An enhanced HD port of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is out now for the Nintendo Switch. You might not have known that, as there’s been little enthusiasm about the release. And, honestly, for good reason: Skyward Sword is easily one of the worst mainline Zelda games.
It lacks the wonder of Ocarina of Time, the charm of Wind Waker, and the exploration of Breath of the Wild. Skyward Sword is an awkward game from an awkward era. And it doesn’t get any better in HD.
The Forgotten Entry
For years, fans who ardently defend Skyward Sword have argued that the game was the unfortunate victim of two trends plaguing Nintendo games in the late Wii era. The first is that by 2011, the Wii’s lack of HD capabilities was extremely glaring compared to its competitors. The second is that the Wii Motion Plus controller, which allowed for precise one-to-one mirroring of the motion controller’s movements, was being pushed way too hard by Nintendo.
This, fans argue, is why Skyward Sword is a pile of hot garbage. It’s ugly to look at, it uses sword controls that have the player waving their arms like an unhinged windmill, and it came out very late in the Wii’s lifecycle, giving it no time to shine on its own.
These fans are right.
However, these problems haven’t been solved in the intervening decade.
Second Verse, Same as the First
No amount of HD upscaling changes the fact that Skyward Sword is an ugly video game. Maybe you like the art style on display, and, if so, more power to you.
For my money, this game is ugly. The textures and colors are muddy and soft, and the character designs look grotesque in a way that they’re not intended to. The game is as unpleasant to look at as it is to play.
The gameplay isn’t any better for the optional button controls. Skyward Sword still sports awkward combat that grinds the game’s exploration to a halt and forces you into bizarre fencing matches that are tough to understand.
You use the analog stick to control Link’s sword, but to switch to free camera mode, you need to hold down the L button. This is unintuitive and continues to grate even after hours of playtime.
Linear, Uninspiring, Forgettable
After ten years, the complaints that dogged this Zelda entry continue to hold true. Skyward Sword is the most linear of all Zelda titles, with little in the way of exploration. The dungeon design had become so formulaic by this point in the franchise that even a newcomer would see the twists coming.
You get into a dungeon and see objects you can’t interact with. You find a big chest with a new item, and that item interacts with those objects. You fight a big boss who is weak to your new item.
It’s easy to see why complaints about Skyward Sword led to the phenomenal Switch launch title Breath of the Wild. That game, with its wide-open vistas and complete lack of linear dungeons, was just the shot in the arm the franchise needed.
Walking back in time ten years with Skyward Sword HD doesn’t reveal an overlooked masterpiece or a hidden gem. Instead, it gives a new appreciation for how much the radical departure of Breath of the Wild was needed to save the series.