Skyward Sword: 12h30m

Skyward SwordI’ve now beaten the first three temples, seen all 3 of the lands on a first pass, and earned over half of the “items” in the game.

At first the controls were somewhat frustrating.  Link’s swordwork was especially difficult to control.  Not wanting to have a biased experience, I swapped from an off-brand “motion plus” accessory to a Nintendo produced version.  Interestingly, I don’t necessarily notice that I have greater control, but I do seem to be a heck of a lot more effective.  I can only conclude that the Nintendo brand controller is better optimized, which is unsurprising.

There are numerous examples in Skyward Sword of multiple feedback forms.  An obvious one is the newly introduced Stamina Gauge.  This feature offers multiple layers of feedback to the player, to ensure comprehension of Link’s current status.

  • Visual – The Gauge empties clockwise
  • Visual – The Gauge flashes red when running low
  • Visual – When empty, the Gauge is a dulled color with a red center, and Link’s animation changes completely to broadcast his exhaustion
  • Audio – Link breathes more heavily according to how much stamina he’s used
  • Audio – The Gauge plays a beeping warning noise as it runs low
  • Audio – When empty, Link pants heavily until the Gauge fills up completely again.

My current overall impression is that Skyward Sword is very safely designed, though it’s not really breaking any new ground.  The mechanics of this Zelda game are similar to others preceding.  The item-centric gameplay generally proceeds as follows: 1) Move through an environment that’s difficult without an Item.  2) Obtain the Item, and move through the same environment in new ways.  3) Progress through a temple, gaining greater control over your Item as you solve puzzles.  4) Fight a final boss, making use of the item you obtained.  This is a satisfying progression, because it brings the player from frustration to mastery, and leaves them with the fanfare of reward.

It’s important for the moment-to-moment gameplay to have a steadily escalating intensity, with a natural ebb and flow.  Skyward Sword does this well; when fighting the Pyroclastic Fiend, SCALDERA, the arena contains a safe spot for the player to rest, recover hearts, and fill up their bomb bag before returning to the fray of the boss, who iterates on his behavior as the fight progresses.  Interestingly enough, Skyward Sword also has a natural ebb-and-flow, increasing intensity curve over a much longer timeframe.  First the player fights through a low intensity “overworld,” before descending into a moderate intensity “dungeon.”  After clearing the dungeon, the player returns to town, with minimal intensity.  The player then proceeds to the next overworld, which is less intense than the previous dungeon, but more intense than the previous overworld.

This is a very engaging intensity curve.  I didn’t feel like I’d appreciate my time in town, but it turns out that after clearing a challenging dungeon, it’s very relaxing to run around town and do a few small side missions.

As a final note, I’ve discovered the true purpose of the Fortune Teller; he helps a confused player figure out what resources they need to bring to their next location.  I’m sure this is valuable for some players, but it doesn’t feel like a valuable use of my own 10 rupees; the rest of the game practically screams what I’ll need to bring with me.

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