Stuck in the Clouds

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Screenshot

HIGH The boss in dungeon four.

LOW Inconsistent stabs AND falling off a ledge to be respawned next to a lantern ghost in the Silent Realm.

WTF To open the gate of time, you must attain the three sacred flames. To get the sacred flames, you must acquire the three sacred gifts. To get those, you must procure the fifteen tears of the goddess….

Way back in 2006 when the Wii was first unveiled, the first thought on every gamer's mind (besides the dirty jokes) was the idea of fully interactive sword fighting in a Zelda game. Now, more than five years later, we've been given The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword which supposedly fulfills that dream. Unfortunately, it instead demonstrates every single reason that motion-centric controls are not the future of gaming.

I've generally been a fan of Zelda over the years. The Link to the Past-Ocarina of Time-Majora's Mask arc is one of my favorite sets of games, and Wind Waker was still highly enjoyable, if a bit less so than its predecessors. Twilight Princess, while suffering from many of the same problems that Skyward Sword does, was still worthwhile as well. Skyward Sword sits well below these games on the hypothetical totem pole I'm illustrating here, and the reasons for this begin squarely with the controls.

Skyward Sword's motion controls are often sluggish and unresponsive. There always seems to be a slight delay between when I swing the Wiimote and when Link actually does something, and getting him to swing in the direction I want is usually a pain. This becomes the game's biggest problem, as nearly every enemy has some kind of blocking ability that required me to slash in a particular area. If I didn't do the motion just right, my attack just bounces off and I get to try again.

Motion problems aren't limited to swordplay. The aiming cursor tends to fly off the screen a lot, requiring constant use of the cursor re-centering button. However, when doing things like swimming or piloting the beetle flyer, re-centering isn't an option. In those instances, I just had to put up with the wonkiness until I was finished doing whatever I was doing. Bomb throwing is another huge problem, as the smallest tilt too far downward will cause Link to switch between throw and roll mode, which led to a ton of bombs going off in my hands.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Screenshot

Problems like this make playing the game much more of a struggle than it should be. The slightest twitch can cause an action to misfire, and sometimes it just does the wrong action altogether. Each successive instance where the controls failed me further seared the question into my mind: why can't I just do this stuff by pressing buttons?

None of this is meant to say that motion controls can't ever work. They've been used several times in ways that made the games in question better. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption used the Wiimote for its aiming system, resulting in an interesting hybrid of a controller and mouse/keyboard setup that worked well. Super Mario Galaxy used it for spinning or the collection of star bits. These games used motion to enhance traditional control methods in a very subtle fashion. They were added on top of the controller, but they didn't replace it. Instead of taking after these successful pairings of traditional controls and motion, Skyward Sword bludgeoned me with motion at every possible moment, as if it were desperately trying to justify the existence of the Wiimote.

The absolute worst instance of this occurred with one of the bosses, which required me to perform the "stabbing" attack to kill it. The stab is done by thrusting the Wiimote straight forward, but since my upper body would often move as well (the nunchuck with it) the shield motion would cancel out the stab, and I would get swatted. I was eventually able to compensate by disabling the shield and making sure to hold the nunchuck perfectly still, but it took me quite some time to figure out what was happening, and this is not something I should have had to worry about in the first place.

If the controls were my only real problem with Skyward Sword, I might be willing to forgive it (to a certain extent) and write it off as a failed experiment with motion gameplay. However, Skyward Sword falls flat even when the controls are removed from the equation. With the exception of a few sections that I'll talk about shortly, the game world comes in well short of the previous Zeldas.

The primary hub level of Skyloft has very little to explore outside of the main town, and while they are very pretty, the three main areas on the surface feel extremely confined. Even the majority of the dungeons are very transparent, and they were often far too eager to give me the solutions to their puzzles. Nobody would ever mistake any Zelda game as having a truly open world, but some more diverse areas to explore would have been appreciated.

The Silent Realm quests, a set of instant-failure stealth and time-based collection missions, are another instance of bad conceptual design. These segments consist of collecting a set amount of goddess tears without being hit by an enemy. Link is totally defenseless, so he has to avoid detection in order to succeed. If that sounds bad, it's because it absolutely is. Zelda games have never been well-suited to stealth missions, but here they're extremely drawn-out and frustrating to the point where its a serious problem.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Screenshot

Even in a more general sense, Skyward Sword is shallow, as everything is incredibly padded for play time. The vast majority of the non-dungeon content can best be described as "going to get a thing." This often consists of nothing more than going to a location, being given an item, then going back. Sometimes these fetch quests made me do something even worse, like the aforementioned Silent Realm missions or a dreadful aquatic scavenger hunt that occurs late in the game. Skyward Sword is hardly the only game (or even the only Zelda game) to have an abundance of fetching, but having it compose over half of the 47 hours I spent is just inexcusable.

On top of all that, travel is generally tedious, and there isn't much to do or see on the numerous runs back and forth. Forcing me to spend so much time "re-exploring" a world that isn't all that interesting to begin with is painfully boring, and a sign that the game lacks for interesting content. When stacked against the rest of the series (especially in terms of level design) Skyward Sword as a whole is dead last in my book.

I have to wonder just how much of the game's shallowness is due to so much effort being focused on the motion controls. I ask this because despite all the issues, there are some genuinely clever and creative things in Skyward Sword. Dungeons three and five are among the best in the series, and nearly all the time I spent in the Lanayru Desert was enjoyable. In addition, the fourth boss and the final dungeon were very pleasant surprises. Despite all my problems with the controls and a painfully slow start, the game did manage to hook me for a while on the strength of some of the mid-game dungeons.

However, the inflated play time is simply ridiculous, and dungeons one, two, and six come off as fairly hollow. The quality of the mid-game portions relative to the rest makes me think about what might have been if the focus had been more on the world itself and less on trying to demonstrate the supposed greatness of Wiimote waggling.

After finishing the game, I can say that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was not what I expected. I thought it would be a good (but not great) practitioner of the Zelda formula hampered by unnecessary motion controls, much like Twilight Princess was. Instead, I got a game that's cripplingly hamstrung by its controls and even falters when presenting the basic Zelda recipe. The game isn't a total loss thanks to a few great levels, and it's clear that Nintendo still has some incredibly talented and creative people working for them. Unfortunately, a couple of great levels aren't enough to save the game from a mountain of other problems. The good portions of Skyward Sword are left drowning in a sea of bad ideas that never should have left the drawing board. Rating: 6.0 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail purchase and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 47 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains animated blood, comic mischief, and fantasy violence. Kids should be fine with it content-wise. I didn't see anything particularly objectionable, though I can see younger ones getting frustrated by the controls.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be OK. There are no spoken lines, and audio isn't a significant gameplay factor.

Richard Naik

Richard Naik

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Richard received his first console (the NES) at the age of six, and from that point on games have been an integral part of his life, whether it's been frittering summers away with the likes of Mario, Mega Man, and the Zerg or partaking in marathon sessions of Halo, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead. After being a longtime reader of GameCritics, Richard joined the staff in March of 2009, and over the years Richard grew into the more prominent role of part-time podcast host.

In 2016, he spearheaded a complete rebuild of the GameCritics.com website, earning him the title of Chief Engineer.

His gaming interests are fairly eclectic, ranging from 2D platformers to old-school-style adventure games to RPGs to first-person shooters. So in other words, he’ll play pretty much anything.
Richard Naik

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35 Comments on "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review"

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Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 months 8 days ago
I think the reviewer’s take on the motion controls is a bit lop sided. The motion controls aren’t perfect but they are nowhere near as frustrating as the game pad / button controls implemented for Metroid Prime and Prime 2, Echoes. (Rereleasing those games in Metroid Prime Trilogy was absolutely brilliant and the first two games – with motion controls implemented – fared better than the third because of the absence of silly gimicks.) That being said, the ‘silent realm’ fetch quests were pretty frustrating, tedious, and entirely unnecessary. Fun as the game is, I could have done without those… Read more »
Tras
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Tras
1 year 7 months ago
Very late reply (well, yours is late as well so who cares). Watched other people play the game on YouTube and honestly almost every single one of them is worse at the motion controls than I am. I only died once during the entire game and that was because (just like most people who like this game admits) the controller only works like 95% of the time. Tried THREE different Wiis with different rooms and TVs, one of them brand new all of them with brand new wiimotes. All of them register shit wrong a small percentage of the time.… Read more »
GamerSince91
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GamerSince91
2 years 9 months ago
Ok, here’s an obvious problem people might run into with the controls: When aiming the sword to deliver precise blows, most gamers acclimated to the IR (instead of the inner gyro, in SS) will attempt to reset the controller to neutral before making a second swipe. This is WRONG! The result is often an unintended swipe followed by NO swipe in the intended direction. For example, “swipe up-left, reset to center of TV, swipe up-right” will typically result in “swipe up-left, swipe down-right, stand around doing nothing.” Especially in the heat of combat, trying to do this quickly will definitely… Read more »
GamerSince91
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GamerSince91
2 years 9 months ago
I just wanted cast my vote for the “good controls” side of the fence. I have played Skyward Sword for well over 90 hours (still haven’t beaten it, by choice) and I’m extremely confused at the criticism of the game’s controls. My first instinct says that the people struggling the the controls have a few screws loose or just a few cards short of a full deck. Maybe they’re extremely young or old. Or maybe, forgivingly, they simply don’t WANT to enjoy/understand the game’s control scheme. Now, I realize that my initial judgement is unfair to the intellect and efforts… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 4 months ago
It would be excellent if Nentendo allowed for both motion control or traditional controller gameplay. The Zelda series has always been my favorite since I first embarked in quests in the late 80s. However, motion controls are often flawed. In a number of ways, depending on who’s using it, because everyone has a comfortable way of holding or using a controller. With motion controls, your gameplay will suffer because you’re not holding/tilting the wiimote or nunchuck just right. It’s awesome that some people really enjoy the abundance of motion controls. I, on the other hand, fight with it throughout the… Read more »
Mike Lassen
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Mike Lassen
3 years 8 months ago
It is a mystery why this reviewer had such a bad experience with the controls. The problem may be caused by input lag. I have noticed that connecting the Wii to my television with the supplied composite cables would cause severe input lag – connecting with component cables solved the problem. Others have had the same problem – an example is this thread from the penny-arcade forum: http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/109004/wii-hdtv-possible-lag-solved What is worse is that the modern HDTV may have lag even with component or HDMI input. Apparently as much as 100ms (6 frames). Read the Edge feature “How the HDTV killed… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 11 months ago
It does seem like the author should make an attempt to correct the control problems or resolve to test the game on a machine where other players have found the controls to be working well. To write a review, awarding the lowest score for a game found anywhere and complain about the controls when dozens of other reviews have praised them, all while not doubting one’s own hardware setup is an amazing show of confidence – crossing into arrogance. Think about it. Lighting. Position. Batteries. Dirty sensors. Misunderstanding of technique. Uncalibrated controls. Any of these could be responsible for issues… Read more »
Driezewies
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Driezewies
4 years 3 months ago

hey, just want to say that I agree with this review.

I don’t get it why the internet is full of perfect scores fot this installment. It really has a lot of flaws.

Even though I love Zelda and Nintendo, but they really need to check up on their franchise, because it’s not going right…

If you want to read a full review about my thoughts:

http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9098862

Gunnzo
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Gunnzo
4 years 4 months ago
Well overall i loved SS. Zelda was growing stale with TP (Oot remake) and i liked the motion controls. Still it´s not perfect. Skyloft is great but I would liked more towns to explore. Why didn´t the other land races have towns or villages? Just a few huts would do. The dungeons were really easy and straightforward. The sky was way to empty, why weren´t more places like the Pumpkin bar. There was some padding, having to enter the first dungeon twice and the dreadful musical note quest was horrible. I would like more land to explore. Give us more… Read more »
Atticus
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Atticus
4 years 5 months ago
I’m still trying to pick up my jaw off the floor after reading your review of the motion controls. I am absolutely 100% convinced that you had a faulty controller (or low batteries the entire time you played). My experiences with the motion controls were FLAWLESS. In every challenge, tossing bombs, aiming my arrows/beetles, catching bugs, etc… I never experienced what you described. I could stab forward with my sword with deadly accuracy without even thinking about what I was doing with my nunchuk. I simply cannot understand what could possibly be wrong with your Wiimote that would give you… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 5 months ago

“However, it also doesn’t make sense to me that a person who isn’t a fan of motion controls would review this game in the first place.”

I think it makes sense for anyone who likes previous Zelda games to review the game.

As for the score, I agree.

jc143
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jc143
4 years 5 months ago

Could you please define “badly”? It seems like you throw around the term loosely. No motion controls are 100% accurate(and never will be)….and Skyward Sword’s certainly aren’t. Nintendo wasn’t aiming for total accuracy but for fun and intuitive controls, as well as dense gameplay. I feel like they have been successful in that area. The lack of total accuracy in the controls at times doesn’t take anything away from what Nintendo accomplished with Skyward Sword- which is a marvelous game.

Anonymous100
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Anonymous100
4 years 6 months ago
Man… i’m just new to this site and that was my first time reading a review in here… (probably the last, too). Please, dont get me wrong here, i have no intentions to be disrespectful, because i dont have any right to be… but there is one problem with your review out there… The controls are not bad, they work perfectly, period. this isnt even a matter of opinion, because WORKING controls are a matter of fact. It works, perfectly, beautifuly, is inovative to general gaming and even more to the franchise (so i presume, because i am not that… Read more »
Toivo S
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Toivo S
4 years 6 months ago
[quote=MrGrieves]I grew up on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask like the rest of my generation, and I feel like a heroin addict chasing that first high every time I play a new Zelda game. I felt the first pangs during Windwaker, and they intensified with Twilight Princess…but they still kept me playing, and kept me immersed in the quirky, bizarre, endearing, and sometimes frightening world of the Zelda franchise. -Just AWFUL controls. Terrible. Motion controls are just terrible, and should stay exclusive to the Wii’s shovelware titles where they belong. -Uninspired soundtrack. Uninspired is being generous. I mean, after… Read more »
MrGrieves
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MrGrieves
4 years 7 months ago
I grew up on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask like the rest of my generation, and I feel like a heroin addict chasing that first high every time I play a new Zelda game. I felt the first pangs during Windwaker, and they intensified with Twilight Princess…but they still kept me playing, and kept me immersed in the quirky, bizarre, endearing, and sometimes frightening world of the Zelda franchise. -Just AWFUL controls. Terrible. Motion controls are just terrible, and should stay exclusive to the Wii’s shovelware titles where they belong. -Uninspired soundtrack. Uninspired is being generous. I mean, after… Read more »
A (Cautiously Optimistic) Zelda Fan
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A (Cautiously Optimistic) Zelda Fan
4 years 7 months ago
I want to start off this comment with recognition and gratitude; the reviews of games which are the most different have always been the most valuable. Your review is definitely very informative and useful. I want to ask a few questions, to clear up some lingering doubts I have from reading your review: 1. How were the graphics, music, and sound effects? There is no mention of any of these aspects of the game whatsoever, and it’s a little discouraging to think that a review would skip over what’s openly praised elsewhere altogether. The game was basically restarted by Miyamoto… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 7 months ago

thank you very much for this review. its the only review on metacritic which seems to reflect my own experience with the game. i just couldnt believe that a game with so many flaws in design gets a 93% score at metacritic. the controls, fetch quest missions and recycled boss battles/areas are just the tip of the iceberg.

greetings

Greg
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Greg
4 years 7 months ago
I found this review by searching for “Skyward Sword Frustrating”, and it perfectly sums up the problems with TLOZ: Skyward Sword, as well as my attitude toward the game overall and the Wii motion controls. The screenshot that accompanies this review, with Link’s sword stuck in Ghirahim’s hands, cannot be a coincidence – this is the single most frustrating aspect of the game and perfectly illustrates the problems with the precise-motion-centric solutions of some of the boss battles. Skyward Sword had a very few puzzles that were some of the trickiest in the Zelda universe (like crossing the bridge to… Read more »
Seluropnek
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Seluropnek
4 years 7 months ago
Incidentally, given that review comments are almost always bogged down with crap like “how u give this a 6 it’s at least a 8,” I think Gamecritics should simply ditch the scoring system altogether. This site is all about game discussion beyond simple technical concerns, and boiling all that down to a number is, I think, beside the point of this site. The critics here are more akin to film critics, viewing games on a more general, personal and artistic basis than simply going down the graphics/sound/fun factor checklist. That’s a very good thing, resulting in far better writing and… Read more »
Seluropnek
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Seluropnek
4 years 7 months ago
[quote=Derek Eduardo]people are complaining about the pointer that jumps out of the screen. That’s because they don’t know that its NOT an infra-red pointer, it’s a motion controlled pointer:it’s based on the initial position of the wii remote. For instance, when you get the bow, you dont have to point at the sensor bar and recenter the cursor, if the wiimote was sideways when you pressed “B” for the bow, the center point of the pointer will be sideways.So, when you get the item, just aim based at the initial position.[/quote] This is true – you shouldn’t have to constantly… Read more »
Josh
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Josh
4 years 7 months ago

Anyone who takes Reggie seriously needs his head examined. He’s clearly just a marketing representative if anything (and not a very good one).

Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 7 months ago

there are a lot 10/10 but let’s say they are all dubious….what about the reviews from 90-98? the most reviewers gave score over 85 and 90…an they are two guys with 70 but they compare the graphics with other consoles so they don’t count because you can’t compare apples with oranges…and only one that gave 60. so who is the dubious?

Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 7 months ago
i played this game too when i first played through i felt it was a good game now that I’m playing through a second time now I’m frustrated with almost everything who would’ve thought that they would make a worse companion than navi i loved midna she enhanced the story in many ways unobtrusive and she was part of the puzzles at times i loved being able to turn into a wolf but that is another matter. SS doesn’t deserve what regie fils-ame claims it to be because he says it was going to be the best game “EVER” made… Read more »
frogofdeath
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frogofdeath
4 years 7 months ago

I read this review when it was first posted, before all the comments. Before even checking the score I guessed it would receive a 6/10 based on the actual written review. I feel like the score fits perfectly based on the text. Not sure what the big deal is.

Derek Eduardo
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Derek Eduardo
4 years 7 months ago

people are complaining about the pointer that jumps out of the screen. That’s because they don’t know that its NOT an infra-red pointer, it’s a motion controlled pointer:it’s based on the initial position of the wii remote. For instance, when you get the bow, you dont have to point at the sensor bar and recenter the cursor, if the wiimote was sideways when you pressed “B” for the bow, the center point of the pointer will be sideways.So, when you get the item, just aim based at the initial position.

Derek
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Derek
4 years 7 months ago

people are complaining a lot about the pointer that jumps out of the screen, but its because most of them doesnt know that it isnt a infra-red pointer, its a motion controlled pointer. For instance, when you get the bow, the central point of your aim is the position the controller was when you pressed “B”. If your wii remote is in a horizontal position when you get the item, you dont need to aim at the sensor bar and recenter the cursor, you must aim based on the initial position.

Kevo
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Kevo
4 years 7 months ago

People have given Skyward Sword too much praise for what it is. Yes, it’s a great Zelda game, but the praise that it has been given over the past couple of months has been outright ridiculous. Though motion controls were the least of my problems, everything else Richard mentioned is true about the game: Too much padding, no exploration, etc. I would even add a few more issues, including lackluster soundtrack and repetitive boss battles.

Josh
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Josh
4 years 7 months ago
I’m not a “10 or nothing” type of zelda fan but having played the game I think it deserves a solid 9. The swimming/flying wonkiness that you described happened to me twice throughout my entire 60 hours of playing (and you don’t play along when it gets screwy like that, you just go to the start menu and recalibrate. Not sure how you didn’t know that). The thing is I could start a much lengthier argument about why I loved the game but the only thing I’ll be saying is “this didn’t happen to me”. Kinda pointless to argue about… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
4 years 7 months ago
@Anthony & @Crofto First, I gave the game a 6 primarily on the strength of some of the mid-game sections. Dungeons 3, 5, and 7, one of the bosses, and some other stuff in the desert region were genuinely fun. The problem is that outside of those parts the game dies, and thus problems with the controls become that much more glaring. I was enjoying roughly 40-50% of my time, so do whatever mathematical gymnastics you want to add that up to a 6. Second, I don’t see how I’m a “motion control hater”. I mention multiple cases where motion… Read more »
Arthur Dent
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Arthur Dent
4 years 7 months ago

I just happen to stumble upon this site and already love it. Instant bookmark. Why? Because you seem to be one of the very few that tell it like it is. You know? One of the very few that actually deserve the title game critic.

Mike Bracken
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Mike Bracken
4 years 7 months ago
I’ve run into lots of people, other than myself and Richard, who found the controls in Skyward Sword pretty dire in spots. Even guys who loved the game — like Scott Jones — willingly admit that the controls are frustrating at times and don’t really work the way they’re supposed to. The issue, for me, with the controls is that they don’t add anything to the game — at all. They’re a gimmick, just like they’ve always been. There’s not a single thing in Skyward Sword that is enhanced by flailing my arms around. Everything could have been done —… Read more »
Crofto
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Crofto
4 years 7 months ago
I had a long and epic response to this review, but before reaching the submit button I decided there was little point posting it since it changes little; Richard will be stubborn and stern in believing the review is valid, despite obvious flaws in his criticism. However, the following post (from Anthony) has compelled me to post, if only to basically concur and highlight that he reiterates many of the things I was intending to say in my original response. [quote=Anthony]However, it also doesn’t make sense to me that a person who isn’t a fan of motion controls would review… Read more »
Pedro
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Pedro
4 years 7 months ago
[quote=Anthony]And as someone who has played the game and read reviews from 50+ people who had very little (if any) control troubles, I think a lot of your claims in this review are pretty dubious.[/quote] And I read a lot of 10/10 reviews which were pretty dubious. I gave up on Skyward Sword five and a half hours in – Richard highlights the padding issue in his review which is very appropriate, I thought. It’s good that there are some redeeming features further along, but the first few hours were so brain-numbingly tedious, that I doubt a lot of people… Read more »
nightdreamer
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4 years 7 months ago

[quote=Anthony]However, it also doesn’t make sense to me that a person who isn’t a fan of motion controls would review this game in the first place. Should someone who already has their mind set against beat-em-ups review Arkham City? Should someone who is turned off by heavy usage of cinematic cutscenes review Uncharted? Of course not.[/quote]

Playing games not to your tastes is not the same as playing games where its controls actually – at least in Richard Naik’s experience – hinders your progression.

Anthony
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Anthony
4 years 7 months ago
“If the controls were my only real problem with Skyward Sword, I might be willing to forgive it (to a certain extent) and write it off as a failed experiment with motion gameplay. However, Skyward Sword falls flat even when the controls are removed from the equation.” The idea that a game like this would garner anything higher than a 3/10 or 4/10 really makes no sense to me. I don’t understand giving a 6/10 to a game that you think has terrible controls and generally “flat” design. If you’re going to make those claims, I think it’s fair to… Read more »
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