Zelda: Skyward Sword’s Biggest Issue Was Not Its Motion Controls


Although Nintendo made no mention of the Legend of Zelda’s 35th anniversary during the February 2021 Direct, it did have two Zelda announcements to share during the presentation: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is getting DLC, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is coming to Switch in July. Considering that Skyward Sword itself is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it seems like a fitting time for Nintendo to dust the game off and give it some modern touch-ups, including a new control method. But while the original controls were a common point of contention, they were never the biggest issue plaguing the game.

As the first full-fledged Zelda adventure designed specifically for the Wii, Skyward Sword made extensive use of the Wii Remote, eschewing the series’ traditional control scheme in favor of motion controls. Many aspects of the game were designed around gesturing with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck; you had to physically swing the controller to slash with your sword, for instance, and firing arrows involved pulling back on the Nunchuk to draw your bow.

Although Skyward Sword generally reviewed well at the time of its release, its motion controls would prove divisive among many (to say nothing of the accessibility issues inherent to the control scheme). I can only speak to my own experiences with the game, of course, but I personally felt the motion controls were implemented well; in the multiple times I played through it, I rarely found myself struggling to execute any of Link’s actions–with the exception of the rotating block puzzles that replaced boss keys, which can all go in the bin. But I was also fortunate enough to experience the game in a setting where I had ample room to swing my controller (and no judging eyes around to see me pretend sword fight).

Skyward Sword HD still uses motion controls, unsurprisingly, but Nintendo has also implemented a new, button-only control method as an alternative. It’s difficult to gauge how well this scheme actually works without some hands-on time, but just from a glance, Nintendo’s solution seems serviceable, if not what most fans probably envisioned. Rather than swinging the Joy-Con to slash with Link’s sword, the button controls map sword slashes to the right stick.

By necessity, this scheme is considerably different from how previous Zelda games controlled, but it does at least allow you to experience the game without motion controls, which is especially helpful if you’re playing on a Switch Lite or have a disability (or just vehemently oppose motion controls). As nice as it is to have this option, however, the primary issue that dragged Skyward Sword down was not its controls, but rather its excessive padding. Some mild Skyward Sword spoilers follow from here on.

The most egregious example is the game’s Silent Realm tear hunts. Partway through the adventure, you return to the surface to track down the Sacred Flames with which to power up the Goddess Sword. Upon your arrival, however, you’re informed by Fi–the spirit that resides in the sword and your companion throughout much of the game–that you must first undertake trials to prove your worth. These trials take you into the “Silent Realm,” a dream-like rendition of the area you’re currently in.

Your objective in the Silent Realm is to collect all of the sacred tears scattered around the area. What complicates this mission is that you cannot use your sword or any other items while here, and the Silent Realm is patrolled by invincible guardians that can strike you down with a single hit, forcing you to restart the entire tear hunt if you get caught. It’s frustrating and an absolute chore to play through, and the game sends you on four of these hunts throughout the course of the story.

Fi is also another detriment to the experience. Like Navi and Midna, Fi offers guidance and frequently propels the story forward, but she interjects incessantly. Chatty companions are nothing new for the Zelda series, of course, but Fi’s robotic personality and penchant for spelling out the obvious in excruciating detail make her particularly reviled.

These aspects did more to hamper Skyward Sword than its controls, which is a shame because the game has some genuinely enjoyable ideas between its moments of frustration. The soundtrack in particular is wonderful, featuring some of the most beautiful and moving tunes in the entire series, and the dungeons are cleverly designed and culminate in some memorable boss battles.

Introducing an additional control method in Skyward Sword HD is a welcome improvement and helps make the game more accessible, but its other issues are more in need of addressing. If Nintendo can trim Fi’s dialogue and pare back the tear hunts, perhaps by reducing the number of tears you need to collect (as it did when it remastered Twilight Princess on Wii U) or not resetting your progress when you fail a trial, then Skyward Sword would be a stronger game overall. It still wouldn’t be without issues; there are other instances where it feels like the game sends you off to do something simply for the sake of prolonging the adventure. But these fixes would certainly help improve the pacing, and it would make it easier to appreciate Skyward Sword’s many genuine charms.

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