Zelda: Skyward Sword – A discerning look at what we saw

It´s been some time since E3, and cologne´s gamescom also took place already. At both of these events, Nintendo showcased the same first playable demo of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the new Zelda-game for Wii that is supposedly released some time next year. My first impression of this whole new series entry was rather a negative one, but not long after stating that I warmed up on the overall presentation. However, some of the parts of the E3-demo cannot remain the way they are – at least not if Nintendo wants me to fall in love with this game. Thus, I will now point out just these elements that I hope are occurrences of early development. I am not naming stuff that I wish for on a non-rational base – I did that at other occasions. This is stuff that should and can be changed.

1.) The visuals

Neither do I dislike the chosen art style nor the decision to go for a painting-like look. Actually, I really like that as it makes the game feel more unique, gives it its very own nature, as opposed to re-using either the realistic style of Twilight Princess or the toon-shading style of The Wind Waker. In one video, Bill Trinen himself shows off the game and explains how Skyward Sword has this completely new look. However, what I´m actually shown are low-resolution textures and low-polygon objects that show lots of unattractive, sharp edges. Just take a look at that overview-picture that shows the demo-forest from above. What is supposed to look like a painting just looks like a technical mess. The same goes for the trees while standing in front of them.  They consist of a featureless log with, again, boring low-resolution textures. And then these so-called flowers on the ground that look as if they´re from a Mario-game. The only part of the demo that actually looks good is Link´s model. You can see the painting-like effect especially good on his green hat. But other than that the game lacks technical perfection, or, not to use such overblown phrases, doesn´t look round, yet.

Beautiful? Take a closer look and you´ll see ugly edges and textures all over the place

2.) Blocky environments

This could be complained about as part of the visuals, too, but it is more crucial to the gameplay, so I´d like to point it out like that.  The whole forest-area of the demo of Skyward Sword is surrounded by these terrible even walls. And not only is it this area-limiter, it´s also what natural hills look like. And then you have these typical lianas that Link uses to climb these even walls. It just destroys any sense of nature when you see these completely artificially looking parts of the landscape. In my perfect vision, all these walls would feature options to climb them just like that, but that´s not even necessary. What is necessary, though, is that the environment at least looks believable, even if not interactive. As is, Skyward Sword looks more like a puzzle-collection with themes instead of a plausible fantasy world.

3.) Clunky animations

Probably my most urgent complaint about what we´ve seen so far: Link´s animations. Of course, there´s MotionPlus, which means the player controls Link´s right arm while having unsheathed the sword, but that doesn´t mean that you can dismiss the rest of his animations. The way he normally runs looks so…stupid and goofy. He looks like a model-runner, with perfect stepping. All that while his upper body hardly moves at all. It´s even worse when he jumps, which seems to be the exact same animation from Twilight Princess. You know, that jump-“animation” where he´s uprightly falling down, no bowing forward, no ducking, and no movement while falling at all. Someone would expect Link to wave his hands and feet, but nothing. The animation for fast running is fine, though. But that´s but one part of all the different animations needed. Link has to react more naturally to what he´s doing. And just one other animation that simply sucked: The rope´s animation when Link uses it to swing to another platform. It doesn´t look like a rope but a stiff, long stick.

4.) Fighting enemies

Just let me say that I like the increased difficulty due to enemies blocking your attacks from varying directions. However, when watching that Stalfos-boss encounter I can´t help but feel that fighting this guy felt way too much like solving a puzzle than actually fighting a dangerous monster. You know, watching in what way he´s holding his two swords, then attacking the open side, rinse and repeat. One of my favorite fights was against a couple of Stalfos knights in Ocarina of Time´s forest temple. These guys were a real threat and attacking them was a challenge, as they would  leave themselves open to attack for only a very short time. So instead of this explicit directional guarding, have enemies move their swords naturally and have the player time his attack on-the-fly. That´s what´d make fights feel like fights.

Enemy or puzzle? Ideally both, but not that obvious please.

And that´s it. There´s other stuff that I´m not too fond of, like most of the shown enemy-design, but I don´t have much hope that this kind of stuff is going to change in the final game. However, the four topics I elaborated above have a realistic chance to change and I whole-heartedly hope they will. Of course, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword does a lot of things right, too. But that shouldn´t be necessary to be mentioned, it is a Zelda-game after all. So let me finish this text by saying that I love the fast running and the flying beetle, and that I´m pretty confident that a gorgeous game is awaiting us.

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