Why Skyward Sword HD is becoming my favourite Zelda game
The words ‘The Legend of Zelda’ will mean different things to different people. Some will think back to the very first adventure on NES where they were told “it’s dangerous to go alone! Take this”. Others will see the peaks and valleys of Hyrule dotted with still-to-be activated Sheikah towers; à la Breath of the Wild.
For me, I get warm fuzzy memories of my Nintendo 64 and the hours spent playing Ocarina of Time. Man, that was a great game. The first 3D Zelda, Ocarina of Time blew me away and made me fall in love with the series. I’d played Link’s Awakening to death on my Game Boy but Ocarina’s visuals were just *chef’s kiss*. Ocarina is Zelda to me, just as Sean Connery is James Bond and Sylvester McCoy is Doctor Who. They’re the default versions in my mind.
Which probably goes some way to explain why Breath of the Wild just hasn’t clicked with me. Don’t get me wrong – it’s amazing! – and the hours I’ve spent roaming around Hyrule attest to that. But it doesn’t really feel like a Zelda game to me. When I see the Triforce logo and Link I expect a story that whisks me off on rails, expertly crafted dungeons, a set list of equipment I’ll unlock, twinkling menu music; all of the tropes I’d grown used to from the series. BotW was rightly praised for doing something different, but I yearn for a ‘classic’ Zelda experience.
Enter Skyward Sword HD.
This remaster isn’t just a sharper version of the much-maligned Wii entries visuals. The developers have taken a holistic view of all the worst aspects of the 2011 game and sprinkled them with fairy dust. The result is a brand new way to experience this story either with refined motion controls, or better yet, just using a controller.
My first couple of hours with the game were spent waggling my arms around. For whatever reason, I could not get Link to swing his sword just as I was intending. A horizontal slash felt almost impossible – somehow I kept putting some diagonal movement on it. Eventually I thought I’d give the button controls a whirl instead and I’m so glad I did. Combat, which has been a real frustration, suddenly becomes a demonstration in swordplay. Flicking the right stick, I can strike below an opponents guard sending them spinning backwards. Another flick of the stick and I’ve split a predatory plant in two. Each victory feels earned; not through battling the controls, but by observing my enemies and striking at the right time and place. I’m very glad that the button controls aren’t simply ‘press A to decapitate’ – it’s made the experience much more engaging and rewarding.
One thing I will say for the motion controls is that they work wonderfully when you’re soaring above the clouds on the back of your Loftwing. These huge birds ferry the people of Skyloft from one floating island to another. Leaning in my seat from left to right made me feel like I really was steering this crimson bird through the sky. But the button controls offer a little more precision to the budding aviator, which can be helpful when flying through small gaps.
Now that players can choose their way to play, we can focus on the story and setting.
Skyloft is a floating island populated by people who think the ‘surface’ below the clouds is a myth. And by the Goddest Hylia have the developers made this place feel alive. Take the bazaar for example. This huge tent at the centre of Skyloft is the town’s economic hub. Traders hawk their wares and the pub serves hot food and cold drinks. Sure there are literally a handful of people here but it feels more crafted than any of the larger towns I’ve wondered into in BotW. There’s this creepy item seller who invades your personal space as you peruse his merchandise. Take a look at anything and he’s on you like a panther, desperate to make a sale. Then there are the mesmerising eyes of the fortuneteller. He’ll give you helpful insights about your next quest, and probably make you bark like a dog whenever you hear the word ‘biscuits!’. Or the melancholy girl who can keep equipment safe that you’re no longer using. She literally wants to be anywhere else but here, but truth be told I’d rather be here than anywhere else.
I can’t write this article without mentioning Groose.
A fellow trainee knight, Groose is a muscle bound rival of Link’s who has a soft spot for a certain blonde princess. He’s jealous of Link and Zelda’s closeness and tries to out do the green clad hero, to unsurprising ends. Groose, and his two sidekicks Cawlin and Strich, are a trio you just love to hate. They’re bullies but you can see why Groose does what he does. He’s besotted and his two lackeys are along for the ride – too scared to do anything else. I really enjoyed this high school melodrama at the start of the game and it reminded me that Link is a boy just trying to get through (Knight) school and spend time with his girl. Wonderful stuff.
Spending time with his girl proves problematic when Zelda is whisked away by a suspicious looking tornado.
Link will need to go down to the surface (it’s not a myth after all) to find her. He leaps off Skyloft and falls through the sky. Whistling, he calls for his Loftwing who glides in so Link can land on his back. The pair race off towards a gap in the clouds and Link leaps again, this time floating down to the ground using his sailcloth (a precursor to the mechanics in BotW). It is exhilarating. Now he’s in a strange, broken world full of dangers, mysteries, and interesting characters to meet.
Skyward Sword HD has really surprised me. I steered clear of the Wii version because of the bad press. I’m now finally appreciating the brilliance of this game. The setting is intriguing, the visuals are gorgeous, the controls are technical, and the story and characters have me hooked.
Lovers of classic 3D Zelda games should absolutely check this out – if only so I have more people to fanboy with. Plus, there is nothing more amazing than leaping off into the sky and soaring on the back of a bird, with an orchestral soundtrack blasting your ears.
Skyward Sword HD is out now on Nintendo Switch. Visit the games official site for more info.
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