Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Infamous 2 Review

-------My Rating System-------

A(-)(+) A top notch experience all the way through. It may not necessarily be perfect, but whatever flaws it does have won’t take you out of it or make it any less worth your time. (Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2)

B(-)(+) A very fun experience bogged down by some significant problems, whether they’re related to the story, gameplay, or both. However, it’s still a good or even great game and worth the price of admission. (Kingdom Hearts: Recoded)

C(-)(+) A mixed bag. Generally fun to some extent and may shine in some areas, but is either too flawed to fully recommend or far too short for its price. Conisder it for a reduced price, at least if you’re a fan of its genre. (Rayman 3D)

D(-)(+) Subpar. It may not be terrible, but it is severely flawed and whatever it does well ultimately fails to save it. Even if you’re a fan of the genre, this is barely a bargain bin purchase. (Sonic Heroes)

F Insipid, disgusting, despicable, and insufferable. It is a scar on the face of human accomplishments that time shall never heal. The best thing we can do is avoid playing it at all costs. It is the only way to prevent its parasitic disease of awfulness from spreading. (Shadow the Hedgehog)


And so once again, I am taking a look at a game made by Sucker Punch. For those not in the know, last summer I did a gigantic review of all three games in the Sly Cooper trilogy. It’s a very nostalgic franchise for me, and all three games still held up quite well by my standards today. After the Sly Cooper franchise, Sucker Punch would move on to make the game Infamous for the PS3 in 2009, and it was quite a big hit. Well, since I was such a fan of their earlier work, you would think I would be just as impressed by Infamous, right? Well…kind of. A lot of people love the original Infamous, and while I do like it, I have quite a few gripes with it. The whole good/evil thing was not executed very well at all; the choices were very one-sided and didn’t seem to have much effect on the story. The story itself wasn’t exactly paced very well either, with the giant plot twist at the end coming almost completely out of nowhere with little build-up. The main character was also subject to some questionable decisions, such as his design and raspy voice that sounded somewhere between Solid Snake and Christian Bale Batman. Side missions were also very repetitive, and the gameplay felt sort of unrefined and unpolished to me. Oh, and the character animations fell smack dab into the uncanny valley.

That said, the gameplay was quite fun even if it was unrefined. Blasting people in the face with lightning is really satisfying no matter how you look at it, and the climbing was very well done. The game’s huge world with lots of side missions to complete alongside the main missions – even if they did get repetitive – felt like a natural evolution of the open-world, objective-based style of gameplay used in the latter two Sly Cooper games, and the story was very interesting even if the pacing could have been much better. So, while I would say that calling it a great game would be a bit of a stretch, I would definitely say that the first Infamous is good. Now, what about Infamous 2? It came out a little over six months ago for the PS3, and now I’ve finally gotten to play it. Does it address any of my complaints or not? Time to find out.


(The below paragraph contains spoilers for the first Infamous)

Infamous 2 takes place right where the first game left off. Cole meets with Dr. Lucy Kuo, who can take him to a man named Dr. Wolfe, who in turn will give him a way to increase his powers to better prepare for the battle with The Beast, the world destroyer whose coming was foretold in the ending of the first game. Dr. Wolfe resides in a town called New Marais (based on New Orleans), and just as he, Kuo and his friend Zeke are about to depart from Empire City, The Beast makes his appearance and starts tearing everything up. Cole tries to fight it but the effort proves fruitless. Fortunately, they are able to escape and head to New Marais. Unfortunately, more trouble awaits them there as a man named Joseph Bertrand is controlling the city with his redneck militia and they are executing random citizens for fear that they may be “deviants” – those who have powers. Needless to say, Cole is one of his main targets, and he even televises messages referring to him as “The Demon of Empire City” and urging citizens to turn him in. All the while, strange monsters are popping out of the local swamp and killing everything they see. Cole finds Dr. Wolfe, who explains that he needs to find five Blast Cores to increase his powers so that he may use the Ray Field Inhibitor – the only thing that can defeat The Beast, and the rest of the storyline involves Cole, Kuo, Zeke and a woman with fire powers named Nix attempting to collect these Blast Cores while enduring various hardships along the way.

The storyline was one of the original game’s strong points, and Infamous 2’s is even better. In addition to just being more complex and interesting, it is also told a lot better. In addition to the stylized comic book cutscenes from the first game, Infamous 2 has normal cutscenes where most of the important exchanges take place, which helps the pacing a lot. Characters are also handled far better – Cole, in addition to having his design and voice changed so that he looks and talks like a normal human being, has had a slight characterization overhaul that makes him a bit less “brooding and serious business”, and in my opinion, the change is for the better. Zeke is also a lot more likable this time around, and I also really liked all of the new characters as well as the villain. Oh, and the storyline is affected far more by good and evil choices. There are many points where you will have to choose between a good and evil mission, and the ending can be entirely different depending on which moral path you take. Not to mention that the choices aren’t nearly as one-sided; they’re not so much a choice between being a hero of men or a selfish psychopath as they are a choice between being a hero of men or a reckless butthole whose cause is still for the greater good. That is what the first Infamous should have been like.

Aesthetically, Infamous 2 is a significant improvement over the first. Animations are far better this time around and make the characters and civilians feel less like lifeless puppets and more like actual people. The comic book-esque visual style is pulled off even better than before, and it looks great. The music is pretty good too; for the most part, the BGM’s are blood-pumping battle themes, but they’re pretty nice.

So, having said all that needs to be said regarding story and aesthetics, how do the important things fare? Well, from the minute I started playing Infamous 2, I could tell that it was much more refined and polished than the first game. Everything from doing the parkour to just shooting people with lightning just feels so much better than it did before and there are far less glitches along the way. Like I said in the introduction, a lack of refinement and polish was one of my foremost complaints with the first game, and it was great to see that this was fixed. Honestly, for me, this alone elevates the experience from a “good” one to a “great” one, but we’ve still got quite a bit of ground to cover here.

So now, I will explain how the gameplay works. Infamous 2 is an open-world game where you have to complete various missions for the story to progress, and you have plenty of side missions to do as well. There are three things that set Infamous 1 and 2 apart from other open-world games, however: the fact that Cole has a variety of lightning powers at his disposal with which he can take down his foes, the Karma system that goes up or down depending on whether you make good and evil choices both in the gameplay and storyline – which, in turn, affects which powers you unlock, how the people of the city react to you, Cole’s appearance, and even the state of the city – and the fact that Cole is also well-trained in the sport of parkour. Most of your lightning powers are done by holding the L1 button down to aim and then pressing the R1 button or one of the face buttons, very much like third-person shooters. R1 is your standard lightning bolt attack, while X sends out a shockwave that blows enemies away and Square allows you to throw a lightning grenade. As the game progresses, you will learn abilities that allow you to pick up and throw objects, fire lightning rockets, create gigantic tornadoes, zoom in to get more precise shots, and even use lightning as a grappling hook. As you gain EXP and perform stunts (kill an enemy in a certain way), you will gain quite a vast amount of versions of these moves that vary in both strength, area, and effects, including – depending on your moral path – fire and ice variations. Blasting people in the face with lightning bolts was something that was already really fun in the first game, and the amount of variety in Cole’s powers makes taking enemies down that much more fun. It is worth noting here, though, that using the more fancy moves will cost you energy, which you will have to replenish by absorbing it from sources of electricity in the city. This can also be used to heal Cole when he’s injured. It’s a pretty interesting mechanic that’s handled quite well.

On the subject of combat, Infamous 2 has introduced a new melee system to the series. Cole now has an electrified weapon that he uses to bash enemies with. As you attack enemies, you build up a combo, at which point you can do a finishing move, or, if you get a certain upgrade, an Ultra Attack. It’s a lot more fun and involving than the original Infamous’ melee system, and you’ll probably find yourself using it a lot more as well.

In gameplay, there are a lot of factors that affect your Karma. Killing random civilians is, of course, going to give you more Evil Karma, whereas healing the injured or sick ones will give you more Good Karma. Karma is also affected by exactly how you take people down. You can use the Arc Restraint ability to merely hold a person down – which will gain you extra Good Karma if it’s an enemy – or you can use Bio Leech to steal energy from people, which will, of course, get you extra Evil Karma. Several other factors affect Karma. You gain more Good Karma when you stop muggers or defuse bombs, and you gain more Evil Karma if you kill street performers or kill civilians who are holding Blast Shards – fragments of the Ray Sphere that are scattered around the city and can increase the amount of energy you hold when you collect a certain amount – in order to steal them. There are several “levels” of Karma that, as mentioned before, affect Cole’s appearance, what powers you can buy, how people react to Cole and the state of the city. If you keep performing good actions, you will move through the Guardian rank to the Champion rank to the Hero rank, and if you keep performing evil actions, you will move through the Thug rank to the Outlaw rank to the Infamous rank. This is another thing that, gameplay-wise, was handled really well in the first game and Infamous 2 handles it similarly well. Not much else to say, really.

Finally, there’s the parkour. Things haven’t changed very much in this area, but they didn’t really need to. Parkour, above all else, was what the first game did best. The system is actually very simple – you only need the control stick and the “X” button for it - but that simplicity actually works for it given how much of it you’re going to be doing just to get around. All you do is find a ledge or something you can grab onto on a building, hold forward while pressing “X”, grab on, rinse and repeat. Further aiding this aspect of the game are Cole’s abilities to hover by pressing the “R1” button in mid-air and Cole’s ability to actually grind on power lines. Freaking. Awesome. In short, it looks great and it feels great. No more needs to be said.

For all the gushing I’ve done over the things this game does better than the first Infamous and the things it does just as well, Infamous 2 still has a couple of areas in which it screws up. Mostly, the side missions are still too repetitive. It’s better about it, I’ll admit, and in the first third of the game it actually gave me the feeling that it would be averting this flaw as well. Unfortunately, once I got past that part, they did start to repeat themselves a lot. Yes, I understand that it’s only side content, but in the Infamous games, a pretty great deal of the game’s longevity comes from those side missions, and quite frankly, I don’t see that as much of an excuse anyway. At least half of the content of the 3-D Mario games is optional, yet they tend to have an incredible amount of variety in spite of that. I’m not expecting the same amount of variety from every game I play, but I am expecting more than what I’m getting from the Infamous games. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is far from game breaking, but it did annoy me.

Another flaw is that the city in the first third of the game felt way too similar to Empire City for me, and I don’t really think I’m nitpicking here. New Marais is more or less Empire City surrounded by a swamp and with more palm trees, and it really wasn’t until I got to Flood Town – about ten to twelve hours in - that I felt like I had entered a place I hadn’t been to before. And New Marais is a city based on New Orleans whereas Empire City is a city based on New York. I’m sure they could have done more to make it feel different than they did. My last complaint is that they’ve put a needless limitation on searching for Dead Drops: you can longer find them with your Sense ability. Hunting down all of the Dead Drops and learning more about the continuity of the game was one of the big joys of the first Infamous, but thanks to this limitation I deemed it to time-consuming to find them all and I just can’t see why they put this limitation in place. Not a big problem, but it annoyed me.

There’s one last thing worth mentioning: you can create your own missions for the game and play those made by other players if you’re signed into PSN. Due to my lack of patience and creativity with such things, I didn’t mess around with the mission creator all that much, but it did seem pretty comprehensive. Now, I can’t say any of the user-made missions I played were anything really amazing, but some of them were pretty fun and I can see creating and playing these missions adding a lot of longevity to the game for many players. It’s not for me, but it’s a nice feature.

The Good:

+ Great storyline
+ Great aesthetics
+ Cole looks and sounds like a human being now
+ Good and evil choices are handled a lot better
+ Feels a lot more polished and refined than the first
+ Features many new powers and more upgrades to existing ones
+ New melee system works great
+ Karma system works really well
+ Parkour is just as good as it was before
+ Supports user-generated content

The Bad:

- Side missions are still too repetitive
- First area of the game feels too much like Empire City
- You can no longer sense Dead Drops


Infamous 2 is a much more fun game than its predecessor, and the original was pretty darn fun to begin with. It improves a lot on almost every aspect of the first and gets rid of most of my problems with its predecessor. While the first Infamous was definitely good, Infamous 2 is great, and that's just what I want to see from Sucker Punch. I say give it a purchase. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: B+

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kirby's Return to Dream Land Review

NOTE: This review is mediocre and I'm not the least bit proud of it. Please do not waste your time with it. ~T-Man 2013

-------My Rating System-------

A(-)(+) A top notch experience all the way through. It may not necessarily be perfect, but whatever flaws it does have won’t take you out of it or make it any less worth your time. (Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2)

B(-)(+) A very fun experience bogged down by some significant problems, whether they’re related to the story, gameplay, or both. However, it’s still a good or even great game and worth the price of admission. (Kingdom Hearts: Recoded)

C(-)(+) A mixed bag. Generally fun to some extent and may shine in some areas, but is either too flawed to fully recommend or far too short for its price. Conisder it for a reduced price, at least if you’re a fan of its genre. (Rayman 3D)

D(-)(+) Subpar. It may not be terrible, but it is severely flawed and whatever it does well ultimately fails to save it. Even if you’re a fan of the genre, this is barely a bargain bin purchase. (Sonic Heroes)

F Insipid, disgusting, despicable, and insufferable. It is a scar on the face of human accomplishments that time shall never heal. The best thing we can do is avoid playing it at all costs. It is the only way to prevent its parasitic disease of awfulness from spreading. (Shadow the Hedgehog)


It’s been quite a while since the last traditional Kirby game that wasn’t a remake – nearly twelve years. We’ve seen plenty of Kirby games throughout the past decade, most of which have tried out new and creative ideas. 2010’s Kirby’s Epic Yarn, for instance, took place in a universe made completely of yarn and featured many gimmicks based around that, and last year’s Kirby Mass Attack features you controlling up to ten Kirbies with the touch screen. While most of these games are great, many missed the gameplay that made Kirby’s original adventures so much fun - or, at least, I did. Fortunately, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land brings that style of gameplay back. A throwback to the Kirby games from the NES, SNES and N64 eras, it features the same enemy-swallowing, ability-copying gameplay that made those games famous. So without further ado, let’s dive in.


The story of Kirby's Return to Dream Land involves a tiny alien’s starship crashing on Pop Star, and its pieces are scattered around the planet. Fortunately for him, our resident pink…puffball thing, Kirby, along with former enemies Meta Knight, King Dedede and Bandana Dee are right nearby and decide to help the alien by getting these parts back…which apparently entails beating the crap out of everything they see. Real classy, Kirby.

Obviously the story is very simple and downplayed, but it’s a Kirby game, so that should go without saying. What really matters here is – of course – the gameplay, and that part’s pretty dang good. Return to Dream Land is the first all-new pure Kirby experience since 2000’s The Crystal Shards, and it does a pretty great job of following up on that style of gameplay. If you’ve never played a traditional Kirby game, how it works is that Kirby can use his apparently amazing lung capacity to inhale enemies and/or objects and then subsequently throw them at other enemies and/or objects, or swallow them. Some enemies actually have special abilities, and if you eat those enemies, you will gain that power and be able to spam it on anything you see until it gets knocked out of you or you just get tired of it. Classic powers like Beam, Sword, Fire, Ice, Cutter, Electricity, Needle, and Stone are still here, as well as some returning from Super Star like Wing, Hammer, Fighter and Ninja (the latter three being some of my personal favorites). However, Kirby also gets a few new ones this time around – namely, Leaf, Whip, Water and Spear. Powers in Kirby aren’t only used for fighting enemies and bosses, though; there will be times when you need to use a specific power to open up the way to a secret.

These powers pretty much work just as you would expect: you press the “1” button (as the Wii Remote is held sideways in this game) and you use the attack. However, Return to Dream Land handles the powers in a way that makes them even more fun to use than in most other Kirby games. It’s exactly like Kirby Super Star (Ultra), for those who have played it – the attack you use with a power varies depending on what direction you’re holding on the D-Pad, whether or not you’re running (some powers, such as Water, even change how you run), whether or not you’re in the air, how long you hold the “1” button, or even other factors. Take Ninja, for instance. Tapping the “1” button makes Kirby throw a knife and holding it makes Kirby do a slash with a katana. If you a hit an enemy with said slash and keep holding the “1” button, Kirby will do another slash that sends out a wave that kills all enemies in the immediate vicinity (or does extra damage if you’re fighting a boss). If you attack while holding down in the air, Kirby will do an eagle kick, and if you tap the button while running, Kirby will boost forward and all enemies he boosted past will receive a flurry of slashes. Essentially, each power is like playing as a different character with its own moveset, and that’s a big part of what makes this game so much fun.

Speaking of different characters, Return to Dream Land offers a co-op mode where other players can play as Meta Knight, King Dedede, Bandana Dee or another Kirby, and the movesets for the non-Kirby characters are amalgamations of powers available to Kirby. It’s pretty fun and the game lends itself quite well to a co-op experience. However, there is one small frustration I found with it. One character can give another character a piggyback ride or carry another character while flying. While this is fine, rather than having you press a button to do this, the game makes you do it automatically. It’s a small annoyance, but it is there.

There is one more thing that deserves mentioning when it comes to the subject of powers. In some levels, you will find an enemy carrying a superpowered version of a normal power. If you eat said enemy, you will get it and let’s just say that what comes next is pure satisfaction. These super powers are really fun to use, destroying everything in your path as well as activating gimmicks. You will also need these to access the secret areas, and if you go through those and defeat the optional bosses at the end, you will get Energy Spheres (more on those later). All in all, the super powers are pretty awesome.

So, the gameplay is great, but as I’ve said before, in a platformer, one of the most important aspects is the level design. It’s basically the butter to a platformer’s bread. As for how Kirby’s fares, well, I’d say it’s serviceable. Its level designs are far from the most challenging and innovative you’ll ever see, but there’s a lot of diversity and the designs can even get pretty creative at times. Particularly, the secret areas I found quite creatively designed, posing unique challenges you won’t see anywhere else in the game. The level designs aren’t exactly brilliant, but they’re fun.

But although Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a very good game, there are a couple of pretty significant things that keep it from being a must-have. First of all, most hardcore gamers are going to find the main mode of the game very easy, at least up until the last couple of worlds. I understand that most Kirby games are easy to make them more accessible to younger and more casual gamers, so I won’t say that this is an inherent flaw, but I do think it limits the interest of the hardcore audience a bit. Secondly and most importantly, it’s...really short. Most people shouldn’t take longer than three days to beat it, and depending on how much time goes into each sitting, it may not even take that long.

However, while the short length is a flaw, there is plenty of extra content to keep you playing even after you beat the main game and it’s still worth a purchase because of it. For one thing, completing the main game opens up an extra mode, which cuts down your life bar by a significant chunk and puts you up against tougher enemies and bosses. If you found the game too easy the first time through, this mode is definitely worth playing. While the level design isn’t changed aside from the enemies you face, the bosses at least should give you quite a challenge. There are also 120 Energy Spheres to collect within the levels, which open up challenges for the game’s powers as well as two mini-games that you can play with your friends, which are pretty nice. There are also two boss rush modes a la Super Star. Overall, the extra content is pretty substantial and does a good job of keeping the game worth the price in spite of the short length and easy difficulty.

The Good:

+ First all-new traditional Kirby game in years
+ Powers come with full movesets like in Super Star
+ Super powers are awesome
+ Co-op mode is fun
+ Diverse, reasonably creative levels
+ Lots of extra content

The Bad:

- Main mode lacks challenge
- Pretty short


As a Kirby fan since childhood, Return to Dream Land was a great experience for me. It brings back the same style of gameplay that I fell in love with so long ago, and it’s just as fun as ever. As for how it compares to the other Kirby game for Wii, Epic Yarn, well, I’d say which one you would like better depends on what you’re looking for. Kirby’s Epic Yarn deviates from traditional Kirby gameplay, but in return offers an incredibly unique and creative experience. Return to Dream Land, on the other hand, is a pure traditional Kirby experience. Personally, I had more fun playing Return to Dream Land, but Epic Yarn did take me much longer to complete. Whatever the case, I would definitely recommend both games. So with all that said, I’m off. See ya.

Grade: B

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rating System Announcement and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

Well, another New Year has started, and, just like last year, I’ve decided to change my rating system once again. Last year, I changed from a five-point scale to a ten-point scale, the reason being that I felt like the five-point rating system was too limiting, not allowing enough room to specify just how good (or bad) a game is. However, over time, I’ve grown to see my ten-point scale a bit…inflated. As an example, based on the old rating scale, a game that got a 7, while that should mean “good”, more or less meant “okay”. Meanwhile, a game that got a 6 wouldn’t be worth buying at all unless you were a fan of the genre. On the big gaming websites and magazines, such a system is generally used because publishers (who bring in tons of advertising revenue for them) would not be pleased if their game got a particularly low score. Being independent, I do not require money from advertisers, and, therefore, am in no need of such a scale. Also, while I did feel the five-point system too limiting, I do believe some generalization is called for when rating games: after all, mostly, you have the amazing games, the good-but-flawed games, the okay games, the bad-but-with-some-redeeming-qualities games, and the awful games. I don’t think I should need twenty (since I go by “.5”s) numerical ratings to describe just how well they fit into these categories.

Therefore, I have decided to switch to a grading system. It offers just the right amount of generalization while at the same time giving me leeway to describe exactly how good or bad a game is thanks to “plus” and “minus” distinctions. As is the usual way, short descriptions of each grade will be tagged onto every review, but I will explain it at the beginning of this review first. The Skyward Sword review will begin afterwards.

A(-)(+) A top notch experience all the way through. It may not necessarily be perfect, but whatever flaws it does have won’t take you out of it or make it any less worth your time. (Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2)

B(-)(+) A very fun experience bogged down by some significant problems, whether they’re related to the story, gameplay, or both. However, it’s still a good game and worth the price of admission. (Kingdom Hearts: Recoded)

C(-)(+) A mixed bag. Generally fun to some extent and may shine in some areas, but is either too flawed to fully recommend or far too short for its price. Conisder it for a reduced price, at least if you’re a fan of its genre. (Rayman 3D)

D(-)(+) Subpar. It may not be terrible, but it is severely flawed and whatever it does well ultimately fails to save it. Even if you’re a fan of the genre, this is barely a bargain bin purchase. (Sonic Heroes)

F Insipid, disgusting, despicable, and insufferable. It is a scar on the face of human accomplishments that time shall never heal. The best thing we can do is avoid playing it at all costs. It is the only way to prevent its parasitic disease of awfulness from spreading. (Shadow the Hedgehog)


Does this game really even need an introduction? To some extent, we all know how beloved the Zelda franchise is, and, quite frankly, it deserves that love. The original Legend of Zelda was one of the first games of its kind, providing what were – at the time – a massive overworld and dungeons with tons of secrets to find, enemies to fight and puzzles to solve. Zelda II took the gameplay in a different direction, but A Link to the Past for the SNES would take everything the original game did and expand upon it and boy, did they do a great job of that! It set the standard by which all later action-adventure games would be judged…until 1998 when Ocarina of Time came out and applied the Zelda formula to a massive 3-D world, resulting in what is hailed by many, including myself, to be one of the greatest games of all time. The later 3-D games would be contested in some areas, but still received their own amounts of critical acclaim and legions of adoring fans. One of my personal favorites is 2000’s Majora’s Mask, which changed things up significantly from Ocarina with its unique three-day system, side characters that were actually fully fleshed out and had their own storylines, transformation masks, and insane amount of worthwhile side quests. But enough of my personal anecdotes; let’s get to the game at hand.

Anyway, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the latest game in the extremely popular franchise, and its primary selling point is accurate swordplay thanks to the magic of WiiMotion Plus. While that’s great and all, rest assured: this isn’t the only improvement Skyward Sword brings to the table. In fact, Skyward Sword represents such a massive evolution of the Zelda formula in just about every respect and does so little wrong alongside it that it has, in my opinion, surpassed Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask as the greatest game in the franchise thus far. Let’s take a look as to why.

(Note that this review will contain spoilers for some items and gameplay elements.)


As I often do, before really getting into why this game is so amazing, I’m going to talk about the aesthetics. The most notable thing about Skyward Sword, graphically, is its art style. Essentially, it’s a cel-shaded version of Twilight Princess’ art style with much brighter colors. It looks absolutely beautiful and suits the general tone of the game well, adding a cartoonish goofiness to some characters and enemies while at the same time giving it some needed sophistication. The environments, in particular, are a graphical highlight. Some of the textures are a bit blurry, but eh, I can forgive it thanks to how great the rest of it looks. Then we have the score. This is the first time a score for a Zelda game has been fully orchestrated, and while its melodies aren’t quite as memorable as those of some of the other games in the series, MAN does it have its standouts. The Skyloft theme pretty much puts me in a good mood every time I hear it, and the Ballad of the Goddess, the game’s main theme, is, in my opinion, one of the best songs ever composed for a video game. I also loved the theme for the third dungeon due to the atmosphere it created and the music for the Sandsea, one of the areas you will be visiting in the game. Other than that, nothing else really stood out to me, but it works.

Moving onto the storyline, it is chronologically the first game in the series. It begins in Skyloft, a set of floating islands above the clouds. In the town on the main island, men train to become knights at the Knight Academy. Our Link this time around is enrolled in said Knight Academy, and said knights get to ride giant birds called Loftwings through the sky. Don’t you wish you were them? Regardless, Zelda, rather than being a princess this time around, instead is Link’s childhood friend. Unfortunately, she is sucked into a tornado created by Demon Lord Ghirahim, our villain of the week. Link is then called upon by Fi, a robot, to take the Goddess Sword from Skyloft and use it to save the world, as he is the Chosen One, and the rest of the game takes place from there on.

Skyward Sword’s story is one of the many reasons why it’s the best Zelda yet. By far, it tells the most engaging – and at times, even touching – storyline in the series. This is partially thanks to how well the characters are handled. Zelda is a character this time around rather than a plot device. You care about her and want to save her not just because you have to, but because you like her. Link is at his best here as well. The Wind Waker was, for a long time, the only Zelda game to give Link any sort of real personality, and it’s handled very similarly here. He’s still just as silent as ever, but his facial expressions and various grunts and cries give off a wide range of emotions and reactions. It also handles the whole “he’s your ‘link’ to the game world” thing a lot better, since you are able to choose between three options as to what Link can say at certain points. There are also plenty of great supporting characters, and Ghirahim’s dialogue and general hamminess make him a really entertaining villain. As for the partner character, Fi, while I didn’t find myself enjoying her quite as much as Midna from Twilight Princess or Tatl from Majora’s Mask, her odd obsession with statistics and seemingly random dancing fits in some cutscenes were kind of amusing. Heck, even if not for that, I’d still take her over the likes of Navi any day. But even aside from having great characters, the mythology of Skyward Sword is just incredibly well done and very interesting to learn.

When it comes to gameplay, there’s a lot of ground to cover, but I’ll start with the controls, as it is the main selling point of the game. Twilight Princess’ waggle controls may have been cool back in 2006 when motion controls were a new thing, but now that they’ve been around for a while, they come off as tiring and even a bit laggy and unresponsive. It was already hard enough to go back to, but after playing Skyward Sword, I think the Wii version of Twilight Princess would feel virtually unplayable by comparison. Skyward Sword’s controls are amazingly smooth and accurate, reading your movements incredibly well even when you’re not attacking. Not only does it feel great, but, as you would expect, it adds quite a bit to combat. Enemy encounters actually require you to find an opening and exploit it by slashing in a specific direction before you can do damage, which is easy or hard depending on what enemy you’re facing. The average Bokoblin will attempt to block your slashes with its own weapon, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a hit in. Lizalfos, on the other hand, are very agile and have giant gauntlets on their arms that effectively block attacks. Their cockiness will get the better of them, however, as eventually they will stop to taunt you, leaving them defenseless in at least one direction. Other enemies are different. The bloblike Chuchus will split when you cut them, but will only stay apart if you cut them vertically, and some Moblins will require you to destroy their wooden shields before you can do any frontal attacks. It’s worth noting that enemies are a lot stronger this time around as well, so you’ll have to be defensive a lot yourself. Aside from combat, the Wii Remote is used for a lot of actions, such as throwing and rolling bombs, swimming underwater, controlling your items and flying on your Loftwing, and it always works great.

While we’re on the subject of controls, the use of motion controls isn’t the only thing that’s been changed up. Even maneuvering Link around the world is much quicker and easier. For the first time ever in a Zelda game, Link is able to sprint and even do a little bit of parkour by holding the “A” button. This helps navigating the world more than you would expect. While performing these actions, as well as hanging off of ledges and vines and even doing the classic Spin Attack (done in this game by swinging the Wii Remote and nunchuk at the same time), you will have to be wary of the stamina gauge, which gradually depletes. If it drops completely, Link will be left completely defenseless until it refills. In some areas, this actually adds a new element of challenge, particularly areas that require you to run or hold onto vines for a long time.

So the controls are great, but how is everything else? Well, I’m happy to report that pretty much everything is at its prime here. First, let’s talk about the overworld. There are four main overworld areas in the game: Skyloft, Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano and Lanayru Desert. Skyloft is essentially the hub of the game. It’s where the lone town resides, although there are several satellite islands with side quests to do and treasure to find (more on that later), kind of like in Wind Waker. Going off of that idea, flying on the back of your Loftwing is your mode of “sailing” in this game. Now, I know a lot of people hated Wind Waker’s sailing, but don’t worry; flying is not a big part of the game at all. Getting from place to place in Skyward Sword is much easier and faster, and the world is smaller to boot.

Most of the action happens in the other three overworld areas, which you will be returning to exactly three times each throughout the main quest. Don’t worry, though; Skyward Sword is not intent on rehashing content. Rather, the progression is somewhat Metroidvania; the second time you return to an area, you will use the new equipment items and abilities you have gotten to access new areas. The third return trip, in two out of three cases, takes place in areas you’ve already been, but what they do with them is really clever. In any case, the overworld of Skyward Sword is actually one of the big reasons why the game represents such an incredible evolution to the series. While the overworld is smaller and a bit more linear in design than what you would expect from a modern Zelda game, there is a LOT more to it in exchange. Skyward Sword blurs the line between overworld and dungeon, packing its areas with lots of enemies to battle, puzzles to solve and even some quite creative gimmicks. My favorite area was Lanayru Desert, which required you to make the use of Timeshift Stones – stones that revert parts of the area to a past, far greener state – to power up technology and progress through the level, and there was even a rollercoaster-esque minecart sequence at one point.

While I did just say that Skyward Sword’s overworld is smaller and more linear than the norm, that’s not to say that it's tiny. Exploration is pretty rewarding, in fact. You can find various materials in the game that can be used to upgrade Link’s equipment at the smithy in Skyloft, as well as Goddess Cubes that, when hit by a Skyward Strike from your sword, open up a treasure chest in Skyloft. The first time you go into each area, you will actually be sent on a quest requiring you to explore, usually right before that area’s first dungeon. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but would you call me crazy if I told you that the fetch quests in this game are FUN? Yes, Nintendo has taken one of the most thoroughly loathed elements of the Zelda series and made it into something that feels less like brainless padding and more like legitimately fun and interesting gameplay. This is, of course, thanks to the new style of overworld design, which makes finding the things you need fun rather than a tedious chore, although having a dowsing ability that points you in the right direction certainly helps.

There is another type of “fetch quest” – if it can even be called such - which you will be doing the first time you revisit each area. These are the Trials of the Goddesses, and they are pretty much what happens when you take the tedious and boring Tears of Light fetch quests from Twilight Princess and turn them into something that’s less “tedious and boring” and more “fun and challenging.” Actually, they’re not so much “quests” as they are a sort of mini-game. For these trials, you are dropped in the “Silent Realm” version of an overworld area and stripped of your equipment, at which point you have to seek out several Goddess Tears. If you get a Light Fruit, there will be a beacon over them so you can find them more easily. Sounds boring and fetch quest-y enough so far, but you haven’t gotten to the best part. The Silent Realm is filled with guardians – some of which that can fly and go through walls – and the second you start searching, they will be right on you. If they hit you once, you’ll have to start over. Fortunately, collecting a Goddess Tear will get you 90 seconds of peace, which can be renewed with each tear you collect, but you still have to look out for the Watchers, which will alert your presence to the Guardians once more, as well as Waking Water, which will also alert them to your presence as soon as you step in it. The trials are actually quite challenging, and I had a lot of fun completing them.

So, now that we’re finally done talking about the overworlds, what about the dungeons? Since the overworld is so dungeon-like now, you would think that they would deliver some truly phenomenal dungeon designs, and, well…they succeeded. They really succeeded. Skyward Sword’s dungeon designs are quite possibly the most clever and creative in the series thus far. The first couple are sort of basic albeit still great, but starting with the third, each one becomes an absolute joy to play through. There is so much cleverness and creativity put into the dungeons’ puzzles and gimmicks that it’s almost unbelievable, and all of them put the items you get to fun and creative uses. Said items include mainstays such as the bow, slingshot, bombs, and hookshot (or clawshots, as it would be), and the whip returns from Spirit Tracks – which is a very good thing since it’s one of my all-time favorite Zelda items – as well as really cool new items such as the Gust Bellows, which blows out a large gust of wind that can be used to power some mechanisms and clear sand; the Beetle, an extremely versatile flying weapon that can be controlled with the Wii Remote and is used for anything from cutting ropes to dropping bombs on unsuspecting enemies; and an upgrade to the Digging Mitts (an item you get early on in the game) that allows you to burrow underground. And just as great as the dungeons in Skyward Sword are the bosses that you face in them. Just like everything else, the bosses are extremely creative and enjoyable to fight, usually forcing you to make use of the new items from the dungeon or even the WiiMotion Plus swordplay.

There are a few other changes that Skyward Sword makes that, while somewhat minor, are probably worth touching on. First of all, Skyward Sword makes use of preset save points rather than allowing you to save wherever you want like in most other Zelda games. At first, I thought I would hate this. I thought disallowing you to save wherever you want worked for Majora’s Mask given its three-day system, but Skyward Sword seemed like it was going to be a mostly normal Zelda game. However, the more I played, the more I started to dig it. In previous Zeldas, saving would send you back to the start of the area or dungeon you had saved in or make you start from a specific area of the game, forcing you to trudge right back to where you had been before. Having preset save points is more of a convenience here than anything, mainly since the game is very generous with them; just about anywhere you could have accomplished something worthwhile, you will find a save point, preventing you from losing much precious game time thanks to death. Save points are also located in dungeons now, meaning you don’t have to start from the first room every time you reload your save.

Items and equipment are handled a lot differently as well. If you’re not careful, your shield could break and you’ll have to buy a new one. Fortunately, you can have your shield repaired before it does so, and even upgraded to make it more durable. Personally, I don’t think this is such a bad idea. Rather than just being there to make things more tedious, I think it’s there to make you think more about just when you should use your shield as well as encourage you to get better at shield bashes, done by shaking the nunchuk right as a blow connects to the shield, which will protect you as well as prevent your shield from taking damage. As for items, while you’ll always have your auxiliary equipment such as the bow and bombs with you, you will be limited as to the number of extra items and shields you can carry in your Adventure Pouch (although you can get more slots for it). I think this was put in place for much the same reason as the shield breaking; it’s to make you think more about just what you’re going to need before you continue your adventure, and I think it works.


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was an absolutely phenomenal experience for me all around. I have my nitpicks (such as the nunchuk controls being a bit oversensitive, for example), but in comparison to the amount of fun I had playing it, these were absolutely inconsequential. The storyline is fantastic, the controls are near-perfect, the overworld and dungeon designs are amazing…this is one of those games that you absolutely must experience. It is not only the greatest Zelda game, finally surpassing Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, but it is – dare I say it? – one of the greatest games ever made. It’s definitely one of my favorite games now! Bottom line, buy it. T-Man, out.

Grade: A+