I was never crazy about the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls, but I always loved The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It might be a divisive entry amongst the series’ fanbase, but the game world, dungeon design, and narrative always clicked with me. It felt a bit more straightforward when compared to other entries in the series too, which I personally saw as a positive thing. Linearity isn’t always a bad thing, after all.
Now, much like a number of Nintendo’s older releases, it has been given a new lease of life on the Nintendo Switch. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD looks to bring the adventure into the palms of gamer’s hands, with an array of improvements and visuals enhancements ensuring that it’s the best way to experience Link’s journey. Best of all, it doesn’t have to be played with motion controls, so those who aren’t a fan of swinging their arms around to beat up baddies will be in their oils.
Does it still hold up well today though, or were the fanbase right in declaring it one of the weaker entries in the series? Well, a lot of it will come down to each player’s own opinion, but I had an amazing time playing through the vibrant adventure all over again.
Check out a gallery of screenshots for the game down below:
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is the earliest game in the timeline, so it’s actually an ideal place to kickstart your journey with Link. Sure, it could be argued that the connection between entries isn’t as important as other gaming franchise, but there are connections nonetheless.
The tale begins in Skyloft, a land in the sky that’s seemingly cut off from the surface. It’s here that protagonist Link is training to become a knight, but disaster strikes after he passes the final test and a tornado hits Skyloft. Sweeping his dearest friend Zelda down to the land below them, Link follows in rescue, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead of him. From there, there’s not only a whole new world to uncover, but also the origins of many hallmarks of The Legend of Zelda series.
This review isn’t going to go into too much depth about the ins-and-outs of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD’s gameplay, but rather cover the enhancements it has brought. It’s an old game now, after all, so there’s been plenty to see and read over the years. Fortunately, those enhancements are plentiful, so there’s still a lot for me to cover.
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is the earliest game in the timeline, so it’s actually an ideal place to kickstart your journey with Link.”
One of the most important enhancements to the game comes with the controls. One thing that’s worth mentioning from the get-go is that you can play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD with motion controls when playing docked. If you want an experience that’s more reminiscent of the game’s original form, you can crack on. The motions controls make for some clever moments in-game and have been adapted in an intuitive manner for some puzzles, so they’re a lot more than a gimmick – even if some gamers don’t really get on with them.
If you prefer more traditional controls, you’re in luck. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD allows you to play with a controller and slice-and-dice away at foes without swinging your arms. Attacking isn’t performed in a button-mashing manner though, but rather by flicking the right stick in the direction you want to swing. Whilst this may sound unconventional, it actually works really well in-game; the direction of your swing is important, so this offers an intuitive and simple way to tackle it. Some of Link’s special abilities require some co-ordinated flicking to pull off, but these are easy to perform and will leave player’s a lot less tired when compared to the motion control counterparts.
Whilst the controls don’t feel EXACTLY like a typical The Legend of Zelda game thanks to the stick-based sword control, they will certainly appeal more to traditional fans. I found them more instinctual at least, with it making battling enemies a lot more enjoyable (and a lot less tiring) than when swinging my arms constantly. Or hey, maybe I’m just lazy?
“Whilst the controls don’t feel EXACTLY like a typical The Legend of Zelda game thanks to the stick-based sword control, they will certainly appeal more to traditional fans.”
One big addition to the controls comes with the newly introduced free camera. By holding the L button and moving the right stick, players can now freely move the camera around when exploring their surroundings. It’s hard to believe this was an omission in the Wii original, but the limited control scheme and lack of dual-sticks meant that it wasn’t really possible – that has been fixed here though and it makes the game all the more enjoyable to play. Not only does it let you take in more of your surroundings, but it gives a lot more freedom to the player when simply traversing each locale. It complements the new control scheme perfectly.
Nintendo promised improved controls with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD and they really have delivered. If you were on the fence about playing the game after not enjoying the motion controls the first time around, you can rest assured that the new controls are a genuine game-changer that have been intuitively designed to suit the Nintendo Switch’s Joy Cons.
“If you were on the fence about playing the game after not enjoying the motion controls the first time around, you can rest assured that the new controls are a genuine game-changer…”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a remastered release without some souped-up visuals, so I’m happy to report that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD looks fantastic in motion. Not only does it hit higher resolutions than before (up to 720p playing handheld and 1080p playing docked), but it also plays at a super smooth 60fps. It makes everything that Link does in-game look all the more sublime, whilst the cleaner resolution brings more vibrancy to the enchanting world. I loved Skyloft and everything below it when I first played the game on the Nintendo Wii, but it looks a heck of a lot prettier now. Of course, there are a few sketchy textures here and there whilst there are also some sights that clearly look like they came from a game that released two generations ago, but it’s still hard not to be in awe of the visuals.
Whilst the visuals and controls stand out as the core enhancements made in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, I really felt the benefits of the smaller quality of life improvements too. The streamlined item descriptions, fast-forwarding dialogue, the auto-saves – whilst these may seem like ordinary features for a modern game, they were absent the first time around. Having them here now just makes the whole game all the more enjoyable and streamlines sequences that caused a few minor frustrations during the game’s original release.
“Not only does it hit higher resolutions than before (up to 720p playing handheld and 1080p playing docked), but it also plays at a super smooth 60fps.”
As mentioned, I adored The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD and it still stands out as one of my favourite entries across the series. However, ten years on from its original release, there were a few issues that stood out to me now that didn’t bother me so much the first time around. For one, the world is guilty of feeling a little bit vacant in places. We’re used to exploring detail-rich and expansive open worlds now that are full to the brim with majestic sights, but that wasn’t always the case here. Don’t get me wrong, some locales look astounding, but they’re not so plentiful as similar titles available these days (including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild).
Some of the quests could be a little bit dull too. Now I’m not completely against fetch quests, but they’re a little overdone here and require a bit too much backtracking from the player. They don’t stop the game from being fun to play, but they do see a small sense of repetition kick in.
You know what, though? These issues are small in the grand scheme of things, especially since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD delivers so much in other areas of its design. Fun battles with enemies, stellar dungeon design that bring some fascinating tools for Link to use, an engaging story that will hook players in completely… it really does have it all. And yes, the Sandship and Skykeep are STILL as brilliant to play through today as they were back in 2011.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD improves upon the original massively, with its new control scheme and impressive visuals making it feel like a whole different game. It was already one of my favourite games in the series anyway, but playing it with more traditional controls at 60fps was astounding, whilst the new quality of life improvements go a long way in streamlining the overall experience. It really is a brilliant game.
Admittedly, some aspects of the game haven’t aged all that well – the repetitive fetch quests particularly stood out, whilst there were some aspects of the world that felt vacant when compared to modern titles. Between all of the enhancements, the engaging narrative, and the brilliant dungeons that have stood the test of time though, it’s easy to recommend The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD to newcomers, existing fans, or just those who were simply put off the motion controls the first time around. It’s another must-own title for your Nintendo Switch library.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)