Skyward Sword was never my favorite game in Zelda. Nintendo’s Wii-era version of its beloved franchise introduced motion controls that made me both nervous and annoyed during the fight. At the same time, Skyward Sword’s dungeon and boss designs are some of the best the series has to offer. Skyward Sword HD revives this divisive game, addressing some of the original’s major flaws. One of the most notable innovations is a new control scheme that allows players to experience the game without slapping their arms. Unfortunately, the overall structure of Skyward Sword remains largely the same, and its abundance of fetch quests means this is still a game of dramatic peaks and valleys.
I’ll get straight to the point: Skyward Sword HD’s new controller inputs are an advance on the original motion controls. Gamers looking to relive the glory days of the Wii can stick with the old control scheme and use their Switch Joy-Cons to swing Link’s sword or aim his bow, and those motion controls work just as well as they did on the Wii – what means it works about 85 percent of the time. I love the authenticity of wielding a remote and watching Link replicate my attack on the screen, but too often he cuts instead of stabs, which can mean the difference between getting the upper hand in combat or missing the enemy and getting a hit. This motion control always seemed like a novelty anyway, so I’m glad that Skyward Sword HD’s button-only controls offer an alternative by using the correct analog stick to replicate the movements of your sword. These analog stick attacks are more consistent, but still not as precise as traditional key-based input in other Zelda games. This system is also not intuitive; even after a few dozen hours in the game, wiggling the right stick at every approaching enemy made me feel unnatural. Fortunately, you don’t have to be specific, and most enemies will eventually fall if you persist in spamming your attacks.
In addition to the new control scheme, Skyward Sword HD has some other welcome changes. You can now fast-forward through dialogue and skip cutscenes entirely, which makes the story feel a little less of a chore and lets you burst through the chatter during a replay. The original version bombarded you with item descriptions that gave details of everything you caught every time you started the game. Skyward Sword HD fixes this strange quirk and lets you read the item descriptions only once. After all, Amiibo support means you can always travel quickly and your companion, Fi, now offers helpful advice at the touch of a button so you don’t get lost or get stuck, which I would have wished for 10 years ago.
All of the small changes to Skyward Sword HD add up, but they don’t fix the larger design problems of the original. Skyward Sword’s overworld is huge but largely empty, and the main quest is incredibly linear, which made me less excited about exploring off the beaten path. However, the biggest design flaw with Skyward Sword is the series of fetch quests that you have to complete in each area. For example, before entering the first dungeon, you need to hunt down a group of fearful bird-like creatures that stick their heads into the ground and disguise themselves as bushes. Later, before entering a mining facility, you’ll need to find a handful of broken generators. These quests feel like unnecessary padding, are full of mindless backtracking, and don’t add anything meaningful to the narrative or your adventure. In fact, the only thing they make sense to add is your music box.
It’s a shame the trip to the Skyward Sword dungeons is so much work because the dungeons themselves are a highlight for the series. During Link’s journey, you’ll travel through a skeleton-infested cave, a sand-trapped pirate ship, and an ancient temple buried in the heart of a volcano. The puzzles in each dungeon still feel fresh today, and each maze invites you to use your ever-growing toolset in inventive ways. Whether I was riding a giant boulder over lava flows, using time stones to switch between eras, or rocking Indiana Jones over vine-covered caves, I always felt like I was on a wild adventure.
In a way, Skyward Sword was the end of an era. It follows the pattern that Nintendo established with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 1998, and it was the last game in the series before Nintendo reimagined the series with Breath of the Wild. In a way, Skyward Sword perfects the Ocarina template, but that formula also feels worn and crammed with unnecessary junk. Despite all the ways Nintendo has updated this pack, Skyward Sword remains a far cry from my favorite entry on the series, but this is clearly the best way to play this flawed gem.