The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword Review
Finally getting motion controls right, the franchise’s gripping origin story is at last told.
Graphics & Atmosphere Overview
Prepare to be blown away. These graphics show just what the Wii can do, and for once it genuinely does impress.
The world of Skyloft and the surface world beneath it offer some of the most compelling artistic direction we've seen not only in a Wii game, but in video games as a whole. With a beautiful score and graphics that take their inspiration from impressionistic painters like Cezanne, Skyward Sword truly is a feast for the eyes and ears.
Nintendo found a balance for Skyward Sword that should appeal to both classes of Zelda camps: the folks with the preference for the highly stylized cell-shading of Wind Waker, and those who fell in love with the realism of Twilight Princess. We're presented with an older Link, perhaps a bit less realistically defined than he was in his first outing on the Wii, but still very much an anthropomorphic, fully realized human. The world he lives in is bright, vivid, and full of life. Clouds floating in the distance have a blurred quality to them similar to what you would find in a watercolor painting. It's a stark contrast to the out-of-focus, dark quality of the reality-bending Twilight Princess, and it may take some getting used to for fans of the earlier game. While Skyward Sword is unquestionably gorgeous, it's not nearly as dark as its predecessor, and at times we found that it detracted from the grand sense of purpose that fills the game's storyline.
At last, we have a game that takes advantage of the Wii's graphic capabilities. Skyward Sword looks gorgeous. There simply is no other word for it. Enemy design is creative and thoroughly detailed, the worlds are full of life and vibrancy, and clipping errors are essentially non-existent. Of course, you can't expect the hyper-realism of a game like Mass Effect: you won't be able to see what direction the grain is going in the metal on the Master Sword, or every tail feather coming off the back of your mount. Rather, it's much more like a cartoon, with all the suspension of disbelief that such a thing entails. That said, it's one of the best looking cartoons we've ever seen on a video game system. The only time you might be disappointed is if you have a large, high-definition television set. Since the Wii isn't equipped for high-def viewing, all those gorgeous visuals may look a bit fuzzy.
As is appropriate to all Legend of Zelda games, the music is fittingly epic. It's very much in style with the overall art design. Unlike Twilight Princess, for instance, which was a much darker game and had a darker score, the music here is lighter, warmer, but still imposing for appropriately dangerous environments. We did find ourselves wishing for a bit more grandeur, though—the score for Skyward Sword never quite embraced the bravura quality we've come to expect. The fact that it was the first Zelda title to have a fully orchestrated score, though, means it is subtler and deeper than those that came before it. Compared to other Zelda games, it's not quite as strong in reflecting the weighty narrative, but that's sort of like saying the Venus de Milo isn't quite as good as Winged Victory.
Nintendo did an excellent job with the sound effects in Skyward Sword. From the thunk of an arrow to the rattle of chains coming off of a locked door, everything is vivid and unmistakable. You'll learn to recognize enemies by the sound of their movement, traps will give themselves away before you turn a corner, and all of your tools sound as different from one another as they look.
Sounds relating to other characters were also very well done. One example is Dodoh's trumpet out on Fun Fun Island. In earlier video games, bit-part effects would sound like a bad keyboard synthesizer. Dodoh's trumpet, however, actually sounds like it could have been recorded by a real instrument. Enemy hits are, of course, stylized—the sound of a sword actually hitting someone wouldn't make for a very family-friendly game—but they're consistent and rewarding.
Some people are bothered by the tinny little speaker that's built in to the Wii-Mote, but we found that it really did enhance the experience in subtle ways. Most sounds will be coming through your main speakers, but certain noises will emit from the controller from time to time. It occurs often enough that it doesn't feel tacked on or random. For instance, hearing your sword come out of its sheathe for the first time made us pause to really appreciate the journey we were about to undertake. Having the sound of your robotic bug tool decrescendo as it flew off made it feel as though we really were sending this little device out into the world to do our bidding.
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