By Joshua OstroffMario may get most of the credit, but Link, the non-titular star of the Zelda series, is equally responsible for Nintendo becoming the creative force we know today. Back when gaming mostly consisted of going from left to right, the original Legendof Zelda's exploratory design provided the real precursor for the immersive game worlds that would follow.
The latest Zelda game, Skyward Sword, is the first in the series' timeline, marks the franchise's 25th anniversary and provides the Wii's swansong before Nintendo's next-gen Wii U console arrives later this year. Those are number of expectations to uphold, not to mention simply living up to the Zelda legend, but Skyward Sword features inventive level design, creative art direction and plenty of heart. But not at first.
Aside from flying your giant winged pet, the early hours are like paint drying, which is especially odd because the game's over world is literally an over world. The floating archipelago known as Skyloft is the small-town from which this earliest incarnation of Link hails, and the place he always returns to so he can resupply between bouts of searching the wild lands, deserts, volcanoes and dungeons below for the earliest incarnation of the kidnapped Zelda, who is not princess this time, but is something of a love interest.
The bulk of the game ― the exploring and puzzle-solving, dungeon-crawling and monster-slaying ― intensifies slowly, letting this archetypal tale of the hero's journey pace its build from modest beginnings into a proper continent-spanning epic, taking time to hit emotional beats that most games gloss over.
The previous Wii effort, Twilight Princess, was actually built for the GameCube and ported over at the last minute, with its motion-controls barely tacked on. This Zelda is purpose-built and has the MotionPlus peripheral to allow for one-to-one Wii-mote swordplay. It's still pretty loose and often flail-based, but it brings you into the game nicely without being distracting.
The nostalgic elements operate the same way. The quarter-century's worth of Zelda tropes, from over and underworlds to sword and slingshot armaments to the never-ending Zelda hunt, bring long-time familiarity in both level and plot structure, which bolsters, but doesn't overpower, the new stuff.
Like its protagonist, Skyward Sword is an incarnation ― same, but different. And, yes, better. (Nintendo)