Zelda is back in a big way. Having now had a chance to play through the demo twice, I have to say that this is definitely one to keep a look out for when it hits Wii next year.
To start off with, the game supports a new art style. I could take the easy way out and say it’s like a middle ground between The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, but that would be crude and, more importantly, factually incorrect. It would actually be more apt to compare it to an impressionist painting. The colors are soft, without the dark undertones present in Twilight Princess, and really it is a beautiful evolution, and the closest the game has adhered to its early art style since A Link to the Past. The best part of this art style is that it gives the game a sort of timeless quality. The more impressionistic look will definitely stand against the test of time.
However, Zelda is not really about art, but rather, it’s about the gameplay. Link does not disappoint in this respect. The addition of Wii MotionPlus to the mix only serves to heighten the immersion of playing the game. Even when your cursor is off screen, the game still realistically tracks what you’re trying to do, and the combat is brilliant because of the enhanced controls.
The demo featured numerous enemies that had to be attacked in specific ways to be defeated. Deku Babas would open their mouths in specific ways, and only a slice along the opening of their mouth would take them out… or a bomb. Apparently those Deku Babas love the taste of black powder.
Bokoblins used their swords to block Link’s attacks, so care had to be taken to make sure when attacked it wouldn’t just meet their steel. A Stalfos hidden in a secret cave early on compounded the problem by using two swords and immediately retaliating to any wrong swings. Even the final boss showcased impressive design requiring not only horizontal and vertical slashes, but also diagonal cuts and thrusts. The controls make Link an extension of the player. Even slight moves with the sword in hand are accurately reflected in the game. It brings a whole new level of immersion to Hyrule.
A couple of tweaks have also been made to other areas of the game. For the first time in a 3D Zelda, Link is gifted with a run button. It definitely helps things along, and it’s used to make some jumps that a stationary Link couldn’t dream of making. Of course, like over-exerting Epona in previous games, if you try to make Link run to far he slows down to a crawl trying to catch his breath.
Also making an appearance is a new inventory screen, heavily adapted from the Twilight Princess. Skyward Sword does its best to simplify the task of secondary weapon juggling by only allowing one item to be equipped at a time. Unfortunately the game hits a snag here as the button used to open up the inventory screen, the B trigger, is what players would logically expect to be the button to use equipped items– an annoying problem when in the heat of battle, attempting to use an item only to be pulled into the sub screen. Hopefully there will be plenty of time to work on a better solution as the game is still many months from release.
Other than that, though, the game plays like a Zelda fan’s lucid dream.