Posted on June 08 2011 by Alex Plant
I’m back, folks, and rather than bore you with a rundown of all the stuff you already know, I’m going to jump straight into the games themselves. Since we still fancy ourselves a Zelda site, Skyward Sword was obviously top priority – and boy, did I get my share of playtime, including a play through each of the demos, plus a bonus replay of the dungeon section.
This demo definitely feels like more of a complete package than the one from the previous E3 – although I suppose that’s to be expected, since this one features real cutscenes, real characters, and real gameplay scenarios. But I imagine you guys want to know about the graphical execution, the gameplay, the dungeon, the boss, and everything else I could possibly have to report about the demo. All right – if I have to…
Link and Zelda Take to the Skies
I’ll start with the shortest and freshest demo: the introduction to the game’s flight mechanic. This demo has a very specific context within the game’s story – as part of the birdriders’ festival, Link competes against his fellow Skyloft villagers to try to grab a small statue (delivered by none other than our favorite Hylian lady: Zelda) from a large bird’s talons. The catch? They have to mount giant birds of their own and try to chase it down by air!
If you remember Twilight Princess‘s Zora’s River Flight segment, where you flew a Kargoroc up the Zora’s River canyon, the way the bird controls should feel pretty familiar. Simply point the Wii Remote in order to steer your feathered ride – tilting it down causes you to dive, while tilting it back towards you causes you to pull up.
You can press the A button to give yourself a quick speed boost or press the B button to slow your bird down. The boosts aren’t unlimited however – three feather icons indicate the number of boosts you have currently available. They replenish themselves at set intervals, so don’t worry about losing them forever if you use them. Think of them as this game’s answer to Epona’s speed boosts from the N64 games and Twilight Princess.
Unfortunately the yellow bird holding the statue flies fast and does its best to avoid both you and your fellow fliers, who will try to ram into you to prevent you from nabbing your prize whenever possible. Tracking down the statue can be tricky, but if you follow the bird carefully, avoid your opponents, and take advantage of the dive’s improved speed boost to slip up nearby the statue, you’ll nab it no problem. Once you’re in position behind your target, press the A button to reach for the prize.
You actually have to grab it twice – the first time one of your friends will interrupt your near-victory by knocking you off course. At that point, the other two birdriders will become more aggressive – one will actively try to slam into you, while the other starts tossing eggs your way. Avoid their attacks and focus on your objective.
It’s not especially tricky, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a cakewalk either. It took me several minutes to clear the second round thanks to extensive interference from the other two birdriders – but in the end I won out.
We still don’t really know what flying between areas is going to be like in the final version of the game – certainly it’ll be different from this mini-game presentation – but suffice to say that the flight mechanic works well and is easy to use, especially if you’re already a fan of Twilight Princess Wii.
Crawling Through the Dungeon
I was hoping we’d get a taste of the hybrid formula that blends the barriers between field areas and dungeons, but I’ll settle for a playable dungeon segment. I got two play sessions with the Sky Temple demo. My first definitive playthrough was dedicated to trying out the Wii Motion Plus in as many contexts as possible. And I’ve got to say – it really does live up to expectations.
Swordplay tracks your movements accurately, just as others have already reported – Link swings exactly as you swing, giving you a full range of sword motions with which to deal with enemies. I’d be lying if I said there’s no learning curve, though – you really have to make sure you swing with enough definition for the input to register correctly, or else you won’t slash in the most effective way. After a little bit of practice, however (and I do want to emphasis that it only takes a little bit), you’ll be cutting down enemies with the best of them.
The flow of combat takes some getting used to – particularly transitioning from Twilight Princess‘s waggle controls to Skyward Sword‘s more accurate motion-based gameplay. After fighting a few Bokoblins and the Stalfos mini-boss, however, I think I’ve definitely got the hang of it. I managed to tear through them on my second play – not totally flawlessly, mind you, since the enemies’ active defensive tactics really do require pinpoint movements and timing, but I did well enough that onlookers seemed pretty impressed.
Advanced techniques like the Sword Beam, Spin Attacks (horizontal and vertical), as well as the Finishing Blow, are still alive and well. The beam, like its 2D predecessors, requires that you have full life before you can charge it, and you can shift its angle based on the direction of your swing. The Finishing Blow works in much the same way as Twilight Princess in that it kills off disabled enemies, but now it’s triggered by a quick shake of both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
Speaking of the Nunchuk, flicking it up quickly raises your shield to block enemy attacks. I’m glad to report that the Nunchuk shield controls are much more responsive than they were in Twilight Princess. With the shield you can repel projectiles as well as protect yourself from melee attacks, but be careful! Watch your Shield Meter, located just below your hearts – as your shield takes hits, the meter depletes, and once it runs out your shield will break.
In the demo there were three available shields: the Wooden Shield, the Iron Shield, and the Hylian Shield. As you might expect, the Wooden Shield was extremely brittle, breaking after only a few hits – and it probably carries over its weakness to fire from previous titles. The Iron Shield was a bit hardier, but still shattered if it took too much punishment. The Hylian Shield was strongest – I don’t think I saw its meter run down for a single player the whole time I was in line (and believe me, I waited for about an hour and a half total between my three plays).
Aside from that, the items featured were the Bow, Bombs, Beetle, and Slingshot. We’ve already seen all of these babies in action in previous demos, and nothing much has changed. The Bow controls are still ripped straight from Wii Sports Resort – it’s a bit hard to get used to holding it steady for precise aiming on the fly, but everything is as it should be. You can toss, roll, or simply drop Bombs old-school style to blow up enemies and obstacles. The Slingshot acts as a quicker alternative to the Bow when you have small, in-your-face flying baddies such as Keese ganging up on you.
Today I want to give special attention to the Beetle, though, since it’s clearly this demo’s darling item. You can send the Beetle out to do recon of areas outside of your reach – in the demo I had to send it up into high-up alcoves to scout for switches and Rupees. It also gets extensive use as a means for severing cables such as spiderwebs and ropes that keep crates in suspension. Midway through the dungeon, you pick up a set of mandible attachments for your Beetle that allow it to pick up items and deliver them to another location. You can set up the Beetle to drop its payload whenever you want, whether this means giving you a faraway item or bombing a Deku Baba from above.
The Beetle controls in much the same way you do the bird from the flight portion: point the Wii Remote and the Beetle will turn in tandem with your movements. Like the Bow, the Motion Plus controls work pretty well, but can be a little shaky – I noticed this a lot more in my second play, so I’m thinking it may be a non-issue that simply playing the game in your closed home environment rather than on a busy show floor will fix.
Item selection is slick and simple, and the “item wheel” has gotten a spiffy makeover that really exudes the “ancient civilization” feel that pervades much of the game. Simply hold the B button and slide your cursor over to the desired item, then release to equip it instantly! You can do this on the fly, eliminating the need to pause to select your toolset. From there, you can swing the Remote to switch back to your sword, then give the B button a quick tap to bring out your active item (this one took me a bit of getting used to – I kept trying to hold B to engage my weapons!).
Puzzles are a good blend of the recent “figure out which item you need” formula plus the classic challenge of actually executing the task set before you correctly. This is particularly evident during the Beetle puzzles, many of which require excellent control of the little mechanoid in order to succeed. The dizzy eye puzzle also made a reappearance, although this one was a bit more complicated since you had to confuse three separate eye locks at once – and one of them was a bit too high up to see you normally. Suffice to say that this game’s really going to test your attention to your surroundings.
I wasn’t able to “finish” the dungeon – 10 minutes is not a very long time, after all, but I got enough of a taste to say that the combat and exploration in this game are everything you’ve come to expect from Zelda and more. Wii Motion Plus really could be the future for the series – moreso than the Wii U controller ever could. Here’s hoping they flesh out the Motion Plus potential even further with a Skyward Sword sequel rather than prematurely push the series in yet another new direction.
And a Boss Battle for Good Measure
When I heard there would be a boss demo, Ghirahim was probably the contender I least expected. If anything, I thought it’d be that golden mech from the GDC 2011 trailer. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
The battle began with just a sprinkle of story in the form of a pre-battle cutscene exchange between the Demon Lord and Link, explaining that he’s after Zelda for her holy power and orchestrated the giant tornado we saw in the trailer. From there, the duel begins. Ghirahim has a few signature moves – to start off, he’ll try to block your sword between his forefingers. If you don’t free your blade from his grip by shaking the Wii Remote, he’ll knock it from your hands and try to recover it in order to use it against you. After a few hits, he starts coming at you with a sword of his own and sends daggers of darkness your way.
The fight wasn’t difficult per se – I beat him on my first try without any help or advice – but the pacing and structure is very different from the fights in the other demos. Well-timed, precise swings aren’t really as effective here as against, say, a Stalfos – inevitably my best means of attack was to run up to him and hack away. Even this was kind of tricky, though, since he teleports around the room and it’s hard to get close to him before he either attacks or warps again. So I suppose I’d have to admit that I found it kinda hard – at least insofar as it wasn’t yawn-inducingly formulaic and I actually got knocked around a little bit. Defeating Ghirahim was extremely satisfying, and the Heart Containers in this game look freaking gorgeous.
Speaking of looks, getting to see the game live, up-close, and personal really gave me a strong feel for the impressionist graphical style. As you approach certain objects or look far into the distance, you’ll spot paint-like dabs of color that really make the world look like some kind of painting. There wasn’t much that was particularly visually stimulating in the demos – bar Skyloft, which is positively beautiful in all the screens and videos we’ve seen so far – but it’s still clear that the graphical style does its job and does it well.
My time with the demo certainly wasn’t perfect – I struggled at times with figuring out how to use Wii Motion Plus – but after dedicating my attention to learning the controls they’ve started to feel right. My first experience fighting the Stalfos was one of the most satisfying gaming moments I’ve encountered in the last several years. On the other hand, the boss battle didn’t quite feel as natural, and it was hard to adapt to the different rhythm of the combat since the Wii Motion Plus’s trademark sword swings weren’t as strongly featured.
I’ll probably give this game another go on Thursday after my hands-on demo of Wii U so I can refine these initial impressions, but for now I can say with confidence that Skyward Sword is more than just your average Zelda game – both in terms of Wii Motion Plus and the game’s design philosophies. I’ll let you guys know if my next try at the Ghirahim boss fight goes any better.
Time to cap this one off with a question: is there anything you’d like to know about Skyward Sword? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your requests, and I’ll try my best to answer as many of them as I can as fully as I can tomorrow evening.