2011 ended up being a fantastic year full of fantastic games. Pokemon, Batman, Mario, Skyrim, Mario Kart... the list of great gaming experiences goes on and on. However, if I had to go an choose a game that provided me the most magical gaming moments this year, it would easily be The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. And I don't say easily because the rest of the competition was poor, but because Skyward Sword was just that good. In fact, Link's newest (or should I say oldest?) adventure provided one of this generation's freshest experiences.
You start off your adventure by waking up from a nightmare, only to face a giant loftwing who ends up spitting a letter in your face (my first of many chuckles throughout the game). And thus begins the game's tutorial phase. Now, I've never really minded the slower pace of the Zelda game's opening sections, as I enjoy going around and exploring all there is to see and do from the very beginning. Still, in a game like Twilight Princess where the basic control scheme was pretty much in line with previous Zeldas, taking that long to really learn the ins and outs of the game wasn't necessary. With The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the game introduces one of the series' biggest evolution (and revolution) in controls: Motion Controls, and with that comes learning how to best use the WiiMotionPlus to control the way Link flies, fights, and preforms all of his other signature moves. Flight was fun, as was swordplay, but the only tutorial that I just couldn't get was accurately landing from a high distance. Luckily this was a skill that rarely needed to be used.
And with most games in the series, Zelda, the now-childhood-friend (A nice change of pace from the usual stoic Princess) was taken from Link... and it's up to you to save her! But as we Zelda gamers know, the final destination is only the icing on the cake. It's the adventure itself that really provides a game unlike any other. So we made our way to Faron Woods in hopes that we could find Zelda and beat the game (yeah right). The first thing you'll notice that seperates Skyward Sword from the rest of pack is how the overworld layout is er... laid out. Skloft and the world above the clouds is mostly open from the get-go. You could honestly fly through 80% of the cloudy world (while listening to this) in 10 minutes or less. Skyloft really only serves as a hub-world to other sub-overworlds such as Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert... and it's in these areas where we find the meat of Skyward Sword's content.
So going through Faron Woods (and later Eldin Volcano and Lanayru Desert)... the area almost seems more in line with previous Zelda dungeons that it does with previous Zelda overworlds. You must figure out how to traverse the land around you to get to the next area, there's battles against enemies that actually mean something (as opposed to the random enemies strewn throughtout Hyrule Field), and you'll also find important characters throughout the different landscapes. Enter the Kikwis, Faron Woods' adorable residents. I have to say, the first time I saw these little buggers I was overcome by their cuteness. Let me just say that Makar from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has officially been dethroned as Smeags' favorite Zelda character. The Kikwis are awesome. KWEE KWEE! You'll also visit the Mogmas in Eldin Volcano (these guys are great as well, I love their demeanor) and the er... Robots from Lanayru Desert (Bzzzrt!). Skyward Sword brought fourth three new races in the Hylian World, and I would love to see all of them in later installments. As much as I love Gorons, Zoras, and other inhabatants of the other Zelda games, the new guys from Skyward Sword have raised the bar. Kew kew kew...
Back in Faron Woods, I'm having a bit of trouble with smiting my foes. For some reason, I just can't get the controls to work perfectly in order to strike a Deku Baba. To be honest, I was starting to get a little frustrated in how something was always just a bit off. But I kept on trudging through (and trying to avoid Deku Babas, as they were the enemies I could not seem to get a perfect strike on!) and made it to the first temple: Skyview Temple. It's a farily straight-forward temple, the kind you've seen in previous Zelda games... but it was there in which the controls and I finally clicked. I don't know what it was or what I was doing wrong before... but from then on I "got" the controls and they worked beautifully. I really can't say enough on how much I enjoyed the motion controls in Skyward Sword. They just suck you into the experience like pressing a button (or even waggling like in Twilight Princess) never could. I've never felt so good about video game combat before, or felt so defeated when I was getting my butt handed to me. Motion controls were the evolution and revolution that the Zelda series needed to push it past the next level, and I for one can't imagine Zelda pushing boundaries without this glorious control scheme along for the ride. There's a couple issues that need to be ironed out, but honestly... Skyward Sword was damn impressive when it came to controls. Aonuma and his team should be proud of the work they've done.
By this point I've made my way through Skyview Temple and have opened the boss door (and to be honest, those keys were more of a nusance than anything). There to greet me wasn't some towering monstrosity like in most Zelda games, but the Demon Lord Ghirahim. This guy is definitely one of Zelda's better antagonists, just because he's (?) so out there as far as characterization, and he's also a blast to fight against all three times (Especially the third time. Great boss battle right there). Skyward Sword shakes up another Zelda staple: the boss fight. Very rarely will you go into a boss battle with the following forumla: use new item found in dungeon to exploitate boss' weakness... then hit three times. From the first boss onwards, Skyward Sword lets you know that things are going to be different from now on... and the game provides some of the best boss fights in the series. Ghirahim, Koloktos, Scaldera... and the final two fights blow away the Zelda competition. This time it's not only about how you use your items, but it's how you use your sword.
And although Skyview Temple (and even the Earth Temple in Eldin Volcano) is par for the course when it comes to Zelda Temples, Skyward Sword definitely gets things rocking when it comes to the temples. Most of the dungeons in Skyward Sword have somewhat straightforward layouts, but like Skyward Sword itself (which is definitely more straightforward than previous Zeldas), it's the content that is king, and from Lanayru Mining Facility onwards, each temple offers you some amazing content. I really cannot say enough about how much I loved the dungeons in Skyward Sword. From the "I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!" feeling of the Mining Facility to the "Holy Guacamole this place is awesome!" feeling of the Ancient Cistern, each dungeon offers something unique yet still provides such an amazing experience. They even top it all off with a dunegon that includes elements from all other previous dungeongs. I thought that was such a great part of the game, to remind you of the great adventure in which you've been a part of.
Speaking of content, the term "content is king" is really what Skyward Sword lives by. Like I said before, Skyward Sword doesn't have the grand openess of the Great Sea from Wind Waker or the vastness of Hyrule Field from Twilight Princess... but the three sub-worlds of Skyward Sword are filled to the brim with content. You'll end up visiting each of these areas three different times... but each time will offer you a completely new experience. The first time through is going about the land, trying to figure out how to just get past it to enter the temple. The second time will have you going through the Silent Realm Trials, a high intensity game of tag which was always a blast to play ("DON'T KILL ME ARGSHSGF!"). The third time has you going back to the land under completely different conditions, like visiting Faron Woods underwater (I for one didn't have problems with the swimming... and I loved the Dragon Scale torpedo move!), or finding all of your items again in Eldin Volcano (such a fun part... loved it.), or even visiting another brand new area in Lanayru Desert (just to let it be known, I was in awe when we sailed the sand sea. I thought it was beautiful.). So despite the fact that Skyward Sword seems more streamlined, it offers an adventure unlike anything you've ever experienced. The flow of this game is truly an incredible feat.
There's so much more to say about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, from how awesome Groose is (seriously, Groose is awesome.) to the story that Skyward Sword tells (which is a story that finally tells more answers rather than bringing up more new questions). But I'll just say that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a game that is part of Nintendo's new strategy: it is both a deeper experience and a wider experience. Thanks to WiiMotionPlus, Aonuma and his team has shown us a traditional gaming experience from a legendary series that not only works with Motion Controls, but that the game is actually made fundamentally better due to Motion Controls. And it's not just the controls, it's the way that the adventure unfolded through the many hours that I played. Incredible pacing, brilliant dungeon design, fresh and fun boss battles, and a great new world that you never want to say goodbye to. The Legend of Zelda is a series that is one gaming's most cherished... and Skyward Sword continues the legacy in a brillaint way. Congratulations are in order to Nintendo. You guys did it again.
Oh, and I'm waiting for The Legend of Groose. Make it happen.