Legend in the Skies

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Although I had already played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on a Wii the previous year, the impending announcement of Nintendo’s next system, the Wii U, had me on edge. Deep down, I knew the game would still find its way to the Wii, but something in the back of my mind was bracing for the inevitable announcement that, like Twilight Princess, Nintendo would decide to make Skyward Sword a Wii U launch title.

Thankfully, my fears were dispelled at Nintendo’s Press Briefing. Skyward Sword is still a Wii title and will be out later this year.

Later that day, I had a chance to go hands-on with the game at Nintendo’s booth. Since the series’ gameplay is expansive, the demo was split into three individual parts presenting different mechanics. The first section showed the game’s new traversal system. In the past, Link used boats, trains and horses to quickly travel around Hyrule. This time, Link can ride birds. At the start of the section, Link dove off a floating island, landing atop a giant red bird. I soon ran into a couple of Link’s friends, who challenged him to chase them and snag a trophy from their birds.

The flying mechanics are motion-based. You point in a direction to guide Link through the skies while tilting it to adjust his pitch. Waving the controller up causes the bird to flap his wings, allowing him to gain altitude. You can then swoop down to gain a bit of added momentum. It’s a tricky system the first time you use it, but it doesn’t take long before you’re chasing the other two boys down and making a play at the trophy.

The next section showed off the game’s dungeon exploration, a staple of the series. Link’s controls are similar to Twlight Princess, but with a few minor alterations. Swordplay is handled using the familiar “swing the controller” mechanic found in other Wii games, though Skyward Sword introduces a tactical edge to combat. You can no longer just swing at enemies; instead, you need to watch for patterns and adjust your swings accordingly. At one point in the dungeon, I had to fight a sword-wielding skeleton. Random swings were quickly deflected by the skeleton’s swords, preventing any sort of direct attack.

I was then instructed to raise my shield, which is tied to the Nunchuk controller, and watch for patterns. I noticed as the skeleton’s swings left, his sides are exposed for a few seconds; a perfect opening for an attack. Skyward Sword uses Wii Motion Plus, so the sword is incredibly responsive to the slightest of movements. I can already sense there will be some issues with left-handed players, but otherwise combat is slick and a lot of fun.

The dungeon section was designed to show off one of the game’s new items, a flying beetle. After launching the beetle from Link’s wrist, you use the controller to guide it around the area. Its primary function is to hit out of the way switches, though you can also use it to hunt down enemies trying to get the jump on Link.

The sword and shield came into play in the final section, a boss fight with Ghirahim, a new character in the series. Ghirahim took me down in no time at all, though towards the end of the battle, I was able to get a better feel for using the Nunchuk to control Link’s shield. The boss fight also showed how important your angle of attack is when using your sword. The system is more dynamic than previous games. Rather than swinging the controller and watching the same animation, Link’s attacks correspond to your motion. If you stab, Link stabs. I think it may prove to be a bit of a hurdle for players, though I managed to adjust to the system rather quickly.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword shows a lot of promise based on my hands-on time. Look for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on the Wii later this year.