The more that we see, hear, and learn about Skyward Sword the more I keep thinking the game is taking a lot of inspiration from the Super Mario Galaxy Duo. Of course, that is far from a bad thing, given that the Galaxy games are two of the greatest games ever. Along with that thought there stirs another within me. If Skyward Sword is going to be the equivalent of Mario Galaxy in the Zelda series, then it is potentially shaping up to be not only the greatest Zelda game, but the greatest game ever.
I truly do see Skyward Sword doing to the Zelda series what Mario Galaxy did to the Mario franchise. What does that mean? It means that the Zelda series is getting a rebirth. It’s getting a makeover, a refresh or a reboot – as many people have claimed it needs. Like Galaxy, it will hold true to the series’ roots, but it changes things. People say that the formula for The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess was very similar to Ocarina of Time. In turn, Ocarina of Time was similar to A Link to the Past. Expect Skyward sword to be fresh – to take the best of the Zelda series and make a new experience that can hardly be considered a carbon copy.
The success of the Mario Galaxy series is contributed by many to a close involvement from the series creator Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto is also taking a larger, more direct role in the creation of Skyward Sword than he has in more recent Zelda titles. No, I’m not saying Aonuma hasn’t done fantastically with Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess. I’m saying that when Miyamoto is directly involved in something it turns out to be gold. His biggest involvement in Zelda of recent times was upending the Four Sword Adventure’s tea table – and although still a minor role, that game turned out to be fantastic. It’s just underrated.
Now, think about games that revolutionized gaming. More precisely, think about two games that revolutionized pseudo-3D gaming back in the 90s. I’m referring to Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time. The two games were very closely related, and it didn’t take much to see that Ocarina of Time was heavily influenced and inspired by Super Mario 64. Both of them, to this day, remain as some of the best games ever. Check out my early 2010 article “Two games that Revolutionized Gaming” for more details.
Now jump forwards over a decade to now. We have just had Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 – which are like Super Mario 64. We now have Skyward Sword coming along, being like Ocarina of Time in this comparison. What is important to note is that Mario Galaxy was a throwback to Super Mario 64, but it also surpassed it. I am expecting Skyward Sword to likewise give some nods to Ocarina of Time, such as how the story is already shaping up to. I also think that in the same way Galaxy surpassed Mario 64, Skyward Sword will surpass Ocarina of Time!
Although many would claim he has already done it – namely Majora’s Mask fans such as myself – Aonuma’s life goal is to make a Zelda game that surpasses Ocarina of Time. Skyward Sword is that game – if any! I believe Skyward Sword could surpass Ocarina of Time, which makes it not only the greatest Zelda game ever – but the outright greatest game to date. Is this putting lots of pressure on the game? Yes! Can we still hope though? Yes! Is it even possible? Yes. Is it likely? Extremely!
From what we have seen of gameplay in Skyward Sword, it is very directly Mario Galaxy inspired. This doesn’t mean that the unique Zelda feeling is lost, not at all. All of the usual sword, bow and other puzzles will be there – just refreshed and renewed for this new direction of the series. What it means is that there are puzzles that even when we keep failing at them over and over, it is still fun – just like Galaxy.
Having a look at the E3 2011 trailer, we can pull out some very direct gameplay influences from Galaxy. First off is the snippet where Link is standing on a large ball as it rolls through the lava. Numerous levels in Galaxy had Mario on a glass (or plastic) ball with the star inside, which he had to stand on, balance, and roll to the end of the level to open it up.
Furthermore, the whole bird-riding gaming mechanic and races in Skyward Sword are very similar to Fluzzard racing, such as in Wild Glide Galaxy in Mario Galaxy 2. The only real difference appears to be that Link rides them, whereas Mario held onto their legs. The overall mechanic and “dash” ability are almost identical though, and the motion controls are pretty much the same, just enhanced in Skyward Sword due to MotionPlus.
What else can I mention pertaining to how Skyward Sword is like Mario Galaxy, and has the potential to surpass Ocarina of Time? Well, on the note of Ocarina of Time, it made us wait six years from A Link to the Past in 1992 until in 1998 when we got the next Zelda home console title. This time around we are waiting five years from Twilight Princess in 2006, to Skyward Sword in 2011. A long development tends to only say good things about the game, such as attention to detail and Nintendo not being willing to release it before its ready.
Also similarly to Galaxy, Skyward Sword’s visual design (graphics) is going to be timeless. They will not age like Twilight Princess has in the last five years. Just like The Wind Waker still looks crisp to this day, so too will Skyward Sword. The choices Nintendo have made with Skyward Sword’s development are spot on – from graphics, to precise motion controls, and best of all, that the story was one of the first aspects created for the game.
Like Galaxy, we should expect a nice even difficulty slope as the game progresses. We should expect simpler puzzles, and harder puzzles – but never frustrating puzzles. We should expect some sort of help system for those that need it, allowing for both “casual” and “core” gamers to enjoy the experience. There is also orchestrated music, like Galaxy, which makes the overall experience so much better, and from the official art we have seen so far, that is also some of the best from the whole Zelda series.
In 2010 we celebrated 25 years of Mario with Super Mario Galaxy 2, which along with the original Galaxy is the best game in the series. In 2011 we celebrate 25 years of The Legend of Zelda with Skyward Sword which, likewise to Galaxy, could be – and should be – the best installment in the series to date. Miyamoto has made a bit of an ultimatum to the development team that if Skyward Sword doesn’t live up to being the best Zelda yet, then The Legend of Zelda may be put on the shelf for a while. In the words of Reggie, expect Skyward Sword to do some serious ass-kicking and to finally take Ocarina of Time’s name!