Hellooo, I’m back!! I haven’t forgotten about doing reviews I promise, but finishing Skyward Sword HD took waaaay longer than I thought it would. I only finished it yesterday and I’ve been playing it almost every day for like two and a half weeks! BUT it is done….but…I also haven’t really finished anything else in the meantime. So…what better opportunity to do a long-form single-game review! Just to preface, though, this game’s technically been out for a while, and Zelda games’ formulas are pretty well known at this point, so I’ll be less concerned about avoiding spoilers here than usual. Let’s jump in!
As is probably clear by now, I’ll be solely covering The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD for Nintendo Switch in this review. I’ll have a few things to say about my experience playing the original for the Wii in this review, but I’ll be very honest…I haven’t played it since I was about 10 years old…I deeeefinitely do not remember enough to review it in any real capacity. Take my comparisons as very anecdotal! This review is only really meant to cover my feelings and thoughts on the HD remake and how it stands on its own. I also opted to use button-only controls; no motion! I used one of the gamepad-type wireless switch pro controllers. In exchange for no motion controls, the sword swings are done by quickly flicking the right analog stick in the desired direction. Not too bad, but not too accurate…but I highly doubt the joycons were any better and I was never tempted to switch to motion for even a second. BUT either way, it’s another detail to take into account when I talk about my broader experience with the game.
I’ll go ahead and start with something I first noticed when I booted up the game, and kind of the whole point of this remake: the graphics. It is pretty obvious just by looking at the textures of the environment that this is a port of an earlier title, because a lot of the graphics have a very…’upscaled and rounded out pixel art’ sort of feel. Funnily enough, it reminded me of how older games tend to look when played through an emulator…and ended up actually finding a video comparing the original Wii game in Dolphin emulator to the HD release. What’s interesting to me is that in HD it looks like they actually created this look on purpose instead of directly porting the original textures; a lot of the detail that causes it to look overly detailed or grainy in the emulator has been replaced with a soft, blurred and smoothed-out look. It doesn’t always look perfect, and can feel a little off and washed-out, but I think overall it was a good and positive change. However…I can’t say there’s a LOT of difference between the look of the new and old versions, like on the characters themselves, whose models and textures look pretty much identical, especially through an emulator. But honestly? I think that was a pretty understandable choice. The characters are kind of the pinnacle of this title, with lots of expressiveness in facial expressions and animations, camera angles, cinematics, you name it…it’s always a treat when a cutscene starts playing. It would kind of be a shame to throw all of that work out. I will preface that the character models can look a little uncanny at first (and maybe they should have upgraded them a little so they would not be…) but this was more of something I thought as I was adjusting to the game in the first 30 minutes or so and never something I thought about again, so I believe it’s mostly just a matter of adjusting to Skyward Sword’s particular artstyle. Overall I really like how it looks! Potentially room for more effort/improvement/etcetera etcetera for the lofty price it invokes but what it is, is pretty great.
Next I would looove to talk about…the controls. Like I said before, I used the button controls on a pro controller, and used the right stick to swing the sword. Already I can tell it’s a massive improvement over the original wiimote controls. As distant of a memory as it is I can still remember desperately swinging the wii remote in the original to little avail...there IS plenty to complain about with these new controls too though. You can tell the game wants you to be strategic, and to use your sword with tactical precision, but I can tell you right now that is. not going to happen for you (unless you’re enough of a big-brain god-gamer to handle it, which I am not, haha). I would be happy to be more strategic, but you can’t really be consistently precise with your swings, and if you’re like me you’ll do enough diagonal swings that end up as horizontal or fail the special moves enough times and just give up entirely. And then you’ll make your way through the game by just flicking the right stick all over the place at random. Even without strategy this is pretty fun, and the worst parts of the sword control experience are the moments where the game forces you to be precise. A good handful of enemies will force you to be very fast and very precise with the direction of your swing…including the recurring antagonist Ghirahim and the final boss of the game. Perhaps unsurprisingly these boss fights were the parts of the game I loathed the very most of all. Pro tip: like me, you might hope desperately that you can get away with never understanding how to do a “Fatal Blow” strike. Youuuu can’t. The last half hour of the game’s boss fights will require it. It’s ‘up-down-up’ on the stick. Good luck, brave soldier. Despite impreciseness, the versatile sword controls are a fun idea, and it is pretty great to run around swinging your sword wildly without a care in the world. JUST REMEMBER: the ZR lock-on button is your best friend in the whole world. Never forget it!
The controls overall are pretty extensive, and can take a good bit of memorization and adjusting…and readjusting when you come back from a break (which you will likely take!) but generally are very well done and feel good to use. Only real problem I ever consistently had with them was forgetting to hold down the L button in order to use the right stick to control the camera instead of the sword, and for some reason selecting something with ZR would often just switch to something adjacent during the 0.0001 seconds I stopped applying pressure to the joystick. Small nitpicks, nothing actually terrible to report there. One sort of weird thing is that there’s no jump button; this is to prevent you from weaseling out of certain puzzles, I imagine. You can still jump though, since whenever you run to the edge of something you’re allowed/meant to jump off of, Link automatically leaps forward in that direction. You would think this gets annoying and there would be a lot of unintentional jumps, but honestly it never really gave me any trouble, though I did press the B button every single time there was a jump coming out of instinct even though it did absolutely nothing at all. (Of note is that when you’re locked on to something you can technically manually jump but...it’s more of an evasive hop, you’re really only gonna use it to dodge.)
As for the gameplay experience in general… really, really good! I guess it’s kind of predictable for a Nintendo first-party title to be good, but it’s still important that it is. I had a lot of fun with this game, and that fun runs pretty consistently throughout. …the first 30 hours anyway. It reaaaally takes a nosedive in the home stretch (my playtime was 47 hours total, for reference) but that first nice ½ to 2/3rds of it….perfect. Lovely. Let’s talk about that first, before I complain further.
First off, the dungeons in this game, as one might expect from Zelda titles, are really phenomenal. They’re all decently sized (not crazy big but not crazy short), and are chock full of various puzzles. The puzzles in this game are the perfect kind, imo, where you can usually figure out everything for yourself, but the answer does take some thinking and trial and error, and causes an “aha!” moment that makes every solved puzzle feel like a win (and the classic celebratory jingle only enhances this). I will admit I got stuck more than a few times, but in a change of pace, I usually didn’t have to look outside of the game to get help. Fi, your sword’s siri assistant, will often be ready and available to help you and give you hints on what you should try or where you should look next in order to solve a particular puzzle. That’s not to say she’s always helpful–there were a few times I called on her for help and she didn’t have anything relevant to say–but there was a good handful of times she helped me figure things out, and the rest of the times I think I solved the puzzles through extra trial and error. (The only things I think I had to look up online was help for boss fights and sword controls. Fi is generally unhelpful when you ask for boss details.) The puzzles aren’t limited to the dungeons, though, as there are many big wide areas for you to explore. It almost has an open-world feel to it, and while it’s far from being one, it has a nice similar open energy to it (and makes me especially excited to see how that Tears of the Kingdom game is gonna turn out). All the areas feel really nicely fleshed out and in 30 hours time, you’ll have them covered top-to-bottom, satisfyingly enjoyed and investigated.
As a last nice point: the characters. I mentioned briefly their expressiveness, but there really is a lot to be gained from the general goofiness and charisma the game emanates through these characters. Groose is one character who you could definitely see becoming annoying fast, but by the end of the game it’s working hard to endear you to him, and I think it does a pretty good job. The only thing I would critique in this area is that you don’t really spend much time with these characters, and oftentimes the game will act as if you do, with dramatic high-stakes events revolving around a good handful of them. I do care about them, I just wish they were more involved in the story; we basically chase Zelda down through the entire game only to finally catch her near the end, and Groose spends the good middle 40 hours sulking out of sight just to be a main character at the last second, for example. However, whatever amount of involvement and screentime they did have, I greatly enjoyed. Link himself is very expressive and I loved every bit of that, from his sleepyhead grogginess and pleasant daydreaming in the beginning, to his fierce determination shining through at the end. The best part is that you spend the whole game with him! Good stuff, great characterization.
Now…THE FINAL COMPLAINING! This part can best be summarized as “the game is really good and fun overall but takes wayyy too long to wrap up and pads out with several hours of backtracking when you’re already very ready for the game to end.” The point at which I decided the game was losing me was abouuut the time I got all the various tools and was going through getting all the sacred flames to improve the master sword. It was here where the game just starts throwing whatever random thing it likes at you, and doesn’t really stop, starting with an escort mission…and then a hugeee underwater level…and then another escort mission…and then a level where you’re stripped of all your items. All in the three main surface areas you have already finely combed through, and which will surely be wearing on you by now if you’re trying to finish the game without any week- or month-long breaks. It would be a lie to say these weren’t any fun; they could be frustrating but they weren’t quit-worthy, but at this point I was really only pushing forward because I wanted to reach the end, not for my love of the experience. Apparently they’re a little unpopular, but I actually quite liked the Silent Realm trial areas, as they were the part of the game where I was the most focused, and running away from the Guardians was fun and exhilarating. I think they would work perfectly as conclusions to each area, as the last thing you would need to do in each one. To my disappointment, however, these occur and then you must return to these areas over and over again. Unfortunately you can tell when the game is running out of things for you to do, and this basically starts when you collect all the sacred flames. Now all of a sudden the game wants you to go back and learn...a song…from each of three dragons…and then a big whale…just to give you a clue on how to find the triforce, which is itself inside a tedious dungeon where you have to do… a sliding puzzle. Woof. The triforce is a common staple for Zelda games, but despite the 10-ish hours it took to get all the songs and actually obtain it, it doesn’t really…do anything in the story. Link doesn’t use it to become stronger or gain any advantages like with the sacred flames, the quest to obtain it is just kind of obligatory and convenient padding. Hell, despite all the emphasis on the importance and power of the triforce, in the final fight, it just takes a backseat while random lightning strikes will be what actually assists you here. Very disappointing. Like I said, not a dealbreaker, just. Disappointing. And just plain annoying. Don’t get me started on how much this game would improve with a fast-travel option! (Not including the amiibo-only dlc option. Which does exist and is very ridiculous to paywall but even then kind of sucks at its job. Yeesh.) But thankfully, this is all mostly just the back end. There’s still a whole lot of good stuff to experience here, and if you are expecting the lull and still want that good stuff, you can quit as soon as it gets Too Annoying.
And I think…that about does it! Before I conclude though, I’ll rattle off some extra mini tangents:
That’s a wrap!! Whew. Hope you got a nice two weeks worth of review outta this one! I think in the future a weekly publishing schedule is a little toooo quick to always be able to review games, but maybe when I play more indies…which I plan to fill up on this week since I bought a bunch >:-]! Anyway…bottom line: Skyward Sword is really good. Controls are great but not perfect. It’s a little too long and gets too backtrack-y after a while. Despite its flaws it’s a great, solid, fun Zelda game. Maybe get it on sale since it’s just an HD port. Good luck and have fun, and see you soon!
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is available for $59.99 on: Nintendo Switch