Soapbox: Zelda: Skyward Sword Is Good, Actually
Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, Kate defends The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword against its many critics…
I bet some of you clicked on that headline to yell “IT WAS ALWAYS GOOD”, and you know what? I agree with you. You’re among friends here. But since the announcement that Skyward Sword HD is coming to the Switch on last night’s Nintendo Direct, social media (and our comments) have been abuzz with people fighting over whether or not Skyward Sword is good, or terrible. I’m just here to set the record straight.
At the time, when Skyward Sword came out on Wii, it had been five years since Twilight Princess, and the world was dying for a new Zelda game. We probably would have thanked Nintendo if they’d given us a wet sock with Link’s name written on it at that point.
But they didn’t – they gave us Skyward Sword, which I will posit is one of The Most Beautiful Zeldas Ever. The vibrant watercolour style is such a huge (and welcome) departure from the grim realism of Twilight Princess. Though some of you may not have liked its cutesy leanings, with characters like the spherical scaredy-cat Kikwis being either adorable or grating, depending on how you generally feel about these things, I was totally down for it.
Most reviewers gave it scores of 9/10 and above when it came out. However, it only sold around 3.6 million copies – a figure that Age of Calamity hit in about a month (h/t Benji-Sales) – making it the worst-selling home console Zelda game by quite a long way.
So, why does it have such a bad rep? Well, it’s not wholly undeserved. The game holds your hand tighter than a concerned mum helping a toddler cross the road for the first time. The Navi-like companion, Fi, talks even more than Navi, if that’s even possible. The motion controls are fun when they work, but TV-smashingly frustrating when they don’t, and the Wii wasn’t that good at detecting precise movement, meaning that you often had to flail around in your living room to beat enemies that required directional sword-slashing.
Ghirahim, the secondary villain, is an awful example of how to make a queer-coded villain, and his design – which aims for “unsettling” and instead lands firmly in “deeply disturbing” – isn’t something I’m particularly looking forward to revisiting. And everything, from the Kikwis to The Imprisoned himself, is just a little too cute. The Imprisoned looks like a giant huggable pinecone with squishy little toesies, and that’s not very scary.
Also, all the characters have those horrible lips.
But, by god, is it a beautiful game. The concept art alone is gorgeous, and I actually had several framed pieces of art from that collection. Skyward Sword was a creative risk in many ways – A Hyrule sunk beneath the clouds, a sword that talks to you, a story that predates all other Zelda games and a Zelda who didn’t even know who she was yet. Add to that the need to show off the Wii’s innovative (if irritating) controls, and you get a game where the Master Sword is a wiggly, Wiimote-controlled thing instead of the press-the-button-to-swing sword that we knew well, turning a simple mechanic into something more akin to trying to dress a two-year-old.
But for all the work that they had to do integrating motion controls, Nintendo did a pretty great job. This is a Zelda game that is focused on movement above all else, with dungeon keys, puzzles, and fights all centred around the Wiimote’s position. Never before had a Zelda game felt so dynamic, with the player being able to literally manipulate the world that Link was exploring for the first time.
But the story itself took second place to the movement as a result, which led to fantastic designs – like the first area in the game, Faron Woods, being flooded later on, turning a familiar place into a totally new one – being overshadowed by the general trickiness of the controls.
Still, the design of the temples is something truly special, and everything from the open-air Temple of Time to the Ancient Cistern still sticks in my mind after all these years. Even the character designs were something special, much more than many Zelda games, with fleshed-out NPCs like Groose and Batreaux still holding a place in my heart. And Skyloft, despite being a little cramped for an entire civilisation, has some beautiful details, with Beedle’s air-bicycle shop being a particular highlight for me.
I can’t wait to go back to the game that played with time in the Lanayru Desert, stealth in the Silent Realm, and the strange Beetle-flying mechanic that let you see the world from a drone’s perspective. Skyward Sword may not be the best Zelda game in many ways, and it certainly has its flaws, but it laid the ground for a lot of what Breath of the Wild managed to pull off a few years later. And sure, it’s not what a lot of people wanted from the Direct, myself included. But I’m hoping that more than 3.6 million people give it a go this time, and discover for themselves that there’s a real hidden gem behind all the jank.