With Link having previously used his horse Epona, a steam train, and a talking boat to get around in previous Zelda games, Skyward Sword gives the tuniced traveller a chance to spread his wings and commute through the clouds.
Rather than tell you about my fight with a white haired Ziggy Stardust character with a diamond fetish, which you can read more about here, in this preview we’ll be taking a look at one of the many dungeons in Skyward Sword and making use of two of Link’s new flying friends.
My first port of call was the Sky Temple dungeon, which featured a large, high ceilinged circular room at its centre, with spiders and crates hanging from the roof by strings of webbing. In the centre of said room was an egg-shaped chamber, which could only be accessed by hitting a floating crystal switch with either an arrow from Link’s bow, a stone from his slingshot, or by slamming the new flying beetle gadget into it. The Sky Temple was, as it turns out, a great place to show off the precision-based gameplay in all its glory, with hanging strands of webbing needing to be cut, enemy weak spots to be targeted and beetles to be carefully manoeuvred around tight spaces.
As you might expect, Skyward Sword takes full advantage of the Wii MotionPlus to accurately mimic the feel of using Link’s weapons, as well as revelling in tasks that require very precise inputs. For instance, the bow can be fired by aiming with the Wii remote, pulling the Nunchuck back to draw your bow and then firing with the C button, bombs can be bowled either over arm or under arm, and you can also slice, thrust, or perform a spin attack by swinging the Wiimote like the pseudo sword it was always meant to be.
The art style of Skyward Sword also eschews the familiar in an interesting way; taking pencil drawings, and indeed shading, of characters and environments of Twilight Princess and then mixing it with the bright and vivid colours present in Wind Waker. Whilst inside the enclosed Sky Temple dungeon demo the colour pallet is appropriately subdued, whereas in the open bird-riding demo the tone is considerably more cheerful and luminous.
To get around the floating islands in the sky that make up Skyloft, Link calls forth the aid of a large bird that looks like a cross between a majestic phoenix and Kazooie (of Banjo and Kazooie fame). In the demo, Link was challenged by some of Zelda’s adult minders to chase after a bird and capture the bird statue it had between its claws, with a couple of other young boys competing for the same prize of the avian figurine and Zelda’s affection as well.
Kicking off the airborne mission in style, Link dived off of a floating island, Assassin’s Creed style, and signalled for his feathered friend to promptly pick him up mid-fall (which he/she did). Controlling the flight of the phoenix was somewhat similar to moving Link’s winged beetle in that you tilt the Wiimote to move the bird around, but with additional moves such as waggling up and down to flap the bird's wings to gain altitude, and a dash button for an extra aerial boost. Both moves proved decidedly handy up in the clouds, especially where catching up to a speedy target is concerned. When I eventually caught up to the bird for the first time, my competitors then decided to barge me off course with their big birds and throw eggs at Link to unbalance him (whether or not these eggs were taken directly from a birds derriere is as yet unknown). After reaching the bird for the second time, Nintendo’s green game hunter promptly nabbed the statue and gave the adventurous Zelda a lift, following her bold leap of faith.
In some ways, it’s a very bold move by Nintendo to make Skyward Sword’s gameplay rely so heavily upon the accuracy of the motion controls, and with the combat being so intense Link’s latest outing could have been a real pain in the wrist. Thankfully, though, the challenging combat is counterbalanced nicely by the taxing dungeon puzzles and wonderfully joyful flying sections, suggesting there’s plenty of life in the 25 year old series yet.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is due to be released on November 18th in Europe and two days later in North America.