Hands-On Preview: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo Wii)

Writer’s note: I should be note that I played this back at E3. So much happens during those three days that it takes awhile to finish covering it, and I plan on writing something for every game I even sneezed at (Thanks for the cold E3).

I want to say just two things before launching into my impressions of the new Zelda game. The first is that I’m a big fan of the series, so that might color some of my views about the game. As far as I’m concerned, A Link to the Past is one of the best games ever made, even above Ocarina of Time. I even love Wind Waker. Despite all of that, I thought Twilight Princess was boring and that had some odd design choices, which, at times, killed the pace of the game. Plus, as a lefty, Link should not be right handed.

The second thing is that while nearly every booth had someone, whether it was a PR person, developer, or representative, they had someone near their game. Almost all were helpful, and in some cases, their love of the game they were displaying was infectious. You could tell the the Way Forward staff were really eager to show off their game. Nintendo had some of the most ambivalent people ever. The lady who handed me the controller was more interested in talking to another Nintendo rep about drinking. I have no problem with drinking and women discussing how they would like to get drunk. In fact, I think that should be encouraged. It just was odd after spending days in front of excited people to have the person handing me the controller to play Legend of Motherloving Zelda act like it was the last place on earth they wanted to be.

Show the Tri-Force some respect, yo.

Anyway I got to try out Skyward Sword mostly because it was one of the few Nintendo demo booths with a short enough line that you could actually see the end of it. One of the nice things about having a rep who doesn’t care is that you get to explore how the game works without anyone trying to guide you through the experience. In this case that was both a blessing and a curse, as any prior experience with a Zelda Wii game is thrown right out the window.

This Zelda is both the usual classic dungeon/puzzle game that it has always been, and in many ways it’s also a statement of where motion controlled games should be at this point in the life of the Wii console. The game requires a MotionPlus controller, and thank you to whomever made that decision. Link is still right handed, but I’m willing to be slightly forgiving of this because it just works so well. I’m left-handed and the sword movements felt natural. I knocked a spider off of a string and it fell to the ground, obviously angry. Swinging the sword is nearly 1:1 with the movements that Link will make on the screen. Hacking at the spider didn’t work that well, but a low to high swipe exposed a glowing spot in the middle of the underside of the spider. I jabbed forward and Link stabbed into the spot, killing the spider.

There were more spiders and boxes to knock down. Switching between secondary weapons is simple. You bring up the menu, point to the item and after that you can quickly switch to that item by pressing B. I equipped a bow, and shooting it felt a lot like the archery mini-game from Wii Sports Resort. You hold C and pull back on the nunchuck while aiming with the remote. A circle will appear that if hovered in the general area of a target will lock onto a it. So if your Wii archery skills are lacking, the game still has you covered.

There was at least one other way of taking down the spiders. You have a remote controlled scarab looking beetle that you could throw which then flies around the area using motion controls. It required holding the remote straight, and I’m not a fan of games that required holding the remote like that for flight controls, but it worked really well in this setting. There were multiple areas you could fly it into for hidden items as well. After this section was a skeleton with twin blades that really showed off the kind of accurate sword swipes that you need to occasionally pull off.

Aside from this small dungeon section, there was also a race mini-game with the flight controls mapped well to the MotionPlus controller. In it you have to try to catch a bird that has a token in order to win a date with Zelda, so I’m assuming this part comes from fairly early in the game. There was also a boss fight, which kind of felt less like a boss fight than it did a sword tutorial, but this part of the demo really showed off using the sword and shield in combination with each other. The shield is also motion controlled with the nunchuck.

I couldn’t believe the lack of lines once I got to try the game out. I hope that excitement over the Wii U doesn’t overshadow the release of this Legend of Zelda game, because if the dungeon puzzles are as well developed as the motion controls are, this could be an amazing game on the Wii. It seems odd that the demo felt like it was fulfilling some of the promise on how great a motion controlled game could be, in a way that could appeal to both a younger and older audience, and yet the crowd was more interested in the new touch screen controls.

If your one of those people who don’t use their Wii that often, you might want to dust that sucker off and recharge your controllers this holiday season.

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