"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" has already had a troubled past, and it's still six weeks away from launch. From a wi-fi inference riddled E3 debut, to being torn apart on national TV, "Skyward Sword" is already facing an uphill battle. However, when the game drops on November 20, dedicated "Zelda" fans are going to find themselves happily waggling their Wii MotionPlus controllers, steeped in Link's latest adventure for what could be over a hundred hours worth of gameplay, the first of which may not be exactly what they are accustomed to.
Settling in at Nintendo's New York headquarters early one morning last week, I had a chance to spend an hour and half or so (significantly less than my preview time with its predecessor) with the very beginning of "Skyward Sword." Instead of slashing my way through the first dungeon, I spent most of my time running around Skyloft, Link and Zelda's home village, learning the back-story of the game and partaking in an extended tutorial.
"Zelda" fans need not worry, while there is a good deal of exposition early on in the game, it helps set up the world of Skyloft, and explain what makes Link and Zelda's connection so special. It also sets up the beginning of the real adventure, which kicks off right around the 90-minute mark, as Link leaps from hovering city, far above the clouds, to become the first person to venture to the mysterious Surface. To help give the gameplay some context, it isn't until just before Link takes the plunge that he receives his first real sword of the game, the Goddess Sword, up until this point, he had been running around with a wooden practice blade.
Without delving too deeply into the story, Link wakes up from a nightmarish dream in his room at Skyloft's Knight Academy, on the day of the Wing Ceremony. As the day progresses, players are privy to a series of events that include control and attack tutorials, an introduction to the major players at the Academy, and a hunt for Link's missing Crimson Loftwing (the bird-like creatures that citizens of Skyloft are bonded to), amongst other thing.
Of all these events, the most important thing that gamers get some insight into is the growing relationship between Link and Zelda. This is a particularly interesting turn of events for the franchise, since most of the "Zelda" games open with the princess already in peril, whereas "Skyward Sword" introduces Zelda before she makes her unexpected exit (yeah, that happens – this time she disappears into a black tornado). Their time on-screen together helps give this Zelda more depth, and more endearing than in previous games where she usually assumes the role of the damsel in distress.
With all that story going on, there is one thing that does shine through as a very important part of "Skyward Sword," and that is the controls. Taking advantage of the Wii MotionPlus 1:1 movement ratio, Link's sword wielding skills are more in the hands of the player than ever. Whereas "Twilight Princess" introduced motion controls, "Skyward Sword" improves on them with better technology, and makes battling that much more intense and enjoyable. Also included is an all-new recalibration feature for the Wiimotes, all you need to do is press down on the d-pad, and the game will automatically fix your controller positioning on the screen - something you don't know you need, until you've played with it for a little while.
There is one point of concern that stems from Link's running and climbing capabilities. Very early on Link needs to ascend some stacked boxes, which is accomplished by running towards them and auto-jumping. Maybe it was just me, but I continually ran into the wall to the right of the boxes, instead of the boxes themselves, which forced me to turn around and attempt my approach over and over again. It could be something that works itself out in time, but it was one of the few points of frustration that sprang up in my time at Skyloft.
"Zelda" fans that are looking forward to "Skyward Sword," be forewarned, you're going to have to do a bit of reading before you get to jump in to battle, but in the end it's worth it. While all of the other games in the series have included a well fleshed out world, "Skyward Sword" seems to be one of the most fantastical settings for a game yet. The brighter, more whimsical setting of Skyloft, and eventually the surface world, make for a great juxtaposition to the more gritty and foreboding Hyrule of "Twighlight Princess." Rocky start aside, this may be the elaborate "Zelda" game that fans have been waiting to play for years, some may go so far as to call it an RPG. Whatever way you look it, it's a safe bet that "Skyward Sword" will uphold the high standard that Nintendo has set for one of its' flagship franchises, and that come this November, fans of the series should be satisfied with the Link's latest adventure.