‘Dur diddly durrrr!’ No, not the sound Ned Flanders makes when accidentally hitting his thumb with a hammer, but rather the simple jingle that plays whenever Link discovers a particularly useful piece of kit on his travels, a sound synonymous with one game only, The Legend of Zelda, and enough to raise the hairs on the back of the neck of any Nintendo fan.
It feels like forever since the last Zelda for home consoles hit shelves. Indeed, since Twilight Princess arrived with the launch of the Wii five years ago, economies have fallen, swathes of world leaders have been sworn in and the Wii itself – after ushering a new audience into gaming with its revolutionary gesture control – has withered, usurped by the high definition era driven by Sony and Microsoft.
Skyward Sword then arrives when Nintendo’s console is on its deathbed and, while not enough to rescue the Wii from the ravages of time, at least acts as a restorative tincture, if but a transient one.
The relationship between the eponymous Zelda and hero, Link, is in a state of constant flux between series outings. Here Link is introduced as a trainee knight of Skyloft, a floating kingdom hovering above a blanket of impenetrable cloud, while Zelda is daughter of Skyloft’s ruler and evidently enamoured with Link – something of a first for our usually desire-free hero.
Before long Zelda is inevitably taken, falling through the clouds as a mysterious whirlwind knocks her from her mount (did we mention the Skyloftians travel on giant birds?), and so, after donning his regulation green tunic, Link sets of on a mission to rescue her and fulfil his destiny.
Most Zelda’s come with unique gameplay variations – from musical ocarinas to the ability to shape shift – and Skyword Sword is no different. Aside from the obvious – the floating, sun kissed setting of Skyloft – the major addition here is the application of MotionPlus, which permeates Link’s every action.
Link’s sword, for example, moves as one with your Wiimote, your thrusts and slashes translated faithfully to the on screen action. It’s not quite the advertised one-to-one – slashes are restricted to a framework of diagonal, vertical and horizontal plains – but it offers a nuance of control never before seen in a game of this ilk. Hostiles will actively defend themselves too, challenging players to attack from certain angles or employ a degree of timing in the landing of strikes.
It makes for an engrossing experience, one only interrupted by an aching arm – in which case you know you’ve been playing too much – or when one of the game’s missteps rears its head. One such issue has to do with Link’s movement which has him side-stepping and somersaulting away from incoming blows – fine you might think but when a leap sees him plummeting down an unseen chasm it can jar with the game’s flow a little.
Then there are the visuals which are unavoidably standard generation, try as Nintendo might there’s no disguising the limitation of their system. Still, at least the lack of a HD Nintendo console up until now still leaves us with the thrill of seeing the likes of Link, Mario, Samus, et al in full on high definition garb when the Wii U comes to town.
Other key elements of the Zelda experience are handled much more expertly. Take the game’s many and varied dungeons which bamboozle the player until that ‘Eureka!’ moment when the way forward reveals itself like one of those magic eye paintings. In fact it isn’t just the dungeons that challenge the grey matter in Skyword Sword, as most feature a sizeable area surrounding them which must also be unravelled before arriving on the dungeon’s door step.
Thankfully Link always has Fi at hand to assist, a spiritual being tasked with helping him fend off the evil threatening the land. Not only does Fi analyse enemies but also allows you to dowse for Zelda (or whatever else Link needs to find), so facilitating his progress. Then there’s the drip feed of new equipment – flying beetle and whip but two of many – which add ever increasing levels of complexity to Link’s manipulation of his environments.
The series remains as relevant today as it has ever been; enhanced by new levels of athleticism granted its hero, joyous flying sections and the best gesture controls yet implemented in any game. While we can’t help but await a high definition Zelda with greedy anticipation, Skyward Sword manages to stand tall against anything available elsewhere, HD or not, and perhaps that’s the biggest complement we can pay Miyamoto and co.