Other than the CD-i abominations some play, there isn’t a bad Legend of Zelda game. There are Zelda games that are worse than others, but every entry in Nintendo’s epic action-adventure series contains so much craft and creativity that they’re just “bad” relative to one another. First released on the Wii in 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is considered one of the “bad” Zelda games, and its linear style feels older than ever in the post-Breath of the Wild world. It’s a fine game, though, and thanks to new, beautiful HD visuals and new control options, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD ($59.99) is the best ever in its move to the Nintendo Switch.
The idea of merging all of Zelda’s games into one unified timeline always seems like it’s missing the point, because this game is about universal fun of adventure rather than epic, elaborate fantasy plot. However, Nintendo is marketing Skyward Sword as the official origin story for the Zelda universe. Your journey begins in Skyloft, a sky island like the Garden of Eden that floats high above the clouds, safe from the demons below. When the girl Zelda is snatched below by the forces of darkness, the future knight Link must dive into danger to save her.
Towering above your Loftwing bird, you travel to three main zones: the pristine Faron Forest, the fiery Eldin Volcano, and the dry Lanaryu desert. Sky overworld also has some interesting places to visit. This is all unchanged from the original Wii version.
What has changed is how beautiful all these locations are. Skyward Sword features an impressionistic art style, where you can see the painter’s dirty hands on every colorful surface. It divides a fine line between the grim realism of Twilight Princess and the pristine cartoon world of Wind Waker. On the Wii, the art style helps hide the technical limitations of the aging console, and the aesthetics have aged beautifully on the Switch.
Now running in 1080p HD resolution at 60 frames per second, mainstream Zelda games have never looked so clean and smooth. For example, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity turns into a slideshow as the action heats up. Some rough textures and basic geometry reveal the true age of the game, but it’s the best visuals you can expect from a remaster.
Studying the Sword
Skyward Sword’s original control scheme is the biggest hurdle when it comes to porting the game to other platforms. On the Wii, the game serves as a showcase for enhanced gyroscope control of the MotionPlus accessory. Link’s hands follow your movements as you slash your sword in a certain direction, roll bombs like bowling balls, and guide your drone birds and beetles like paper airplanes. In TV mode, the Joy-Con Switch controllers do a good job of controlling these gestures, as long as you remember to reset them as often as possible by pressing the quick calibration button.
However, not everyone likes gesture control. The fact that they were mandatory in the original game turned off a lot of people. Plus, gesture controls won’t work in handheld mode. Fortunately, Skyward Sword HD uses a standard control scheme. For example, you are now using the right analog stick to imitate the motion of waving your hand to perform an action. These traditional controls don’t feel as intuitive as the motion controls the game clearly renders. Live camera controls also become more complicated and slower as you lose quick access to the right analog stick. You have to hold down the button for manual camera movement. However, the button control option is a big improvement for people who like to play their Switch in portable mode, or anyone who doesn’t/can’t play with gesture controls.
Skyward Sword has many other improvements. Collectively, these minor tweaks speed up the sluggish speed of the original game. The characters are less talkative, which makes the tutorial less overbearing. You are not forced to read item descriptions over and over again as you collect rupees and monster parts. Best of all, you now choose to listen to suggestions from your companion Fi which is helpful or not, instead of the Fi constantly bothering you. Adventure feels much more organic and satisfying because you know it with the power of your own brain. When you need a hint, you’ll appreciate Fi being there instead of resenting his annoying requests.
I couldn’t test the new Amiibo figure that lets you return to the sky from anywhere on the map, instead of the bird statue. Some people have criticized Nintendo for locking the fast travel feature behind the physical part of the DLC, and that’s not technically wrong. However, there are already so many bird statues scattered generously throughout the game, I never found myself wanting this feature.
Oldest fairy tale
Skyward Sword HD does a lot to clean up the existing experience, but in the end this remaster isn’t much different from the original release. The lush soundtrack is still impressive. You’ll enjoy more methodical motion control combat or not. The game’s dungeons are still among the best in the franchise, with inventive rock-like mechanics that send certain areas backwards all the time. Adding dungeon-esque puzzles to the landscape around each dungeon is also a well-meaning concept.
Unfortunately, Skyward Sword is also one of the most linear Zelda games. There is little room to explore or deviate from the set path in any meaningful way. Cloud sea overworld is a cool gimmick (later adopted by Xenoblade Chronicles 2), but the zone itself feels disconnected. The worst parts of the game, such as stealth challenges and very annoying bosses, are the areas that get repeated the most. Skyward Sword isn’t a “bad” game, but there are better Zelda games.
Even then, Zelda’s formula was starting to show its age, and the Skyward Sword now feels very ancient compared to the incredible open freedom of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The much-anticipated sequel to the game has teased sky islands and freefall, so hopefully it will provide some of Skyward Sword’s most promising aerial ideas.
Skyward Sword HD is a quality long game that looks fairly modern, but paying full price for a remastered Wii game feels a bit steep. Compare that to Mass Effect: Legendary Collection, which gives you all three games in a trilogy, or Nintendo’s own Super Mario 3D All-Stars compilation. I would easily recommend this remaster if it also included the Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD remasters that Nintendo already released on the Wii U.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD doesn’t fix all of the original game’s errors, as some are simply incorporated into its basic design. However, it fixes a lot of them, and adds a new layer of HD paint. This remaster reminds me of everything I enjoyed in the original title, before the game’s legacy was consumed by fan disappointment. Breath of the Wild is a video game that’s exponentially better than Skyward Sword in almost every way, but if you’ve been immersed for hundreds of hours into the game and need something to do until the sequel drops, Skyward Sword HD is a pretty entertaining link to the game. Zelda’s past.
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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD (for Nintendo Switch)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD’s improved visuals and motion-free control options make this a great way to play the classic Wii, even if the game is stuck in Zelda’s past.