Previews// Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Posted 22 Jul 2011 17:59 by
How do you reinvent the Legend of Zelda series for the console that has tried - since its launch in 2006 - to reinvent gaming itself? Itís a question that Nintendo has battled with for years. Although the Wii has already had a taste of Master Sword action, launch title Twilight Princess was more of a port of a title destined for the consoleís predecessor, the Gamecube.

Now, in the final months of the platformís life, we are starting to see the answer. And itís certainly ambitious: use the Wii Remote as Linkís sword and the Nunchuk as his shield, with 1:1 motion reading for your every move. After playing three different segments of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I can say that Nintendo has managed to pull it off - and pull it off really well.

First up was a demo titled ĎBird Riding.í This was an isolated mini-game that will eventually be part of the introduction of Linkís adventure, no doubt - heís not wearing his traditional green tunic, and Zelda isnít a princess but a simple childhood friend. Rather than a hero, Link looks like heís being taught the ways of extreme bird handling at the hands of a crack squad of mentors. The challenge? Chase a gawking yellow bird around the skies and grab the trophy that itís clinging to. Youíre battling three other bumbling idiots for the prize - a snog off of Zelda! No, not really, but it does involve Zelda to some degree.

After leaping off a cliff and landing onto your trusty bird, Avatar-style, you need to Ďflapí the Wii Remote in a downwards motion to make your ride gain momentum. Much like Epona in The Ocarina of Time, pressing the A button will use up a speed boost icon that replenishes after a couple of seconds. Directing yourself is a simple case of tilting the Wiimote around slightly. Itís really quite responsive - particularly when trying to dodge eggs thrown by your rivals (which they immaturely lob with some stunning accuracy, Iíd like to add).

I then got to check out a good olí fashioned Zelda dungeon, and thatís where I really got to check out the nuances of the new control system. The actual dungeon itself was something lifted right out of the classic Nintendo notebook - open area, leading to enclosed area where you fight a formidable enemy to obtain a new item and use said item to complete puzzles and shit. This particular circular area, covered in moss and rife with mutant insects and other wildlife, sported a dilapidated brick dome in the centre, which could only be accessed by firing an arrow at a familiar diamond switch above the door.

Holding the B trigger on the Wii Remote brings up the items wheel, which can then be used to select bombs, arrows and other lovely things. Once selected, pressing B again sets you up for actually using the item. For the bow, I was taken to a first-person view, with the Wii Remote used to aim a reticule around the room. Pressing a button on the Nunchuk readied an arrow - it was then a case of pulling the Nunchuk upwards as if tensing a real bow. Let go of the button to fire the arrow. Simples.

Around the room, I was accosted by several different enemies - bats, goblin monster things and giant spiders (shudder). This is where the very fundamentals of combat in Zelda change - swing your Wii Remote to swing Linkís sword in the exact same manner, and raise the Nunchuk upwards to deflect attacks with the shield. This gets more interesting when you realise that different enemies require a fresh style of attack.

Bats are a piece of piss and easy to hit. All you need to do is flail a bit and youíve knackered them. The goblins, however, wear bone helmets and protect themselves with big swords so you have to swing low and to their unprotected side to damage them. The spiders are the awkward buggers (and it doesnít help that I have a fear of them either), requiring you to swing upwards in order to flip them over before dealing a finishing blow. At all times you need to be paying careful attention to not only how youíre swinging, but what the enemy is doing so you can take advantage of the opening.

This fact was emphasised once I managed to get into the brick dome in the centre of the dungeon room. I was locked inside with a rather large, badass skeleton chap. The game was clearly treating this as a mini-boss, and this is where your newfound skills in sword-flailing will be put to the test. As expected, pressing the A button while locked on (Z button on the Nunchuk) will have Link leaping and dodging about like a bounding human grasshopper, leaving your arms to do the swordís talking once behind the enemy.

Getting behind the skeleton - a classic tactic in any 3D Zelda title - doesnít work all of the time, as the bony git is really rather fast and can knock off a good chunk of health with his two massive steel swords. The trick is to note the pattern in his poses - every now and then, before attacking, he will arrange his swords in either a horizontal or vertical fashion. Youíll need to swing your sword to match those positions so you can cut into the space between the swords. A great example of motion-based swordplay, but one that needs concentration beyond any Zelda game before it.

And naturally, after defeating the skeleton, what was waiting for me? A treasure chest! Open it up and... DUN DUN DUN DUUUUUN! An upgraded version of the flying Beetle item that can be used to collect airbourne objects and help clear the path for Link in tough-to-reach areas. To escape from the still-locked dome, the Beetle had to be unleashed so it could fly through the domeís roof and hit the diamond switch once more. Control is similar to that of the bird - tilt the Wii Remote slightly to navigate its direction. Itís a pretty neat item, actually.

My final demo section was a boss battle with a rather sinister-looking demon chap called Ghirahim. If you ask me, with all the makeup and tongue-licking demeanour, one would think he was flirting with Link just as much as he was threatening him. Saucy bugger. After his waffle about taking over the world, a battle ensues. Any attack you do with your sword here will simply be caught with Ghirahimís fingers - you have to use another method to defeat him. I wonít mention how, partly because itíll somewhat ruin your experience of Skyward Sword when itís finally released, and partly because I really had no clue as to how I beat his sorry butt (full disclosure for the win).

I walked away from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword thinking that Nintendo has done a very good job in delivering on the promise it proposed at E3 last year. The motion controls are stunningly accurate, but the whole affair takes quite a lot of tutoring to feel like second nature. Weíve all played Zelda games for years, relying on a simple button press for immediate sword-swiping.

Now, weíre being taught to watch enemies for specific signals and to change our actual physical movements to suit. Thatís a quantum leap in immersion for the Zelda series - letís just hope that itís easy to become a master of.

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