The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Review: A Legend Returns
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword makes a poor first impression. The art style provides beautiful environments, but the twisted characters I didn’t find very pleasing. Meanwhile, in the early hours, everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion. During my early hours with Skyward Sword HD, I was reminded of why I fell off the original Wii release about 5 hours in despite purchasing it at launch.
This time, however, I pushed on, and I couldn’t be happier I did. While a game taking so long to get going is never a positive, once you get into Skyward Sword, you’ll find a stunning adventure. Featuring some of the series’ best dungeons, memorable boss fights, a stunning score, and now some big quality of life improvements, Skyward Sword becomes a must-play game. Eventually.
Welcome To Skyloft
Unsurprisingly for anyone who has played a Zelda game, you play as Link. Skyward Sword takes place earlier than any other Zelda title, with the people living on a giant floating island called Skyloft. Beneath their island sits a thick layer of clouds. While the people of Skyloft bond with giant birds they can ride, these Loftwings won’t go through the clouds. That means the world below is nothing but a myth, a story from ancient times.
As he is coming of age, Link is hoping to become a Knight of Skyloft, one who protects the island. His best friend Zelda pushes him to succeed, and soon he passes his test to join the group. While celebrating, however, a strange tornado sends her hurtling through the clouds to the land below. One destiny later, and Link is following after, determined to save his friend.
A Slow Start
Did I mention this game starts slowly? There’s a ton of dialogue, a lot of setup, and tutorials everywhere. Skyward Sword doesn’t seem to trust you to figure out anything for yourself. That’s a shame, but at least this HD version dials it back a bit. You can now skip cutscenes, text, and some messages that used to play repeatedly only show up once. This allows the game to breathe a bit. It still takes an awfully long time to get to the first dungeon, but it isn’t quite as big a grind.
The land below Skyloft is broken up into a series of zones that you access from the sky using your Loftwing. While it can be a bit of a shame that there’s no giant connected world to explore, in some ways, this is an opportunity. It makes the areas you travel through to get to dungeons almost like another dungeon of their own. These areas are filled with puzzles, enemies, and things to collect. You won’t find a lot of new tools or bosses to fight as you will in dungeons, but they’re still a lot of fun.
When you do arrive in dungeons, you’ll find some of the best in the Zelda series. There are some incredibly memorable ones, with a pirate ship and shockingly a water dungeon perhaps being my favorites. These dungeons make great use of the tools you’ll acquire throughout the game, and I loved how some of them made use of earlier tools. The Zelda series sometimes has a bad habit of certain tools mostly being used in only the dungeon they’re found in. That’s not remotely the case here. Dungeons do have a big focus on your latest gear, but you’ll still need to go back and use your older inventory as well.
Despite having no huge overworld, there’s still plenty to explore with each area and dungeon filled with secrets to find. There are characters you can solve issues for, heart pieces to find, all the things we’ve come to expect from a Zelda title. If you’re one of the fans who were sad to see Breath of the Wild give up some of the elements we’ve come to associate with the series, they’re all here. You can see a few elements that carried over to that game, like the stamina meter, but this is a much more traditional game in the series, for better and worse.
New Ways To Play
One area which isn’t traditional, however, is the controls. Designed around the Wii remote, the original release of Skyward Sword required you to use motion controls for combat(and more). Many thought this would make it more challenging to rerelease, and it likely did, but Nintendo found a solution. Motion controls are still an option using the Joy-cons, and they work better than ever. While they were impressive in their way on the Wii in that they were quite accurate, they did go off-kilter at times. I never had that issue in Skyward Sword HD. I felt totally in command of my weapons.
If you don’t feel like swinging your arms around though, you don’t have to this time. Nintendo added a new option (essential for the Switch Lite) which lets you control your sword with the right analog stick. While not perfect, I found this mostly responsive and accurate. There were a few times when I tried to swing, and it didn’t work, including one time where I died as a result, but this was very rare. Despite that annoying moment, this became my preferred way to play Skyward Sword. I had no issues using it to defeat the game’s many bosses, some of whom require a great deal of precision. Puzzles have also been reworked to not require motion and the game is better for it in my book.
Quality Of Life
Nintendo added a few other quality of life options to this Switch release. The game now has an autosave, which can be a relief if your system gets low on battery life. I no longer was terrified of losing a ton of progress any time my life got low. You also now have full camera control. While the game’s default camera is usually quite good, being able to reposition it came in handy often. The only issue with this option is that it uses the right stick as well, just like the sword does. A button toggles between them, and it usually worked fine, but now and then, it was an issue. Those who play with motion controls won’t have to worry about that; they can fight and move the camera to their heart’s content.
One annoyance, however, is that Nintendo added a new fast travel option that only works with the Loftwing Amiibo. Using the Amiibo, you can take to the sky any time, and then return to where you were in the land below whenever you’re ready. There are a number of times throughout Skyward Sword when jumping into the air and back down will make sense. Bird statues that you save at and which can send you into the sky are fairly well spaced out, so it won’t take forever to reach one. It definitely would save time to have the fast travel option, though, and it’s a shame that Nintendo would lock something so easy to include behind what is effectively physical DLC.
A Long Journey
Skyward Sword HD looks and runs great. Looking back at the Wii version, it’s actually pretty crazy how much better everything looks here. It runs at a solid 60 frames per second, and I never noticed issues even when tons of enemies were coming at me. The soundtrack perfectly sets the mood and is just lovely.
You’ll have plenty of time to experience all of this as well. Skyward Sword is one of the longer titles in the series, taking me over 30 hours to complete despite not completing everything it had to offer. Most of that runtime is a good thing too. If anything, I wanted even more dungeons. Every new one just kept blowing me away.
Despite a slow start, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD proves worthy of its place in the series. While a bit of trimming at the start would make a stronger game, once it got going, I never wanted it to end. If you like Zelda games and haven’t played Skyward Sword, you owe it to yourself to try this one. For veterans of the game, you’ll find a ton of quality of life changes making this the definitive version. Even if you were put off by the original release, you might find this time that you fall for this legend.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo; Players: 1; Released: July 16th, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD.