Monday, November 28, 2011

The Legend of Zelda; Skyward Sword - First Impressions

I picked up this game with little expectations - I had read the standard reviews, of which they praise anything with the word 'Zelda' on it, and talk about revolutionary game play, etc.   I really had the generic corporate ass kissing that most reviews pose.

Don't get me wrong, praise is often deserved, and I'll be the first one to say "Hey, you got ____ right.  Good work."  But I'm equally as quick to crucify a developer for not QAing their software, or developing an idea past its most basic form, etc.  

That being said - here's my first impressions on Zelda's Skyward Sword.
For reference, I'm about 7 hours into the game at this point.

The Good

It feels like a Zelda game right off the bat.  Even though you don't don your typical uniform until a few hours into the game.  When you do get the uniform (which they note as a typical 'knight's' uniform) it looks nothing like anyone else is wearing.  Why bother?  They had so many other ways to introduce a uniform (no spoilers), they didn't need to work it into the storyline, albeit briefly, like they did.

Speaking of the intro and my immediate impressions - I usually despise the first two hours of any game, especially subsequent titles in a series.  Zelda isn't infamous for it - but so many titles make you go through the motions to re-learn the controls, characters, story points, basic game mechanics, etc.  Even though Zelda stole a bit of the climbing mechanics from Assassin's Creed, I don't think Ezio or Altair will be too upset - they work well and the jostling of the remote control adds some creative play rather then just holding a control to one direction.  Nintendo even managed to get through the tutorial of the swordplay pretty cleanly - but who are we kidding, anyone playing a Wii when the motion+ came out has seen all these controls before.  Nothing new, innovative, or revolutionary here.

I'd talk more about flying, but it's pretty basic and seems almost stapled into the game.  Much like swordplay, nothing that hasn't been done to death in other Wii Motion+ games.  It's a nice mechanic, but seems more like a mini-game and a time sink/transportation method then a real value-adder.  Hopefully this changes as the game progresses.

The Bad

The swordplay isn't exactly 100% responsive - I don't expect it to be, but in the heat of multiple-encounter fights, I often find link doing slashes that I didn't indicate via the control.  It's almost as if its anticipating my motion from one position to another instead of reading it.  Slowing down your attacks, while annoying, fixes this problem.

I rarely complain about graphics - I still play Everquest pretty regularly, that says something.  But this Zelda bears resemblance to other titles that came out half a decade ago.  This is in no way game breaking, and I understand how underpowered the Wii is, but its certainly aged compared to newer stuff.  I wonder if Nintendo didn't bother trying to optimize the Wii's display capabilities, or if they've truly maxed out it's potential with titles like this.

This next part sits somewhere between upsetting and downright weird.  The game introduces a few new 'tricks' to the Zelda franchise.  The first is Dousing, or using your sword to find your next objective.  The game is EXTREMELY linear in terms of game play so far.  It's small and nearly impossible to get lost - nothing exists after 7 hours of play that would confuse even a child making their way through this game.  Yet I'm forced to 'douse' to find certain areas.  Areas that were right in front of me, and I would've walked into had I only kept going forward instead of stopping to enter first person view and listen to my sonarsword telling me where Zelda could be next.  Stupid.  Every time I do this, I still can't believe someone thought adding this mechanic was worth while to any extent.

Another choice they decided to put in that borders on the ridiculous occurs when flying.  You'll see these tornado/whirlwind storms come up in the distance, and if you don't move and fly straight into them, you'll get knocked off your bird.  What happens next?  You push down and your bird comes back in < 1 second.  Why bother implementing this into the game?  It adds nothing, takes away nothing, and sets the play back a grand total of a second, or two, max.  You'd have to be playing drunk in order to hit these things anyway.

The last major problem, which plays off the dousing point above, is the CONSTANT babysitting the game does.  Go here, go there, add a beacon to the map, douse, or you can do what I do and just keep walking straight until you hit the next objective.  It's unreal how much this game baby's it's players.  I realize it's probably meant for a younger audience, but still.  The amount of guidance given borders on the insane.  I don't need my objective displayed on my saved game file - I know which one's mine.  I also don't need my guide (which lives in my sword - I wish I could throw the sword in the river and go around punching things) CONSTANTLY droning on about what to do next.  If this was Ocarina, yeah, I'd get lost.  But so far, after exploring 5-6 areas (of which they took 5 minutes each to see all of) nobody playing this game would need a guide of any kind - let alone one that sounds like a generic robot from a Star Trek episode.

The Balanced

Perhaps my favorite thing about this game is that enemies actually make you take stock of your situation and react accordingly.  It's not a game you can just button mash through - don't take this as a bump to the difficulty - if you play video games even regularly, and have eyes, you'll be able to breeze through 99% of the game.  The game punishes you for doing stupid shit, like swinging wildly when surrounded by enemies, etc.  You'll actually drop pretty quickly if you decide to just hack away at a defender while his friends stand there, and while the game takes some queue's from the Assassin's Creed series as mentioned above, the combat thankfully doesn't.  A group of enemies won't stand there and watch you annihilate their friend.

This might be the first Zelda that doesn't jam the Triforce down your throat from the onset.  Subtle hints exist, but no direct mention of it after ~8 hours of gameplay.  I like that - I know (guessing?) that the Triforce is part of this game.  There are triangles subtly places everywhere, but perhaps they moved away from it - who knows, but I like that sense of mystery.  And while you're (of course) out looking for Zelda, again.  This time it's not a direct result of her doing something stupid and getting kidnapped.  My hat's off to Nintendo for actually getting me hooked on the story of a Zelda game.  Hopefully the next time I revisit Skyward Sword on here, the plot can get moved into the good section.