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

September 11, 2010

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.

Ratio: Wii Sports Resort

December 28, 2009

Only three days to go and the year will be over. Little time to get a review out there, but one game, at least, has to be granted that honor. This is the first review, or what we call it here, ratio on Flying Fisch. Wii Sports Resort was released in the first half of 2009. Its most noteworthy feature was the reliance on MotionPlus, which didn´t debut in this game, though. Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods PGA for Wii were released prior to the Nintendo-developed sports-game, and both came bundled with a MotionPlus-device. What is maybe the biggest advantage of Wii Sports Resort over these third-party games is its sheer variety. And sword-fighting.

The moment you start Wii Sports Resort…you want to punch the TV. An introduction video of how to put the MotionPlus-attachement onto the Wiimote that cannot be interrupted is shown. About three to five minutes later, you can finally proceed in the game. And for anyone that wants to rewatch that video, there´s an option in the menu. For whatever twisted reason one should want to do that. You´re on an airplane. The screen is shaking. It´s your turn to jump out. And off you go. You´re free-falling down the sky. You can feel the air while passing through it. You can feel the speed. And you can freely move your Mii-character. The Wiimote perfectly matches your ingame-avatar. Turn the Wiimote upside down to make your Mii fall faster, get it into a horizontal position to slow down. Move it in ways to make your Mii fly forwards, backwards, whatever way you want. It is only seconds later, at least that´s what it feels at that time, that you´re reaching the planet´s surface. Your paraglider opens up and your fall comes to an abrupt stop. The camera moves upwards, showing the scenery from above, as many other Mii´s join you. When all is ready, the paraglider reads “Wii Sports Resort” and thus, the game welcomes you.

One great thing about Wii Sports Resort is that you never feel obligated to do anything. You are free to choose from all the different kinds of sports. Within these sports, you can also decide what to do and most importantly, how to do so. That is rooted into the title´s genre, of course. Wii Sports Resort is a game-compilation. You have various disciplines to choose from the very beginning. There is, however, an unexpected depth to each of these games. Mainly because of the MotionPlus-controls, but that´s not all there is to it. Let´s take cycling for an example. When I played that my first time, I thought of how annoying it would be to have to shake both Wiimote and nunchuck in rhythm to drive my way through the race. Reality is, you only have to shake the controller so much as you have three hearts that will deplete if you keep shaking. If only one heart is remaining you´re better off stop shaking, unless you want to exhaust your Mii for a short amount of time, making him lose all speed. Instead, you can look for one of thirty opponents and drive inside his slipstream. That will not only give you additional speed, but also replenish your empty hearts. If the chance arrives, start shaking and passing the opponent. There´s also a lot of environmental structures to look out for. Steering is a bit clunky, which seems weird due to MotionPlus enhancing motion controls, but it´s nowhere near broken. Just more rough. In the end, you´ll find yourself driving upwards, downwards, around sharp corners and other interesting areas, only to reach for the top of the group. It´s fun as it is, but that´s just where the fun starts. After finishing a race as explained above, you get more modes to choose from. That is, leg races. Now it´s not just a single round around the course, it´s a multi course-race. There´s about fifty opponents now and it´s rather impossible to come in first after just the first round. You give it your best and maybe make it into the top 30 after the first course. Some stats and on to the next course of the race. You make another ten ranks, and it´s the last course of the race. That´s it then. If you chose a three leg-race, that is. You can choose an even longer lasting race. It is that kind of depth that no one expected from Wii Sports Resort and, unfortunately, still doesn´t expect, which is why the game earned itself a weird niche-position around self-proclaimed core-gamers, while still selling millions of units to the rest of the gamer population. Let´s just say that the above makes only a single sports from overall twelve. And every single one shows a certain kind of depth if only you´re willing to give it the time to show that depth.

The sports that the whole world waited for, though, is the sword fighting. Not that sword fighting is something rare among videogames, but Wii Sport Resort has what certain Wii-game´s developers claimed to have at launch, and other console manufacturers make their fan population believe only they are going to do it right. Wii Sports Resort does it right, now, ever since it was released: 1:1 sword controls. One to one means that however way you move the Wiimote, your ingame-sword resembles that movement. There is a certain aspect that remains to be seen if it can be solved for future games (the sword has a fixed neutral point and is moved only from there. You cannot move the hilt by will.), but it isn´t a problem in this title at all. The moment you start your first round of sword fighting is a magical moment. Remember when the Wii launched and you realized how great the Wiimote-pointer worked? It´s that same feeling. It just…works.  You´re lifting the Wiimote and thus you lift your sword. You lower the Wiimote and your sword is lowered. You turn it right, it turns right. Turn it left, turns left. It´s a moment of sheer joy. They even included a forward thrust, though that move feels more like a typical triggered movement instead of 1:1 movement. Aside from that, you can do whatever move you want with your sword. That´s when you enter the fighting stage and find yourself in front of your first enemy. You hit him from with a slash from the upper right to the lower left. You follow up with a horizontal slash and finish him off with a thrust, that makes him fall of the platform down into the water. While still in awe of the natural feeling controls, you want to try out the next sword discipline, where objects are thrown at your and you have to slice them from a certain direction, being faster than your opponent. I swear to god, give me a game where I can run around freely and cut things like that and I´d love to pay a lot of money for that. That slicing-mini game is a masterful combination of three components: 1:1 controls, that let you slice all the different objects (bread, water melon, diamond, wood, etc.) exactly the way you want to. An unexpected level of detail to all these objects that, if you cut them, show their proper innards. And last but not least, the perfectly subtle rumble effect for each of these objects. Destroying stuff has never been as fun before. And that´s when you discover the third and final sword fighting-mode: The Zelda-mode. Okay, that´s not its name, but if they´d just let you control your Mii yourself with the nunchuck´s analog stick, it´d be exactly that. Here, your Mii is running on-rail, on a set path, while a plethora of sword-wielding enemies comes running towards you. Your task is to make beat every last enemy, and you have only three hearts, so you cannot let yourself get hit more than two times. Easy in the beginning, this becomes a real effort after a few of the surprisingly many levels. If you didn´t play the duel-mode more, you´ll finally find yourself to use the B-button to use the defense stance. Here your Mii will hold the sword in front of his body. It´s not automatic, though, so you still have to closely watch how an enemy is about to strike you. If he´s hitting from above, you´ll have to hold the sword horizontal. A crucial mechanic once you encounter enemies with more than just one heart of life power. And that is sword fighting in Wii Sports Resort.

I guess you noticed, but I am honestly enthusiastic about this game. Which is why I chose to write this ratio. There are ten more sports, and I could write texts like the above about each of them. Of course, you won´t like all of them. That´s why it´s that great to have that many. Canoing is kind of clunky, and Wakeboarding seems too random. But that´s just two out of twelve I didn´t grew to like. Other people might love these. Aside from all the gameplay-depth all these sports feature, you have your scoring-system from the first Wii Sports, that kind of rewards you all the time. It´s a strange motivation, but every time that little graph grows a little higher, you feel like you have accomplished something. And don´t think that there´s no stuff to unlock. Regarding that matter, my second, no, third, no…forget it, I cannot decide how to rank them. Regarding that matter, the airplane discipline is a shining example. Look forward to unlock the stuff in just that sports, really rewarding. Not to speak of how great controlling the airplane feels. The Wiimote literally becomes the airplane. Remember how you played with little airplane-models as a kid? Yeah, it´s exactly like that, only that now you´ll have a little bit more response from moving an object in your hand.

Wii Sports Resort is a Wii-game, and a great-looking one. Visuals are sharp, but stylized enough to keep the game from looking too bare. One nice decision the game made was to let every sports take place on one island. Wuhu Island is the place where every discipline is set up, and if you keep an eye on it, you´ll find all the tournament places while flying the airplane. I´ve never been someone that judges a game´s quality by its resolution, so maybe there´s something my eyes just cannot see. But the game looks really good, at a fluid, constant framerate. Games with such a refined visual look are a rarity, and sometimes, when you´re flying at night, the moon in front of you, you forget that you´re playing a sports collection. Then you´re out there for adventure and nothing else. And that is where Wii Sports Resort´s limit is reached. There is no adventure. Wii Sports Resort is a great compilation, an even greater tech demo for upcoming, more complex MotionPlus-games…and thus the first glimpse at The Legend of Zelda Wii. But let´s not brand this game with any sort of “it´s just a demo“. Wii Sports Resort is the real deal, it´s 1:1 controls right there, done right. It´s what all future videogames will be based off. In other words, it is the Super Mario 64 of the successor to the third dimension. And to finish this text, let´s just say: I didn´t even mention that there´s also local multiplayer. Thanks for reading. Your feedback is appreciated.

Forgotten masterpiece – WiiSports Resort

November 21, 2009

Forgotten by whom, to clarify. Obviously, the mainstream didn´t forget about this gem as it´s still high in all sales charts across the world. It is, however, the self-proclaimed hardcore-crowd that seems to have forgotten about this outstanding, so far unique masterpiece.

Just to make this clear: WiiSports Resort is the ONLY video game AT ALL to feature 1:1-motion controls in a variety of games.

Gamers on all boards still talk about how they want to swing a sword, how the wiimote is but waggle, how the Wii has no games. Yet, noone appears to have played WiiSports Resort. It isn´t mentioned in Game of the Year-topics, it isn´t mentioned whenever someone talks about oh-so-superior upcoming motion controls by another manufacturer. And yet it is what everyone always wanted. The controls are great and fell natural. There´s several great games, and in multiplayer this game could last forever. Visuals are crisp and are tripping from lovely details. It´s a shame that the gamer-crowd dismissed this fantastic game and isn´t talking about it anymore. In a world where all hype goes to games where you shoot people, WiiSports Resort offers a fresh, high quality fun-experience that gives cool hints at future MotionPlus-using games. It´s almost as if Mario 64 was ignored at its release. What a strange video game world we´re living in today…

Waiting for next MotionPlus game?

September 9, 2009

Microsoft and especially Sony finally followed Nintendo and announced their own motion control device. Anyone who is interested in “true 1:1 controls” can already experience that by going out and getting a copy of WiiSports Resort. Other popular MotionPlus-titles have been Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods. Those games are on the market for several months now, and one has to wonder: When´s the next big MotionPlus-title coming?

One obviously hyped game on that record is Red Steel 2. Personally, i´m totally de-hyped about this game when i saw that it doesn´t feature real 1:1 controls, but improved Red Steel 1-sword slashes. Also, anyone watching some videos will realize that Ubisoft didn´t understand that new controls alone aren´t enough. You have to build the whole game around those. And look there, already early impressions from last E³ gave feedback on how slashing all those enemies in Red Steel 2 becomes pretty exhausting pretty fast. No wonder with the amount of enemies Ubisoft is throwing at the player. That doesn´t work.

There´s a bunch of lesser quality MotionPlus-titles announced, but something big to look forward to is missing.

Now, I could go on about Zelda Wii, but not only don´t we know if it´ll feature MotionPlus (and if that´ll be only optional, you can as well forget about it), it also would be only one game some time at the end of 2010. So where are the other MotionPlus-games from Nintendo? Noone can expect third party-developers to jump on that new wagon, when they´re only just starting to use the normal Wiimote better.

Like many times before, the October conference will show how serious Nintendo is about their new, improved motion control device. Maybe Cosmic Walker? Who knows.