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A Game Review... in the sky

Edit: (December 17, 2011) An update to DT1 was made today. Fixes a crash bug in the menu that may happen after Black Rock Fortress. The exe was also done with GM8.1 so it'll run faster. As always, if there are any issues with the new version, send me an email.

Now that I've finished Skyward Sword, DT has my full attention again. I'm still thinking a demo should be ready by February. This post isn't about DT though, mostly anyway. Since I finished the above mentioned game, I'd like to speak about it, I suppose it would be called a review. Oh yes, my review is just text, there's no fancy screenshots or videos.

Skyward Sword Review
Skyward Sword is bad ass and you should play it. Despite the few downfalls that it has, it is incredible in many ways. The obvious thought on everyone's mind concerns the controls, and I have to say, they were perfect. They were very intuitive and responsive, and gave me no issues. You'll have to calibrate the wiimote plus every time you start the game, but it only takes a few seconds. I typically played in 6 hour sessions and never had to recalibrate the controller during that. Link's sword attacks were simplified into 8 directions, (plus the stab) which I felt was perfect from both a design and gameplay perspective. Seeing Link swing exactly the way you want him to is a great feeling and I don't think I'd want to play another Zelda game without these controls. It reminds me of when I played Metroid Prime 3, I simply can't bring myself to play the first two without those motion controls. Skyward Sword quickly became my favorite Zelda game in the series and kept that all the way through the experience, even topping my previous favorite, Majora's Mask. It doesn't quite beat the mood and atmosphere set in Majora's Mask, but far exceeds it in every other department.

The amount of freedom with the controls might feel a bit overwhelming or too complex at first, but the game does an excellent job of easing you into its world and how to play in it. Before the game was released, the developers said you wouldn't be able to waggle your way through fights and that you'd have to take in the situation and decide from there, what attack would be best. I was glad to see that this was actually the case... with the boss fights. A fair number of enemies can be waggled through, like the Bokobins and their many forms, though not waggling will get you through them faster. Minibosses and anything bigger however, all require you to think about what you're doing. The first boss fight displays that really well and teaches you things to look for. If you simply swing at him without regard to what you're doing, you'll never hit him and he'll actually take your sword away from you if you mess up enough and fill you in on what you're doing wrong. He follows your sword with his hand and will grab it if you mess up. I found that there were two ways of fighting him actually. You can either be really quick about changing up where you're coming from, or you can keep the sword in one position for a short time and his guard will relax a bit, which gives you a lot more time to come from a different angle.

There was a boss that was really bleh, but most of them are great, including one in the sky while you're on your bird, which was easy, but played out in such an amazing way that made it very memorable. The final sequence of bosses are the best as well.

Combat is a huge focus this time around. Aside from the sword play, your shielding can play a huge part in the outcome of a fight. Link's shield can break if it takes too much damage. To use the shield, just flick the nunchuk. If Link simply holds his shield out and blocks any attack, the shield takes damage. Link can also shield bash as well, which is done at the moment Link brings the shield out. (And when you flick the nunchuk again.) If you block an attack during this, the shield doesn't take damage and you can stagger the attacker. The timing for this is different depending on the oncoming attack. Simply blocking also holds the negative effect of making Link stagger as well. More so on enemies that hit hard. If an enemy can combo at all and hits your shield on that first swing, Link will stagger and be unable to dodge or shield in time for that next attack. I found that Link could dodge faster than he could shield, specifically after being staggered.

I don't have much to say about the visuals. They're spot on and never detract from the game. It uses an impressionist style of art, which was nifty to see in motion. The blur effects when seeing something from a distance looked nice and consistent. The music, of course, is great. The main theme and boss theme were two that really stuck out to me. The story flows well and is coherent. While some of the characters are bland, the narrative does a good job of making you want to see what happens to Link and Zelda, what their purpose is, and where their quest brings them. Eh... nothing else really needs to be said there.

This game showcases, once again, that Nintendo is the king of level design. I could talk awhile about the brilliant way this was done in Skyward Sword so... I will... a little. I'll talk only about the dungeons in this one. Aside from the first two, they are all some of the best in the series, with the 3rd one being my all time favorite Zelda dungeon. It revolves around these things called Timeshift Stones, which when activated, send the surrounding area back in time about... 100? 1000? years or so. The place is currently in ruins and most of the devices no longer work. Machines start to work again and things that were long dead will spring back to life when inside these fields. (Shouldn't Link technically not exist inside of them since he wouldn't have even been conceived by that point? Meh, he's the chosen one.) There were two types of stones, some of them would activate a field big enough to encompass the entire room, and the others would only affect the area around them. In one scenario, there is a rail system with a timeshift stone in a cart. The rail currently is broken and mostly non existant. Once inside the field, the rail is back on and the cart would start moving. You'd have to follow the cart closely otherwise the rail would disappear (break) once outside of the area. In the same scenario, there are switches that can't be activated unless they are brought back to the past. I really wish the boss revolved around this timeshift idea, but sadly it did not. The timeshift idea is used again later in the game, but not quite as awesome as this dungeon showcased it. Though there is a stone later on that you can carry around with you, not in your inventory though, which is good.

There's an item upgrade system in place, which was never in Zelda till now. I was a bit apprehensive about this feature at first, specifically when I saw that it revolves around collecting items from killing enemies or found in the field. Luckily it is handled well and none of the upgrades are required. For shields, it simply adds to their durability, but for other items, it adds on new functionality. For example, with the Beetle, it adds on a burst speed option. You really only need (or will want) to upgrade what you'd use a lot. Speaking of items, Skyward Sword had no useless items this time around. All the item's usefulness are shuffled around as you move on, some puzzles and situations requiring more than one of them. Using and switching them is simple and fast, and designed around the fact that you'd be switching them out a lot. Another feature I thought was for the better was limited inventory space. Link has an item belt that can only hold 4 items initially, but can be expanded to 8. This belt holds things like bottles, shields, and crests, which would alter things like being able to get more rupees.

Of course, there were things that I felt were less than stellar. The biggest complaint had to be the fetch quests that seemed to be there for no reason other than to pad the time. There's quite a few of them and a lot of them don't necessarily feel bad since there are usually some nifty scenarios based around them. A few of these shouldn't have been there, specifically some of the events just before the first flame. That was the only part where I felt the game dragged on. Luckily the dungeon and boss afterward is awesome. The game really didn't need this time padding at all, even without these, it would still have over 30 hours. I put in 52 and did nearly everything.

It's nice that this game is helpful, however, this game can be too helpful at times. There are about 3 different ways to get hints. There's the Sheikah stone in Skyloft which will literally show you how to solve something with a video. I never once talked to this stone till the end of the game, out of curiousity. It isn't necessarily bad I suppose. There's a fortune teller who will tell you where to go next if you need. Then there's Fi, who is... annoying. Not the voice, simply the amount of times she wishes to inform you of something obvious. She's basically an faq with a hint system as well. Others have said that her hints start out subtle then get more obvious. I didn't ever use it, so I can't confirm that. None of these things are bad however, because they can be ignored. Though I wonder if all this 'Superguide' stuff Nintendo has been putting in their games lately is worth it as far as development time goes.

No no, what I found annoying was when Fi would pop out of the sword and inform me of something, as stated above, obvious. Here's an example, the dungeon maps show you where chests are and the boss. There's no compass this time around, which I find was better. This map system (which is was improved in this game) has been in every Zelda game. In this, she can mark something of importance on the map with an X. During one such time, she marked an X on the boss room, telling me that something important is in there. But wait, the boss room is ALREADY MARKED BY THE MAP WITH A GIANT FLAME! This was pointless. There are other times when she stops you in front of a boss door and will say something along the lines of "This door is sealed shut, something important is behind it." This happens on two occasions, one of them are in the situation with the map above. There are quite a few times that obvious things are spelled out for the player. This is rather insulting honestly. Does Nintendo really think their player base is this stupid? I completed the Water Temple when I was 13, as did many others, some younger. I'm sure their player base, which is aging I might add, can figure things out for themselves. The issue is the players aren't that stupid as to need all this. The game does an amazing job of teaching you how to play it through both explanation and conveyance. The level design on its own typically leads you to what you need to do. Observation has always been a big thing in Zelda, I don't understand why they need to point things out for us in this game.

Okay okay, gaming has become main stream now and you need to open up to a larger audience to market it more. I'm going to be selfish here and say fuck them. If the end user doesn't get it, they can piss off. Why must everything be dumbed down so much? There's already a bunch of hint systems in the game, why must there be all this stuff being thrown in my face? I'd be okay with it if it was to add to the narrative, but it didn't. It's simply there to tell me that I'm dumb and will definitely need to have my hand held by the master that is Nintendo.

Now that I think about it, there's a part in DT3 where I explain how water works in the game. I'm taking this out. The first time you go in water, I'm sure you'll figure out that something is different. DT3 explains things a lot more than DT1 and 2 did. Even though it's a direct sequel, I treat the gameplay introduction as if someone were playing it for the first time. As far as how detailed the explanations are, whether they are too much or not, I'll see when I release the demo, and will of course change things based on the feedback I get throughout development.

So yeah, Skyward Sword is amazing though and I highly recommend that you play it if you own a Wii. I hate scores, so I'm not going to give one. Dumbing down a large creative work into a single digit feels very insulting to the people behind it. I'm not saying review scores need to go away, but the only thing they are good for, to me, is categorizing things. If I read a few reviews by people that I trust and they give something a 9/10, and nearly everyone else does as well, I can probably tell what they'll say and what the quality of the game is. Even so, screw review scores... bleh, okay, so some people might want one. I give Skyward Sword a 983720, though I forgot what the scaling was. Oh and I took off a few points due to the above infractions.

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