The 'Shroom:Issue LVIII/Non-Marioverse Review
I'm so behind the times I didn't bother playing as many 2011 releases as I prob'ly should've so I can't make a top 5 list. Oh well, mistakes were made. So of the ones I've actually played, I'll just suggest Portal 2, Bastion, inFamous 2 and Rock of Ages as some 2011 games you should totally play. Happy New Year, by the way.
|The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword|
...oh don't give me that look; it's been a slow couple of months. There was Skyrim, which is way too big a game for a wanna-be critic like me to pretend to dislike; Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I won't touch because I'm scared that associating myself with anything from this series anymore will immediately turn me into an overweight, cheese-fingered social outcast with greater fluency in Shyriiwook than in English; or Afterfall: InSanity, and I'll sacrifice my cat to appease the pagan God of overused concepts before I put up with another fucking alternate history Russian/American war fantasy this year. So I was out of options, and trust me when I say that I'm not going to enjoy this anymore than you will, which should already give you a hint at the tone of this review.
My problem with Nintendo is that they have a terrible habit of constantly rereleasing the same games over and over again, abusing their high position as the long-standing king of gaming to put as little effort into their work as possible. They've grown complacent in the knowledge that they have millions upon millions of rabid, obsessive animals ready to eat up anything with the Nintendo Seal of Give Us All Your Parent's Money on it, almost all of whom are more than willing to wage war on any irate small-time whingepot (such as myself) who dares even slightly slander the infallible sanctity of Nintendo's worn out and shrivelled cock. Admittedly, much of this applies to a great number of leading game publishers, but I'm not likely to piss off as many fanboys here if I call those guys out. I have no problems with developers making a few extra follow-ups to perfect a promising but messy formula, that's how sequels are supposed to work; but it doesn't take over fifteen full-length games to get it right! One of the most potent weapons in Nintendo's arsenal of quick and easy cash is The Legend of Zelda, which is now celebrating its 25th anniversary of running around in a short skirt and slinging your little nuts around at whatever laughs at you for it. Except it's totally different now because it's with giant birds that look like the monstrous offspring of a discoloured albatross and a demented pelican. You play as the usual protagonist – called 'Link' when you're feeling mature enough to not abuse the naming feature, and any assortment of filthy names every other time – this time a resident of a group of magical floating islands collectively labelled 'Skyloft', which sounds like the name of the most boring mountain resort in the world. Zelda gets in trouble yet again, so Link sets out to save her by collecting the Master Sword – oh wait sorry, Goddess Sword, my bad – and then setting out to find an assortment of plot-driving treasures hidden away in a variety of dungeons to eventually find the Triforce, blah blah blah, you know how this works.
I won't say much about the core gameplay because chances are you've played a Zelda game before and therefore know what to expect, so I'll instead jump straight into the brand new motion controls; the MotionPlus allows you to control the position of your sword and swing in a variety of different directions to allow for a "strategic" approach, but nothing has been done to remedy the ever-present delay between Wiimote motion and on-screen action. When taking into consideration that almost every enemy in the game has directional blocking moves that force you to carefully aim your sword so you can hit the one part of their deformed figure that isn't being covered in shame, the delay pretty much ensures that whatever you intended to do is done a second too late and met with a counter move that you're typically unable to dodge because Link is too busy stumbling in awe of your ineptitude. In the heat of battle, it can be all the difference between having fried lizard with fairy garnish for lunch and being Hylian platter for a banquet of irate goblins. This isn't aided by the motion sensor having a hard time distinguishing when I wanted to strategically reposition my sword to get a proper swing in and when I wanted to unite both our weapons in a brief but loving embrace. It could just be that I'm biased against motion controls, but I don't feel you can build the entire combat system on flailing two unresponsive sticks at the screen in hopes that the enemies take pity on you and let you get a free shot in, and aiming your bow or slingshot with the Wiimote has all the accuracy and precision of a man with Parkinson's trying to knit a sweater in the middle of an earthquake.
Among the many inane additions to the game is the stamina metre, because this incarnation of Link is a tremendous bludger who can't even go for a little jog without having to rub his aching ovaries every five seconds. Draining the metre leaves Link unable to do anything but drag his lazy cartilage around for a few seconds until he realizes people are watching him and pretends like it never happened. I don't see why I should be penalized for wanting to get to my next destination as fast as possible, game; I thought I was through with this shit when I finished school! Also shields can be broken now, with rather alarming frequency at that; I guess even Skyloft's manufacturing is struggling so much they need to import their goods from China. It's not really that big a deal unless you forgot to stock up on potions before entering a dungeon, but later on you're able to purchase a shield that repairs itself over time at a very rapid rate, so the durability doesn't seem to serve much purpose other than to piss you off when you first realize defending yourself only actually works about half the time. One thing you could say about previous Zelda titles is that they usually introduced at least one or two new equipment in what I like to call the Street Fighter approach to innovation, but of course those aren't Skyward Sword which hasn't a single original idea in its head! The closest item to "new" is the flying mechanical beetle which is basically just the seagull gimmick from Wind Waker given a practical use, which I suppose is one way to innovate but it's also a sign of desperation when the best they can do is bring back a small diversion from a previous game and make it control even worse. I suppose you could argue that the harp is new, but I swear Nintendo are just throwing in the towel with that thing. All you do is sway the Wiimote side to side in rhythm to aura pulsations in the ground, and most of the time they don't even give you that requirement; a great many fanboys will find themselves disappointed when they decide to buy the inevitable Zelda brand harp only to learn it's not quite that simple to play.
At the very least the franchise goes out of its way to introduce new methods of transportation every few games, and having already used horses, boats and trains, the only logical step up would be flying around on a cross-eyed thunder bird. It's almost fun to side-strafe other pilots, skydive towards a lone floating island and forget to activate the parachute before hitting the ground head first, but it controls like ass and all the novelty wears off quickly when you realize there's fuck-all to see up there aside from one overly bright shopping centre and a small witches' brew. It isn't as expansive or interesting to explore as, say, Wind Waker, and considering your only entry to the main world is through disjointed gaps in the clouds, you start to see Skyloft for what it truly is – a glorified level hub, which is the worst possible thing you can include in a game that's meant to feel big and open. This could've been forgiven, but there's really just not much variety or intrigue in the level design; you have your pick of a river forest, a volcano, or an arid desert. That's seriously all there is. Is it just me, or does Hyrule become smaller and more boring with each passing game?
I found myself more engaged in the side-missions than the main story, which may be because doing favours for people makes a prissy gargoyle give you larger money bags, but more likely has to do with how boring, trite and predictable the overarching story is. A chaotic race of demons trying to get their hands on an artefact of the Gods to awaken a sealed monstrosity, and now a defenceless chosen one and her attractive guardian have to travel the world to fulfil a divine prophecy to vanquish them all? How about you fuck off, destiny, so I can continue my war against all the fragile jars of the world? I guess I'd feel more of a threat if the villains had actually managed to accomplish anything; by the second quarter of Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf already has the entirety of Hyrule grovelling at his feet as he patiently allows Link and Zelda to go about their adventure so he can steal all their progress from under their feet in the end (spoiler alert), but the villains in this game can't even get their hands on Zelda let alone plunge the world into darkness. I feel the demons would benefit from a change of leadership, seeing as their current mastermind likely spends more time in the beauty salon than in his office. No really, this guy is such a flaming, whingey poofter – he wears earrings and make-up; dresses in skin-tight, fetishistic clothing; throws juvenile tantrums when a spanner is thrown into his incredibly simple, ill-thought out plans; and invades Link's personal space more times than is necessary to get the point across that he's meant to be the bad guy. It's like a backstage event with David Bowie. It's unsettling, especially in a game geared towards a younger audience, and springs to mind bad memories of a large number of Square Enix titles.
Come to think of it, much of the game reminds me of anime-esque RPGs; the environments, the graphics, the dialogue, the personality-less cast of characters, the clumsy progression of the story... it's all reminiscent of cliché-ridden Japanese titles such as Tales of Symphonia and Eternal Sonata. There's even a new "helper" character that fills the role of Navi if Navi were a stereotypical submissive emotionless teenage anime girl in fishnet stockings with two flamboyant cuttlefish covering her arms, which is only made more disturbing by the fact that she's more or less the anthropomorphism of your sword. This must be how children develop fetishes. All she ever seemed to do was jump out of the sword every other minute to point out some rock in the ground or a door I was standing right in front of and tell me the statistical probability of it being important in the most drawn out, wordy phrasings possible. I understand the main demographic for the Wii are five-year olds, but I'm sure even they can figure out half this stuff without having to read a slow breakdown of their situation every single time by a computer wearing paint for make-up.
Much of the game could be passable if they didn't stuff you around all the time with so much unnecessary padding. There only being three worlds, there's a considerable lack of variety in the dungeons and their puzzles; after completing the initial three and slaying a giant scaly worm thing that's supposed to be the big baddie, you're sent back to each location to complete another three trials, but they feel like continuations of the first three dungeons since they basically just run on the same themes and gimmicks anyway. They do try to justify this as you occasionally exploring parts of each location that you weren't able to visit before, but it's not like they couldn't have created a few more distinct locations to make the second lot of dungeons feel a bit more original; a tundra couldn't have hurt. But after doing all that you're forced back to each world for a third fucking time to collect parts to a song just so you can gain access to the final dungeon that is quite literally just all the gimmicks from all the previous dungeons mashed up into a complete mess. There's padding in the boss battles too, as that demon ponce poses as the boss for two entirely separate dungeons in generic fights that just entail wailing on him with the sword until one of his fingernails breaks, while the aforementioned main villain is fought thrice throughout the game in exactly the same fashion each time; if slicing off Orochi's eight heads on three separate occasions in Ōkami pissed me off, then smacking the pimple on a giant muppet's forehead isn't going to fare any better. This isn't epic storytelling; this is just bad pacing and pointless repetition in a desperate bid to artificially lengthen the game for a few more agonizing hours. It reached the point where it began to feel less like I was the grand hero chosen by the Gods to prove his worth and save the world from the eternal darkness that hasn't even happened yet, and more like I was being punished with a never ending stream of tests and trials for spiking my potions with the blood of so many innocent bugs.
I'm not so irate and cynical that I can't admit there's still fun to be had here, such as the mine and ship level. But the overall experience constantly hovers somewhere between dull and infuriating aside from the few brief moments of creativity spliced in, and I'd go as far as say Skyward Sword is one of the worst Zelda games I've played thus far. All the few changes and new additions are completely token and shallow, and the rest of the game's content merely further illustrates Nintendo's unwillingness to take any risks, continuing the series' trend of taking refuge on the coattails of its predecessors and adding yet another heavy load for the core formula to drag around with its now-aching, withered out bones. I find it ludicrous that we consider one or two new features and a graphical makeover every couple of years to be innovative and worthy of perfect scores, especially for a series now running on its sixteenth mind-numbing instalment; if I had my way as harsh dictator of the world, any and all game companies that tried to pull this shit would be raided and shut down on international theft charges. I say throw the game in a furnace and just go buy Ōkami instead, you craven fanboy drongos.