I couldn’t wait to replay The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on Nintendo Switch. Link and I have shared many memorable adventures throughout my lifetime, but now, almost 10 years on from its original release, Nintendo’s swansong for Wii is still perceived as being one of the most controversial games to grace their cherished series.
After what sounded like a challenging near enough five-year development cycle, the green-clad hero’s quest arrived at a point in time where enthusiasm for motion controls – even elevated by the improved accuracy that Wii MotionPlus granted – had waned. The game’s linearity and pacing were also met with criticism, which, as we now know, resulted in Nintendo’s determination to “challenge the conventions” of the series – a faultless decision that went on to deliver the genre-redefining The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Looking back on it now, it’s clear to see that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was a turning point. On one hand, it stands as a testament in demonstrating all that Nintendo had wanted to achieve with their gameplay experiences on the Wii. But, on the other, the game’s non-traditional control scheme became an unintentional barrier that has seemingly prevented many from being able to truly enjoy an adventure that represents the earliest tale in the series’ much-debated timeline.
With The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, Nintendo has seized the chance to correct some of the missteps that were made in the course of the game’s development while working to modernise the experience – eliminating many of the criticisms that have been directed at it for the last decade. What’s more, these efforts stretch much further than the tweaks and refinements we saw with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, paving the way for a redemption arc for what arguably remains to be an underappreciated Wii classic.
I’m sure that many will be satisfied with the graphical facelift and enhanced framerate alone – which now sees the game run at a far smoother 60 frames per second – but jotting down a checklist of the quality of life improvements that have been implemented and their positive impact on a now decade-old game almost seems like a neverending task. Needless to say, the result is transformative. The best part, though, is that players now have more options available to tailor the experience to their own preferences. Which is always a good thing.
Do you still think the game’s best experienced with motion controls? No problem, they’re here and feel better than ever thanks to the newer technology housed inside your Joy-Con. Can’t stand motion controls? There’s no need to worry, as button controls have been added to the game – whether you’re using separate Joy-Con, a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller or playing on a Nintendo Switch Lite. Feeling experimental? You can choose to use button input with motion controls for aiming (when using items like the Slingshot or Beetle) and/or camera movement.
For the most part, button input works well but has its imperfections. It took me a while to get used to holding the L Button and using the Right Stick to control the camera movement, as, with flicking the Right Stick required to swing strikes with the Goddess Sword, early on I’d often fumble when trying to move the camera and attempting to attack at the same time. A few hours in, and my brain stopped trying to throw me off. If you want to leave your motion control days behind you, I’d certainly recommend immediately changing the Camera Speed to Very Fast in the Options menu though.
That isn’t to say that those who do choose to use motion controls won’t run into any problems. The technology packed into the Joy-Con make the controllers a more than adequate enough replacement for the Wii MotionPlus and Nunchuk combo, but I regularly had to point the right Joy-Con at the screen and hit the Y Button to realign the control scheme’s detection. Oddly, this happened more frequently when aiming with specific items such as the Beetle, and less so with others. That’s something that I can’t quite explain.
There are more than enough positive changes to counterbalance these niggles, though. The Goddess Sword’s spirit Fi isn’t as incessantly disruptive a companion that she once was, you can quickly progress through dialogue at the press of the B Button, skip cutscenes entirely (even though most of them are incredible), and there is an autosave option – removing the need to manually save at Bird Statues constantly, although I still continued to do so out of paranoia.
If the original game were released on modern-day technology, many of these improvements could have simply been patched in through a software update. That was impractical back on Wii, evident in the fact that Nintendo had to create a Save Data Update Channel as an effort to rescue players from encountering a game-breaking bug that could prevent them from ever seeing Link’s adventure through to its conclusion. How times have changed.
At its heart, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is still the same game that it always was. The story and the characters that are wrapped around it are fascinating, the soundtrack undeniably majestic and the gameplay once again packed with Nintendo’s unbridled creativity – the Timeshift Stones in Lanayru Mine are as much a standout mechanic now as they were back then. It has remained a firm favourite for me, and, coming back to it for the first time in near enough a decade has only reaffirmed that fact. The game’s flaws have become clearer thanks to the passage of time, and some of those remain like the overcomplicated equipment upgrade requirements. But, there’s still so much to admire – especially for those who are in the enviable position of experiencing this tale for the first time. Even though retreading Link’s past adventure risks feeling like a step backwards from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s pivotal change in direction.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD stands as the definitive way to experience the origins of the Master Sword. To this day, there’s still nothing else quite like it – from the strategic swordplay to Nintendo’s unrelentingly inventive puzzle design – and while it excels in its playful experimentation, the game represents a stepping stone to where the series would lead in the future as much as it delivers an origin story that allows you to discover the secrets of the past. Ultimately, it is still a memorable quest worth setting out on, and one that is now more resplendent than ever before.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo