Zelda, her father -- heck, just about everyone in Link's hometown (this time) of Skyloft was giving him crap. The townspeoples' attitude painted a very specific picture for me: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's Link is apparently the Spicoli of Skyloft.
You can imagine my surprise, considering how many Legend of Zelda games I've played (which would be just about all of them, CD-i games notwithstanding). It's like nobody in Skyloft expected much of Link beyond sleeping in, even today, when his chance to become a knight-in-training rests on flying (and winning) in the big race.
Suddenly, I felt more invested in Link that I had in my entire life. I wanted to prove all of these jerks wrong -- and I did, competing (and winning) in the big race. My prize was a one-on-one rap session with Zelda and a homemade parachute in the game, but the more important prize was my attachment to Skyward Sword. From this moment on, I was hooked.
Like any relationship, my immediate attachment to Skyward Sword blinded me to its shortcomings for a while. I forgave some issues here and there at the outset, but the more time I spent with it, the more frustrated I became -- specifically, with the MotionPlus controls.
MotionPlus is used for just about everything in the game. It controls sword-fighting; it's used when switching to first-person view; it's how you control anything that flies in the game, such as Link's bird companion. It's not that it doesn't work -- more often than not, it did, though I was forced to recalibrate MotionPlus several times during my demo -- but, for me, it feels shoe-horned into the whole experience. When I have a perfectly good analog stick sitting right there on the Nunchuk, why do I instead have to shake the Wiimote to get altitude with my bird and then balance the Wiimote in my hand to control its trajectory? Why fix what ain't broke? I understand the MotionPlus use is a big deal for Nintendo, since they get to boast about the 1:1 sword-fighting, but it felt unnecessary in just about every way outside of combat.
Thankfully, the 1:1 sword-fighting is good and generally works as advertised. In the beginning of the game, it's perfectly acceptable to wildly slash at enemies and take them down. But far more thrilling is a few more hours into the game, when I was forced to employ strategy in my strikes, analyzing enemy patterns and discovering weak points before I could even think about slashing. This was by far the most thrilling aspect of a Zelda game since that time I first set out in the King of Red Lions in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.
And because the combat method is new, and enemies exhibit a bit more skill, Link starts out with six hearts this time around. I was glad for this because, by the time I made my way to the second dungeon and fought more nimble, conniving enemies, I would be tested in a way I haven't been tested in a Legend of Zelda game before. While targeting and movement is mostly unchanged, the precision required when attacking characters who actually parry or relentlessly assault Link was unfamiliar territory. Panic quickly became the norm, but it was a good feeling.
But as I grew more comfortable with the system and became more methodical in my offense, I excelled and those familiar Legend of Zelda trappings started to emerge. Skyward Sword's opening hours gradually progress toward familiar territory and don't stray much from the formula that's made the franchise such a hit. That's not to say there isn't new stuff beyond MotionPlus, however.
Since Link has a sword possessed by a magical servant named Fi, he can do some interesting things with it. By raising the sword toward the heavens, Link can charge up the sword with energy and release it as a projectile, though the Master Sword has done this in the past. But, an additional ability called Dowsing, which allows Link to scan the environment for quest-specific items with his sword in first-person view, is entirely new. Initially, it's to track Zelda, then it's to find other characters and items and builds out from there. In first-person mode, whether Dowsing or simply taking in the sights, Link can move and look at the same time.
I found myself concerned about the reliance of MotionPlus for things that could be accomplished more easily and accurately with the Nunchuk's analog stick
Link also got a new gadget called a Beetle. It's simply a golden beetle, attached to Link's arm, that he fires off. Once airborne, MotionPlus guides the beetle -- it's handy for exploring nooks and crannies in the environment, or simply as a weapon. The learning curve of MotionPlus makes it a tad annoying to use in the beginning (why can't I just use the analog stick?) but eventually I got comfortable and even proficient with it.
My preview session ended at the game's second dungeon, set within a mountain strangely absent of Gorons. Skyward Sword made up for it with a new race of burrowing, quite humorous creatures. But as my time came to a close, I found myself concerned about the reliance of MotionPlus for things that could be accomplished more easily and accurately with the Nunchuk's analog stick. There are these tight-rope sequences I encountered constantly, where you move Link across with the analog stick but balance him with MotionPlus. I fell. A lot. It was incredibly annoying.
But outside of some niggling issues, I got exactly what I expected -- well, aside from everybody treating Link like an incompetent buffoon at the outset.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword launches on November 20.