Remember the Nintendo Wii? The console that, for better or worse, pioneered motion control and had a nation of casual gamers flapping their arms about as if swatting invisible demons. We don’t cover it much on Pocket-Lint, possibly because it looks like a Fisher Price children’s toy compared to the hi-tech grown-up toys that litter these pages. More prosaically, it’s because there aren’t many games released for it any more. However, when it’s a new Zelda game, we have to take a look. It’s Zelda, a gaming icon for 25 years: the Super Mario that your mum has never heard of.
To be honest, we’ve been loath to review it for another reason. Earlier this year, we spent so much time playing the 3DS remake of 1998’s Ocarina Of Time that we almost began to believe we were a small elfin boy that lived in the woods. That boy is of course Link – unless you sacrilegiously add your own name - and Zelda is the seldom-seen princess that you have to save.
It was ever thus. The Zelda games don’t so much relate to each other as simply tell the same story again in a vaguely different setting, providing something of a modern day fairytale. Skyward Sword’s setting is initially a floating city in the sky, that hoary staple of Japanese roleplaying games. The aptly-named Skyloft is home to Link and Zelda, who appear as fresh-faced youths, perhaps too fresh-faced for the mildly suggestive script.
Thankfully they don’t get to spend too much time alone, as Zelda does her traditional disappearing act, this time to the mythical Surface, the land down below from where Link’s predecessors fled, following some kind of murderous rampage. Naturally, you’re quick on her trail, armed with a couple of gadgets and the titular Skyward Sword.
This magical blade can only be controlled by the equally magical Wii Motion Plus, which is a gadget that you stick into your old Wiimote. The key difference is that unlike the original Wiimote, the Wii Motion Plus sometimes works – think of it as patch for a controller, albeit one that drinks batteries. Giving you full control over your sword, you can slash vertically, horizontally and diagonally, as well as thrust, making each fight a genuine physical battle. We actually got a sweat-on during one of the boss encounters, before heroically vanquishing it via the power of Google.
Those fights mainly take place on the surface, which is separated into the traditional areas, replete with mind-bending puzzles and infuriating bosses. However, you’ll often have to head back up to the sky to load up on necessities from Skyloft and its surrounding floating islands. You get around on your very own giant bird called a Loftwing, which is again controlled by the Wii Motion Plus. It’s a perfectly passable giant bird riding simulator, but ultimately it is just transport, and there’s a lot of it, not helped by random people throwing things at you and the odd tornado throwing you off course.
Skyward Sword is a bit of a schizophrenic affair. Down on the surface it’s often a life or death battle, while up top you’re looking for missing kids, collecting bugs or delivering pumpkin soup. How much effort you put in upstairs is rewarded downstairs, but the constant travel can begin to grate and it often feels like you’re taking one step forwards and two steps back.
You can almost be struck off the games hack list for criticising Zelda, but while we’re at it, the text is laborious, and the Siri character that lives in your sword is utterly charmless. Graphically, it all looks a bit anaemic on an HDTV, even if you try to convince yourself that you’re playing a living watercolour with a consistent art style that is more effective than crystal clear realism.
Alternatively, take it upstairs and plug it into an old telly. In fact, given the amount of time you’ll be putting in, that’s probably best for everyone. While we do have a couple of gripes, these only came about through unhealthily extensive play, a result of the trademark sprawling adventure, labyrinthine dungeons, and knife-edge frustration/reward gameplay. While it’s not quite Skyrim, you could easily bypass Christmas and the early part of the New Year, and you probably still won’t have found Zelda.
Skyward Sword may be formulaic, but it’s a formula that has been honed over a quarter of a century. Whether a Zelda completest or a cack-handed novice, there is something for everyone, and the accurate Wii controls do genuinely add to the experience.