Does this look like a puzzle to you?

What’s going on with your marketing people, Nintendo? You’re about to release a game that from my own experience is one of the greatest evolutions the Zelda series has seen since Ocarina of Time and your representatives don’t even have their facts straight. You probably all heard it from E3: Nintendo reps are touting the combat in Skyward Sword as though every enemy is a puzzle. But from what I’ve played, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

What they should have said is that every enemy has its own strategy, as that’d be much truer to the game’s design. The way you fight Keese is naturally different from the way you fight a Skulltula or Stalfos, for example. Sure, many of them have puzzle-like elements, such as the hydra enemy that requires that you cut off all three of its heads at once, but the way you deal with them is action and reflex-based, not a test of intellect.

The combat mechanics more nearly resemble the engine seen in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, where timing and positioning of attacks is key. Strike too high or too soon and you’ll hit the enemy’s sword or shield; wait too long or use the wrong technique and you’ll find yourself vulnerable to attack. I’ve noted the similarities before in an article I wrote a few months prior to E3, but since then I’ve gotten the chance to try the game for myself, meaning that the comparison is less speculative and more concrete.

Let me draw out an analogy for you. Consider that The Legend of Zelda set the framework for the entire series. From there we saw two different directions: the Zelda II direction, which innovated combat, and the A Link to the Past direction, which preserved the original combat formula but added “cool” techniques like the Spin Attack. I’d compare the original game to Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past to Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword to a sort of hypothetical brain-child of both Zelda II and Link to the Past that builds on the improvement philosophies behind both games.

Fighting in Skyward Sword is more like THIS

What really drove the similarities home, though, was that I started playing Zelda II a few days ago (embarrassingly enough, I have never finished it before) and realized that playing Skyward Sword actually made the combat in Zelda II feel more natural. For whatever reason I was never very good at fighting some of the tougher enemies such as Iron Knuckles or Dairas without using cheap tactics such as the jumping trick or Down Thrust, but now that I’m a bit more used to this style of combat I’ve actually been able to hold my own the old-fashioned way this time around. While I’ve always understood why Zelda II had the deepest, most engaging, most challenging combat in the series, now I can appreciate it a whole lot more. Being able to enjoy it in this new way makes me even more excited for the Motion Plus combat in Skyward Sword, particularly what it will be like in the later stages of the game.

I suspect that the reason why Nintendo would rather compare Skyward Sword‘s combat to “puzzles” instead of “arcade combat after the style of Zelda II” is because of Adventure of Link‘s notorious reputation as the “black sheep” of the Zelda series. While the game was successful back in its day, there’s a tendency particularly among modern players not to give it much of a look because of how different it is. People also frequently scrutinize its difficulty – unfairly, I think, since honestly the difficulty comes mostly from your limited extra lives and the fact that certain areas have bottomless pits that can quickly burn through them. But regardless of what I think, that stained reputation remains, and so it’s no wonder Nintendo would conveniently avoid making reference to the game, even though I think it’s more relevant now than ever before.

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