Preview: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Hands-on once more with the Hero of Time

In all the Wii U commotion at E3 this year, Link's next and final outing on Wii was rather lost, but we were able to reconnect with the Hero of Time at a recent preview event in the UK. Three levels in total were playable: an aerial bird race, a dungeon and a face-off against Lord Ghirahim. With Wii Remote Plus in hand we set off to see if Wii's final big game will send the console out with a bang.

Jumping right into the dungeon, it doesn't take long to adjust to MotionPlus controls and the game smartly throws a few weak enemies at you with weak spots that can be exploited with full sword control. Spiders can be flipped over with a slash from low to high, then stabbed in a purple spot on their underbellies, with wild sword swinging often getting you a very tight squeeze from the eight-legged fiend. The Stalfos miniboss is also overcome by smart swordplay, or Jimmy Fallon-style flailing.

Swapping between items is easily done too using a neat circular menu: rather than pointing to the item you want, you tilt the controller in that direction and tap a button to select it. The classic items — bombs and bow — function very much the same as in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but the beetle and its upgrade show off the extra accuracy granted by MotionPlus, tilting and twisting the controller to guide the beetle through the air towards switches, items, enemies and more. No doubt this particular item will come in handy for plenty of puzzles in the finished game.

One of the biggest changes has nothing to do with MotionPlus, though. Pressing A no longer makes Link roll; instead, holding the button now lets the hero sprint, something we're surprised Link hadn't figured out for himself long ago. You can only dash for a short while but it makes a big difference, and means the days of rolling through large spaces to go faster are truly over. It also makes it far easier to clamber up stairs, blocks and ledges, without Link getting a sore head from bashing into everything around.

The playable demo was limited to 15 minutes, nowhere near enough time to see everything the dungeon has to offer, but the combat felt enhanced by the addition of an extra dimension to the sword, and we can confirm the game is perfectly comfortable to play while sat down. Stood up is better of course, but we were able to overcome the challenge while sat on a stool, just as well considering the length of the full game.

Battling against Lord Ghirahim played much the same, a combination of Wii Remote mastery and spacial awareness that typifies many bosses in the series. You can hold the controller above your head to charge a powerful attack, though we found it just as easy to use the Nunchuk to shield bash when appropriate and let him have it from there.

Lastly we took flight with a bird chase from an early part of the game. Here the aim is to chase and catch a brightly coloured bird on your own feathered steed, shaking the Nunchuk to flap your wings and maintain altitude, but in all honesty we didn't find it that engaging, feeling like a less interesting version of herding goats from Twilight Princess.

Generally at preview events you know if a game is good when your time expires and you let out a sigh, and that was certainly the case with Skyward Sword. The controls benefit from MotionPlus but don't rely on it constantly: the swordplay hinges on it, but other elements feel like improvements on the methods established in Twilight Princess. Arguably the time for a revolution in Zelda control will come with Wii U, but based on this evidence, the next evolution will be up there with Link's best outings.

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