It was likely the first thought that crossed many minds when the Wii remote was first unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show in 2005.
“What can it do for sword-fighting games? Or lightsaber games?”
Unfortunately, for the latter, not much. LucasArts released the decent Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (with milquetoast gesture controls), but for whatever reason, otherwise decided to keep its lightsaber sheathed on the Wii. It took the miscreant mind of Suda51 to deliver a genuinely fun game with a whirring, buzzing electro-blade to the console’s library with No More Heroes, and even then, it was not the game most would have envisioned back in 2005. The combat of NMH was primarily button-mashing, with gestures thrown in for a satisfying coup de grâce to defeated foes. Bloody good fun? Undoubtedly. But certainly not what I had in mind. Alas, outside of a sequel (2010′s No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle), there wasn’t another worthwhile game in town with “beam katana” combat.
To be fair, Suda wasn’t in bad company. Nintendo couldn’t even figure out sword controls for conventional virtual steel for themselves. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess launched alongside the Wii, with a bolted-on waggle scheme for sword combat in lieu of button mashing. For a launch title, it was good fun. It was an experiment and proof of concept: sword fighting could work on the Wii.
So we waited. Then waited some more. And then we got a new peripheral, and a mini-game.
Wii Sports Resort was, again, not what most of us had envisioned back in 2005. However, it was an important evolutionary step. This went beyond a proof of concept; it was flat-out proof that sword fighting not only worked on the Wii, but with the aid of Motion Plus, worked better than on any other home videogame console ever released. Lest you think the rudiments of its gameplay mechanics are a mere footnote in gaming history, without it, Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma wouldn’t have kept motion controls for Link’s adventures at all.
He would be be beaten to the punch, though, by a most unlikely game. Only one other game had attempted motion-controlled sword fighting at the Wii’s launch, Ubisoft’s Red Steel. The results were, to be kind, forgettable (or, to be unkind, sluggish and clunky). No one would have blamed Ubi for tossing the franchise entirely. Instead, they wiped the slate clean from their launch title, got ahold of Motion Plus, hired a particularly hirsute director (Jason Vandenberghe) and delivered Red Steel 2.
In all of the areas the original faltered, the sequel delivered. RS2 wasn’t only a world away from the first game’s controls; its entire style, setting and ethos was, too. Gone was the “mature” Yakuza plot line and faux-realistic graphics. In their place? A spaghetti Western theme and stylized cel-shaded graphics (which, it must be mentioned, are some of the greatest visuals to ever grace the Wii). But more importantly, the controls, at long last, delivered. Cutting through hordes of enemies was accomplished not through waggling, but through accurately and cleanly slicing, with attention paid to the strength of your attack. It took nearly four years, but the game the Wii should have launched with finally arrived. That isn’t a discreditable distinction for Red Steel 2, though. Built with the Motion Plus peripheral in mind, it actually was a launch game: the first full-on action game to exploit the accuracy and fidelity of Nintendo’s add-on. As such, the overall game felt a bit sparse (like many launch games). It was very pretty, and the controls were very good, but its overall fun factor wasn’t as high due to prosaic level design and a pedestrian story progression. Ubi also piled on so many special moves that the game’s pick-up-and-play factor isn’t terribly high. But it worked, and they beat Nintendo at delivering a fun, full sword-fighting game by more than a year-and-a-half. It would be nearly 20 more months before the EAD Zelda team dropped their next game.
Was the excruciating wait worth it?
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t just the best sword-fighting game on the console, it’s everything a Wii game ought to be. I defer to Alex’s excellent review for the finer points, but the cliff notes version? It not only delivered amazing sword controls; its beautiful art style made up for any of the console’s lack of graphical grunt, and it delivered a long-overdue origin tale to the Zelda mythos. Everything we had imagined in 2005 finally came to fruition.
And perhaps that’s part of the problem.
It took an agonizing six years from that day at the TGS, six years for the Wii to finally bring us the game we had been clamoring for. With the console’s swan song, we were finally treated to the adventure that Nintendo had teased our imaginations with so long ago. And, to be certain, it’s a worthy game to cap the Wii’s run with.
But one can’t help but wish there were more of them.