Skyward Sword, the Internet, and Traveling through Time – Exploring the Legend

Nintendo finally made the retailer leaks a reality when they announced that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword would be making the jump to HD and the Switch on July 16, 2021. As a huge fan of the game, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see it ported to Nintendo’s latest, but I saw a lot of groans and disappointment from friends and folks alike online. Time has not been kind to the zeitgeist of motion controls and origin stories about talking sword spirits. Or more accurately, the Internet has not been kind.

Skyward Sword was the first 3D home console Zelda game that was developed, discussed, and released alognside modern social media platforms. Twitter launched in March of 2006, Facebook opened its blue-and-white gates in November 2006. The Wii itself launched in November 2006 alongside Twilight Princess, a dual launch on GameCube as well. I’m not saying that online discussion was created that year, forums had been around for decades. The dissemination of information started to shift from magazine scans and interviews at events to immediate, leaks and rapid-fire discussions. And the Internet at large seems to have a very short memory.

When Skyward Sword made its debut on the Wii back in 2011 for Zelda’s 25th anniversary (good gracious I am old now), it was met with rather strong critical reception. IGN’s 10/10 review by Rich George opened with the subheading “Ocarina of Time has met its match.” It’s fun and funny to look back at Skyward Sword’s launch and reception with 20/20 hindsight, but I think it is critically important to understand where Nintendo and Zelda were back in 2011.

I remember 2011 as a time when fans were clamoring for an official Zelda timeline. Skyward Sword was to be the origin of it all, but how were all the game connected. Nintendo gave us the official timeline in Hyrule Historia, a book released just for the 25th anniversary. The company really went all out for the special occasion, Zelda music was performed by orchestras, the titan that was and is Ocarina of Time was revamped and released for the fledgling ($249.99!) Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo even brought Four Swords to the Nintendo DSi via DSiWare (remember that?). You couldn’t check out a Nintendo product in 2011 and not find something Zelda related.

The Wii was also selling like hotcakes. The masses were playing games and Nintendo’s targeting of a more casual audience paid out in spades over the course of the generation. In 2011, the Wii surpassed 90 million units sold. While a lot of first party Wii games had wonderful design, it was common ground for the games to be approachable to as wide an audience as possible. A key approach was coming up with new ways to interact with the games and Wii Motion Plus’ 1:1 motion controls opened a door to sword gameplay that is instinctive. Swipe to the left and the sword mirrors your move perfectly. It made the dream of Twilight Princess’ waggle a reality.

Skyward Sword was wrapped up in a quilt and each patch represented some factor of Zelda. There was a patch for the anniversary, one for designing a game for new and old players alike, and one for introducing entirely new gameplay. One patch was solely die-hard fans hyped up for the next big Zelda game. There were patches for sales, for celebration, and an origin story to a world millions love. And when Skyward Sword was released a decade ago, that quilt was new and fitting. It’s hard to separate Skyward Sword away from that new quilt when looking back. But over the past decade, that quilt has been stretched, worn out, and faded. It’s no longer the 25th anniversary, it’s the 35th. Breath of the Wild came out and pushed Zelda forward in an innovative way. And the vocal fans have ganged up on Skyward Sword during all this time. That quilt has been kicked around, maybe left out in the rain. The perception of it has shifted.

I’m not trying to say Skyward Sword is absolutely deserving of its perfect scores or to be crowned the best Zelda game so far. Some of it has not aged gracefully. Some of it was never too hot to begin with. But having replayed the game just two years ago, it is far more fresh in my head than I think it is for most. I remember early on after launch, Fi and her overeagerness to provide hints was a drag. Returning eight years later, I found her far less annoying. I think the consistent echo-chamber of negativity toward Fi amped my negative memories of her.

With this remaster, there is a genuine opportunity for plenty of players to return to Skyloft or take to the skies for the first time. New and old Groose fans will be united. And it will have never looked and run better.

In the wake of the remaster’s announcement, I’ve also seen a lot of complaints about the price of the game.

“$60 for a 10-year old Wii game?! And it isn’t even a full-blown remake? Sheesh Nintendo!”

This comes off a silly and cheap to me. Looking at the value of Skyward Sword nowadays, it has retained a $30~40 value. That can easily be attributed to the fact it is a mainline Zelda game, but there is so much more to the remaster than just bringing a game trapped on the Wii to modern platforms.

The game is boasting a full 1080p resolution with 60fps. This doubles the original game’s resolution and framerate! Wind Waker HD ran at 1080p, but the framerate was an uncapped 30fps. Twilight Princess HD did preform better with a 1080p resolution and a locked 30fps. With a more fluid (and hopefully locked) 60fps, Skyward Sword HD’s new and improved motion controls will feel more accurate and smooth than they did on the Wii.

Nintendo has also gone through the effort to completely invent a new way to play Skyward Sword by mapping the controls to the right analog stick on the controller for the Pro Controller and handheld play. This opens Skyward Sword up to tons of more options and people. The did what a lot of people thought would never happen for the motion-controlled game.

There also remains the possibility to tweak the game and add new content like they have done with each remake and remaster of Zelda games. From Miiverse (RIP) in Wind Waker HD to a new dungeon in Twilight Princess HD, there is potential for new content/options/difficulties to be added. Only time will tell though.

If you couldn’t tell, I am super happy that one of my favorite Zelda games is being brought to modern hardware with improved visuals and controls. And maybe this will refresh the conversation that has surrounded the game for the past decade. Skyward Sword deserves a second look and I think it holds up much better than most folks think. The reimagination of Zelda started back with the 25th anniversary and it’s wonderful to see how far the reinvention has gone in the 10 years since. Zelda is not going anywhere, but it remains important to remember where it has been.

Exploring the Legend – 35 Years of The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda turns 35 today, this fine February 21, 2021. I never never beaten the first Zelda game. But like countless others, the legend is intertwined with my love for video games. Adventure, discovery, fierce battle, magic, and the people that make up each iteration of Hyrule are woven together in a tapestry that we all have a little piece in.

For the 35th anniversary, I wanted to come up with 35 posts about The Legend of Zelda and what makes it special to me and so many others.  I already have a note full of ideas. There (currently) is no rhyme or reason to the schedule; just 35 posts throughout the year 2021. My first post is about the newly announced remaster of Skyward Sword, the game that “started” it all. I look forward to digging into the legend throughout the year and I hope you’ll join me.