Don the unmistakable green tunic, hop on your Loftwing and take to the skies as the fate of Hyrule is once again threatened by a malevolent evil. This 2011 epic, which first made an appearance on Wii, has undergone the HD treatment and its Nintendo Switch outing brings plenty of quality of life improvements. But how does it stack up after a decade has passed? Let’s find out…
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD has a tough job on its hands. For many, it will be the first time players will experience the delights of Skyloft and, for others, it’s going to serve as a way of re-living the good ol’ Wii days – hopefully without the frustrating Wiimote ‘waggles’ due to its upgraded motion controls. Thankfully, Nintendo has done an admirable job of implementing improvements throughout the game that helps to quash some – but not all – of its niggles. In a way, Skyward Sword HD’s job is made even harder because of Breath of The Wild. The game’s truly open-world formula has given the Zelda franchise a new lease of life, setting a precedence from now on. For fans accustomed to this new format, it’s important to note that while Skyward Sword tries its utmost to be open-world, due to the hardware limitations of the Wii, it never quite reaches the lofty heights of true greatness. Here, it’s better to view the game as a slice of the past, albeit with a fresh lick of paint.
Of course, that’s not to say that Skyward Sword HD is a bad game, it’s far from it. Granted, the title starts to show its age from the moment Link wakes in Skyloft, but it’s an enjoyable experience for the most part, running like an absolute dream on the Switch hardware in both docked and undocked modes. However, the muddy textures and sharp edges stick out like a sore thumb – even more so when presented on a 48-inch display, making it hard to ignore. Fortunately, the action is pretty much locked at 60fps and the draw distance has been noticeably improved, too. Being able to see more clearly made the overworld feel much more expansive and fluid. However, there were occasional dips in frames, particularly when in a certain flooded area. But other than a couple of hiccups, my 30-hour playthrough was met with fluid gameplay, smooth combat and cutscenes that burst with vibrant watercolour splendour.
For those unfamiliar with Skyward Sword, the game takes place in Skyloft. This area acts as the main hub and is home to a collection of eccentric characters, where Link quickly learns that he must set off on a wild Groose chase to save Zelda and overthrow Demise – the game’s main antagonist – as he threatens the future of humanity. When the peace and tranquility of Skyloft is interrupted by Zelda, who is thrown from her Loftwing to hastily descend to the ground below the clouds, Link quickly storms after her. To help save Zelda, he is entrusted with Fi – an intelligent humanoid spirit that resides within the sword he obtains – who becomes your (rather unintentionally) sardonic guide for the journey ahead.
For veterans of the franchise, you’ll be pleased to hear that Fi’s unskippable and intrusive tutorials are now optional. She still spouts the probability of death and danger in percentages, but things are much quicker this time around. And, fortunately, not once did I hear the famous line: “Master, your batteries are low”. There’s also the inclusion of a new auto-save feature. Admittedly, we never found a shortage of bird statues to save the game, but it was useful to know that our progress was being protected as the adventure rolled on. And in terms of UI, there’s a handy reminder of the controls if you need them which is only a button press away.
In addition, you may remember that Skyward Sword HD excels in highlighting the softer and warmer side to Link and Zelda’s relationship, something that’s not often thoroughly showcased in the franchise. And, of course, Ghirahim takes centre stage by being – in our opinion – one of the best villains the series has to offer.
The bulk of the adventure is made up of puzzles to solve and players new to the Zelda series – or those more accustomed to Shrines or Divine Beasts – will have the delight of exploring ‘old-school ’dungeons. Jumping back into the conventional dungeon designs from playing through bite-sized Shrines, was admittedly a shock to the system. Locating the dungeon map, tracking down the compass and special weapon or item regularly evoked some extreme nostalgia. It’s been far too easy to forget how linear things were, but Skyward Sword HD does have some fantastic ways to test your skills with its puzzle-solving, and the variety that each location brings is different enough to keep you invested right through to the triumphant conclusion.
You’ll be controlling Link through three main locations multiple times to complete the trails that await; Lanayru Desert, Eldin Volcano and Faron Woods. This may not seem like such an ordeal on paper, but there’s a remarkable amount of recycled landscapes with an abundance of fetch quests that tends to stretch and bloat the main story, something many fans of the original will remember. As with the Wii version, travelling to each location remains frustrating and repetitive, with little to do or see in the overworld. Sure, there’s a handful of floating islands worthy of a mention, such as Pumpkin Landing, which is home to a Pumpkin-themed bar and a genuinely hilarious cast of characters, and of course Skyloft. But there just isn’t enough content here, since much of it is scattered sporadically between straightforward fetch quests. Simply put, it’s time-consuming. And, while Nintendo has cut some of the fat, such as trimming down frustrating tutorials at the beginning of the game, the flow is interrupted far too often for what is, admittedly, a great story.
Undoubtedly, one of the infamous features from the original Wii version is the motion controls. Now, players have a selection of ways to play, including button-only controls with the Pro Controller, for those less inclined to use motion controls. Eager to try a more conventional control method rather than holding the Joy-Con in either hand, we took our Pro Controller for a spin. Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that Skyward Sword HD was designed with motion controls front of mind. Though this was to be expected, it was disappointing that we couldn’t quite gel with the button-only configuration. However, Switch Lite owners and those who decide to opt for button-only controls will be glad to know that everything functions accurately, with all configurations given free camera controls – a neat addition, nonetheless.
Alternatively, when using a Joy-Con in each hand, our adventure was a breeze with motion controls. For instance, while attacking my foes in different ways, I could twist my hand to angle sword strikes correctly to deliver deadly blows to the hordes of enemies. Yet, the real highlights in Skyward Sword HD come during its boss battles. Each mini boss and main dungeon boss present players with a truly unique way to defeat each one, thanks in part to the inventive ways you can swing or jab your sword.
Aside from the beautiful blend of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess visuals, another standout feature from Skyward Sword HD is its fully orchestrated music. Marking the first for the franchise 10 years ago, the eruption of a stellar soundtrack is a real treat for the ears. So, whether you’re swooping over Lanayru Desert for the first time or scaling the scorched grounds of Eldin Volcano for the hundredth as an original fan, re-witnessing the birth of the first fully-orchestrated Zelda game is an absolute joy from start to finish. From the short but punchy note when you strike an enemy to the heavy and melodic crescendo in boss battles, it’s almost criminal that Nintendo didn’t follow in Super Mario 3D All-Stars ’footsteps and implement a music player.
While Skyward Sword HD’s visuals breathe new life into the decade-old title, the quality of life improvements aren’t quite enough to make this instalment in the Zelda franchise soar to new heights. However, its strong cast of characters, hallmark dungeon designs and excellent storytelling keeps it afloat comfortably above the clouds, offering an experience that’s hard to forget.
A copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD for Nintendo Switch was provided to iGamesNews by Nintendo UK for review purposes.