"...the inventive new controls, gorgeous art style and orchestrated music move Zelda forward into new territory"
The introduction of a new Zelda title is always met with much fanfare at E3. At 2009's show, the series' next console title was mentioned as being in development, though no other details were known, save for a new piece of concept art.
Fast forward to E3 2010, where Nintendo finally shows off the game itself to the public, and even allows showgoers some limited hands-on time – provided they wait in the always-long line to play. The title we now know as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is coming sometime in 2011. But what is it?
Let's start with the visuals. There are some polarizing opinions out there among fans about which art style is superior between the GameCube's Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Many people just adore the former's toon-shaded Link, while those who don't were overjoyed to see the more realistic Link return in 2006's title. Skyward Sword just might bring together these two camps. Skyward Sword's art style has been modeled after impressionist painters, in particular Paul Cézanne. While the game's director (Eiji Aonuma, who has been involved with the series since Ocarina of Time) had planned on sticking with Twilight Princess' graphic style, Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to go the impressionist route, being a fan of the style. What this gives us, as you can see in screen shots, is a world that is mostly realistic in proportion, but intensely vibrant in its color palette; a marriage of the two 'standard' Zelda styles, with a painted texture to boot. It looks marvelous, and is probably what many of us would have imagined a 3D Zelda title to be back in the SNES era.
While the game was almost a complete mystery prior to E3 2010, one thing that we did know was that it would make use of the Wii MotionPlus for more accurate control, answering many people's cries when Twilight Princess lacked such precise sword control. This was perhaps a given, as that game began life as a GameCube game, but in any case, Skyward Sword brings players the control over Link they've been wanting for years. By taking advantage of the MotionPlus' gyroscope, the direction you swing the Wii Remote is the direction Link will attack, giving you both horizontal and vertical slashes as well as a thrust. By swinging both the Remote and nunchuk horizontally, you'll perform a spin attack. Outside of this, the nunchuk is mostly devoted to your shield. Like the sword, your stance is important, so if you want to block or shield bash, you must hold the nunchuk up as if it were a shield. It's all quite intuitive once you get the hang of it, and while it may be more work than some might like, let's face it, most of us need to spend less time sitting around.
Controls aside, gameplay in the too-short demo version seemed like what you would expect from Zelda, though I didn't get a chance to use most of the items outside of the whip (which yes, requires you to 'whip' the Wii Remote to attack and fetch rupees). Some enemies could only be defeated with certain tactics or by swinging the sword in a particular direction; there was a conspicious wall to bomb, and of course, a magical beetle. Wait, what? Yes, one of the new items is a beetle that you send flying to pick up far away objects, and, one would imagine, activate switches and the like. While your items are organized in a handy circular HUD ala Twilight Princess, there's a separate circular menu for potions now. While this could just be a work in progress, it could also signify potions and bottled liquids may play an even bigger role this time around - maybe we can even carry more than four!
Not much is known about Skyward Sword's story, though in a change of pace for the series, Link is not born as a child of the forest, but rather hails from the sky village of Skyloft, unaware for most of his life that there is another world below the clouds. An unknown event prompts our hero to visit this other world, and Mr. Aonuma has stated that we'll be travelling between the two worlds as the game progresses. As one might imagine, the titular Skyward Sword is also a central aspect of the story, though I'll spare you some of the spoilery details that have already been revealed.
I have to admit that I wasn't able to hear much at all of the game's music in the middle of Nintendo's booth at the show, though the topic came up at a roundtable discussion that week. When asked if Skyward Sword would have orchestrated music, much like Nintendo's recent Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mr. Miyamoto stated, "We can't do what we did in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and not move forward and do the same thing in Zelda." Does this mean Nintendo might actually release a soundtrack for this one, after shunning Twilight Princess? Sure would be nice.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is shaping up to be... well, pretty much what we would expect: A new Zelda title. If you're a fan of the series, that's probably enough on its own, but the inventive new controls, gorgeous art style and orchestrated music move Zelda forward into new territory, something important – and hard to accomplish – for such a long-running series.