Let me just get this out of the way: I was wrong.
When Skyward Sword was first unveiled, I was fairly outspoken about my uncertainty toward its art style. Â To me, it looked like the game designers were trying to find a happy medium between the detail of Twilight Princess, the abstractness of Wind Waker (and impressionism, for that matter) and the color palette of A Link to the Past. Â TheÂ amalgamationÂ left me cold; screen shots lacked the high points of any of those predecessors.
That’s because screen shots do not do the game justice. Â I should have known better. Â The opening hours of Skyward Sword will leave you breathless. Â And a little later, when you’re running through a temple, with generous flecks of particles riding on the air, a touch of bloomÂ emanatingÂ from objects both organic and artificial, and colors that effortlessly alternate between rich hues and bright pastels? Â I don’t think it quite realizes its artistic inspiration like Okami did, but it’s beautiful, all the same. Â In fact, the look seems to capture something Menashe said before the game ever launched: a fairy tale come to life.
In fact, that best describes Skyward Sword, thus far. Â The Zelda series has always aimed for the narrative high of myth, but this particular Zelda approaches that high in…well, the exact same fashion that Menashe described. Â The early hours play out as a sort of fairy tale in motion, breezing through an idyllic existence high in the clouds. Â Of course, something goes terribly wrong. Â The fairy tale gives way to legend, as our protagonists are sent on journeys that test their mettle.
But that’s a tale for the full review. Â In the interim, allow me to say that Skyward Sword’s opening act provides the type of virtual world that only gaming can realize; there is a wonder here to exploring Skyloft, our hero’s home. Â Whereas other fictional floating cities have been fortresses (think Bespin from Empire Strikes Back, or Elysia from Metroid Prime 3), Skyloft is truly a slice of heaven. Â It’s the type of place that succeeds in creating a wide-eyed sense of wonder by virtue of the sheer feeling of joy it imbues in the viewer. Â Why is that? Â Maybe because there isn’t a place on Earth that’s quite as beautiful in the same way. Â We get to walk through this painting.
On the other hand, there’s a very different type of wonder in the game’s narrative. Â Yes, it feels like a fairy tale, but it also feels like a believable coming-of-age story. Â A love story. Â Had any other game created a setup that sounds this saccharine on paper, it would give you cavities by merely thinking of it. Â Yet somehow, Skyward Sword makes it work. Â Maybe it’s because the innocence is lost so quickly, and life comes calling our protagonists to their respective roles. Â Like Tolkein’s noble hobbits leaving the Shire, our good and sweet heroes have a world that needs saving.
You will do that saving by utilizing the greatest motion-controlled scheme ever devised for a videogame. Â Skyward Sword’s controls don’t just work, they immerse you. Â They challenge you. Â There is a visceral enjoyment that comes from discovering how to actually solve a puzzle by your own hand that button presses simply cannot duplicate. Â When Link arrives at his first, full-fledged boss fight, you will find that no waggling will save you. Â Motion controls have grown up, just as our hero is growing up. Â The aforementioned antagonist will frustrate you, give you fits, entice you to wildly slash.
For a moment, you may even question if the controls work at all, so frustrating is this encounter. Â But if you persevere, if there is as much steeliness in your resolve as there is in the blade you are virtually wielding, the answers will come to Â you. Â The controls will become your ally in a way no other game has offered, and you will survive to fight another day.
But that, too, is a story for the full review.