Motion Controls are Forever

“I honestly think we cannot go back to button controls now, so I think that these [motion] controls will be used in future Zelda titles, too.”

– Eiji Aonuma in an interview with Official Nintendo Magazine Issue 75 on December 12, 2011 via IGN

I love this quote – an absolute classic. Six months later, Nintendo changed their tune. 

Exploring the Legend – “Ocarina of Time has Met its Match”

For transparency, I have worked for IGN in the past as a freelance wiki guide writer.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review by Rich George for IGN on November 11, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the greatest Zelda game ever created. It’s the best game for Wii and one of the finest video game accomplishments of the past 10 years. The game has once again raised the bar and forged new territory for an iconic and innovative franchise. It’s not enough that it finally establishes a powerful, stirring origin story or that it features near-perfect pacing. What puts Skyward Sword over the top is its layered, dense, absolutely perfect gameplay that manages to not only nail motion-controlled combat but remarkably offers a stunning level of diversity.

I never noticed before, but this review was published on the same day as Skyrim’s original release.

I think about and cite this review all the time. Comparing that to IGN’s review-in-progress of Skyward Sword HD, it is clear that thoughts on the game have cooled immensely.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Review-In-Progress by Travis Northup for IGN

I’m 30+ hours into The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD and it’s reminded me how much I loved this game when it originally came out on the Wii a decade ago, warts and all. (Not as much as IGN’s reviewer at the time, but quite a bit). The story and characters are some of the best in the series and the side quests and weirdness of the world are fantastic. On the other hand, the dungeons (and especially the boss fights) aren’t particularly challenging or memorable for the most part, and the gimmicky Wii-era motion control mechanics are still constantly right up in your face, reminding me why those never worked well. But with so much to do and a lot to love, Skyward Sword’s journey down memory lane has kept me smiling so far.

I do find it curious that this is a review-in-progress. I understand getting a game right before embargo and needing to have something out for the all-mighty SEO gods, but also not rushing the critic to hastily score a game. 30+ hours should be enough to beat the game, but c’est la vie, I suppose.

Honestly, I don’t care for scoring games. It’s reductive. I like it when the review does the talking, not a number, especially when everything is practically 7 or higher. I actually talked about this on the Paper Mario: Color Splash episode of Chapter Select with Logan Moore and Tomas Franzese.

Look at Rich’s tagline from 2011,

Ocarina of Time has met its match.

That says way more than 10/10 did in 2011. Today, Travis’ introduction toes a very neutral line:

I loved this game when it originally came out on the Wii a decade ago, warts and all. (Not as much as IGN’s reviewer at the time, but quite a bit).

…the gimmicky Wii-era motion control mechanics are still constantly right up in your face, reminding me why those never worked well. But with so much to do and a lot to love, Skyward Sword’s journey down memory lane has kept me smiling so far.

It’s coy, probably because this is in-progress, and I respect that. I simply find it fascinating to see how the two compare and how far from the grace of Hylia that Skyward Sword seems to have fallen in the eyes of critics. it is a window to the 25th anniversary and the swirl of hype surrounding the islands of Skyloft. The mentality of critics, fans, and casual players in the waning years of the years first-party support. Were motion-controls a gimmick then and are they now? Or are they simply a more physically interactive way to play and connect with a game? All questions and conversations I love talking about.

Exploring the Legend – Remembering Skyward Sword’s Launch

So far for this Zelda series of posts, I’ve mostly written about Skyward Sword. I like that. And there is no better day to remember the Wii’s swan song than the release of its HD remaster.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword came out nearly a decade ago on November 20, 2011. I remember deciding to pre-order the collector’s edition maybe a few weeks before release. I literally counted up my change and strolled into the GameStop in the mall and pre-ordered it. That would never happen today. 

November 20 was a Sunday. A major Zelda release coming out on a Sunday – what? My friend and I weren’t allowed to skip church to go pick up the game and play all day. So after service let out at 12:30, we blitzed over to the mall and picked up out shiny gold boxes. We went back to his house and I watched him play the opening couple hours of the game. Just sat and watched, my own copy in my hands. I’m a sucker for prequels and was absorbed by the opening title sequence. Then I went home and played it for myself. I stood up and swung that gold Wii remote around the entire time I played the game.

Leading into the launch, Nintendo went all out celebrating the franchise’s 25th anniversary. The published Hyrule Historia with Dark Horse, which had concept art, design documents, and the highly requested timeline. This was (and still is) the kind of celebration and fan-service I love to see from Nintendo, whether or not you actually agree with the timeline’s existence. It makes me wish there was more being done for the 35th anniversary this year.

I also cannot forget that the Zelda orchestra debuted that year on a CD with the special edition. I still listen to it to this day; the rendition of Gerudo Valley is perfect

Skyward Sword’s impact really can’t be forgotten. It paved the way for what would become Breath of the Wild. On the surface, it introduced stamina and (very limited) climbing. There were upgradable items and crafting. It introduced and embraced RPG mechanics that translate beautifully to open-world action/adventure games. Even the post-launch negativity helped influence Breath of the Wild by pushing Nintendo toward open, systems-based gameplay that would fuel discovery and creativity. And who can deny the callbacks to Skyward Sword in the latest reveal of the sequel to Breath of the Wild.

I am eager to get my hands on Skyward Sword HD today. What a special game that I surely will never forget.

Exploring the Legend – Fixing Breath of the Wild – Razbuten

Fixing Breath of the Wild by Razbuten on YouTube

Breath of the Wild is one of my favorite games ever made, but there are elements about it that I wish had been a bit different. Here is my best attempt at trying to solve those problems without reinventing the whole game. I like doing these sorts of thought experiments in order to try to better understand game design and what I like about games. Does this video matter much? lol no but hopefully it is interesting and fun. Anyway this is my attempt at fixing Breath of the Wild.

This will not be the only Razbuten video I plan to call out through out the 35th year of The Legend of Zelda’s existence, but as a new release today, I had to share it. Razbuten explores a well tread topic underneath the umbrella that is “how to improve Breath of the Wild.” When a game is both the 13th and 25th highest scored game of all time (thanks Wii U and Switch versions), that game is bound to have endless discussions about how it could have been better. It is a common format: take popular thing, criticize it, tear it down, etc.

Razbuten takes a much, much better approach here with a more rigid focus of tweaking the gameplay in small ways to create better incentives. Instead of remaking Breath of the Wild, Razbuten is approaching the game’s design and potential frustrations from a different angle; a more creative one I think, which is actually a key element in Breath of the Wild’s design that makes it an undeniable tour de force in gaming.

I don’t think there’s a more spot on example of this in the video than Razbuten’s focus on weapon durability. Since the game’s launch, weapon durability has been arguably the most contentious element of its design. Personally, I love when a weapon breaks as it encourages me to try new and different weapons, especially those I would have never used if I could just keep my favorite weapons. Instead of striking the mechanic all together or inventing some sort of repair/item longevity mechanic, Razbuten suggests leaning into the destructibility and incentivizing it. Make players reap rewards when their item breaks, beyond the rush of solving the current combat situation. I found the suggestion to be elegant.

This video is a treat and thought-provoking. Proof that Breath of the Wild has a strong legacy, even just four years after its release in 2017. It is rare to get a game this refreshing and engaging. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

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

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.