Saturday, 27 October 2012

What’s wrong with Skyward Sword (And how to fix it)

  There are two truisms in the world as according to video games.  That (1) everyone makes mistakes and stands to learn from those mistakes, and (2) Nintendo fans comfortably insulate Nintendo, knowing they can deliver flawed products and still turn a profit.  Even now, I suspect that many fans are gearing up for a hissy fit merely on reading the title.  The following is an article themed on “What can we learn about Skyward Sword, now a year on (okay, 11 months, so sue me, for I’ve good ideas).  I know I speak blasphemy against the cult of Ninty here, but I’ll ask invested fans to cool the fan rage for a bit. 

  Skyward Sword feels rushed, and it shows.  The world lacks the many “off the beaten path” discoveries the series is known for, there are precious few NPCs and no town anywhere on the surface, flying comes close to Windwaker for its lack of engagement.  Other criticisms, such as lack of HD, voice, or other common film properties that are gradually dominating video games, are mostly from corners of the gaming world that have no great love of the old ways.  That being said, it’s Skyward Sword that packs in more cutscenes than any other Zelda before it, and that can’t be helping that case.

  So that will be my first advice.  Nintendo, if you want to make a product full of cut scenes, get the best film grads you can and make a Spirits Within.  I can’t promise it will sell as well, but it’ll be a film judged by film standards, rather than a video game judge by film standards.  As things are you are only creating expectations for yourself that you have no intension of reaching, and we don’t and have never wanted you to!

  Second point, I would love some more content.  Zelda’s have always been about two things, overworld exploration, complete with all kinds of goodies and surprises, and dungeon combat with puzzle solving.  Skyward Sword was supposed to be an experiment in blending the two.  You have rather missed the mark, and both feel absent.  The dungeons are each plentifully long, though one or two more never hurt.  What is sorely needed is an overworld with lots of surprises. 

  I suspect that Skyward Sword has become dauntingly pricey, so let’s make this easier for you.  I always wanted to see more of Zelda II, and Skyword Sword, with its heavy focus on sword combat, is the closest thing seen in a while.  Why not drop it some of those old, 8 bit tropes.  Overhead map, hidden caves and dungeons, random encounters with monsters (complete with sprites on the map showing weaker monsters, stronger monsters, and fairies).  One might ask how that works with the existing 3d architecture; the answer is to design and reuse simple terrain-themed theaters and fill them with mobs. 

  Once upon a time, Nintendo, you were a master of this.  You could skillfully fill a world with a few repetitive items and manage their supply and use as to make finding them like winning the lottery.  In many ways, the heavily complicated enemy drop system still does much of this.  But Zelda II is still remembered for its enormous world to explore and vast surprises in every cave, to say nothing of its difficulty.  Skyward Sword comes up shy, not for lack of assets but for lack of a sense of space.

  Nintendo could make whole worlds fill up TVs much smaller and simpler than the ones common today.  I guess we all live in hope that you’ll remember those achievements some day.  I guess it’s why we’re still sticking around.

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