Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Skyward Sword Impressions

You start with six hearts. What. The. Hell. I’m just kidding, I don’t actually care about that, it did catch me off guard, though.

I’m one temple in on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It’s a really great game so far, and I definitely look forward to completing it. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series, a fact which the game makes known within it. The motion controls are pretty great; choosing which way to swing my sword hasn’t been as tedious as I originally thought it was going to be. We’ll see if my opinion on that stays throughout the rest of the game.

New Systems
I’m finding myself really into the game's new questing system. Sidequests are more official now since villagers will have speech bubbles above their heads when they have something important to say to you. When you are asked to go on a sidequest, it is explicit and the you will have to select whether or not you want to take it.

The game also features an item upgrade system. There are various items that can be collected throughout the course of the game. So far I’ve found bugs and jewels of various sorts. They can be given to a particular NPC and he can use them to upgrade your items to have new powers. This varies from increasing the number of slots in your pellet pouch to making your slingshot fire a spray of pellets instead of a single pellet. Those are the ones that I’ve seen so far and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what other potential upgrades there are. These new features really give Skyward Sword some feeling of being a somewhat western-style RPG. This is an interesting decision that Nintendo has gone with the game and I approve of it wholeheartedly.

Also new to the game is a stamina gauge and, with it, running. No longer will intrepid adventurers feel that their fastest way to cross the land be by rolling everywhere. The stamina gauge is also used for climbing, carrying heavy objects, and particularly acrobatic sword maneuvers to allow them to be easily performed, but not spammable. If Link runs out of stamina, he fails at whatever the current action is and you have to wait while the stamina gauge recharges.

No Boats or Trains
A fairly prominent feature of the game is bird flying.  It’s a much smoother feeling transportation feature than Wind Waker or Phantom Hourglass’s boat riding or Spirit Track’s train conducting. It features the three boosts mechanic that players will remember from Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess’s horse riding. If you swing the remote up and down, your bird will flap its wings and ascend without losing speed, allowing you to dive and move quickly without sacrificing speed on the ascent. The problem with this is that the rhythm and strength of flap needed for the game to register the motion is very finicky. The flailing that I have to perform to get it to work often sends me wildly off course, rendering the whole point of the exercise moot.

I have never crossed a tightrope without Link tipping over and needing to climb back up on the rope. It took me forever to realize that to correct Link’s tilt you’re not supposed to tilt the remote, you’re supposed to point it in the opposite direction like a flashlight. Tilting the remote does nothing. Nintendo chose to eschew 4 years of Wii game design convention for some reason.

Speaking of eschewing game design conventions. When you’re playing a Zelda game, and there is a big eyeball on the wall, what you do you? You shoot it, right? The game gives you the slingshot not long before you go into the first dungeon. The first real puzzle of the dungeon has an eyeball on a wall above a door. However, when you pull out the slingshot, it shuts tight and is impervious to your pellets. Fi, the spirit of the sword or something and your Navi replacement for the game, notes that the eye follows the tip of your sword. I decided that I needed to make it dizzy. I swung my sword left and right and nothing happened. I swung my sword up and down and nothing happened. After trying to shoot the slingshot and get out my sword so maybe it’d open its eye in time to be hit I looked up the solution online. I was supposed to swing my sword in a circle to make it dizzy and open the door. So congratulations go to Nintendo for going against 20 years of Zelda game design tradition and making the first puzzle of the first dungeon an unintuitive use of motion controls.

Motion Minus
One of my biggest problems with playing the game doesn’t appear to be the games fault. It’s the Wii Motion Plus. While the technology is more sensitive that the standard Wii Remote controls, it seems to be prone to accumulating error. Over time its origin (how it’s oriented so that it thinks you’re pointing straight forward) seems to drift, making actions difficult to perform. In many cases you can press down on the D-Pad and it will recenter itself to its current orientation but there are times when you can’t do this and are forced to pause the game where you can recenter it. It can really break your immersion to have to do this, and it can really harm your gameplay if it happens at a critical moment. I’m just glad that since I bought the special edition at Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sale I didn’t have to pay extra for a Wii Motion Plus controller.

Right-Hand Bias
The games is only slight right-hand biased. I've had two issues with it so far: one is minor and the other is cosmetic. All weapon wielding enemies I've encountered hold it in their right hand. Since they hold the weapon mostly upright, this means that you cannot usually initiate your attack with a left-to-right swing, which is the most natural swing for a left-handed person. The game slightly favors right-handed people in this way. The other way that it favors right-handed people is that if you want to hold your sword in a cool way, such as pointed behind you, you can't do this and it will look really weird. Overall, I had worse fears and am not bothered by this.

I know that I complained quite a fair amount of the past 900 or so words, but I really do like the game. It’s still a very solid game and lives up to all my expectations about the quality of Zelda games. The graphics are, of course, not that great. The models all look very good, but the environments do leave quite a bit to be desired. As with Twilight Princess, the more stylized scenes do look absolutely gorgeous. If you like Zelda games, then I’ll bet that you’ll like this game. I love it so far.