How long is Skyward Sword?
Players rushing through just the main story could very well be done with the game in just 30 hours, and those aiming for a 100% completion of Skyward Sword should expect to spend around 60 hours or more depending on how familiar they are with the game already. Game RantThe Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - How Long to Beat | Game Rant
14 July, 2021 - 09:39pm
Because this is a big Zelda game with dozens of hours of stuff to do and we only received review code late last week, I’m going to hold off on a final review until I’ve completed the main story later this week. Until then, I wanted to focus on some of the biggest lingering questions around this version: its controls (new and old) and its graphical facelift.
For those who typically aren’t into motion controls – a category in which I include myself – there’s an option to disable them altogether. Unfortunately, the replacement is every bit as much of a pain in the neck and doesn’t really solve the problem I have with the motion controls. It’s not that I hate exercise or swinging my arm around – it’s that I hate how unreliable they are. But the motion-free answer to this, which is the only way to play in handheld mode or on a Switch Lite (unless you buy another controller) is that the right joystick serves as a directional pointer that you flick around in place of swinging your arm, and there are just as many issues with that.
For one, you actually have to flick the stick around for a swing to register, not move it slowly. If you do, Link merely draws back his sword in preparation for an attack – he’ll only swing it once you rapidly flick the stick in a direction. Because you can’t take your time to line up those inputs, this means you end up with the exact same issues of inaccuracy as you’d get from motion controls.
On top of that, the way the stick has to be moved makes sense on paper but can be a little counterintuitive in practice. For example, if an enemy is guarding to your right, my instincts tell me to input toward the left to hit his unguarded side. But flicking the stick to the left swings my sword from right to left and immediately gets blocked. Like playing with an inverted camera, in order to hit the enemy I have to do the opposite of what my instinct naturally wants to and move the joystick to the right so that Link will swing his sword from left to right and hit the enemy’s unguarded side. I might've chalked this up to a problem unique to my broken brain, but another IGN staffer had the exact same issue trying to swing the sword in the intended direction. At the very least it takes a few hours for the unintuitively strange controls to start feeling natural.
In fact, I ultimately ended up switching back to motion controls because at least then I knew which way to swing the controller to get the desired result more naturally. That’s a huge miss for people like me who were hoping for a more reliable option, or for people who pick up Skyward Sword for the first time only to be presented with two less-than-ideal options. To be fair, motion controls are so baked into Skyward Sword’s DNA that there might well be no good way to get around the problem no matter what, but either way the route Nintendo landed on is disappointing.
On the bright side, Skyward Sword HD adds the ability to fully control the camera, which was absent in the Wii version, but the caveat here is that it uses the same joystick as your sword in motion-free mode. Since you use the right thumbstick to control the camera normally, when that stick is occupied serving as your sword arm, you instead need to hold down L to move the camera then release it to regain control of your sword, which can be a bit clunky. Still, it’s a welcome addition, and if you’re playing with motion controls (as I ended up doing most of the time) then it’s a huge improvement over the Wii version.
The other major change in Skyward Sword HD is its improved appearance which, in contrast to the controls, Nintendo has completely nailed. I’ve always considered the visual style of Skyward Sword to be one of the best in the series, and the 1080p/60 FPS upgrade when playing docked makes the already lovable world of giant birds and creepy mole people all the more beautiful. It’s still not as detailed or smooth as Breath of the Wild, but it’s a massive improvement over the 480p/30 FPS (!) Wii version.
Aside from these major changes, there’s also a bunch of little quality-of-life stuff that wasn’t in the original, like skippable dialogue and cutscenes, autosaves, tutorials at the beginning that are now optional, and no more repeated item explanations every single time you pick something up. These are great changes that genuinely add up to make a noticeably smoother experience – although, there is one bizarre one in their midst: the not-insignificant new ability to instantly return to the sky at any time is inexplicably locked behind owning a specific Amiibo. Why? Because Nintendo, that’s why!
I still have a ways to go before I’m done, but so far Skyward Sword remains as charming as ever, even if it’s also still dominated by clunky controls and odd gimmicks that are exactly as weird as you remember them. Unsolved control issues aside, this airborne adventure is everything you might expect it to be, for better or worse.
14 July, 2021 - 09:39pm
14 July, 2021 - 09:39pm
The mechanic that defined the Wii’s Legend of Zelda game was superfluous all along
That’s my biggest takeaway after playing 20 hours of the Nintendo Switch remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. For its original 2011 release, the Zelda game was billed as having been built from the ground up for the Wii, using a special upgraded version of the console’s motion-controlled remote as the basis for its combat, exploration, and just about everything else. You can still see the remnants of that design philosophy in the game’s move to Switch, but after playing with both the motion-controlled Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller, it’s shocking how well Skyward Sword holds up — and how superfluous the motion controls feel, when they were the thing that defined the game back in 2011.
Back to that right analog stick. One of the biggest features of Skyward Sword, both the original and this version, is an eight-way slash system that lets Link attack enemies from different angles. Originally, the player had to swipe their Wii remote in the corresponding direction. The right analog stick takes care of that now. It also handles camera control, aiming with weapons like the Slingshot and Gust Bellows, throwing bombs (both over and underhand, which is relevant in some puzzles), playing the Goddess’ Harp, and pulling off the spin move that gives you a speed boost while swimming. It’s a lot. And the analog stick handles it all really, really well.
Directing attacks with the right analog stick also feels more precise than swiping my controller. And even if the Joy-Con’s motion controls are better than the original Wiimote, I don’t think I actually want The Legend of Zelda to map all of my movements to the screen. Playing with Joy-Cons, I realized I had a habit of doing diagonal slashes when I had intended to do right-to-left ones. That’s really my fault, but I think I’d rather have the game approximate my analog motions than accurately track me flailing my hands.
It’s not just combat that feels better with the right analog stick. In the fourth dungeon, the Ancient Cistern, you get a whip, and if you’re using the Joy-Cons, you’ll need to flick them to crack the whip. I did that a few times, flicking switches and turning knobs with Link’s new weapon. But then, when I switched back to the Pro Controller, I felt cooler using the right analog stick to do those same things. Using that whip to dismantle a huge golden idol with six arms, then laying into it with its own giant swords felt just as satisfying without having to swing my hand around. I didn’t miss the motion controls at all.
That’s kind of a big deal. A TV commercial for the Wii version of Skyward Sword implied the Wii remote would create a stronger connection between players and the iconic Master Sword and Hylian Shield. The game required an accessory called the Wii Motion Plus, which improved the motion-tracking capabilities of the remote. If there was going to be a game that proved the Wii’s whole schtick could improve Nintendo’s biggest franchises, this was going to be it. To see that pitch get completely nullified by a single analog stick (OK, two: You parry with your shield using the left analog stick) makes me look back and laugh at an entire generation of games that had motion controls duct-taped to them just because they were on the Wii. Thinking back on it, I think Wii Sports and WarioWare: Smooth Moves are the only games that wouldn’t work without motion controls. All of the console’s other best original games have been proven to work just as well without them.
It wasn’t just the motion controls that made Skyward Sword divisive, though. The game’s other defining trait in 2011 was how plodding and linear its early portions were. Critics lambasted the game for tutorializing every little thing at length, having your helper spirit Fi point out the obvious over and over again in her robotic little voice. At one point, you spend a few minutes listening to an incredibly loud snoring noise as you climb The Great Tree, only for Fi to stop you in your tracks near the end to ask, “Do you hear that?”
Playing through Skyward Sword now, the early hours of the game seem like they weren’t just about the Wii’s new controller, but its new audience. The Wii expanded gaming’s audience to include people who had never played a game before, so Nintendo built a Zelda game with them in mind. That meant explaining a lot of things, reinforcing those explanations multiple times, and toning down the challenge a notch. So, of course veterans were going to roll their eyes.
The remaster does alleviate some of that by making sure you don’t have to read item descriptions and making Fi’s butting-in less frequent, but it doesn’t solve every problem. It still takes quite a while to get into the thick of the game. Exploring a little bit in the early sections of Skyloft as Link passes his final exam to become a knight and start his quest to save Zelda took about an hour and a half. In 2011, this was another knock against a series that had become too concerned with its story at the cost of the immediacy of earlier games in the series. But in 2021, in the wake of Breath of the Wild opening up a new round of speculation about Zelda lore, and the marketing for its upcoming sequel doubling down on the connection between the former two games, Skyward Sword’s intro is much more fascinating.
Think of Skyward Sword as the “Oops! All Dungeons!” Zelda. There’s not a ton of room to explore; instead, the game uses its limited space to iterate on puzzle concepts. The Lanayru Desert and Mining Facility are early standouts. You’ll combine two of your previous items (bombs and the new beetle item) to create a bomber drone, contend with a time-shifting mechanic that forces you to think about spaces across two eras, and get the Dust Bellows item that lets you move platforms and sand. It’s a lot for one dungeon, and it’s a delight.
I know there are some real momentum killers coming up in the rest of my playthrough of Skyward Sword, like the Silent Realm sections, or swimming around to collect musical notes. But there are also some high points that remain for me to re-experience, like the last two dungeons. I’ll see how those have held up over time; I’ll share more in my full review once I’ve beaten the game. Maybe they’re not as good as I remember, but at least I won’t have to waggle my way through them this time.