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Game Review

Over the past 25 years and through 15 core renditions, Princess Zelda's tale has earned its titular legendary status.

The franchise's legend was said to have started with game designer Shigeru Miyamoto's youthful explorations as a boy in the hillsides surrounding his childhood home in Japan. According to Miyamoto, he was wandering one day and came upon a cave entrance in the middle of a thickly forested wood. After a moment of apprehensive hesitation, he grabbed a lantern and began exploring the cave's dark depths—an adventure that became one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

That spelunking joy eventually translated to the dungeon-trolling, puzzle-solving, demon-bashing series of Zelda games that we now know so well. They started out with pixelated blocky heroes accompanied by primitive synthesizer beeps on the NES console, worked their way through handhelds and next-gens and now end up as a graphically vibrant animated title with lush, fully orchestrated underscores on the Nintendo Wii.

The Same Sword-Swinging Tale
To be truthful, all of the Zelda games contain pretty much the same story: The beautiful Zelda is in trouble and an elf-like, sleep-loving hero named Link quests his way to her rescue. It's  Donkey Kong with swords. Only the dungeons, puzzles and game mechanics have really changed all that much over the years.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is officially labeled as a prequel—an exploration of how Link's Master Sword came to be—but as soon as the green-clad hero's love interest is snatched up into the sky by a mysterious magical twister, well, fans will slip into the action as comfortably as they would a favorite sweater … or a well-worn bird saddle.

The big difference this time around is the Wii motion-controlled remote. Skyward Sword is designed to wring every bit of potential out of its technology. No button mashing required. Whether you're running pell-mell through forests or swooping in on the back of a giant bird mount, it's all point, wave and go. Showcasing the console's Motion-Plus add-on, the game mirrors players' every sword-flicking feint and flèche. (While playing the game for this review, my controller missed only a swipe or two.)

Of course, as with other recent Zelda games, some of that added detail can be a problem. This E10+ game thankfully avoids any real blood and mess in the sword-slashing and arrow-launching battles, but the stabbing, lunging and flailing Wii remote movements do put little Sally in the position of acting out the hacking up of onscreen foes.

The Legend's Ever-Badder Baddies
Back in the early blocky days, Link's slashing of a blobby goblin was a nondescript feat akin to Pac-Man ghosts swallowing you whole. But the newest graphic realism makes a big difference—even in Link and Zelda's fanciful land. The dungeon skirmishes can feel dark and dank, and the ghoulish skeletons, Bokoblins and demon creatures are creepy. Even some of the dialogue tossed out by enemies can be a bit rough. A demon lord croaks out things such as, "I'll drag you to everlasting torment," "You will deafen yourself with the sound of your screams," and, "The thread of fate that binds us will be soaked crimson with your blood!"

Then, of course, there's the franchise's general sense of fairy and demon spirituality that permeates most of this world's temple and dungeon pathways. A few examples:

Link's sword has a Tinkerbell-like spirit bound to its substance that pops up from time to time with advice. The demonic lord big boss repeatedly talks of extracting an imprisoned Zelda's soul to use for his fiendish goals. We find out Zelda is actually a goddess reborn in mortal form who must worship at various "goddess altars" in order to regain her past memories. Link can collect Evil Crystals that are said to be "pure crystallized monster malice." "Sacred flames" left behind by a goddess bear mystical powers that magically enhance Link's Skyward Sword. Players are instructed to "pray" to bird statues in order to save their progress throughout the game. Spells and curses are regularly bandied about.

This latest Legend, then, may appear to be the same story of a brave adventurer, but it's not at all the same fanciful stroll you experienced when you were a kid and Link looked like a flattened Keebler elf with a cute and teeny blade.

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November 20, 2011

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Bob Hoose Jake Roberson

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