Skyward Sword might be the first proper opportunity that Nintendo has ever given you to genuinely give a damn about the titular crown princess of Hyrule. It’s tough to recollect a fundamental, centrepiece character who has been as perpetually disregarded as Zelda has been; so much so that it can only be considered mildly facetious to suggest that even Mario’s beloved Princess Peach has been fleshed out in more detail. Skyward Sword’s attitude towards this oversight is deliberate and absolute, and the game’s slow and impossibly endearing opening hour is far more concerned with Link’s delicate and slightly bungling interactions with Zelda than showing you what you can expect from the gameplay.
But if you’re only in this for the action – and that’ll be your loss, more so than ever this time – after that intro it surely won’t take long for you to conclude that this, for all of its narrative virility, is also a seminal action game. You’ll never have to resort to any of the half-baked, clownish windmilling that Twilight Princess’ shoe-horned control scheme often demanded of you, because Skyward Sword has bona fide 1 to 1 swordplay; the kind of which we’ve all been patiently waiting for ever since full-tilt motion control became a mainstay in almost all of our living rooms. It’s refreshing, it’s totally engaging and it’s just plain new, and if you want an accurate indication of how veracious and tight the controls are, simply watch Shigsy’s bemusing E3 2010 demonstration on Youtube. And then envisage the exact opposite.
This is easily the most purely cinematic Zelda game that Nintendo has ever made, and this is partially because they’ve become so ridiculously adept at dodging the numerous restrictions of their own antiquated hardware. Skyward Sword is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and its Manga-lite visuals don’t initially call a great deal to mind; even though just about every Zelda game in history has been plundered in order to create it. Fittingly – when you consider how much emphasis has recently been placed on the Zelda’s rich musical history – the brand new, fully orchestral score (which constantly oscillates between sweeping and offbeat) is an unadulterated joy, and if it doesn’t win every single award that it’s eligible for next year, there is officially no justice in this world.
Clearly aware of just how rewarding Skyward Sword’s controls are, Nintendo have deviated from their own blueprints and crafted an adventure that’s a lot more full-on than usual. The traditional dungeons do still exist, but the bits of hushed downtime that always lay between them does not. In effect the entire world is now a dungeon, and your sword is only really fit to remain sheathed during one of the game’s – characteristically ingenious – puzzling or platforming sequences. A mild and un-intrusive weapon upgrade system has also been employed (seemingly to appease players who tend to do most of their action gaming on other platforms) and the kind of mini-games and side-quests that you’d usually expect to find are gone altogether; though a modest swarm of (somewhat condensed) side missions do still remain.
A few long-term fans may be upset by Skyward Sword’s much more linear structure but it mirrors (and suits) the forthright narrative, as does the gameplay. Delving into your inventory no longer puts the game into pause and the AI is extremely crafty, so your attention is rarely allowed to ebb; which is doubly impressive when you observe just how huge the game really is. There are (of course) a healthy consignment of new toys to play with and the brash, hubristic villain Ghirahim fills Ganon’s spiked clogs with ease. The most controversial new addition is definitely Link’s stamina meter, and though it is admittedly burdensome when you’re traversing large stretches of open ground, it adds an energising shade of tactical play to the sword fights. The meter depletes not just when you’re sprinting but also when you’re engaging in combat, and if you carelessly exhaust Link, you’ll find him left completely open to enemy attack.
When Nintendo inevitably bring Link and Zelda into the world of high definition via their upcoming Wii U console, it’ll be fascinating to examine exactly how they choose to go about it. Skyward Sword is a reminder of the almost impossible expanse of charm and magic that they’re able to bestow upon a videogame, via a painstakingly refined cavalcade of elementary facial gestures, itty-bitty sound cues and muted narrative beats. Will they feel the need to bring voice actors and mo-cap to the party next time? The next few years are geared up to be perhaps the most interesting chapter in Nintendo’s history but for now, we’ve got Skyward Sword; possibly Link’s finest hour, the true arrival of Princess Zelda, and almost certainly Nintendo’s last killer app before they ask us all to upgrade. As denouements go, it is approximately faultless.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is available now for the Nintendo Wii.
Watch the The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword launch trailer below: