Bottom line: With its updated elements, fun gameplay, and linear plot Skyward Sword HD is a major improvement from the original Wii game. However, it's still got plenty of flaws. Still, if you're a Zelda fan, you ought to check it out. Save the world from evil while meeting a colorful and quirky cast of characters.
Gorgeous art design
Classic Zelda gadgets
Too repetitive and still clunky
Lacks battle variety
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I'll be honest here. I'm a big Zelda fan, but I've never really liked The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which is why I've only beaten the motion-control heavy game twice on Wii. My interest peaked when I learned that the game was getting an HD upgrade for Switch that made motion controls optional. Perhaps I could finally enjoy this gimmicky title.
For any who don't know, the plot centers on Link and Zelda, childhood friends who live on the floating island of Skyloft and attend the Knight Academy. After a suspicious tornado knocks Zelda off of her Loftwing and down to the surface below, it's up to Link to save her and defeat the evil force bent on the world's destruction. In the process, Link will have to dive into several dungeons, acquire new gadgets, and meet several crazy characters. Originally, players had to swing the Wiimote around to make Link strike with his sword, but this didn't always respond the way it should. Now button controls have been added to the HD version to make things easier.
Since the game was released, I've beaten Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch. I have to say that the improved mechanics have both made this entry more enjoyable and allowed me to experience some of the classic Zelda playstyles that Breath of the Wild moved away from. However, there' still too much lacking in the base structure to really make Skyward Sword HD a worthwhile Zelda game.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD review What you'll like
|Category||The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD|
|Titles||The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD|
|Release Date||July 16, 2021|
|Play Time||35-40+ hours|
|Format||Physical and Download|
The original Skyward Sword game is now 10 years old, and Zelda has drastically changed in that time, with Breath of the Wild being more of an open-world adventure that shook up the series. Going back and playing the linear Skyward Sword HD helped me realize how much of a stepping stone it was towards the fresh mechanics in Breath of the Wild. You'll see the first implementations of the sailcloth or glider, the stamina gauge, and breaking shields which would later become big parts of the next Zelda entry. In many ways, Skyward Sword is what the Wii U was to the Nintendo Switch, an unpopular but important step that leads to something greater.
Still, if you played the original Wii version, you'll find the HD Switch version is definitely an improvement. The art style, though made with dated models, looks very good on the Switch. Additionally, the host of upgrades really helped to make this a better Zelda game.
Yes, the button controls are much better
My biggest issue with the original game is a common one — the unwieldy motion controls didn't always function properly. They made Skyward Sword boss fights incredibly frustrating. Thankfully, Skyward Sword HD is a major improvement. If you're playing on an original Switch, you can choose to use either button controls or motion controls, and if you're playing on a Switch Lite, you'll be using button controls.
I tested both options out during the course of my playthrough, and I confirmed that even though the motion control is far more responsive and works better than it did on Wii, button controls made the game far better for me. With button controls, the right josystick determines what angle Link slashes from. For instance, pushing the joystick from the upper right corner to the bottom left makes him perform a slanted slashing motion from right to left. This made fighting certain bosses easier, but I still found most battles to be rather frustrating.
So, you might be thinking, if the right joystick controls the sword, how do you control the camera? As with most older Zelda games, ZL makes the camera focus directly behind Link. Still, I was happy to find that pressing the L button and then moving the right joystick allows you to move the camera, which is more common nowadays.
It was strange for me not to be using the A button as much as I would in just about any other Zelda game, but you get used to it after a while. Just be warned that switching from motion controls to button controls changes up which buttons you need to press, which is rather confusing. Fortunately, you can check the controls menu to see what does what.
Several other improvements
When playing the original Skyward Sword, something that drove me nuts was how Fi (the spirit that resides in your sword) would interrupt you to tell you something mundane. For instance, you'd be fighting an enemy, and suddenly she'd pop up to tell you that your wallet is full. Now, much of her input (outside of cutscenes) is optional with the press of the D-pad rather than an unwanted intrusion.
I also appreciated the new ability to skip cutscenes or move quickly through dialogue. There's a lot of excessive talking in Skyward Sword HD, so skipping through to the important dialogue is a nice change. Plus, if you happen to die during a boss fight, you can skip through the cutscene instead of sitting through it over and over again. Just note that important hints on what to do next are found by talking to people, so don't skip through too fast.
Some classic magic
While I like the changes we've seen in Breath of the Wild, Skyward Sword HD made me realize that I've missed some older Zelda standards like letting me dive into big dungeons, defeat themed bosses, and find awesome gadgets that unlock new areas to explore. If you've missed any of those things, then playing Skyward Sword HD might just scratch that itch. If nothing else, the classic Zelda music, which wasn't as present in Breath of the Wild, is found all over the place and might reel you in with nostalgia.
Quirky characters and sidequests
Honestly, it wouldn't be a Zelda game without some strange characters and zany sidequests. Some characters are downright bizarre while still managing to be endearing. Link's rival, Groose, gives off big Gaston energy as he bullies everyone in Skyloft while Ghirahim, one of the main enemies in the game, comes off unhinged but also completely fabulous.
If you take a moment away from the main story, there are plenty of sidequests that revolve around acquiring Gratitude Crystals. Some of these objectives are incredibly silly and have strange outcomes that are worth seeing to the end just for a laugh. Additionally, the game encourages exploration as this can lead you to find helpful items like Heart Pieces that enlarge your overall health.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD review What you won't like
Skyward Sword's biggest weakness is its repetitive gameplay. Since the original game focused so heavily on the new motion control mechanics, boss fights feel very similar to each other and limited in scope. Even when just sticking to button controls, it always slashes at this angle or that angle or jabs at the right moment. You do use some of your gadgets to solve puzzles and defeat certain bosses, but there doesn't feel like a ton of fighting variety. Not to mention, there's a couple of bosses that you will face multiple times, and you'll be bored or maybe even annoyed with these encounters from the start.
On top of that, there are basically only three different locations on land that you explore, and you'll be coming back to these areas at least three times each as the plot progresses. Even if there are big changes between visits, being forced to return to the same locations to complete tasks just gets old after a while. It especially feels limiting when you think about the vastness of Breath of the Wild, Ocarina of Time, or Majora's Mask's maps.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD review Should you buy it?
Skyward Sword has long been the black sheep of the core Zelda games, but this HD upgrade makes it far more enjoyable since you can choose to play with motion control or button controls. The artwork holds up really well, and many of the characters are memorable. I found that I had missed the classic Zelda format of diving into dungeons and finding new gadgets to play with (which is something that was missing from Breath of the Wild).
If you really like Zelda games, puzzles, and fantasy worlds, you ought to play Skyward Sword HD. Just note that while the updated mechanics do make it more enjoyable, it is still my least-favorite core Zelda game ever made. The mechanics are improved to be easier to handle, but they can still be frustrating and make most of the game feel repetitive.
Bottom line: Zelda and the world are in trouble, and it's up to Link to make things right. He'll need to explore the skies with the help of his large bird and dive to the surface below to investigate dungeons. There are plenty of puzzles and gadgets for him to interact with along the way.
Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.