The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword brings the series, and the hardware it debuts on, full circle.
Consider it the omega of a cycle that began with Twilight Princess, and the culmination of Nintendo's crazy project that ended up being named "Wii", but whose surname will forever be Revolution.
Because Skyward Sword is not just a game, it's Wii's raison d'être. Recieving the experience and genius of one of the best dev teams in world and crystallizing it in an experience that will no doubt be unrepeatable. Not only that. This Zelda sees fulfilled the childhood dream of wielding a sword and fighting monsters and villains, rescuing damsels in distress and soaring through the clouds riding a Loftwing. Well, in my childhood it was a dragon, but you know what I mean.
I say this Zelda is unrepeatable because for one, the next Nintendo console, Wii U, diversifies the controller once more: tablet will be unable to match the sublime control scheme on offer here. Secondly, be it vast development span or future industry direction, but we'll likely never see anything like this again in the industry, or at least for many, many years. For those reasons, this Zelda is even more special.
Talking about Zelda goes far beyond detailing graphics, textures, visual effects, music or level design. Skyward Sword is a great symphony in which all elements are honed to perfection. It's Japanese design, but the mechanics run with the precision of a Swiss clock. There's no excess, nothing lacking: everything is here for a reason. A sentence at the beginning of the adventure [spoiler alert], just an overheard comment by some background character, offers a clue that can lead you to opening the last dungeon in the game. [spoiler ends].
Nothing is left to chance, everything is well thought through and everything makes sense in the end.
Skyward Sword is facing challenges that not test your fighting skills, but your wits as well. You'll get stuck in dungeons, and end up exploring every room, every corner with such exacting detail you'll swear the game has a bug, only to suddenly see the light and come upon the solution. No other game in this industry gives you that feeling of victory.
And that after twenty years, one would think that you've seen everything. But no. It's like what happened with Super Mario Galaxy. Each bend in the road, each new room, every dungeon, every boss ... Skyward Sword to never loses the ability surprise the player, and the great part is that it does so with elements that have belonged in the series since inception.
The game makes us realise there are still games that not only treat the player with respect, but honor them for their dedication, reward them for their time, revel in every second of the experience.
Thus, the puzzles happen at breakneck speed as we progress. They're no longer limited to dungeons, but are dotted throughout the game world. As such you'll be juggling a lot more simultaneously, but it always feels cohesive, and the result is a greater sense of accomplishment in every objective you complete.
If this was not enough, it gifts the player with another world of possibilities on the back of his mount: Skyloft. Far away from the urgency and stiffness of Hyrule below, this sky world is where we have freedom to explore and "waste our time" by competing in races, finding treasures, or simply enjoying the sensation of flying.
When you fight in Skyward Sword, it is you who decides the direction of the sword's swing, Wii MotionPlus offering one-to-one tracking that remains tight and responsive throughout. You must observe the enemy, study him. You must be able to find the gap in their defenses and attack at speed with the right hit - vertical, horizontal. Whether you use the shield or dodge, battles become a unique experience that gain more and more complexity until reaching some boss battles which offer that same feeling of triumph provided by the puzzles in overcoming. Superb.
Skyward Sword is a beauty to behold. Maybe it's a pattern in a door that shakes a NES childhood memory. Maybe it's the presentation of a new character, or revision of a name already known. Maybe that fire-throwing dragon gargoyle makes us stare at it for a full minute while pulling a silly face, gazing at its design lines and how the lava flows. The simple act of crossing a spider web, being trapped by it and freeing oneself in a heroic effort is an epic setpiece in itself.
Even lighting has its own role, leading us to different states of mind without realizing it. From the menacing aura of the lava to the clear blue heavens of the sky world, Skyward Sword plays with our mood as a puppeteer.
From environments to enemies, all is a celebration of the principle of creativity and art in the service of the player. If an enemy has a belt with a horn attached, its not by chance, but because it will be used to call comrades for aid. We can try to kill him while he's scurrying among his henchmen or seek a way to snatch the horn to prevent any backup. You can steamroller through situations, but the title rewards experimentation, and thus a different way to get through each confrontation.
But if there is anything that lingers long after every Zelda is the music, as recently witnessed in London. A harp plays three chords, and we straighten in our seats because we know its a cue for something about to happen. Trumpets resound and we forcefully grab the Wiimote, for an enemy is approaching. We can even stand idle in the town of Skyloft and close our eyes and enjoy a quiet moment.
New and old melodies mingle, lightly changing from one to another depending on what we do. They play with our emotions, yes, induce our mood, yet we have control over them, because they accompany our actions.
This is what we discussed at the beginning of this review. Skyward Sword is much more than the sum of its parts. It is impossible to appreciate its facets separately, since they interfere with each other: the artfully designed controls ease the player immerse themselves into the setting. They in turn are moved by the music designed for that specific moment in the game and for the current action.
Skyward Sword is not perfect. Skyward Sword is not the ultimate game. But in inserting it in your Wii, know without a shadow of doubt that is one of the greatest titles you're going to play in years. It's arguable if this is the best Zelda ever: but its definitely the best game Nintendo's created right now.
10 / 10
Surprising at every corner. The best use of the Wii Remote you'll ever play. The feeling of triumph that comes through is unparalleled.
Some game mechanics inherited from portable games seem out of place. Abuse in repeating some cutscenes, more distinction would have been perfect.