People have known about the upcoming entry in the classic Legend of Zelda series for a while. Even without an official title, people have been dutifully reserving it at game stores. There's only a slight implication that its style will be more Twilight Princess than Wind Waker, and it has a guesstimated release date of this holiday season. At Nintendo's press conference, all of these assumptions turned out to be incorrect, as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was unveiled with a neatly timed appearance by Shigeru Miyamoto, showing that it will combine classic Zelda gameplay with a pleasant mix of styles.
Link's latest adventure is perhaps most noteworthy for returning to the art style from his most popular adventure. While his proportions are realistic, his build is distinctly adult, heavily reminiscent of Ocarina of Time, but updated with the shading style of Wind Waker. The graphics stay with the epic feel of Twilight Princess while being distinctly short on grittiness. Everything feels closer to the high fantasy that has long been a signature of the series, in and out of the toon variations. The demo also sports a consistent frame rate, showing off the Wii's capabilities.
The controls use the Wii MotionPlus to allow for solid, near-one-to-one handling of Link's sword. It almost feels like the sword controls from Wii Sports Resort, which is a very good thing indeed. Notably, everything uses the MotionPlus as a control element, including items like the slingshot. I didn't end up testing this during my demo, and I'm afraid that the end result could be very similar to the Wii port of Okami, which managed to make an important gameplay mechanic very unintuitive. Even Miyamoto admitted that the new aiming technique was "tough" during his time on stage.
The Nunchuk also takes a role in this, representing Link's shield. Although it still requires a button to raise, the shield can now move while raised to allow for the new technique of shield bashing, which is now required to knock back Octorok shots and looks very useful in melee combat. This is meant to make the player feel less separation between the Wii controllers and Link, and it works, aside from a few quirks; sometimes waiting and acting defensively against enemies is the best option, unlike in past entries.
One nice touch was that either wide or very narrow swings could work. A couch gamer need only move his wrist to produce nice swings, while someone wishing to get all the way into the action will find it similarly rewarding. Purists will be saddened to know that Link is still right-handed for this entry, to keep with the normal Wiimote-in-right-hand layout.
Items are controlled largely on similar assumptions. A single button opens up a quick menu of eight, allowing for rapid selection of items — many of which are developed with controls that are meant to feel more like Link is actually controlling them. The classic bomb, for example, can now be set, thrown or rolled, each with its own motion and uses. Healing items are now keyed to a separate button for rapid use, and no waggle is necessary.
Nintendo's latest effort with the classic Legend of Zelda series is beautiful but still lacks a bit of control polish. It's clear that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will need more time to get everything right, but Nintendo intends to take the necessary time to make sure this happens, with a release planned for sometime in 2011.
More articles about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword