Posted on March 06 2021 by Andy Spiteri
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of my favorite video games ever.
Not just one of my favorite Zelda games either – one of my favorite games ever, period. Skyward Sword represents the tried and true Zelda formula operating at its peak; the pastel visuals looked incredible to me; the sweeping narrative and characters were unlike anything we had seen in Zelda before; the dungeons, the music, the extras, all of it; I absolutely loved Skyward Sword. Oh yeah – and I really dug the motion controls too.
But time it seems hasn’t necessarily been kind to the last console Zelda game before everything changed.
In looking even at our own staff here at Zelda Dungeon, the word to use when describing Skyward Sword is “divisive”. Frequently in our Best Zelda Ever yearly ranking lists, Skyward Sword finds itself both at the top of many writers lists and at the bottom. There’s very few in-between opinions, which honestly makes me sad. Skyward Sword, to me, is The Legend of Zelda at its finest, showing everything great that the series can be. Is it a perfect game? Of course not, but the strengths of Skyward Sword were so strong, they easily overcome any flaws or annoyances I may have had.
So why did so many people hate this game? Why couldn’t Zelda fans see what I saw?
I can’t put my finger on why this bothers me so much with Skyward Sword – after all, a favorite Zelda game is wholly subjective and to each their own. If someone were to say to me “Andy, I hear you talk about how great Ocarina of Time is all the time, but I just don’t like it”… okay, I’m totally fine with that. Someone loves Twilight Princess, a game I famously make fun of all the time? That’s awesome, I’m so happy you like it. So why this defensiveness for Skyward Sword? I’ve been trying to nail that down and I think I’ve landed on a few points.
Maybe I’m making excuses for Skyward Sword, but I truly believe the game never had a fair shot from day one. Not from Nintendo; not from fans.
Think about it. There were so many barriers and obstacles put in Skyward Swords‘ way before it ever even released that I really believe it never stood a chance to be one of the more beloved Zelda games.
We can’t talk about the motion controlled Zelda game without talking about its disastrous unveiling at E3 2010. Nintendo was trying to sell us a Zelda game focused on motion controls, yet failed to present a working demo or secure a controlled environment where Skyward Sword could be allowed to show off its strengths. Instead, we had one of the most uncomfortable E3 segments probably ever, with fans losing confidence in the controls before they ever got a chance to play it. The negative effect of this can’t be overstated; to onlookers, this immediately became the game that was built around motion controls that didn’t work.
And let’s talk about the decision to use motion controls at all. Putting aside how this control scheme rendered Skyward Sword unplayable to anyone with accessibility issues, there was another problem: people’s desire to relax. Obviously the Wii was built for this kind of motion control gameplay, but let’s face it – there’s a big portion of people that just want to chill on their couch with a controller instead of having to wave their arms around to make Link swing a sword, and I don’t begrudge these people at all for that at all. When the Wii launched, the motion controls and little wags of the Wiimote found in Twilight Princess were quirky and cute; five years later, people were over the gimmick.
Speaking of – this game came out five long years after the Wii first launched. The Wii had lost pretty much all its momentum and was about as hot as a Hebra mountain. For context, we were about a year out from the launch of the Wii U. Asking people, especially the decidedly more casual Wii audience, to dig out their consoles and hook them back up was a tall ask. Combine that with the fact you needed to buy the new and improved Wiimote Motion Plus to play this game properly, and it’s no wonder so many people decided to skip Skyward Sword.
But maybe the most damning foe staring Skyward Sword in the face was time. In 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out and revolutionized the video game industry. Many people, including this writer, would say Ocarina of Time is the best video game ever made. So it seems natural that Nintendo largely took a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach with their console Zelda games, adding just enough twists and gimmicks to each one to make them feel unique. However, after Majora’s Mask, and then The Wind Waker, and then Twilight Princess, the blueprint laid out by Ocarina of Time some 13 years earlier was beginning to feel a bit dated, and fans naturally viewed Skyward Sword – a game that was certainly molded in that same blueprint – as passe.
And so Skyward Sword finally released, and while I loved it, there was a large section of the fandom that wrote it off as gimmicky, boring, and just not the adventure they were looking for. Despite reviewing well, Skyward Sword achieved middling sales and cultivated its reputation as maybe the most divisive game in the series, and that’s pretty much how it’s stayed for the last ten years.
But now… Skyward Sword finally has its chance at redemption.
Skyward Sword HD is on its way, and it seems to have taken the criticisms of its detractors seriously. Gone are all the cords and peripherals needed to play this game; now we have the best of both worlds: classic motion control gameplay for those who loved it with the easier-to-use and more responsive Joy-Cons, but also a button-only mode for the gamers that just want to relax and play on the couch. Gone is the indifference of the dying days of the Wii; now we have an engaged audience with a Switch console that’s in its prime in terms of relevance and sales, with the cherry on top being that this is a anniversary year for Zelda which (we assume) Nintendo is gonna make a big deal of.
I would also argue that gone is disdain for the “traditional Zelda formula”. There is a certain section of Zelda fans that played Breath of the Wild and found that, even though it was undoubtedly one of the greatest games of all time, they really missed things like traditional dungeons or weapons that don’t break – things that Skyward Sword offers. And there were so many new Zelda fans whose entry point into the series was Breath of the Wild, I think it’s a safe assumption to think that at least some of them will probably want to check out another Zelda game.
Nintendo at the time of this writing hasn’t shown us anything beyond the initial reveal trailer , but I have to imagine that there will be more quality of life improvements on top of the control schemes. No more Fi telling you your batteries are low, Owl statues serving as warp points, and maybe an extra thing or two to do in the Sky. I think all of these are reasonable asks, and pretty likely to happen too.
All of the issues that plagued Skyward Sword fairly and unfairly at the time of its release look to have been solved in Skyward Sword HD. The controls, the reveal, and the timing all seem to be lining up this time around to take away all of the baggage that dragged the game down for years and years. I’m not delusional; there will still be people that don’t love Skyward Sword even after all the changes HD makes. Only now, I think I’ll be able to accept that. If a Zelda fan doesn’t like Skyward Sword based on the choices the game itself makes – the Imprisoned fights, the Silent Realms, the backtracking – I can totally understand. I’ll finally be at peace with the criticisms because now I finally feel like Skyward Sword will get a fair shot.
Now Zelda fans will hopefully be able to see what I see in this game now that all the obstacles, intrusions and real world distractions look to have been pulled away. Now Zelda fans can judge this game based on the quality of the game itself. I truly believe that with all these hurdles gone, Skyward Sword will be able to win over these fans with its intricate dungeons, fantastic characters, sweeping soundtrack, colorful world and cinematic narrative.
I’m hoping that come July 16th, we finally see the redemption of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Andy Spiteri is the Editor-In-Chief of Zelda Dungeon. He still cries like a little baby whenever “Fi’s Farewell” plays. Follow him on Twitter here!