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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword preview: Swinging for the skies


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the Zelda game I wanted on Wii five years ago, when the console launched. I don't mean that to say it's not good, because I sure had a great time playing it. I mean that to say that the "Wiimote as a sword" gameplay in Twilight Princess was gesture-based and awful, whereas Skyward Sword features excellent, near one-to-one control thanks to the required Wii MotionPlus.

I lift the Wiimote, and Link lifts his sword. I slash diagonally, and he slashes with me, imperfections and all. In fact, aside from some seriously rough graphical edges -- literally! jaggies ahoy! -- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is exactly the right Zelda game for Nintendo's soon-to-be-succeeded Wii console and it's oft-misused controller.

Gallery: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (E3 2011) | 22 Photos

The hands-on demo at E3 was broken into three distinct pieces, intended to give a taste of various components of the game: a bird flying competition, a bit of dungeon exploration, and a boss battle with this game's Ganon stand-in, the sexualized, extra creepy Demon Lord Ghirahim.

Though not expressly spelled out, Skyward Sword once again has Hyrulian hero Link out to rescue Princess Zelda from some calamity or another, with a powerful antagonist (the aforementioned Ghirahim) standing in Link's way. The demon lord himself hinted at as much with a screed before our short battle. And at one point in the conversation, he appeared suddenly behind Link's head and did this super weird tongue thing -- I'm gonna leave that up to your imagination, but I assure you it was quite creepy.

And then we sparred, which was easily the most fun I had with any of the demo's individual parts. Z-targeting is still in full effect, and like Twilight Princess before it, the Nunchuk controller is used for shielding Link. Unlike TP, though, different shields have health bars of different sizes, forcing battle out of potentially cowardly combatants.

As mentioned earlier, my sword swipes were a direct mirror of my Wiimote actions, which is to say, "I repeatedly slashed Ghirahim's face." Like, a lot. Many times. And I'm happy to say that the combat felt more fluid and natural than ever, with Link's master sword pouncing on Ghirahim exactly as I commanded. The only setback I found was the inability to slash away Ghirahim's sword -- as he struck, I attempted repeatedly to deflect it with my own sword, to no avail. A nearby Nintendo rep informed me that wasn't possible, unfortunately.

Moving on to the next area, I piloted Link over the edge of a -- get this! -- sky city, where he whistled for a bird while sailing to his demise, to be swooped up by a giant fowl (a Roc, perhaps?). Once again utilizing the Wii MotionPlus, the bird is piloted by twisting the remote left or right to tip to either side, while a slight flourish will make the bird flap its wings, pushing Link ever higher into the sky. This felt natural and controlled easily, unlike attempts at similar control methods in other Wii games.

Several NPCs joined in the plunge, sky-saddling their own birds and racing me to a pilotless bird holding a statue. After snatching up the statue on two different occasions, I earned a bird for my very own -- and it turns out he'll be what Link pilots between various sky-based environments in this holiday's game. A flying Epona, if you will (and I will). Skypona? Flypona? The choice is yours.

And though I spent some time mucking around the dungeon, it was pretty hard to get a grasp of what was going on. I flew around one of Link's new items -- a scarab of some form that can collect skulltulas or hit gems or snag rupees, for instance -- though a 10-minute time limit on the dungeon area kept me from exploring its potential depth.

All in all, Skyward Sword is very much more Zelda by the numbers. But the fresh feeling of the Wiimote and the vibrant colors of the world helped to freshen up a formula that's been repeated dozens of times over the past 20 years. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword launches this holiday.

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