To celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo was expected to announce something major for the momentous occasion. While many fans expected a Switch port of the Wii U’s HD version of Wind Waker, no one expected an update for the Wii’s Skyward Sword. But that’s what fans got, and many weren’t happy.
But with a Metacritic score of 93, Skyward Sword is one of the most well received of all the Zelda games. While it only ranks as the 7th best Zelda game overall, meaning there are plenty of games above it in that list, there’s also many more below it, and 93 isn’t exactly a bad score. In fact, there are developers who’d kill for that sort of average rating. So, what gives? Why are fans annoyed at this update? Well, for the answer, we need to travel back to 2011.
Following the failure of the GameCube, Nintendo knew they couldn’t stand toe-to-toe against the force of Sony and Microsoft — they’d have to mix up the formula in the biggest way possible. The Nintendo Wii was a revolution in gaming when it debuted in 2006. Packed with a controller that made motion controls a reality, it came bundled with Wii Sports, which showed off the possibilities of the tech, and is still very playable even today.
We now look back on motion controls with a mixture of animosity and confusion, and that’s understandable. Wii shovelware and poor motion control adaptations from Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move Controllers meant fans fell out of love with motion controls as quickly as they’d fallen in love. That’s not to say they weren’t good at all, though, as Wii games such as Super Mario Galaxy, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and No More Heroes all applied motion controls perfectly. But for Nintendo, it wasn’t enough.
One thing the Wii couldn’t do very well was accurate movement with the Wiimote controller. Games such as Red Steel seemed like a perfect idea, as sword fighting with the Wiimote seemed like a surefire winner. But while it worked when doing gentle motions in the likes of Wii bowling or golf, it didn’t work as well when frantically flailing around with a sword or a tennis racket.
To improve accuracy, Nintendo released the Wii Motion Plus. This new version of the motion controller was, frankly, just better. Nintendo also sold adaptors to turn original controllers into Motion Plus controllers. The new Wii Motion Plus controller came bundled with Wii Sports Resort, and that was used to sell the updated motion controls added to the Wii.
But Motion Plus needed one big game to push its benefits. That game was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. First revealed in 2009, Skyward Sword was released in 2011 as the first ‘real’ Wii developed Legend of Zelda, as the previous game in the series, Twilight Princess, was also developed for the Gamecube.
So how did motion controls differ between the two Wii Zelda games? Twilight Princess used the original Wiimote, and attacking involved simply shaking the controller. No big swipes needed, just a little wrist shape. That sounds like garbage, but it was amazingly well implemented and surprisingly natural to the gameplay.
Skyward Sword, on the other hand, needed much more movement. Instead of shaking the Wiimote, you now had to swipe the controller in the direction you wanted to attack. To defend, bring up the nunchuck to hide behind your shield. While the tech behind the Motion Plus was great and the integrated features in the game were well implemented, they also proved to be annoying.
They largely worked great, but who wanted to play a large action RPG while flailing their arms around? Not too many, it seems. The accurate sword fighting features may have been great in small doses, but playing a full game wasn’t quite what people were looking for, especially in a Zelda game.
At the top of this article, I made a big deal out of Skyward Sword’s 93 Metacritic score. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Breath of the Wild, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess all boast Metacritic scores in the 90s, and their user scores are within 10% of the cirical score. Skyward Sword’s is only 8.1 (81). While this isn’t bad either, it does show there’s some difference between Zelda fans and its critical reception.
Browsing these user reviews reveal various reasons for the mixed reviews, with some criticising the graphics or story. However, the majority of these reviews mention the annoying motion controls needed to play the game, and I think this is where much of the dislike of Skyward Sword stems from.
Personally, I’d agree. The story wasn’t quite as good, the opening dragged and there was a fair bit of backtracking. But overall, it felt that the game was created specifically for the motion controls, and the story, art and design was built around this central feature. For me and many others, this was a disappointing Zelda game, but not necessarily a bad game overall.
Despite the noisy detractors, you can’t ignore the many positive user reviews Skyward Sword has. Its 1,845 positive reviews dwarf the 599 negative and mixed reviews on Metacritic. Some of these fans praise the lore building and graphical style, with some even lauding the controversial motion controls.
As mentioned, fans were also disappointed as they were expecting Wind Waker HD, though I do think this will appear on Switch sooner or later, with multiple sources still claiming it may make an appearance in 2021. Many Wii U games have already been ported, but I feel the lack of a Wind Waker HD might be more of a financial decision. Perhaps we can expect it to release in the next financial year, when there’s less due out?
But in the meantime, maybe I’ll try Skyward Sword again. Perhaps it has changed, or maybe I have changed? I guess there’s only one way to find out.
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