Skyward Sword: A Recipe for SuccessBy Kyle Mann | October 11, 2011 | Editorials | No comments | Share
No games company has so many fiercely loyal followers as Nintendo, come hell or highwater. We Nintendo fans love the company through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, through Super Mario World and Wii Fit alike. As children, we begged our parents for Super Nintendos and Nintendo 64s; as grownups, we waited in the cold, early morning mists for our Wiis and 3DSes. There’s a good reason for this loyalty: Nintendo has chugged steadily on, churning out the games that its talented developers love to make, regardless if the titles happen to be definite zigs in an era of zags. Not every game, series, or even console the Big N has lovingly crafted has been received with loud fanfare, but we fans stick with Miyamoto & Co. in the face of poor public opinion, game droughts, and WTF announcements (Vitality Sensor, I cast a disdainful glance in your direction).
While each of us has our own favorite franchise, I’m willing to wager a big chunk of Nintendo fans would rank The Legend of Zelda series as the apple of our entertainment eye. Some gamers may look upon Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine with apathy or disinterest, but everyone has an opinion on the wildly popular Ocarina of Time or the controversial Wind Waker. Bring up Twilight Princess on a message board, and you’re going to get about as many opinions as there are conversational participants: “It’s brilliant”, “Overrated”, “Stale”, “Best Zelda yet”. I’ve probably already offended a Zelda fan somehow (feel free to leave your well-thought-out comments below). Simply put, we love our Zelda, and while everyone expects something different from the series, every one of us Nintendo zealots can find something to love in most of the games.
It is with trepidation that we await the release of Skyward Sword then: who among us can say we haven’t feared the new art style, the new dungeon structure, the unconventional story? Don’t get me wrong; I’m confident Skyward Sword will be a massive success, a worthy swan song for the Nintendo Wii. I’m certain review scores will be the usual smorgasbord of low 90s, mid 90s, 100s, and the occasional 8.7. What I’m uncertain of is which Zelda games Nintendo will draw on for inspiration, and which gameplay elements and Zelda entries will the developers abandon for bigger and better things. Let’s take a look at a selection of Zelda games, and which aspects of each Nintendo ought to copy, and which are best left in the Hyrulean dust.
The Legend of Zelda
Take: The Wide Open World - Nintendo has stated that Skyward Sword will have a very different structure, abandoning the typical repetitive dungeon structure for something entirely new. Let’s hope it’s pulled right from the pages of the first Zelda: for all its faults, it gave the player a high degree of freedom in wandering about its 8-bit world. We don’t need a Fallout or Elder Scrolls game, but we sure don’t want to be railroaded toward the final boss without a little room to breathe.
Leave: The Broken Economy - This problem wasn’t exclusive to the first Zelda title, but it was probably the most prominent here. As Miodrag points out, grinding for money can be an absolute chore, and rupees can be wasted away in a flash with nothing to show for your efforts. Give us a reason to earn rupees, and a fun, engaging way to do it in Skyward Sword, and I’ll be a happy camper.
The Adventure of Link
Take: The RPG Elements - From all we’ve seen, these won’t be making it into Skyward Sword, but despite The Adventure of Link’s bad rap, its stats were a cool, complexity-adding feature that was sadly cut for future games. However, the recent gameplay demo of the first dungeon seemed to indicate several minor stat-tracking elements would be making an appearance, with a long-shot possibility of a crafting system. Dare we hope?
Leave: The Difficulty - I’m all for a good, challenging game, but The Adventure of Link was simply frustrating. From the lightning-quick random encounters that would ambush you when your life was low to the lack of sufficient health and the cheap enemies, its challenges were often just too tough. Plus, the learning curve was almost non-existent; the game did a fairly poor job of teaching mechanics and easing you into battles. While I’d like some hard dungeons in Skyward Sword, it’d be best if Nintendo eases us into them.
A Link to the Past
Take: Everything - A Link to the Past is near-perfect. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one. For Skyward Sword, Nintendo should look backward to A Link to the Past and pull the best elements out of it: the level design, the size, the scope, the gorgeous graphics, not to mention the now-legendary music and sound. The dungeons were impeccable, and the depth and breadth of Hyrule was unmatched at the time. If Skyward Sword can nail all the elements A Link to the Past got right while still innovating and advancing the genre, we’ll have a true classic on our hands.
Leave: Nothing - It’d be a crime to betray the tried-and-true aspects of Zelda’s gameplay staples: compelling puzzles, quirky humor, and engaging combat and bosses. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for innovation, Skyward Sword wouldn’t be a true Zelda game without all the things that made A Link to the Past wonderful–let’s hope Nintendo sees things the same way. We already know that Skyward Sword will be abandoning some of the more traditional aspects of the series, moving to some kind of new and (hopefully) improved dungeon/overworld structure: that’s not really the issue at stake though. Give us interesting space to explore and mind-bending challenges to solve as A Link to the Past did, and we’ll be content.
Ocarina of Time
Take: The Story - There’s a reason Ocarina of Time is so well-loved so many years later, and one major part of it is the storyline. Other Zeldas weave tales comparable or even excessive in scope, but Ocarina made a simple story into something gamers could relate with: a young boy thrust into the spotlight, a simple but effective twist halfway through, and several personal relationships that helped the player connect with the onscreen drama.
Leave: The Water Temple - I wake up cold and clammy on winter nights screaming, “Water level–TOO HIGH! IRON BOOTS! AAAAAH!!!” The infamous Water Temple has claimed many gamers’ sanity, and it would behoove Nintendo to leave the tedious, frustrating dungeons out this time around. I’m a fan of well-designed, difficult puzzles, but the mind-numbing backtracking, water level changing and iron boots switching make this one a dark spot in the otherwise glorious Ocarina of Time.
Take: The Atmosphere - One thing pretty much every Zelda fan can agree with is that Majora’s Mask is dark, moody, and pretty darn creepy at some parts. And it’s better for it. No other Zelda game is so evocative of different emotions, or so quasi-philosophical as the idea that humanity is coming to destruction; you can slow it down and try to avoid it, but death is inevitable for all. Whoa. Here’s hoping the impressionistic atmosphere and more personal, romantic story of Skyward Sword will be just as powerful.
Leave: The Timer - Majora’s Mask is generally a love-it or hate-it affair, with gamers lining up on both sides of the fence. I personally loved it, with one caveat: the three-day timer. There’s nothing that kills a sense of immersion and exploration so much as having to constantly keep an eye on the in-game clock, rushing to finish a dungeon or get your money deposited in the bank before the clock strikes. There’s no indication Skyward Sword will have any sort of artificial limitation like that, so I think we’re in the clear.
Take: The Art - We’ve seen a fair bit of Skyward Sword’s impressionistic take on Hyrule, and it’s shaping up pretty nicely. Clearly it takes a lot of elements from Wind Waker and slams them together with the duller, more realistic games, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. This Gamecube gem was one of the most gorgeous Zelda titles, even though the new quirky looks weren’t everyones cup of cel-shaded tea.
Leave: The Sailing - I absolutely loved the feel of the boat in Wind Waker, the upbeat tune that accompanied the rhythm of the wind and the waves. That is, I loved it the first hundred times I did it, but then the game forced me to do it again, and again, and again, just to run the smallest errands to the four corners of submerged Hyrule. I have nothing against a large game world, but give us something meaningful to do with the game space. For Skyward Sword, we’d like a big, bustling world, not a vast, empty wasteland.
Take: The Size - For all its criticisms, it’s not often acknowledged that Twilight Princess had one of the fullest representations of Hyrule in any Zelda game. Where Ocarina of Time presented a mind-blowing scope and scale in 1998, Twilight Princess only expanded and built upon its achievements. Lake Hylia was deep and wide, the various fields in the four corners of Hyrule stretched as far as the eye could see, and representations of Castle Town, Kakariko Village, and Zora’s Domain were the most fleshed out they’ve ever been. Skyward Sword would be best served offering up the same scope.
Leave: The Twilight - I actually think Wolf Link was pretty cool. He offered a fun, refreshing take on combat and provided some different options to take on certain types of foes. I absolutely loathed the sections set in the Twilight though. They tended to be more linear, they were mandatory for the first half of the game, and they simply weren’t as compelling as standard Zelda fare. Skyward Sword should cut the whole light/dark world dichotomy right out.