The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword Preview
Forget your Comic-Cons, the first place to have a bit of a hands on with some of Nintendo’s elite franchises went down in the Big Smoke last week, in a dry-iced filled basement filled with neon lights. This event gave yours truly the opportunity to sample some forthcoming titles for the ageing Wii console, and it is fair to say that on the whole I was not disappointed with what goodies there are to look forward to in the twilight years of the mega-selling motion-controlled wonder.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the much anticipated Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword – another instalment in the much-loved series that is predicted by most to be the triple-A swansong for the Nintendo Wii. Hype from Nintendo had previously whet our appetite for the game by mentioning superior Motion Plus sword swinging, a graphical style drawing on impressionist art, and a fresh spin on the Zelda universe incorporating a magical world up above the clouds. Most of this titillation seems to have been spot on, as I ventured into the woodland diorama that had been created to show off three playable sections of Link’s new adventure.
On offer was the opportunity to sample a small section of a traditional dungeon, a boss battle, and a crack at one of the much vaunted flying sections. Eager to see how (what is essentially) the meat of the game operates, the dungeon was my first port of call. Stepping inside the Sky Temple was instantly, unmistakably Zelda – yet with a plethora of new ideas and changes to make it feel fresh. This is clearly a game designed with the Wii in mind, unlike Twilight Princess, which was a Gamecube port with motion controls bolted in a somewhat clunky fashion.
The Wii is not the most powerful graphical beast, yet on first impressions the graphical style employed here is just the right mixture of cartoon exaggeration and gritty realism. With unusual glowing mushrooms, sparkling orbs of light floating around and a real sense of mystery, the temple in the demo looked excellent and has certainly got me fiending to see how the other dungeons in the game are going to pan out.
Using the nunchuck to control Link, the Wiimote is employed not only as a sword, but to enter an item select menu in real-time using the trigger button, a wagon wheel-style affair allowing you to aim at the item you wish to equip. This is as intuitive and easy to use as any Zelda menu to date, and gets a big thumbs up. This demo allowed use of some familiar items from the traditional Zelda armoury – bombs, a slingshot, and of course the Fairy Bow.
The bow itself has a new motion control scheme. You call up the crosshair with the C button on your nunchuck, aim with the Wiimote, and then pull the nunchuck back and forward in a bow-plucking motion to peel off a salvo of arrows. Initially this was tricky, particularly after having immersed myself in the sublime Ocarina Of Time recently for more hours than I care to mention – but before long I was taking down a cluster of Z-target nasties in quick succession.
There is also the new addition of a flying scarab beetle which can be released and then guided around, remote control style, to access areas not reachable by Link. In the demo, this winged beastie could be employed to cut the rope suspending a crate from the ceiling, sending it crashing to ground to reveal an item therein. We can’t wait to see what this new item brings to the full game, and what devious puzzles it will be used to solve within the dungeons.
Much has been made of the sword combat in this game and I am pleased to announce that Nintendo have done a stand up job in employing the underused Motion Plus as nature intended. Thrust the remote upwards and Link will do likewise, backhand and forehand horizontal slashes are perfectly and accurately replicated on-screen! Swing the sword in an arc downwards and the Master Sword comes down in extremely satisfying fashion. The sword accuracy is such that enemies have to be attacked in certain ways using specific strokes. We encountered a new variation of carnivorous plant whose enormous mouth will open either vertically or horizontally – and of course they can only be killed by using the corresponding sword slash. Skulltulas, those time-honoured enemies of the green action pixie, drop down from the rafters but this time they need to be spun by using a well-aimed sword strike to flip them around and expose their soft underbelly.
There are some other new elements to the dungeon exploration gameplay that we noticed – a tightrope that has to be negotiated by using the remote to balance Link (this was highly reminiscent of the ice cream balancing minigame in the recent Wii Play Motion) – and the fact that when Link is climbing or holding onto a ledge, a diminishing meter appears which allows only a certain amount of hang-time.
The flying section was first seen during the E3 conference, and the first playable demo of this all-new addition to the franchise was included here in the form of a race through the skies. A noticeably differently-garbed Link, presumably in the get-up he rocks when hanging out in Skyloft, dives into the clouds only to be scooped up by a giant bird, which is then piloted using the nunchuck and Wiimote in a straight up race against a few other bods. You’ll flap your arms as though there were wings to accelerate, and use a boost mechanic to go even faster, all in aid of winning the race and thus capturing the prize. This was an entertaining enough diversion, and it will be interesting to see how the bird-riding is incorporated into the final game. Previous Zelda adventures have featured modes of transport to travel between destinations – such as Epona, the much maligned seafaring in Wind Waker, and the choo-choo train on his last DS outing. Could the enormo-bird be Skyward Sword’s travel method of choice?
It goes without saying that I am looking forward to this game massively. After the overly-long Twilight Princess, which was always a better game on the Gamecube, Link has been due a proper Wii effort, and from this demonstration it looks like Nintendo have brought enough innovative new features to the table to make this a bit special, whilst not venturing too far from Classic Zelda Boulevard. Hopefully it will see my Wii console put to proper gaming use, rather than being fired up for drunken Wii Sports tomfoolery.