Game review: This 'Zelda' needs a refresh

"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" doesn't offer fans of the series much that's new.

Story highlights

  • "Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" doesn't offer much that's new
  • Link the elf seems emotionless and the story's timeline is unclear
  • Wii MotionPlus controls offer some fun new challenges
  • "Zelda" has provided 25 years of joy, but the franchise needs some changes
"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" is, in a way, a tough game to figure out.
On one hand, the "Zelda" franchise has provided many hours of enjoyment for fans for 25 years, while chronicling the adventures of everyone's favorite green-hat-wearing elf, Link. This game has that.
On the other hand, I was looking for something that was going to advance the franchise in new directions and possibly break some new ground. That didn't happen.
"Skyward Sword" is full of what we've come to know and love about Link. Maze-like terrain, challenging dungeons, familiar weapons and, of course, the quest to find Zelda. There is little here that we haven't seen before.
Epona, Link's trusted horse, has been replaced by a giant bird that carries him to distant locations. Unfortunately, there isn't much challenging or exciting about riding around on a flying bird after you've done it once or twice. (But, since Link is based this time out on a city floating in the sky, trying to ride a horse around could have gotten messy very quickly, I suppose.)
I was also confused about where this game falls in the "Zelda" timeline. Link appears to be slightly older, but he doesn't have any of his traditional garb or weapons. He is a recruit in the knights' program and, in fact, has to earn his familiar hat and clothing. Contrast that with previous games where Link looks like a kid.
Unfortunately, Link also seems to be missing his personality. He is, as always, silent, but really shows no reaction to anything that happens around him. In an early segment, Link is getting bullied but shows no outward emotions. It is Zelda who arrives to chastise the bullies and defend him.
Nintendo has said "Skyward Sword" lays the foundation for the events in "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," but it doesn't feel like a precursor at all.
The gameplay is slow, with plenty of moments of inaction. Its pace is almost leisurely as Link goes from one mission or dungeon to the next. There's no sense of urgency, but that does allow players to fully explore without feeling as if they're missing something.
Environments are vibrant, with collectibles and creatures lurking around every corner. There is a maze-like quality when you're trying to reach some areas -- with only one path in and one path out. Usually, some puzzle needs to be solved to open the pathway and allow Link to continue.
Instead of Navi ("Hey, Listen!"), a mystical creature named Fi acts as sort of an artificial-intelligence program, helping out whenever something new comes up or if a player gets stuck deciding what to do next. Fi lives in the handle of Link's sword and comes out when summoned. She can also evaluate your gameplay and scan the surrounding area for any dangers or monsters.
Combat is decidedly different, since the game requires you to use Nintendo's Wii MotionPlus Control.
Defeating monsters, or solving some puzzles, requires precise motions to get past obstacles or slice open new pathways. This was a welcome change from straight button-pushing and injected a new level of challenge into combat.
The nunchucks attached to the Motion Plus Control act as your shield during combat and also help with special moves such as rolling or shield-bashing your enemies. The two controllers together work very well and made the combat enjoyable without making it tiring.
In the end, "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" is an underwhelming game that mostly sticks to the successful path that Link has been on for the past 25 years.
This is one series that can keep fans happy with its familiar concepts and characters. But the new game's minor tweaks don't inject new energy into the franchise. I wonder where Nintendo can take "Zelda" next without considering some radical changes.
"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" is available now in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. It is a Wii exclusive title and is rated E10+ for Everyone 10 years old and older due to animated blood, comic mischief and fantasy violence. This review was done with a review copy of the game.