When those ads for the Nintendo Wii began running five years ago, sword combat was on everyone's mind. Gamers wanted to fend off ninjas with a samurai katana, clash lightsabers with Darth Vader and, of course, swing Link's triforce-powered blade all over Hyrule. Alas, five years after launch, most of these dreams remain unrealized... instead of rich story experiences featuring motion-based weapons, we ended up with sports mini-games. Lots of them.
With "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword," Nintendo has finally gotten it right. In playing Skyward Sword, you'll remember why you were so excited to buy a Wii in the first place, reacting to the game with reflexive motions puts you in the action like no Wii game yet. Fighting evil in Skyward Sword is not a button-mashing chore, nor is it a tight-fisted Wii-mote wiggle-fest; Skyward Sword is an all-out slice-and-dice blast.
The Wii MotionPlus adapter that "Skyward Sword" requires has allowed this leap forward in gameplay, letting you jab, slit and drive your blade down into enemies with little or no practice. Just swing as your gut tells you to swing and you're in the heat of battle. Controlling the sword becomes so much fun that fights are almost more enjoyable when you are far outnumbered; you want the game to throw everything it's got at you so you can hack it all to bits.
You can tell Nintendo had a great time making the game. The character designs at work are simple and beautiful, the references to other titles in the series are everywhere, and the music is some of the most catchy and least annoying of all time, both riffing on the series' classic tunes and introducing new tracks that fit the world of Zelda perfectly.
"Skyward Sword" is only single player, but you'll feel the urge to play with friends around. The cinematics and character dialogue are both that good; it should be no surprise if you find yourself in stitches one moment, a little misty-eyed a few minutes later.
In the previous chapters of the Zelda series, the first few hours of game play could be slow and sometimes tedious; with no means to travel quickly across the vast lands, few health points and weak weapons, it was easy to get discouraged. Skyward Sword fixes all of this, giving you the ability to sprint, starting your health off high and handing you a big sword right off the bat.
Wii MotionPlus controls have turned climbing from a tedious process into a slick, fluid motion; sort of a Nintendo take on "Assassin's Creed." You'll scale walls and swing from ropes as no Zelda game has allowed you to before. Thanks to the addition of a parachute, even falling from ledges has become an enjoyable experience as Link can slowly drift to a safe surface.
After having ridden a horse, boat and train in previous games, it only makes sense in this one for Link to take to the skies. Skyward Sword features a big red bird that Link uses to soar from land to land. Flying is fun but steering is a bit wonky. The turning radius for your bird is wide and you may find yourself steering perfectly toward an object only to crash into a wall at the last second. The controls are more fun when accuracy is not a requirement.
I was worried when I first saw the color scheme of Zelda's latest entry. The character and world designs are more realistic in shape than the cell shaded games from the past few years but the color palette is brighter and cheerier than "Ocarina" or "Twilight Princess." When you are playing, you hardly notice these things. In fact, it's often for the better, as each item is rendered with more detail when fully illuminated and accented with color. Compared to some of the darker stages of Zelda past, this is refreshing, Link feels very at home in a vibrant world.
The bottom line? It's finally time to take your Wii out of storage. While Nintendo may be winding down its famed home console in preparation for next year's WiiU, there are still upward of 75 million Wii systems in homes around the world. And each and every one of them absolutely needs a copy of "Skyward Sword."