I must come clean. As embarrassing as it is at my age, I have never played a Legend of Zelda game. I’m sure everyone has some glaring omission in their gaming history, but this is mine, and I have somehow managed to live with the shame. Until now, that is.
Playing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD as my first experience of this series, I knew roughly what to expect – be a little dude in a green ‘fit, run about hitting things with a sword, open some chests, save some Zeldas, you know the drill – but I certainly didn’t expect to be so warmed by what Skyward Sword has to offer.
Skyward Sword has a place in the series’ fandom as one of the least popular Legend of Zelda games, with too much handholding, unwieldy motion controls, a smaller, emptier world than fans had been hoping for. What better place to start my journey into Zelda lore than here, then – things can only get better, I thought, even if it is terrible.
Perhaps it worked in my favour that this was my first game, especially as the move over to the Nintendo Switch appears to have done wonders for the game, removing some of the most troublesome elements and introducing a much more intuitive interface.
The Switch port has removed all need for motion controls, introducing a new configuration of button controls more in line with traditional Legend of Zelda adventures. Given the issues the motion controls appeared to cause on the Wii, this may provide a chance to actually finish the game or enjoy it without needless frustration. Those of you who love a good workout while you play can still indulge in some Joy-Con waggling, but that in itself is an upgrade over the Wii-motes.
I certainly had no issue with controls, using a mix of both button and motion to battle through the dungeons. With the element of choice, the gimmick of being able to aim a bow, or throw a bomb may actually become more fun, rather than a gruelling necessity.
Going back to the original Wii version for the sake of comparison, I have to say it is almost definitely worth buying the Switch port even if you didn’t enjoy the original much. So many quality-of-life upgrades have been made, some of which make the Wii version feel archaic. For example, an autosave feature is now present, something gamers have become quite reliant on in recent years, and a welcome addition to a game where the fates can so quickly turn on you.
There’s also been a general streamlining of Skyward Sword for this HD remaster. I was shocked at how long everything took on the Wii – repeated item descriptions (yes, I know that’s a beetle, please stop), aggressive tutorials and endless exposition from Fi, and cutscenes that replay each time you have to restart. I was exhausted by the end of the Wii tutorial and honestly a little bored.
Playing on the Switch is almost a completely different experience. Cut scenes and dialogues are skippable, tutorials are optional, and Fi finally shuts the hell up and only comes forward when she really needs to. Text can be sped up or skipped over, and the enhanced framerate pulls everything together beautifully. If the game were released in this state all those years ago, I expect it would be higher up on people’s ‘best of’ lists.
In terms of story I’ll keep things brief as many will already be familiar with it – such is the curse of reviewing remasters and ports – but given it was my first experience with Zelda, I really did enjoy it. It was simple, pretty, full of mindless running around, and had a narrative that slowly unwound as you delved deeper into the world below. It doe feel a little sparse in places, but the action gallops along at quite a pace. Fighting, using the new controls especially, is immensely satisfying, and each character has a personality of their own to explore.
The only annoyance for me was the necessity of flying. An enhanced fast travel option wouldn’t have gone amiss – or at least one that doesn’t need you to buy an amiibo! – as those unwieldy big birds don’t seem to be much easier to handle even with button controls. This being your only mode of transport does grow tiresome, especially when landing is still such a clunky business.
That aside, the changes all seem positive. It is bizarre how much better this game looks on the Switch – even on the big screen – in both detail and movement. Skyward Sword’s bright and colourful world moves better and even allows you to take it all in properly this time around with camera controls. Yep. That’s right. You can finally take charge of the camera and stop getting trapped in visual corners.
The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on the Switch really feels like its own game. It does everything fans must have wished the original had, and given its relative simplicity, it can offer a great starting point for Zelda virgins like myself. There are no lore dumps, and everything flows far more smoothly – both visually and in terms of the gameplay. The addition of button controls is a huge success in my opinion, even more so given the choice to keep the motion control option. At times, it can be really fun to challenge yourself with a sword swipe or balancing on tightropes, but it’s nice to not get hung up on it.