Friday, January 27, 2012

Super Mario 3D Land, World 5-2: The Zelda Level

It'se Meeee, Touriaaaaannn!!

Well, I bought Super Mario 3D Land today. The game is okay, but the most fun and interesting part for a Zelda fan is definitely World 5-2, the Zelda dungeon stage made for the 25th Anniversary. Like most stages so far this level is pretty short, but it's a neat one. It's entirely displayed in an overhead view and you switch between the rooms with classic Zelda scrolling. There are spiked cylinders that make a similar sound to the ones from the Nintendo DS Zelda games, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, though I think this is the case with all spiked cylinders in the game. And there's a room with four torches and a closed gate. If you light all four torches with the (hidden) Fire Flower power up, the "solved puzzle"-jingle from Ocarina of Time is played and the gate opens to a secret room with a Star Coin. Also, I thought that the first Star Coin was cleverly hidden. If you don't have the game, you can watch a video of the stage at IGN.


I think this level gives a nice impression of how the 3DS Zelda game could look like. It looks amazing in 3D, specially in the "pop up" mode, where the camera is closer to the floor and Mario jumps out of the sceen. I think the 3DS Zelda game doesn't have to be a 3rd Person view Zelda game like Ocarina of Time 3D, the overhead style of this Mario level is so much more charming. It could actively use the 3D in many creative ways and be a very classic and old school Zelda experience at the same time. It would also fit Aonuma's statement that they are going to built on what was done in the Nintendo DS Zelda games.

Also, I still think that re-releasing A Link to the Past as part of the 3D Classics would be awesome, it would be similar, though maybe not as impressive.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skyward Sword: Ideas for Medals


In my Skyward Sword review I complained that there weren't enough medals in the game. That it was a great idea, which felt like a last minute addition. Well, I don't want this to be nothing but hot air, so I will present some ideas for medals, which could have been made for the game. Many of them are based on the Magic Rings from Oracle of Ages and Seasons, others are inspired by masks and others are just new ideas completely.
  • Razor Medal: doubles your sword's attack power
  • Healing Medal: slowly regenerates you
  • Charge Medal: lets you charge Skyward Sword strikes in an instant
    (like at the end of Hero Mode)
  • Lightning Medal: half damage from electric attacks
  • Roc's Medal: increases speed of your bird,
    gives you one additional attack charge (four instead of three)
  • Pegasus Medal: increases running speed while dashing
  • Discovery Medal: shows the locations of unopened treasure
    chests on your map (outside of dungeons)
  • Hunter Medal: shows the locations of enemies on your map
  • Shield Medal: further increases your Shield Gauge
  • Bombproof Medal: no damage from own bombs
  • Toss Medal: lets you throw and roll stuff (like bombs) twice as far
  • Item Medal: lets Arrows, Bombs and Deku Seeds appear more often
  • Fairy Medal: lets Fairies appear more often
  • Hornet Medal: Deku Hornets won't attack you
    (perfect to collect Hornet Larva)
  • Quicksand Medal: crossing quicksand takes less stamina
  • Sacred Medal: no effect from curses
  • Steadfast Medal: you can't get knocked over by enemies
    and it's easier to keep balance on tightropes
  • Hero's Eyes: shows life meter of enemies
    (like the Hero's Charm in the Wind Waker)
  • STFU Medal: silents Fi
I'm aware that some of this stuff might make an already easy game even easier. But let's just pretend it was somehow harder. And some medals like the Toss Medal or the Quicksand Medal might break the game, but it's not like I could test these ideas. Well, my personal favorite would be the Discovery Medal. It's hard to judge whether you found all treasure chests on the overworld or not, it would have been helpful for writing my guides. And the Hero's Eyes would be cool, I thought that was a cool feature in the Wind Waker and would make perfect sense as a pouch item.

If you wouldn't have all the potions you could also add medals for the three potion effects:
  • Guardian Medal: reduces damage by half
  • Stamina Medal: increases stamina
  • Zora Medal: lets you breathe under water

Do you also have any cool ideas for medals? Post them in the comments!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Review)


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the long awaited Zelda Wii game that was released last November. Now, after playing the game for 150 hours, beating the Hero Mode and writing all sidequest guides for Zelda Europe I'm finally ready to write down my final opinion. How does the game hold up in certain categories? What was done right? What was done wrong? How does it compare to other Zelda games? Read to find out.

Please note that the review is not entirely spoiler free! This is not supposed to be a help for purchase decisions, it's about how a longtime Zelda fan feels about the game.

Controls

Nintendo's big selling point of the game were the new MotionPlus powered controls, Skyward Sword was designed to be the pinnacle of the Wii experience. Taking sword and shield into your own hands. Ever since the Wii got introduced that's what we've been dreaming about. And it took Nintendo five years to make a game, which fully takes advantage of the Wii's possibilities and let's you play Zelda in a way that feels natural. Swing the Wiimote to swing your sword, raise the Nunchuk to raise your shield. It's simple and it works great for the most part. It feels powerful, you will love the feeling of hitting enemies by swinging the Wiimote. And it's all very intuitive, switching to items, using them and switching back to the sword feels completely natural. It's perfectly streamlined and the best use of motion controls on the Wii yet. Once you got used to the new controls, you might not want to go back to the old way. It just feels that great.

Still you might be struggling with some parts of the controls, because they aren't recognized correctly or lose the alignment. The controls work fine for the most part, but for example the thrusting or timing shield attacks correctly might give you a hard time. And in cases like this the game will frustrate you. Since Skyward Sword now let's you move the sword in any direction, Nintendo felt like they had to add a lot of "do the right move or suffer"-fights. If you can't slice in the right direction fast enough, the game punishes you. And the heat of the battle doesn't make it easier to perform the desired move. Let's say you need to stab an enemy in the chest or the eye, but Link does a shield bash or a vertical spin instead because you also moved the Nunchuk without noticing yourself. The enemy now uses this mistake to hurt you badly and you get frustrated. The controls can be a lot of fun, when the fights are more natural. They probably would be totally awesome in a game like Twilight Princess. But all the "slice in the right direction"-fights and puzzles feel too forced and point out the flaws in the controls.

Motion controls are also used for other things like navigating menus, swinging and balancing on tightropes, flying or diving. Some of it feels forced, especially the balancing feels like a minigame, but most of it works fine and blends in fluidly. Only the diving feels like a huge step backwards from the pretty good diving mechanics in Twilight Princess, it's just not enjoyable.



Gameplay

The motion controls are not the only thing new in this new installment of the Zelda series. There are many new gameplay mechanics, refinements and ideas like new sword beams, a stamina system, the Shield Gauge, the Adventure Pouch, new ways of healing, painting on Goddess Walls or the Dowsing to offer a fresh experience. Some of them certainly work great and have the potential to evolve into series staples, others not so much.

The title giving move is the Skyward Strike. Link rises his sword into the air, which charges it to release sword beams. Except for the Fierce Deity's blade this is the first time that sword beams are featured in a 3D Zelda game and it works surprisingly well. Link's pose when rising the sword into the air is so much cooler than holding it behind or infront of him (to charge spin attacks in previous games) and the Skyward Strikes can be a powerful weapon. It's cool, it works great and hopefully it will be included in every 3rd Person Zelda from now on.

After games like the Wind Waker or Spirit Tracks you might fear that the flying is a very dominant feature, but in fact you won't spent much time flying around during the main quests. It's somehow based on the Kargarok flying in Twilight Princess, but you have a more accurate control over the bird, the motion controls work fine when you got used to them, especially flapping the wings has a good feeling to it. But there isn't much to say about the flying, because there isn't much to it. It feels like they did flying just to do flying as a mode of transportation and be done with it. It's not what the game revolves around.

When Zelda fans run over Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, they do not run, they somersault. All over the place. It looked stupid, it didn't make any sense, but it was faster than simply running. Now Nintendo let's you dash instead, which doesn't look stupid, makes perfect sense and feels great. However, it comes with the price of a new stamina system. It limits your dashing time, as well as other activities as climbing or moving blocks and even fighting. If the stamina meter runs out, Link gasps and needs to take a pause. Well, as long as you stop dashing before the meter runs out, this won't effect you. It's more a way of preventing that you abuse the spin attacks, which now can be quickly triggered with a single move. It doesn't really effect climbing, because they are usually Stamina Fruits on your way, which refill your stamina meter. And you won't notice the stamina system while moving blocks at all. Still you might get the feeling, that the stamina meter runs out too quickly. Especially when you need stamina the most during the Silent Realms. Well, there's the Stamina Potion to lengthen the effect, but you can't use its effect during the Silent Realms. And during the rest of the game you can't just always buy and drink potions, a more permanent solution (like a medal) would have been nice.

To test the new stamina system to its limits Nintendo included the Silent Realms, a mix between the Twilight Realm tear collecting and the Phantom gameplay from the Nintendo DS Zeldas. It's a really thrilling concept in a way, but it's probably not something that you will overly enjoy. You really just want to get over with these parts of the game and continue adventuring. Nobody likes tests. But you still may grow to like it and develop a certain affection for this kind of gameplay. The game let's you repeat all Silent Realms and even records your time doing so, which can turn into quite a sport.

A new innovation is also the Shield Gauge. If you raise your shield and an enemy hits it, the Shield Gauge depletes unless you perform a Shield Bash at the right time to deflect the attack, which makes fights somewhat more challenging. If the Shield Gauge runs out, your shield breaks. It also adds to the upgrade system, since you can strengthen your shields two times. The problem with this system is, that it might keep you from using your shield at all. Performing Shield Bashes with the right timing takes some practice and until you mastered it your shield will take a lot of hits. It's definitely something that won't be suitable for top-down Zelda games, but future 3rd Person Zeldas still might pick it up.


Your shields are stored in the Adventure Pouch together with other items like empty bottles, the medals, additional Bomb Bags, Quivers and Seed Satchels. It works like the menu for the main items, only that its content can be assigned freely. The Adventure Pouch can give space for up to eight items, all other items have to be stored elsewhere and can't be taken with you. With the exception of the rings from the Oracle games this is new for Zelda and it really feels like a nice RPG element done Zelda style. You have to think about what items you want to bring to your next adventure, you can't have them all. Of course on your first playthrough you don't really know what's ahead of you and you will probably just bring your balanced standard selection of items, because you're too lazy to return to the sky and change the content of your pouch. But it gets more interesting during your second playthrough, the Hero Mode, where things get harder and you might want to bring more healing items and the space for other items has to be used for the most important things. It's definitely a cool new concept, but it wasn't taken to its full potential, because there aren't enough important items. If you're good, you will only need a shield. But the Adventure Pouch could basically hold a greater variety of items that are used in a similar style. It could give space for items like boots, armors, masks and even the Lantern. On the other hand this could frustrate players, if they forgot to bring the right items. But it's definitely an interesting idea that could make a return in any of the future Zelda games.

Another nice example of how the gameplay offers fresh and surprising ideas in Skyward Sword would be the various ways of healing yourself. In classic Zelda you would look for a fairy fountain, in this game you sit down. Exactly, Link heals himself while he sits on a chair or a bench. It makes absolutely no sense, but for some reason it feels right and it totally works. What doesn't really work so well are the Goddess Walls. You can draw desired items on them to appear. However, the drawing with the Wiimote is not accurate enough to feel satisfying. It's something that should have been in the Nintendo DS Zelda games, but not in a Wii game.

Now, Skyward Sword is the only Zelda game next to Majora's Mask that works with savepoints, the Bird Statues. You can't save where you want, only at these statues, but similar to the Owl Statues in Majora's Mask they also act as a warp point. You don't really have to worry about this system, because they are plenty of Bird Statues everywhere. In fact going from one statue to the next might in some cases be shorter than going back to the sky and landing at the other statue. Well, it's certainly no match to the fast warp systems of other Zelda games, but it's better than what we got in Spirit Tracks.

Navigation also changed a lot in this game. Like in the Nintendo DS Zeldas maps now are a lot more detailed. In a dungeon the map item now combines map and compass. While this might be handy, it sometimes feels like there's something missing from the dungeons. You always had to look for at least one more item. Outside the dungeons you can set beacons on your map, which is a really cool tool and especially helpful when navigating the skies. But there are parts in the environment where you have to jump down from a great high to reach a treasure chest or similar things and thanks to the beacons you can accurately determine form where you have to jump from. And then there's dowsing... dowsing let's you scout for various targets by using your sword as a dowsing rod. And while it might be handy in certain situations, it gets to be a really cheap feature, because they let you dowse for everything. Hidden items, trading quest targets, rupees, collectibles, everything. Normally in a Zelda game you would have to look for stuff on your own. If a character asks for a certain item, you would have to think about where you could find it. But not in Skyward Sword, in Skyward Sword you dowse. In Ocarina of Time you would have to find all Golden Skulltulas on your own by thoroughly investigating all areas. But not in Skyward Sword, in Skyward Sword you dowse for secret items. It's cheap, it takes away all challenge about looking for things and it should never appear in any Zelda again. It only gets to shine during one part of the game, where you have to look for an invisible moving object, but that part was rather annoying.

Well, it's certain that they tried to introduce many new gameplay ideas in Skyward Sword, but at the same time they avoided certain cliches. For example there isn't a single light-the-torch puzzle in the entire game, which have been present in every single Zelda game ever since A Link to the Past.


Graphics and Sound

The overall presentation of the game is solid. The Wii was already outdated when it was released and that was five years ago. It's not an high end graphics system and the best solution is to cover it below some artistic style like Skyward Sword did. Like stated so often the visuals are basically a hybrid between the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, it looks quite colorful like the Super Mario Galaxy games, but it got realistic proportions for the most case. The washy water color effect definitely hides the Wii's age, but while it looks great on an old tube TV, it might look quite terrible on an HD TV, other Wii games tend to look sharper.

It's the first time that a Zelda game gets an orchestrated score, but sadly most of the tracks aren't that memorable. There are certainly some catchy tunes like the Faron Woods theme, but overall the selection of music is not as great as that of other Zelda games. It's not bad either, but it's doubtful that any of it will turn into longtime fan favorites. It doesn't have the same touch as the music from games like Ocarina of Time. Only the totally awesome trailer theme (the Goddess' Song) will probably be remembered, but sadly this song gets rarely played during the game. On the other hand it's great that most of the songs are actually new themes. Not even the typical main theme from Zelda really appears, only very few songs like Zelda's theme or the Fairy Fountain theme for the file menu made a return.

There's still no voice acting save for Fi's gibberish and there's an ongoing debate whether voice acting would be a good idea or. But certainly the funny sounds that characters like Gorko the Goron, the Kikwi, Beedle or Groose make while talking have their own charme and can be entertaining. "Ohhhhhh, thank yooouuuuu.", "Q Q" - you only get to hear that in a Zelda game and it's certainly more charming than all the dull voice acting in games like Skyrim. And there's always the issue of synchronisation, especially here in Germany. So, maybe text and funny sounds aren't so bad. Voice acting could be totally amazing if done right, but it's not like the game really misses it.


Story and Characters

In a twisted sense the game basically presents a classic Triforce story revolving around Link, Zelda and some sort of Ganon. However, it's all very different to feel entirely fresh. Since it is the first game in the Zelda timeline, it tries to explain the origins of key story elements and characters. But it does a very poor job doing so, because all it does is introducing "origin substitutes". For example the Master Sword was made from the Goddess Sword and Ganon spawned from some new evil, which is just called "Demise". However, it never really is explained where Demise came from or how the Goddess Sword was made. They are just there. So, ultimately the story is not fully satisfying.

One important job of the story in a videogame is to motivate you. It's bad if the overall goal of the game is to rescue a princess, who you've never met and who means nothing to you. And Skyward Sword does a great job by introducing a very lovely and charming Zelda character. You will easily grow to like her and you want to save her. At first. While the story starts out great, it quickly loses its touch. Instead of really being in danger, all Zelda does is constantly run away from you, while Impa, who gets Zelda's new best friend, mocks you for being too slow. And you have to prove yourself "worthy" in various trials over and over and over again. You're said to be the Goddess' Chosen Hero, but it feels like they don't want you to save anything. "Oh, no... we can't just let you save Zelda. At first you have to collect 15 of these colorful thingys to prove yourself worthy." It's aweful and you might ask yourself "Why am I chasing after this girl? Why am I doing all this?! Let's catch some bugs instead." The story is ultimately a real motivator for doing all kinds of sidequests, but not what you're told to do.

And then there's time travel. In 99% of the cases a time travel story always leads to unlogical paradoxes. It's always better not to include any time travelling, because it makes everything too complicated. It's a wonder that the time travelling in Skyward Sword didn't create three new splits in the timeline. And it felt like an unnecessary last minute addition, which makes it even worse.

While the story may have its flaws, the overall setting and characters are well made. Skyloft is an interesting and well developed setting. And the chaotic Hyrule below is something that only very few Zelda games like the ones on the NES had offered so far. Zelda has always been known for its colorful and curious NPCs and Skyward Sword is certainly no exception. One who stands out is definitely Groose, who starts as a bully, but then turns into a funny and valuable asset. Fi, who is your sidekick in this game, might irritate you with her mechanical way of talking. And most of the townsfolk have an unique design to make them feel strange and curious like usually in a Zelda game.

Interestingly the game avoids old races for the most part, which is a good thing. Especially the Gorons have been totally overused ever since their introduction in Ocarina of Time and gotten stale. In this game there are only three Gorons, one of them is featured as an archeologist, whom you meet multiple times during your travels. The Gorons in this game feel like an interesting and fresh cameo. There's also one Sheikah - Impa, but there never haven't been many Sheikahs anyway. Instead of recycling old races Nintendo decided to create some fresh new ones. The Kikwi are a folk of forest dwellers who look like fat bush penguins and make funny sounds. The Mogma are a race of moles, where you usually just see their upper halfs sticking out from some hole in the ground. They are treasure hunters and because of all that they fit perfectly into an adventure setting and in dungeon environments, which makes them basically the replacement for the Old Man, who was giving you tips in dungeon rooms in the original Zelda. The Mogmas are smartly designed, quite funny and they are a great addition to the Zelda series. We certainly haven't seen the last of them. In the desert we get to meet the Ancient Robots, their design makes them look like funny little versions of Gohdan from the Wind Waker and they usually talk with a bad mouth or behave in other strange ways, which are unexpected from a mechanical being. Mostly the robot characters are just copy pasted NPC lookalikes, but two of them stand out as main cast. There's Scrapper, who helps you salvaging stuff from the surface. He can be quite entertaining, because he admires Fi and bullies Link all the time. It's really well made, because it doesn't feel out of character, it feels like he was programmed to hate Link, which is funny. And there's the Skipper, who once had a loved wife and family, which is also weird for a robot, but works here in its own way. So, overall the new races are all very well designed and entertaining - except for the Parella. They also added a new race to the water environments, but they just feel so pointless and unnecessary, they are like the Zuna tribe in Four Swords Adventures. You will hardly deal with them at all and it probably would have been more exciting to throw in one or two Zora cameos instead.


Skyloft and the Sky

One of the big themes of this game is the sky setting, you fly through the clouds with a bird and you descend to the worlds below. People like to compare it to Super Mario Galaxy, but I think Metroid Prime 3: Corruption would make a better comparison. In that game you have three larger planets, where the areas on one planet are all connected, and you can land your ship on one of various landing spots. The planets here would be the three overworlds and the landing pads would be the Bird Statues. The only difference is that you actively fly from one location to the other through a sky ocean. After all the complaints about the empty ocean in the Wind Waker, you might think that this Zelda game will finally make it better, but it doesn't. In fact the sky ocean has even less to offer than the sea of the Wind Waker. It's really just a bunch of rocks, some of them have a treasure chest on them and there are some locations for minigames and two more important places, but that's really it. There's nothing there. It's just a large boring and empty space, they wasted so many potential with this. The sky setting could have been simply amazing, if the islands were done right and offerend some variety. Just look at some fantasy art about islands in the sky, 99% of it will be a lot better than what we got in this game. It's amazing how dull this is. The bright side is, that exploring the sky is for the most part completely optional. So, if you don't like flying, you don't have to. But just because something is optional, it doesn't mean that they shouldn't put any effort in it.


Well, to be fair the focus really was on Skyloft itself, the big island in the center of the sky world. And it's a well made town, in fact it might even has more to offer than the fan favorite Clocktown. Every character in Skyloft has his individual home somewhere, there's the Bazar, the huge Goddess Statue as some kind of religious place, the Knight Academy, a waterfall with a nice and atmospheric minidungeon cave next to it, a graveyard and a huge plaza with a light tower. It will take you a while to explore all of Skyloft, but the heart of the town is definitely the Bazar. This is where you prepare for your next adventure, here you can swap you pouch items, upgrade your gear, buy new equipment, purchase potions and listen to fortunes or gossip. You might wonder why all of Skyloft's economy revolves around equipping adventurers, but it's a nice place filled with the most curious people and you will spent quite some time there. It's really your base in this game, while your actual home is the Knight Academy. This school feels somewhat similar to the Stock Pot Inn in Majora's Mask, only larger and with greater importance to the story.

For Skyloft they also changed the day and night system. Unlike in the other 3D Zelda games time won't pass outside of towns. The only way to switch between day and night is going to bed. And this works great, since you can lay in any bed in town. Exploring Skyloft at night is probably the most atmospheric part of the game, but sadly you can only visit Skyloft at night and two of the islands. It's not a real problem that they restricted the day and night system to the village areas, because in all previous Zelda games the villages and towns always have been the most interesting (and atmospheric) places during nights. The problem is that the game teased you early that you will be able to explore all of the sky at night. There is some talk about a special training and birds can be equipped with head lights. This gives you the expectation that you will learn how to fly at night as well. But it never happens and you're disappointed. It would have been better if the game simply told you "you can't fly at night, no matter what" instead of teasing possibilities that aren't available to the player.


Overworlds

From the sky you dive down to the overworld, only that there's not one overworld but three. The Faron Woods, the Eldin Vulcano and the Lanayru Desert. These three overworlds are really the stars of this game. They feel quite different from what we got as overworlds in previous 3D Zeldas and it's a giant step forward. You could describe them as massive playgrounds. They can be quite complex, they are usually content-filled and provide many obstacles. There's something to do, something to collect and something to fight in every corner. If you enter the main areas for your first time, they can be quite overwhelming and it might take a long time to fully familiarize yourself with them. And you should familiarize with them, because you're going to revisit them many times. While this might sound like lots of aweful backtracking to you, the environments constantly change throughout the game to offer new experiences.

The forest is a really bright and cheerful place, it's the perfect starting point for your adventure. It's a large open area with enough complexity to get lost several times. And the massive tree in the center can be quite overwhelming. Completely underwhelming, however, are all the side areas. Especially Lake Floria, it can't compete with the beautiful Zora Realms from previous games, the whole underwater part was a huge disappointment, it was just a tunnel, where they would test you with the bad underwater controls. They could have made a nice underwater paradise instead. The entire forest gets flooded at one point though, but this is only temporarily. The Eldin Vulcano is like a giant uphill obstacle course and a lot of fun in combination with the new stamina system. Only the Vulcano Summit side area might again feel somewhat underwhelming especially when compared to the Death Mountain Crater in Ocarina of Time. The Lanayru Desert on the other hand constantly offers new interesting and large areas. In fact during the second half of the game it even adds an entire sand ocean made in the style of Phantom Hourglass. This part is really outstanding and enjoyable. Overall the desert might be the best of the three overworlds. It's not only the largest area, it also got the time shift stones, where you can transform the environment back into a past state, so that you have two different versions of many parts of the environment.


But constantly morphing the environments or opening new areas only tries to cover the fact that the overall variety can be lacking. They didn't restrict themselves to three areas, they restricted themselves to three themes: forest, fire and desert. And this can get repetitive easily. For example the Fire Sanctuary dungeon just felt like a larger version of the Earth Temple. And the time shift stones in Lanayru, while it's an absolutely genious idea, just get overused after a while. Imagine a Zelda game only offers ice areas and ice block puzzles. It might be "cool", but it inevitably will get stale.

And variety isn't the only thing that's missing in the world design. The overworlds don't offer any optional parts at all. There are no hidden secret areas, no optional minidungeons or whatever. And this is sad. Probably the biggest strength of Spirit Tracks were all the hidden stations with their cool minidungeons. Those were awesome sidequests and Skyward Sword has none of these. There are no cool caves like in Twilight Princess, no Gerudo Training Grounds, nothing. A 50 story combat dungeon similar to the Savage Labyrinth or the Cave of Ordeals would have been totally awesome in this game. But there's nothing in the likes.


Quests

The game is overall very linear, not the most linear Zelda game, but pretty close. The only non-linear parts in the main quests are when you have to look for multiple things of the same kind at once with biggest of these quests being the three dragon quest at the end of the game. However, that one causes two game breaking glitches and it's sad to see that the only real non-linear part of the game is so flawed. The future of non-linear game design in the house of Nintendo doesn't shine all too bright. But an open and free to explore world is always more interesting than following a linear path. The linear path is just a lot easier to create for the developers. It's lazy game design. Non-linearity is always more interesting and it was everything the very first Zelda game was all about. It was about exploring a huge world on your own. It's sad to see that 25 years later the Zelda series more and more defies its roots.

The quests itself follow some repetitive pattern and feature quite some boring fetch and gather quests. The first half of the game follows the pattern "enter new overworld, get a new item, collect multiple things of the same kind using dowsing, beat the dungeon, get a key for the next world, repeat". The second half follows the pattern "learn song for Silent Realm, open Silent Realm, get new item, enter new area, do something, beat the dungeon, get better sword, repeat". Only the "do something" part in the new areas might offer some variety, for example you're going to revisit a dungeon and there's an escort quest. And the three dragon quest at the end of the game offers some interesting surprises and different quests, two of them even have the overworlds heavily altered. The individual tasks often require you to look for different things, however, the dowsing ability takes away the challenge completely. In other Zelda games you would have to think about, where you could get the needed item, or thoroughly search the areas. No need for that in this game, you just follow the beeping noise.

One of the quests that really stands out is definitely exploring the Lanayru Sand Sea, where you travel on a boat through an ocean of sand by using a time shift field that creates water around you. It's similar to the boat rides in Phantom Hourglass, only a lot more creative, and the individual islands are really fun. Another cool quest is when you get caught in the vulcano eruption and Bokoblins steal your items. It's an atmospheric mix between the Forsaken Fortress in the Wind Waker and the Tokay quest on Crescent Island from Oracle of Ages.


The Dungeons

Originally Nintendo planned to erase the borderline between dungeons and overworld, so that the player might not even notice that he has entered a dungeon. They demonstrated this at E3 2010 with a demo, where the Faron Woods area was basically one giant dungeon. It got cave rooms with Stalfos in it and you fought the scorpion boss (Moldorach) in a room on the tree top. It was a really interesting concept, that sadly got dropped entirely.

Instead you have seven normal dungeons, which now feel like a relic from Twilight Princess. Most of them follow the same basic linear design that plagued the dungeons in later games, but it's even worse. You usually get one or more central rooms with a saving point in them and the course of the dungeon winds its way through these rooms multiple times. That's how the first four dungeons work, sometimes you can even predict the entire dungeon course by just looking at the map once. The first three dungeons don't even have multiple floors. The dungeons always follow the one key principle, there's always only one locked door and one key to get at a time. At no point in the entire game you will be able to get two keys at once. Remember the classic Zelda games, where you could have up to five keys at once waiting to be inserted in various doors? There's nothing "back to the roots" about these dungeons, with one exception the dungeon design became an insult to fans of the classic Zelda games. Also, the dungeons are usually quite easy and some of them are also awefully short.

But it's not like the dungeons don't have anything to offer, some of them even feature new ideas with quite some potential. The Skyview Temple has to be praised for being a very solid starting dungeon and it offers a new interesting concept of revisiting dungeons. At one point in the game the Skyview Temple gets changed, one door gets locked again, there are harder enemies and new treasures to be found. As a sidequest this idea would have a lot of potential and it's disappointing that this was the only dungeon that got this treatment. The Ancient Cistern is just beautiful and offers two amazing contrasty settings, while the entire idea was based on a Japanese short story called The Spider's Thread. The Sand Ship dungeon also offers an extraordinary setting and even some non-linearity, though the whole timeshift idea got pretty old at that point. But the best dungeon in the game is definitely the Sky Keep, which arranged its rooms in one gigantic tile puzzle. While this idea alone is genious and has a lot of potential for future Zelda dungeons, it also offers the only true non-linear dungeon in the game.

The remaining dungeons weren't as good. The Earth Temple is even shorter than the Skyview Temple and its main puzzle with the globe in the lava wasn't any fun and just slowed you down. The Lanayru Mining Facility is a tedious experience, the visuals are ugly and the enemies are very annoying. The Fire Sanctuary is overall solid, probably the largest dungeon in the game, but it completely reused the Earth Temple's settings and visuals making it feel somewhat unoriginal.


Enemies and Bosses

Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus. Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus. Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus. And maybe Deku Babas, if you're in the forest or desert. That's what you usually get during the game. There are different varients of Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus depending on what area you're in, for example the Bokoblins in the desert (called Technoblins) use electrically powered blades and wear funny goggles. But overall it's Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus and it feels a little bit stale and repetitive. Of course there are other enemies, which were usually designed for special environments. Actually the game has a lot more enemies than the Wind Waker, but it rarely uses them. And there are certainly some stronger enemies like the Lizalfos, the Moblins and the Stalfos. But they appear rarely in the game, especially the Stalfos, which only appear as minibosses. It would be much more exciting, challenging and varying if they would appear more frequently. And adding some other staples like Tektites, Redeads, Floormasters or Darknuts would have been nice. Especially Darknuts acting as true sword opponents would have been a must for this game, which is all about the sword fighting.

The enemy design on the other hand is really well made and on a par with the entertaining enemy behavior in the Wind Waker. The Bokoblins with their funny noises or the fat and slow Moblins are always good for a laugh. However, there is a series of enemies including the Deku and Quadro Babas, the Armos and Beamos, the Staldra and even the Stalfos, where you have to slice them in a certain direction or from a certain angle. The Armos and Sentrobes even have blue lines indicating how you're supposed to attack them. Those "puzzle fights" feel forced and very unnatural, they are usually not very enjoyable. It's understandable that they wanted to included enemies like this where you have to focus on the direction instead of just wildly waggling your way through all the fights, which even works for the most part. But it would have been better if this feels less forced and more natural. The Lizalfos would be a good example for that, they work great and it would have been nice to see more enemies on that level.

But the bosses are usually well made and fun, they didn't include a Boss Challenge mode for no reason. It might be the most solid collection of bosses since Ocarina of Time. For once they made some bosses, which are all about duels. Head-to-head sword combats against an equal enemy without any major gimmicks, which feels great except for the occasional "slice in the right direction" sequences. And there's the Imprisoned, where you have to stop a gigantic creature from reaching a certain destination, which you can approach in different ways. Of course they also got the typical giant bosses at the end of the dungeon, where you use the dungeon item to reveal their weak spots, but they only take up one third of the game's boss fights and they can be quite creative as well. And also a lot of fun. Scaldera for example is fought on a ramp, where the boss rolls down, which is a very dynamic fight. Another boss wields giant swords, which you can steal and use against him.

Actually it's sad that this is the only time where you can take an enemy weapon. Stealing your enemies' weapons was one of the coolest features of the Wind Waker and it would have been nice to play around with a larger selection of melee weapons in a game like Skyward Sword, where you can wield the weapons with your Wiimote.


The Items

In Twilight Princess you had many different items, where some of them rarely got utilized throughout the game. Nintendo decided to change this with the Nintendo DS Zeldas by reducing the number of items and giving them many different uses. And they kept this principle with Skyward Sword, there are only eight different "B-items" in this game. There's the Slingshot, the Bug Net, the Beetle, the Bomb Bag, the Bow, the Gust Bellow, the Whip and the Dual Clawshots. They all use motion controls in some way, but the transition is seamless and they work all very intuitive.


The only real new item and probably the star of the collection is the Beetle, which let's you scout through the entire terrain, as well as activating switches and collecting item from afar. You can also carry stuff like bombs around with the Hook Beetle upgrade. It's truly an interesting item that let's you explore the world in all it's glory and do many different things. The Bomb Bag now let's you store picked up bomb flowers, which feels great and completely natural. You might even wonder why they haven't thought of that innovation earlier. The Bug Net makes finally a return from A Link to the Past and is the only optional item in the set. It let's you catch various insects and some treasures and it offers even more motion freedom than the sword. It's also nice to see the Clawshots from Twilight Princess return. They didn't change at all, but there was no need, it still feels great to play Spiderman with Hookshots. The bow is very powerful and comes with the right timing. It can also be used in two different ways, one involves the Nunchuk as in WiiSports Resort, the other doesn't, but charging arrows will take longer. This is a nice compromise in a way.

Unlike in Twilight Princess the bow can't be obtained until further into the game, which gives the Slingshot the opportunity to shine a little bit more. It's not entirely useless this time, you will definitely use it a lot early in the game and might keep using it later to stun Technoblins or reveal hidden Rupees. However, the Whip and Gust Bellow items still feel heavily underused. You might think that in a game with only eight main items every single one of them gets used frequently, but this is not the case. The Gust Bellow is basically the successor of the Gust Jar from the Minish Cap, but this time it's really just a glorified leaf blower. It was planned that it also could suck in stuff, but they scrapped this idea and now the item simply blows. Yes, this pun was intended. It can blow away sand and cool down hot rocks. That's it. You might play around with it here and there, but overall it's a very underachieving item. It would have been more interesting, if it really was more like the Gust Jar. The Whip is cool, it's a fun to use item, but unlike in Spirit Tracks, where the Whip really felt like your secondary melee weapon, you won't be able to utilize it as much. You can steal the Monster Horns from certain Bokoblins, but that's it. It would have been better, if there was an upgrade to damage enemies. It has a longer range than your sword and is faster than Skyward Strikes, but it would deal less damage. It's sad that this isn't the case, because the Whip was really nice in Spirit Tracks and now feels like the stepchild of the item collection.

Next to the eight B-items there are also five more items that get (automatically) used in certain situations. The Sailcloth let's you slowly descent and prevents you from any fall damage. Because of that you can basically jump down from every height without any risk, which can fasten the gameplay in certain situations. It can also be used to move up airstreams, which feels similar to using Ezelo in the Minish Cap. Also returning from the Minish Cap are the Digging Mitts, which can be upgraded to the Mogma Mitts, which let you dig into tunnels. However, the Mogma Mitts are by far not as satisfying as the Mole Mitts in the Minish Cap, it's a lot slower and the tunnels usually don't hold any interesting secrets. There are also the Fireshield Earrings and the Water Dragon's Scale, which act as the Goron and Zora Armor in this game, only a lot more simplified. The Fireshield Earrings are certainly nice and offer this cool little effect when entering a heated area. But the Water Dragon's Scale, which is basically the Zora Flippers of this game, doesn't feel right. The controls are awkward and overall it feels like a backstep from the cool underwater gear in Twilight Princess.

And then there's the Goddess's Harp. We've seen various musical instrument in the Zelda series before, but this one has to be the most disappointing one. You can't really play it, you can only strum it which let's Gossip Stones and Goddess Walls appear and has some other hidden effects, but that's it. It's nowhere on the level of the Ocarina of Time or the Spirit Pipes, it's not even on the same page. There are five different songs, but all of them act as one time keys to open portals. There's no Song of Storms or similar songs with magical effects in this game. And the play sessions, where you have to follow a wave with your harp, can be quite annoying, though not as bad as the aweful duets in Spirit Tracks. So, there are no songs with interesting effects, no satisfying free style and only annoying play sessions. Where's the point of this instrument? It doesn't add anything to the game, it only acts as a tool to make the game more linear.

Additionally there are various Pouch Items, but keep in mind, that they are all completely optional. But it's interesting that this Zelda game has the largest collection of shields. There are four different shields in Skyward Sword, ten if you count the upgrades. It's nice how they handled the differences between the first three shields. The Wooden Shield burns like it would in Twilight Princess, but it protects you from electricity. The Iron Shield is very sturdy and protects you from fire, but you get zapped from electric attacks. Electricity really adds a great new dynamic to the game, in Twilight Princess the Wooden Shield would become useless as soon as you get the Hylian Shield, but not so in Skyward Sword. Then there's the Sacred Shield, which protects from all attacks and repairs itself, but has the lowest durability and is very expansive. Overall the three shield types are well balanced and you have to think about which shield to bring to your next mission. However, there's also the all powerful and indestructable Hylian Shield, which renders all other shields useless, but you get that one only at the very end of the game and you will have to earn it.

Also, this is the first time where they tried to do more with potions than just refilling your health and magic meters. They added four new types of potions, but mostly you will use the classic Heart Potion. Since there's now a shield instead of a magic meter, there has to be a potion to repair shields called Revitalizing Potion. The upgraded version, which works automatically like a fairy, can be nice, if you like to use the Sacred Shield. But usually you will repair your shield in the Scrap Shop. The other three potions cause certain effects like higher stamina, defense or air supply for three minutes. But you will use them very rarely, if at all. And because of that the focus on potions feels like an unnecessary feature. Maybe it would have been a better idea to offer the potion effects via the Medals, to have a Guardian Medal or a Stamina Medal, etc. That way at least the medals would have gotten more attention, but now we have two half-assed features instead.

The most important item, however, is certainly the sword. And next to the Practice Sword, which gets discarded after a few swings, there's only the Goddess Sword which slowly evolves into the Master Sword. There are no optional swords in this game, like in all Zelda games ever since the Wind Waker all sword upgrades are mandatory and story related. While it makes sense for this game, it's a bad trend for Zelda. In the first eight Zelda games there always have been optional sword upgrades or hidden better swords, cool stuff like the Seashell Sword, the Biggoron's Sword, the Gilded Sword or the Great Fairy's Sword. MASTER USING IT AND YOU CAN HAVE THIS, it was an achievement to discover a better sword, which now makes fighting the tough foes easier. Getting stronger swords was simply awesome. But now you get story related sword upgrades and the enemies become automatically harder. There's no achievement or challenge in this system. It's boring.


Sidequests

Like usually the game offers quite some sidequests that can distract you from the main game for multiple hours. The amount of sidequests is what we've been used to from most Zelda games, which means there's enough, but it isn't particularly overwhelming. The sidequests include activating Goddess Cubes, earning Gratitude Crystals and collecting resources to upgrade items.

The Goddess Cubes are probably the most rewarding sideqest, but also the most boring one. You don't really have to look for them, they are quite large and therefore mostly easy to spot. Some of them are hidden in some corners, but usually you won't have any big trouble finding them. And even if you do, you can use the stupid dowsing to easily locate them later in the game, which completely annihilates any challenge. Each Goddess Cube opens a treasure chest on the surface with valuable content, from tons of Rupees, over Pieces of Hearts up to the rare Medals, which are stored in your Adventure Pouch for various effects. The Medals are similar to the Magic Rings from the Oracle games, only far less in number. There's only ten of them, if you actually count the duplicates. The concept of the medals has tremendous potential, just look at the many different rings in the Oracle games. But Skyward Sword doesn't even scratch the surface of this potential. The majority of the medals only helps you collecting items, two of them act as Heart Containers and the last one lenghtens the potion effects. That's it. And you don't really have to look for them either, because nearly all of them are gotten from Goddess Cubes or Beedle's Shop.

The Gratitude Crystals are related to a sidequest, where a funny demon character wants to become human. You bring him crystals and he rewards you with certain items, usually a wallet upgrade. The crystals are gotten in two different ways. You can look for single crystals at night or you can earn five crystals at once by making a person happy. The latter might remind you of the mask quests in Majora's Mask, though the quests never get as complex as coupling Anju and Kafei or saving the Romani Ranch. But nearly every citizen of Skyloft gets one sidequest whatsoever. Some of these sidequests actually let you make a choice, which influences the further development of the characters, something that has never been done outside of the Capcom Zelda games and which was probably Fujibayashi's input. These choices can be interesting, but they can also give you the feeling that you're missing something. In fact one choice might lead to missing out one entire character. However, there are only three occasions, where you have to make a game altering choice. So, like many other things in Skyward Sword these choices feel like an experiment, something that got tacked to the game, but never fully explored. The single Gratitude Crystals a scattered through Skyloft at night. It feels similar to hunting Skulltulas at night in Kakariko Village and it's a very atmospheric sidequest, though quite a short one. Except for two crystals you can get them all at once. Only one of them is really cleverly hidden and for those who hate looking for things there's again a dowsing ability which takes away all possible challenge. It would have been a much more fulfilling collectible quest, if you could explore the entire world at night and if there were many crystals scattered through all areas.


Another new addition is collecting treasures and insects to upgrade your items and potions. And it's truly a great addition. They have finally perfected the treasure system from the Nintendo DS games, which could be very annoying thanks to randomness and some treasures being too rare. But here every treasure has its definite source like the spoils in the Wind Waker. But unlike the spoils there's still a some luck involved, so farming is not as easy. Still if you need a certain type of treasure, you will know where to find it instead of hopelessly playing the same minigames over and over again like in Spirit Tracks. Some treasures might be dropped from certain types of enemies, other treasures can be found in certain spots in the environment and others can be catched with your Bug Net like the insects. There are 12 different types and they all have their own preferred habitat and behavior. Catching bugs is fun and offers quite some variety, you might ignore your main tasks just because you heard some Sand Cicadas rattle in the background. The nice thing about all those treasures and insects is that they all really add something to the environments. In every corner of the world there is something to collect. Walking through the lands never gets boring, because there's always something to do. This really adds to the game and should be included in every future Zelda. It is really fun to collect the stuff and it's good that it's fun, because you probably wouldn't do it otherwise. The requirements for the upgrades are usually easily met, you don't even have to try hard. And you will rarely upgrade any potions, so collecting insects might feel completely unnecessary. But you can always sell your insects and treasures at night to make some money, though the selling interface is somehow inconvinient, especially when compared to selling things in the Nintendo DS Zeldas. But the only real annoying thing about the treasures and insect is when you leave the game. Because then it resets all the "got item"-messages and shows them again. It's like with the different Rupees in Twilight Princess, only ten times worse. Because there are far more individual treasures and insects and each time it opens the collection menu and shows how the number of the item gets incremented. EACH SINGLE TIME. This is so brutally annoying that some people decided to avoid treasures completely or never to turn the game off. What was Nintendo thinking?! You can always look up the description in the collection menu, there's no need to show it a second time.

The upgrades are varied, you can upgrade shields, bags, half of the main items and potions. Some of them are boring, for example upgrading the shields only increases their Shield Gauge and makes them look a little bit different or the upgrades for Bomg Bags only makes them carry more bombs. But some are more interesting and helpful like the Quick Beetle, which let's your Beetle fly a lot faster while pressing A. Or the Big Bug Net, which makes catching bugs a lot easier. These upgrades really feel like a cool achievement and it would have been nice if there were more. The Whip didn't get an upgrade for example, though it really could use one to make it more interesting and useful. It's also interesting that the Clawshots didn't get any upgrades, since the Hookshot was one of the few items to get upgrades in earlier Zelda games. And overall making upgrades is too easy. In case of the Bow for example you won't even have the chance to feel any difference between the different versions, because you might upgrade it instantly into the Sacred Bow. The requirements for the upgrades should have been higher.

The game also features the traditional Heart Pieces, though as usually they are not very well hidden or follow predictable formulas. A good chunk of them is gotten from Goddess Cubes or minigames. Though the minigames are surprisingly decent this time around. Half of them is entirely optional, like the good old Money Making Game you don't have to play them, if you don't want to. You won't miss any items. They are only used to win Rupees, treasures or insects. The others "only" give you a Piece of Heart, so won't have to beat them multiple times. And they can also be quite fun. The only frustrating minigame might be the minecart race, the motion controls feel flawed at first, but if you get the hang of it, this minigame also won't be a problem. Some minigames like the bamboo cutting can even be a lot of fun and you might just play them because you want to. One minigame that definitely has to be mentioned is the Lightning Round, which is this game's Boss Challenge Mode. Since the bosses were overall well designed such a mode is a welcomed addition, it can also be a good challenge, especially in the Hero Mode. It also let's you replay the Silent Realms, if you like the thrill or need more Dusk Relics, which can only be found during the trials.



Difficulty Level

Unlike most Zelda games Skyward Sword doesn't start with three hearts, but six. And it does that for a reason. The first steps are always the hardest and it might take you a while to adept to the new control scheme. You might struggle even with simple enemies like Deku Babas or Skulltulas. But you will get the hang of it sooner or later and then you enter a Zelda game that is relatively easy, because it doesn't keep up with you. Stronger enemies like Stalfos are a rare sight in this game, the game is very linear, the dungeons are quite simple and with two exceptions the puzzles are usually not that smart. And even if they are smart, there's a high chance that someone in the game will tell you the solution right away.

That leads us to Fi, who must be the worst sidekick yet. Don't get this wrong, she is an unique and cool character. But as a guide she is just an over the top, 4th wall breaking, never ending annoyance. "Master, this is a locked door, there's a 95% chance that you need a key to open it." - And she tells you that after you already got the key. She is really the Captain Obvious of the Zelda universe and for some reason she thinks she has to repeat every bit of critical information again like you weren't listening before. Forget Navi, Navi is a total saint compared to Fi. Navi just gives you general directions, while Fi guides you on every single step. It feels like Nintendo thinks their customers are all brain dead retards, who can't think on their own and who need someone to tell them what to do all the time. And it get's even worse when Fi starts to tell you things you certainly don't want to hear. Like the red blinking battery icon the lower right screen isn't already annoying enough, Fi has to tell you personally that your batteries are low. And if you can't figure out the solution of a puzzle immediatly, Fi pops up and gives you crucial hints even though you didn't want to hear any. If you need any hints, you can always ask her for advice, so there's no reason for this. Actually she is a nice source of interesting information, for example she can tell you the name of every enemy and character, a feature that is sadly missing in most games. But overall a guide like this is completely unreasonable. In the future Nintendo maybe should try to get away from the sidekicks and built more on the Sheikah Stone idea, because the Sheikah Stones can't annoy you.

The Dowsing ability is another unreasonable guidance. Normally in Zelda games you would have to discover things on your own, in Skyward Sword you just need to follow a pointer. It goes as far that the dowsing let's you look for hidden collectible items. Where's the point in even hiding stuff then? Why have secrets and hidden items, if you have something that points at them? Discovering secrets was originally part of Zelda's gameplay and cleverly hidden things were part of Zelda's difficulty, but it's all not really part of Skyward Sword. The problem with this is, that the game turns you into a processor. You don't have to think on your own, you just follow the guides and do what you're told to do. There's no real adventure in this.

The damage level of the game is usually okay, there are no quarter hearts or jokes like that. However, you won't take any damage from jumping into an abyss. There's no punishment for something that would definitely kill you! This is ridiculous, you can even exploit this in certain situations. But if you finished the game once, you can play the Hero Mode, where like in Ocarina of Time 3D's Master Quest the received damage gets doubled. Also, there won't be any hearts to heal you at first. This can be challenging, especially in the Boss Challenge mode, but they could have done a lot more to challenge the diehard Zelda fans.



Replay Value

Nintendo said that they would focus on the replay value of Skyward Sword. And in fact there's some animated replay value, which directly motivates you to play the game at least a second time. There are some choices to make throughout the game and while these choices are minor, they still might motivate you to play the game at least a second time. These choices usually revolve around the Gratitude Crystal sidequest and they change the behavior of certain side characters towards you. For example a girl will fall in love with you and can pretend to return her feelings or dump her. Naturally your decision will change her future behavior and you might want to try both variants, because both can be funny. Also, during various cutscenes the dialogs let you chose between multiple answers. While your answers don't have any further effects, you can provoke different reactions. For example in the beginning of the game you can tell Zelda that her costume looks great or not and both of her reactions are kind of cute. These kind of things certainly add some replay value to the game, because you get to see some different reactions and even different character developments. But overall this is really underdeveloped and no comparison to the possibilities you get in various RPGs.

To spice it up Nintendo even added a 2nd Quest, the so called Hero Mode. Sadly the differences to the normal game are rather minor, even less than what the 2nd Quest of the Wind Waker offered. To make things harder you receive double damage and no hearts will appear during the game unless you carry at least one Heart Medal. But to make things easier you keep your collection from your first playthrough and during the entire game the sword beam is more powerful. It's different and especially the Boss Challenge mode can be a lot more challenging (unless you use a cheap Guardian Potion+ like a certain someone, who is writing this review), but overall they could have changed more to add more to the replay value and the difficulty. It doesn't have to be a full fledged Master Quest, but could have at least tried. They constantly changed the environments throughout the game, so why not change the dungeons once for the Hero Mode? Letting some tougher enemies like the Stalfos appear more frequently alone would have worked wonders. And they could have altered the locations of the Goddess Cubes and the content of their chests. There would be a lot of simple ways to make a second playthrough more exciting and again the Hero Mode just feels like a missed opportunity. But at least it let's you skip the cutscenes.

Still with these additions you will definitely play the game at least a second time. The overall replay value really depends on how much fun you have with the controls and the combat. It's in some way similar to Metroid: Other M, which was awefully linear and had a bad story, but was still fun to play again, if you enjoyed the controls and the combat. If you enjoy the feeling of hitting Bokoblins with your Wiimote, you will definitely return to this game and play it again despite it's linearity and weak dungeons.



Conclusion

Skyward Sword is a well crafted and very detailed game that will last for many, many hours. And it's certainly the pinnacle of the Wii experience, the new controls feel so great, that you will instantly miss them in other games. Skyward Sword also tries to avoid various Zelda cliches and on the same time it introduces new ideas, where many have the potential to evolve into new staples of the Zelda franchise. It's a fresh experience, but there's still something from every other Zelda game present, which makes the game a good entry for the 25th Anniversary. But Skyward Sword is also plagued by the typical issues of modern Zelda, issues like high linearity, low difficulty and weak dungeons. Issues that have to be resolved in the future. Also, many of the new ideas feel like experiments, where they only scratched on the surface of its full potential. The game likes to built up expectations in you only to disappoint them. And this is why the game, no matter how good it may be, will ultimately leave you unsatisfied.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Zelda: Fire and Ice Prophecy


Well, the big tide is awaiting us and many are finished with Skyward Sword but already hungry for more. Naturally we all dig every tiny rumor and even big fake ones. Like let's say obviously photoshopped fake logos of two upcoming Zelda games as seen above. These games are called "Fire Prophecy" and "Ice Prophecy", though there's something wrong with the spelling, which also indicates that this is a fake. They come from 4chan and... well, let's just ask Fi what she thinks about that. Fi?

Fi: Master, my analysis concludes that there's a 99% chance that this image is not official Nintendo material.

Thanks for stating the obvious, Fi!

Even though this is a fake, I really would like the prospect of a dual Zelda game release similar to the Oracle games. I remember clearly when the games were released in 2001, I got them at day one and I was really excited about them. Link's Awakening made me a Zelda fan and I loved the thought of not getting one but two more games in this style. And for some reason when I think about the excitement of getting a new Zelda game, I think about the Oracle games. You got two Zelda games at once and the dual mechanics were very interesting, I played the Oracle games for a long time.

Some might compare it to Pokémon, but I never really liked Pokémon, because I hated the thought of having multiple versions with exclusive content of the same game. I'm a guy, who always wants everything from a game he likes, and the different versions really would have gotten in the way. Which is why I never played Pokémon. But "Zelda Red and Blue" were completely different, they were not the same game, they were two individual games, which could be connected to enhance the experience. You could use passwords or a link cable, if you got two GameBoy systems. Today linking games would be even a lot easier, since they could share save data on your system memory.

Well, back then on the GameBoy they were able to go with the slogan "this adventure is too big for one game", since the GameBoy cartridges had limited capacities (though there were versions with Oracle of Seasons and Ages on one cartridge). But today this would feel like a rip off. Instead of making two games, it would be better to make one bigger game. Or release them both on the same cartridge (like A Link to the Past & Four Swords on the GBA). Of course this wouldn't give you the same feeling as the Oracle games and Nintendo would make only half the money.

Source: Screw Attack via Zelda Universe Forums


Friday, January 6, 2012

R2-D2 vs. Phantom Ganon

Wait, what? Well, this is a nice fanart made by Andy J Hunter that features a Zelda x Star Wars crossover:


I guess R2-D2 just needs to keep still, Phantom Ganon is basically jumping right into the Master Sword. Useless Marionette...


Source: Kotaku

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Skyward Sword Blade Journal, Final Entry: Hero Mode 100%


It's been a long journey, but it finally came to an end. Minutes ago I've beaten the Hero Mode and with that fully beaten the game for 100%. Since I tied all lose ends before Skyward Sword, this also means that I've fully beaten the entire Zelda series. Nothing left to do.

Well, as soon as you get a Heart Medal (from the second Goddess Cube in Lanayru) and hearts start to return, the Hero Mode gets a lot easier. Well, but a single Heart Medal doesn't seem to bring back all hearts (for example there still weren't any hearts in the boss room of the Skyview Temple), I think you have to carry both Heart Medals to get back to the state how it would normally be. But I might be mistaken. However, during the Hero Mode I definitely had more trouble deciding which items I should carry in my Adventure Pouch. During the normal game I usually just would change the content of my pouch if I got some cool new stuff. But in the Hero Mode you definitely want to keep both Life Medals with you and at least one Heart Medal. And you should carry one or two potions. And if you're a fan of the Sadred Shield, you also want to bring a Revitalizing Potion++ just in case. See, we already used 7 of 8 spots in the Adventure Pouch, so there isn't much room for capacity upgrades or any other medals. During my first game I would bring at least one additional Bomb Bag, one Quiver and a Seed Satchel. And I would always carry the Treasure Medal. While I still tried to use my Treasure Medal, I rarely used any capacity upgrades or any other medals like the cool Bug Medal. But it's nice that during the Hero Mode you have to worry more about the content of your pouch instead of just carrying whatever you want.

You also become much more efficient. I can beat most bosses without getting hit by now. And you learn a lot of tricks. For example I learned that you can actually destroy the Beamos by shooting an arrow into their eyes just like in Twilight Princess. I had to learn this the hard way during the Sand Ship, the room with the three Beamos defending the Boss Key is really nasty. But if you know the tricks it all gets a lot easier.

And not everything gets harder. The True Master Swords now lets you instantly load sword beams, which is really cool. And you get used to it quickly, I wouldn't want to return to the slow and weak beams from the early beginning.

Probably the toughest challenge in the entire game is mastering the Boss Challenge during the Hero Mode to get the Hylian Shield. For that you have to beat eight bosses in a row without any recovery items and with double damage. Actually I can beat most bosses without any major damage or without getting hit at all. The Imprisoned for example is always an easy win if you rely on the "jump on the head" strategy. Never attack the feat in any of his versions. You can stun him with the Groosenator and then jump on his head in the 2nd or 3rd fight. If you follow these tactics, you won't get damaged during the Imprisoned fights. That's three safe fights already. The first two Ghirahim fights are also quite easy. Scaldera and most of the other bosses shouldn't be a problem as well. Only the third Ghirahim battle might be difficult, but with some training you will manage this one as well. You don't have to worry about Demise, he always comes last, so you don't have to worry about him for the Hylian Shield. The only real problem is the Horde Battle, the one where you fight against dozens of Bokoblins and other enemies at the Sealed Grounds. Every hit costs you two hearts and there's no recovery, even if you try just dashing right through the whole thing you will get hit a lot. You might be lucky and you don't have to face the Horde Battle, but the chance that the fight gets selected during the eight battles is 70%. I first tried to beat the Boss Challenge without any tricks, I selected the third Ghirahim fight, performed well and then continued to play. It all went smoothly until the Horde Battle, which just murdered me.

But there's an easy and cheap way to get the Hylian Shield anyway called using the Guardian Potion+. You can drink it right before talking to the Dragon and the invulnerability effect will carry over to the fights. The Guardian Potion+ makes you invulnerable for three minutes, but you can lenghten this time span with a Potion Medal. You might wonder about this, because medals are not allowed during the Boss Challenge. But the Potion Medal only takes effect in the moment when you drink the potion. If you drink a potion while not carrying the Potion Medal, the effect will last for three minutes. But if you drink it while carrying the Potion Medal, the effect will last much longer, even if you put the medal back into the storage. So, if you drink a Guardian Potion+ while carrying a Potion Medal right before entering the Boss Challenge, you can stay invulnerable for multiple boss fights. The next step is to select the Horde Battle first, so you can get through that one without any damage. I could make it within three minutes and I was lucky that the third Ghirahim battle would follow instantly. But the effect of my Guardian Potion+ lasted until the 6th fight and the Hylian Shield was mine at the end. Using the Guardian Potion+ might be totally cheap, but it saves you from a lot of frustration.

When you reply a game you tend to do things differently. I personally have the most fun with replaying Zelda games that are less linear. Like playing dungeons out of order, using different paths or whatever. Sadly Skyward Sword is very linear for the most part. I occasionally tried to break the game course, but the game wouldn't let me. For example this time I tried entering the Vulcano Summit without the Fireshield Earring, but Fi just stops you right before the entrance. Or in the Fire Sanctuary I tried leaving behind the Mogma, who gives you the Map, but again Fi stops you. The only real non-linear parts happen when you're supposed to collect or discover multiple things at once. But in case of the three dragons I didn't dare to experiment much because of the game breaking glitches. And you can prematurely play the enhanced Skyview Temple, but I already discoverd this during my first playthrough.

But to enhance the replay value the developers included some choices of how to deal with certain characters during sidequests. In each case I already tried both versions for the ZeldaEurope sidequest guides, but I ultimately had to chose one. In my first game I decided to give the paper to the hand and to reciprocate Peatrice's feelings. So, during Hero Mode I did the opposites. Sadly I liked the previous results a lot more. The Pipit and Karane couple is boring and you're missing out one entire character, so I suggest to give the paper to the toilet. In case of Peatrice I thought it was more funny if she's in love with you. If you reject her, she later says that she got over you and now will get prettier every day. But nothing really happens. Maybe what she's saying is more funny in Japanese, but it would have been more funny and interesting if she actually gets really pretty after this choice. In case of Pipit there's also a dialog at his mum's house after you've cleaned it, where you can make a choice, and it's more fun to tell him the truth. But overall it feels like I made the inferior choices during Hero Mode and now my Hero Mode savegame doesn't really look like an ultimate savegame to me despite the nice Triforce emblen that decorates it after beating Demise.

This and the fact that my savegame tells me that I spent nearly 150 hours with the game. That's a lot and a majority of the time came from research for my guides as well as from crazy farming. But generally I don't like it when it measures the time. I already hated that in Twilight Princess, because now I feel like I have to beat the game in a faster time. I was able to fully beat the Hero Mode within 35 hours. If I hurry through the normal game and play the Hero Mode again, I could get a "better" savegame. I know this is idiotic, but something like this just bugs me. But I will replay Skyward Sword some day anyway and that might be a good motivation.

I will close this post with a fun fact. When Demise gets revived the same music is played as when you meet Batreaux for the first time. Due to that I just couldn't take this scene seriously.

UPDATE: I noticed something odd (spoilers ahead!!!!). At the end of my normal savegame Groose is standing next to the young Impa at the Gate of Time in the past. In my Hero Mode savegame he isn't there anymore. Where is he? He must be still in the past, because he's there in the cutscenes after the final boss battle. Either this is some kind of weird glitch or an easter egg, but I couldn't find him anywhere...

My final review of Skyward Sword will be finished soon.