So, I finally finished Skyward Sword. To be honest, I cannot recall any other game leading me to such disparate feelings. In fact, Skyward Sword is both the best and worst game in The Legend of Zelda series.
At the beginning of the game, the 1:1 combat seems slow and tedious. Once the player masters the controls, combat becomes amazing, especially the last few battles in the game. There's nothing in the series quite on the level of these fights and that speaks volumes about the design and effort put into the combat engine.
On the other hand, the motion controls outside of combat suck, specifically the skydiving parts. The first time Link skydives, I had to stand to get the Wii to register my movements. When I had to use the mechanic later in the game, I had to sit and, still, the mechanic didn't quite work. It was also annoying that Link's items like the Beetle needed to be recalibrated constantly. Far too often, Link would start to move in the opposite direction of the Wiimote movement. I found myself frequently wondering why the analog stick was so heavily ignored. The skydiving would have worked so much better if the analog controlled the direction and the tilt of the Wiimote controlled his speed.
Level and puzzle design
The levels in Skyward Sword are amazing. There's not much else to say about that. But there is a lot to say about the structure. I've joked several times to my wife that SS should be named "The Legend of Zelda: Everything Link Needs to do is Fucking Difficult" because that's the truth. In order to reach a dungeon, Link has to navigate tricky landscapes which are littered with brain-straining puzzles. His reward for successfully reaching the dungeon? A short dungeon made up of rooms filled with mind-meltingly difficult puzzles. And I couldn't love it more. There's such a sense of accomplishment at solving each puzzle thrown at you and then moving to the next. This challenge is softened a bit by the inclusion of generous save points. It's quite a brilliant decision and an approach to the series that I hope to see in future games in the series.
The Zelda series is defined by character like no other series in gaming. Thanks to Ocarina of Time, "Hey! Listen!" is essentially part of the cultural lexicon. SS is no slouch in this department and, in fact, it ups the ante over previous games.
Some of the characters seen in SS are so unique to the series that I cannot help but love them. The Old Lady in the Sealed Temple has the same presence as the monk in those old Kung Fu films. She speaks in riddles and pushes Link to spiritual growth. Fi is my second favorite companion character; Midna still holds that title. I really enjoyed Fi's character arc and her interpretive dance was always fun to watch. By the end of the game, Groose had evolved from a complete douchebag to a likeable character. I love the scene in which he realizes that he's not capable of being the hero like Link is. He seems a bit bummed, but moves beyond it and becomes a better person.
That brings us to the most fabulous villain ever, Girahim. Link has never had such an interesting and fun villain to interact with. Ganon/Ganondorf is plain evil and, honestly, not that interesting. Girahim, on the other hand, is a Bond-styled villain. He oozes confidence and menace. There's nothing quite like him in the series; thus, he's quite refreshing and I enjoyed seeing him whenever he appeared.
If I had to name one major disappointment with the Zelda series of late, it would be the difficulty level. Rather, it would be the lack of difficulty. As much as I love Twilight Princess, those boss battles were fun but in no way challenging. Skyward Sword returns the series to its previous level of difficulty and then intensifies that with much more challenging puzzles. I really hope that Nintendo keeps this level of challenge in future titles. I really enjoy games that challenge players to improve and then reward that growth. I thrive on it.
Eiji Aonuma's team has done a superb job on Skyward Sword. It has some of the best design and creativity the Zelda series has ever produced. They've created an amazing groundwork for future titles in the Zelda series. I cannot wait to see what they create next, free of the constraints of the Wii hardware.