in the console’s life, Nintendo decided to also port it to the Wii with motion control support. Each swing of the Wiimote was equivalent to pressing the A button, not giving true 1:1 motion support. While this was entertaining at the time, the lack of 1:1 motion detection made TP controls somewhat awkward when you would flail your controller around and Link would pull off random sword swings. This turned enemies into open targets with little engagement or strategic thinking necessary. It was easy to mindlessly hack away at your foes, and this cheapened the overall gaming experience.

Of course, Nintendo, being the innovative company it is, was already in the process of developing ways to enhance motion control shortly after the Wii was released. This resulted in the creation of the Wii MotionPlus, an attachment improving the motion detection of the Wiimote. This 1.5 inch piece of technology finally created the 1:1 motion control experience many Wii owners were dreaming of, and it was demonstrated superbly with Wii Sports Resort. The swordplay in Wii Sports Resort would lay down the groundwork necessary for the next home console Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The swordplay mechanics in Wii Sports Resort laid down the foundation for the controls found in Skyward Sword.

The introduction of this 1:1 motion control to Zelda was a godsend. Trying hard to incorporate this technology, the team behind SS spent special attention to and prioritized gameplay mechanics as a result. This gave the old Zelda formula a very much needed fresh coat of paint. While previous Zelda games only relied on a timing aspect to defeat opponents, the Wii MotionPlus integration added a new dimension to Zelda’s sword mechanics. Now it was possible to create enemies and puzzles that required precise slashing. I enjoyed facing enemy AI who were now capable of reacting to your exact movements, blocking your attacks, and had specific weaknesses. The mind-numbing combat experience I had in TP was now a thing of the past, making the player think twice before mindlessly hacking away at certain foes. This enhancement in controls made SS an extremely entertaining experience, which is primarily the ultimate goal for all video games.

Precise control turns enemies into puzzles. In this case, a horizontal strike was necessary to defeat this foe.

Of course, the swordplay in SS should not get all the credit. Motion control in other various aspects, such as shooting an arrow, cracking the whip, or even flying a robotic beetle were incredibly well done. Even bombs get a nice upgrade, allowing you to bowl them with or without spin if you toss them underhand instead of overhead. Simply put, after playing SS, I never want to go back to traditional controls for a Zelda game.

When it comes to key franchises, Nintendo rarely disappoints. Part of this is because they’re constantly trying something new with their games. The incorporation of motion control in Skyward Sword proved to be an invaluable asset for the latest game in the Zelda series. Diehards may miss their traditional controls, but for me, victory feels so much more sweeter after you managed to outmaneuver that annoying Bokoblin rather than watching it disappear in a puff of smoke from a couple of button presses. Should you buy The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? Yes, you should.

Hype: My Cautious Approach to Skyward Sword

Three reasons why The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess failed to impress and how Skyward Sword promises to amend those issues.


Author’s Note: This article was originally published on November 18, 2011 as a note on Facebook.

Back in 2004, during the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), Nintendo announced The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (TP). I happily joined the chorus of excitement the announcement generated. For the next two years, I closely followed any news regarding the game, like any typical rabid Zelda fan. Indeed I was very much hyped up  and among the countless Zelda fans who were disappointed when hearing of TP’s delayed launch. Many, including myself, anticipated this game to be the best Zelda had to offer. My eagerness to play TP would eventually find me camping outside of Target for the launch of the Wii, which I was excited for, but not as much as I was for the release of TP on the same day.

This Zelda is really good at locking herself up in her room. You don’t see her come out until the very end of the game.

TP could have been a great game and Nintendo worked hard to put everything nostalgic about Zelda within this title. It is a game I would highly recommend for any GameCube or Wii owner. This is where my personal opinion comes to play, but I feel that I am not alone when expressing this view of TP. In spite of all the hype, Twilight Princess was a disappointment. I enjoyed playing for a brief period, but something seemed to be lacking. This game was not what I imagined it to be. Princess Zelda’s role was lackluster, the puzzles and enemies were unchallenging, and the story was anticlimactic.

Based on the trailers, I envisioned the princess to have a deeper role in this game and looked forward to seeing her as a strong female lead. Regrettably, she remained stoic, barely making a significant appearance. Ocarina of Time’s Zelda arguably has much more of a personality than in TP, yet doesn’t even compare with Wind Waker’s version. In TP, Zelda’s plight was understood, but I had no emotional connection with her whatsoever. As a result, being the hero in TP felt unrewarding. I guess my focus should have been on Midna, as she seemed the most intriguing individual in the game. I still can’t help but be disappointed with the lack of personality from other key characters, mainly Zelda.

Enemies and puzzles were a breeze. Swarms of foes were nothing against the waggle of the remote. Even epic boss battles were huge disappointments because they would be so short-lived. Although, I will tell everyone that my one favorite moment in TP was the battle against the fourth boss, Stallord. For some reason, perhaps due to the Spinner item, that fight really left an impression on me. It was fun and became the exception of my overall experience.

Furthermore, the story was bland. Other Zelda games such as Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, or The Wind Waker had well written and noteworthy storylines. I clearly recall the ups and downs, the struggles of the characters, and what I felt Link was fighting for. As for TP, the plot twists were predictable. It lacked a significant climax, which resulted in an unbalanced game story-wise. I thought I would play this game again, but I haven’t touched it since I finished it in 2006.  A stark contrast compared to other Zelda games I enjoyed playing over and over again. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve played Ocarina of Time since its release in 1998, despite its now outdated graphics. That is because I enjoyed the characters, the gameplay, and the story.

Fighting this boss was the most enjoyable moment for me in Twilight Princess. Truly epic.

TP did not sour my liking for the series, but I learned not to set such high standards for a game, because those ideals may not be met. When The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (SS) was announced, I was enthusiastic, but very cautious at the same time. During the development of SS I remained essentially detached, not wanting to repeat the same experience. For a fairly long time I remained this way, until about two weeks ago when the reviews started to pour in. A perfect score is a prestigious thing for a game to achieve, yet Skyward Sword was receiving not just one, but numerous flawless scores from various and reliable sources. However, keeping in mind that a score is just a number, what truly got me excited was what the reviewers were saying about SS.

Skyward Sword’s Zelda is full of life and vigor. No depressing, locked-up princesses here.

Richard George, Executive Editor of IGN’s Nintendo coverage, had this to say about the role of Zelda and other characters in Skyward Sword:

Skyward Sword’s characters are phenomenal. Link is his usual mute self, more of an avatar for the player than anything else, but everyone surrounding him is remarkably memorable and charming. Zelda herself is by far the star of the show and her relationship with Link early on forms the backbone of the entire game. You want Link to succeed not so much because you’re worried about saving what will eventually become Hyrule, but because you genuinely care that he cares about Zelda (http://go.ign.com/vqeiMq).

It appears all the problems I had with TP were addressed. Zelda gains a prominent role, becoming a truly dynamic character. No longer the stoic princess, she is instead your best friend.  She is someone you will actually care about, undertaking just as much in this game as Link.

Enemies are intelligent and challenging; the bosses expected to be among Zelda’s finest. Each adversary is programmed to read your movements, increasing the likelihood for more damage. You have to look for weaknesses and strike them just right with your sword in order to claim victory. The foe becomes a puzzle which needs to be solved in order to defeat them. The associate editor for Game Informer, Phil Kollar, had the following to say about SS’s clever antagonists:

I had concerns that carefully plotting my attacks for every swing would get boring or frustrating, but the opposite was true. I’ve never felt as engaged or interested in the combat portion of a Zelda game as with Skyward Sword. If you run into a group of enemies waggling the Wii remote like a madman, you will be torn to shreds. Success in swordplay depends on studying opponents’ moves and attacking at the right time and from the right angle. When the correct method to defeat each foe finally clicked, I felt a sense of satisfaction that repeatedly tapping the A button never provided.

This impressive combat system leads to some of the most interesting boss battles in the series’ history. Whether you’re fighting a giant scorpion or a sword-swinging robot, Skyward Sword rarely falls back on the formula of using a tool to knock out the boss and then attacking it three times in a row. You need to be much smarter and much more persistent to best these bad guys. In fact, the last two boss encounters are the most difficult fights in any Zelda game thus far (http://bit.ly/w2o5Ia).

Yes, this enemy just stopped Link’s sword in its tracks. You will need to think before you act in this game.
The beginnings of Zelda lore are addressed, including the creation of the Master Sword and much more. With it being the origin story for all things Zelda, this allows for what could be a very deep and engaging tale. Chris Kohler, the founder and editor of Wired.com’s Game|Life, said the following about Skyward Sword’s plot:

Zelda plots are high-stakes, saving the princess and the world from some horrible demon, but Skyward Sword‘s writing works best when it drills down on the personal lives of the handful of people that inhabit the world. Wandering around the central city of Skyloft will always yield some interesting side story involving the people in the town. It’s worth it not just because you know there will be some material reward at the end but because the dialogue is so well written and surprising (http://bit.ly/rNwool).

More astonishing were the claims of SS being superior to Ocarina of Time. A bold statement, considering Ocarina of Time is highly regarded among the gaming community. IGN UK’s Games Editor, Keza MacDonald, was one of the reviewers daring enough to make such a statement:

Ask people which is their favorite Zelda game, and you’ll almost always get the same answer. There will always be the odd Wind Waker or Majora’s Mask maverick in there, but the overwhelming majority will tell you that it’s Ocarina of Time. … I’ve spent enough time with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword now to realize that this may very well be the best Zelda game ever made (http://go.ign.com/sqcmfc).

For the past two weeks, I have lowered my guard. Again, I am eager for a Zelda game and hopeful for its potential to be the best. The timing of this hype could not be better for Nintendo. However, this enthusiasm is different from the excitement I felt for TP. The news that it may be the best Zelda game yet, is not the reason for my elation. It is because I sense I’m going to experience a game which will set a new standard, develop a legacy, and be treasured for years to come. I may witness a key moment in the history of video games, and I could not be more thrilled.

Are you someone who also found Twilight Princess disappointing? Do you think Skyward Sword has potential? Perhaps you disagree and believe that TP is the epitome of Zelda. I’ll love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Freelance Writer & Nintendo Connoisseur