After years of rumors, Skyward Sword HD is finally here and set to find even more success on the Nintendo Switch. Not that it wasn’t successful on the Wii, mind you; its Metascore of 93 proves universal acclaim at the time. But a late 2011 release meant its sales were weaker (relatively speaking) as many had moved on to HD consoles at that point. So lots of gamers will be experiencing Skyward Sword for the first time on Nintendo Switch. Has it held up? Or is there more truth to the game’s revisionist history?
Nintendo is keen to promote that players can experience the earliest story in the series. Skyward Sword represents the birth of The Legend of Zelda in many ways. So, the plot commands respect, even if much of the tale is hit-or-miss in delivering an engaging narrative.
The “Figures of Legend,” like the goddess and some recurring bosses, are the most uneven, riddled in undeniable clichés. The lore gets piled on far too thick for all but the most fanatical Zelda theorists. Thankfully, where the game shines is in many of its characters, with most having well-developed personalities.
Chief to the story is the relationship between the central characters, Link and Zelda. Rather than mere acquaintances in this entry, they’re childhood friends living in Skyloft. In the rescue mission, Link finds himself on the surface world with more gravitas where Zelda is kidnapped from their floating island home. While this might not be the best iteration of Princess Zelda yet, it’s one of the most developed portrayals for sure.
Link also establishes close relationships with the robotic Fi, his ice-skating companion residing in the Master Sword. Toned down to be less interruptive, she’s handed the reins of most annoying sidekick back to Navi from Ocarina of Time. You’ll learn plenty about the Master Sword’s origins here.
Link’s Loftwing used for flying around Skyloft, and Groose (his pompadoured rival for Zelda’s affections) are just a couple more sky dwellers with ample screen time. Several new species of creatures are also on the surface, as most welcomed additions; the timeshift stone-powered Ancient Robots are favorites of many, myself included.
At its core, Skyward Sword’s gameplay is much like its 3D console predecessors. You’re given a world of imagination to explore, this time both above and below the clouds. A neat inventory of items proves helpful in solving bountiful puzzles. Some are familiar, like the bow and clawshot, while others are new and exciting, like the Beetle that’ll be discussed later in this review. There are numerous dungeons, expanded on in a bit, and memorable bosses. You’ll chat with NPCs, collect heart containers, and do plenty of the Zelda things you’ve come to know and love.
Wherein the traditional formula can start feeling different for part of the audience is in the game’s flow. Hearing the word “linear” can trigger negative thoughts for some, but it depends on the title. I want to stress the Skyward Sword’s linearity isn’t a bad thing. Is it more linear than many Zelda games? Yes. But in truth, Zelda games are hardly the poster child for non-linear adventures. Linearity brings some positives, allowing not just for character building but growth in the challenge also.
Where things can especially start feeling alien is the combat control. It’s fair to say that the motion controls divided many players on the Wii into love/hate camps. How do they translate to the Switch a decade later? Apparently, they are even better now.
For context, I very much enjoyed the motion controls when Skyward Sword launched on the Wii and felt the Wiimote movement worked pretty darn well. Yet, others struggled with them. Skyward Sword wasn’t a waggle fest like Twilight Princess, and some who insisted on playing that way ended up spewing hyperbolic claims of broken or unplayable controls. Motion controls require a skill that not every player has.
Thankfully, Nintendo toned down the challenge while accommodating both those who can’t use motion controls and those playing on a Switch Lite also. The motion controls work even better now, aided by the lighter weight Joy-Cons. Did anyone play the original game with a Wii MotionPlus accessory? If so, you’ll surely appreciate the lighter weight, shorter Joy-Con, presuming they don’t drift, of course.
I found rolling bombs to be noticeably easier this time around. Recalibration is so fast (point and click) that I can never go back to the Wii days. While the phrase “quality of life” is silly in the context of a video game, rest assured that Nintendo gave precision polish to already good motion controls. Perhaps this will convince buyers of the new Skyward Sword HD Edition Joy-Con controllers to open the box. Some practice will still be needed, though, so please don’t expect to jump in and be an immediate expert.
Additionally, the new button layer requires practice. Although this method is not my preferred choice to play, I admit the convenience when lying in bed. While not the manner it was first designed, as an alternative, it’s not too shabby for what it is. Some moves are simple, like thrusting, though others are harder to pull off, such as spin attacks. It’s less immersive and will almost certainly prove less memorable, but kudos to Nintendo for providing a satisfactory substitute.
For those who struggle with most motion controls, why not give them the old college try here? They may surprise you, and you may surprise yourself. The depth this control method adds to the combat is hard to deny. It makes every encounter entertaining and rewarding. Compared to a game like Ocarina of Time, with few overworld enemies, threats are abundant here, and all need to be studied to find weak points. It’s one thing to read these words, another to feel it with Joy-Cons in hand. The motion controls are accurate, reliable, and gratifying.
How many Zelda games can be said to not have a subpar dungeon in the bunch? Well, Skyward Sword HD is one of them! Every dungeon (mini ones included) leaves me excited upon entering and satisfied when exiting. They are full of surprises.
Even the introductory dungeon, Faron Woods lush Skyview temple, is better than you might expect for an opener. It’s good for showing off the nifty Beetle (not to be confused with recurring shop owner Beedle) item, for one. This insect-like aerial drone, besides giving a bird’s eye view, also gets incorporated into puzzles.
Skyview is book-ended by a one-of-a-kind dungeon, unlike any in the series. Without giving spoilers, I’ll only say, be ready for something different. In between, there are several exceptional dungeons also, including a couple of underrated fire temples and even a winning water design.
It’s this uniqueness, combined with slick layouts, fun puzzles (some incorporating motion), and clever item use, that make these dungeons among the best the series has to offer. You’ll see several Skyward Sword dungeons on all-time lists. Some of the best boss fights are also in store.
In some ways, the surface overworld is like a dungeon as well. Three main areas might not sound like much on paper, but their considerable size and design make each visit feel fresh. Not that there isn’t some padding with a couple of boss encounters. But the combat choices, navigation, and puzzle-solving are dungeon-like, just much less confined and brighter. Don’t expect a Twilight Princess-style of stretched but spartan land. Everything is balanced refreshingly in Skyward Sword HD.
To be clear, when I say overworld, I’m talking about the areas leading to the dungeons, distinct from the admittedly kind of empty sky. That said, Skyloft is easily one of the series best towns with fun characters and side quests. The sky doesn’t hit the level of Wind Waker exploration, but there’s still plenty of treasure to find. You are introduced to Gorko the Goron in the beginning and learn about Cubes on the surface. You find these treasures revealed in the sky like items, heart pieces, or rupees.
Missing traditional exploration to some extent is understandable, but it probably won’t be as much as you’d think. There’s still a good deal of surprises in the sky, both at night and later in the game. The overworld takes a backseat to dungeons this time around; however, it still delivers entertaining significance.
Skyward Sword already had a great art style. Now in HD, at 60 fps, it’s lovelier than ever. It took the best aesthetic features of its predecessors and blended them into a watercolor feast. Trust me when I say that it looks even better in motion than it does in screenshots. Seeing is believing.
Having said this, you can still tell this is a 10-year old game. Age may show itself in some graphical areas, like textures, but the artistic choices made here were smart. Try watching the mines in the Lanayru desert change from dull browns to vibrant colors via the timeshift stones, for instance, and tell me this game doesn’t look great.
As for the orchestrated soundtrack, it might be the best the series has had. High praise, but I don’t deliver it lightly; it wows you right from the opening tune and doesn’t let go. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these tunes proved to be among the most memorable. Heck, it has several of my favorite tracks, and that’s even before I left Skyloft for the surface.
The last Zelda spinoff, Age of Calamity, had real frame rate concerns. If you’re sensitive to choppiness, I can’t stress enough that Skyward Sword’s 60 fps will bring big smiles. I include the camera here too, which allows for smoothly taking in the surroundings in a way the Wii original didn’t.
Wii vs. Switch Summary
To recap, one must decide if this HD version’s jump from 480p to 1080p docked is worth $59.99. Some will say yes based on 60 fps alone, double the original frame rate. I grew up in the days when 24-fps was a selling point, so I’m less picky. But I certainly feel the difference.
Beyond the presentation, others are sure to be grateful for the toned-down Fi, improved motion controls, and traditional control options. Less appreciated is Nintendo locking quick travel behind the Loftwing amiibo, which has generated some negative publicity while not impacting sales adversely. But, outside of speedrunners, who are genuinely missing this largely superfluous option? More curious to me is incompatibility with other Zelda amiibo, including Link’s Skyward Sword model.
One thing I’ve yet to mention is the item descriptions. Previously these would pop up every time you loaded the game. Now they only appear the first time you pick up a given item. A minor thing, but with dozens of items from insects, upgrade pieces, and rupee types, an adjustment worthy of a reminder.
Breath of the Wild
When looking over an early draft of this review, I realized how many comparisons I had to BOTW. I decided to condense them because I felt it wasn’t fair to have them spread throughout. But comparisons with the series last entry (not counting reimagined ports and spinoffs) are inevitable. Also, for many, BOTW was their first Zelda game. Skyward Sword HD has many key differences.
The plot is noticeably more considerable in Skyward Sword. While I felt the memory cutscenes in BOTW were more than enough, this should draw those who felt shortchanged. A couple of features later adopted in BOTW were fresh when Skyward Sword first launched, like stamina gauge and item crafting. I very much enjoyed the shrines in BOTW, but for those who felt the Beasts were no substitute for proper dungeons, Skyward Sword is the game for you. Sci-fi aspects prominent in BOTW are seen here, like Robots in Lanayru Desert. The soundtrack also stands out more in Skyward Sword, opposed to the often quiet adventuring in BOTW.
BOTW was a great game. But it did break away from some Zelda elements. The honeymoon periods ended (and the sequel is still a ways off), making some of these jettisoned things missed even more. Skyward Sword HD offers a restorative counterpart.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is a magnificent game in most respects. In lots of ways, such as dungeons, it represents the best of classic Zelda. In other areas, its DNA is in the newest entry, Breath of the Wild. Skywards Sword is a 35 hour or so engaging adventure that completionists could nearly double. If you’re a Zelda fan, this one is unmissable.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD gets a 9.5/10.