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A Sword Pointed Skyward: Looking Back at Zelda’s Most Divisive Entry

So here we are, thirty years later. All the way back in 1986, I don’t think anyone, least of all The Legend of Zelda‘s creators, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, would have guessed that this series would ever take off in the way it has. The series boasts 3-5 games regularly listed in the conversation of the best game of all time (hint: the correct answer is A Link to the Past), more than a dozen entries looked at as high benchmarks for their respective consoles, three of the most popular and recognizable characters of all time, and easily one of the most memorable musical themes in all of gaming. But hey, we’re not here to talk about Zelda‘s past, were here to talk about it’s present, and perhaps its future.

Though A Link Between Worlds is the newest “true” Zelda game in the franchise (sorry Tri-Force Heroes and Hyrule Warriors), it is Skyward Sword that is most indicative of where the series is actually going at the moment. As a fully fledged triple-A Legend of Zelda successor, you can look to no other example than this as to what you might expect from 2016’s upcoming The Legend of Zelda (working title?) than in Skyward Sword.

Now a declaration like this is likely to produce an audible groan in a room full of Zelda fans, but it’s difficult to say exactly why. Is it because of Skyward Sword‘s motion controls? Well that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the motion controls in SS were far superior to those seen in Twilight Princess, and no one has any sore words to say about TP’s motion controls.

What about the graphical style? Well, once again no. Taking direct inspiration from the cel-shaded art style of one of the best titles in the series, The Wind WakerSkyward Sword is wonderfully animated and a gorgeous sight to behold during any given moment of play.

Skyward Sword

Watch Link whip, now watch him nae-nae.

Alright, alright…it has to be the story right? Actually, that’s not the case either. The plot of SS is the first in the timeline of the entire complicated Zelda series, and works both as a prequel in setting up the beginning of the reincarnation triumvirate that powers the series central storytelling mechanic, and as a standalone tale, telling yet another compelling story of yet another heroic elven warrior facing off against the forces of evil.

So what could it be that makes Zelda fans so divided when it comes to Skyward Sword? Well, in the opinion of this writer, it’s a bit more nuanced than all of that. The closest approximation to the truth came a few paragraphs back when we were talking motion controls, but the paradox, as mentioned right then and there, is that the motion controls in SS are actually far more responsive and intuitive than those of TP. So what gives?

Well, what gives is that while Twilight Princess launched when the Wii was all new and shiny, and everyone and their dog, and their grandma, and their significant other, and their–well you get the point. Everyone was obsessed with motion controls when the new Zelda title dropped as a launch title for Nintendo’s slam dunk of a console, and at that time you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting someone who had had a Wii-mote in their hands at some point in time.

Skyward Sword, conversely, dropped in the limelight of the Wii’s last fading gasps. By the time the tail end of 2011 came around, folks were well and done with the Wii as even a contender for their console of choice, let alone a winner. It had sold like hot cakes during its greatest heights, with people genuinely paying three times the retail price for one as a regular thing when it first hit the market, but by the end of the era, you could scarcely find a gamer who had turned there Wii on in the last few months of its lifetime. The Wii had become a dust-covered relic as far as pop culture was concerned, and now it was akin to the Pogs or Moon Shoes of Nintendo’s legacy: a flash in the pan that most people would happily leave in the past.

Zelda Skyward Sword

Don’t try to tell me this game isn’t a sight to behold. It’s gorgeous and you know it.

When motion controls were the way of the future back in 2006, who could help being enamored with swinging Link’s sword or lining up his bow and arrow against the villain they’d been chasing since their youth? I’ll tell you: no one, that’s who. But by the time Skyward Sword had doubled down on everything people loved about the previous entry, no one could be bothered to care. Ultimately that’s the curse of Skyward Sword: not too little too late, but way too much too late.

Skyward Sword is a fantastic game. It plays great, looks amazing, and features one of the best adventures that Link has ever had the audacity to undertake. You literally soar through the clouds, you do battle with the incarnation that brings Ganon/Ganondorf back from the dead indefinitely, and you explore one of Zelda‘s largest and most vibrant worlds ever, all the while facing daunting bosses (one recurring boss is so huge you will scarcely believe your eyes, and another will take you to the absolute limit of your motion control/sword fighting prowess) and easily some of the best designed dungeons in the history of the franchise.

It was fantastic in 2011, and it’s still fantastic today. It’s not the game that has changed; it’s the industry, and it’s us, the fans, who have changed. Skyward Sword was, and is, a beautiful and memorable game, and one day it will sit in the same much-deserved place as Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, as divisive games whose reputation only improved with their age.

For more Zelda, check out our month-long Spotlight celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the franchise

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