Hands-On Preview: AKA... Link: Hibachi Chef
It wasn't a surprise to see The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword open Nintendo's E3 2010 Press Conference
. After all, I made the spot-on prediction that the company would unveil lightsaber-y shield and swordplay using the required MotionPlus in the May article E3 2010 Predictions from an 8-Year E3 Veteran
. Sure enough, Shigeru Miyamoto was on stage, slicing and dicing his way through a level as Link. But, while there was no shocking announcement, the audience was still captivated by the idea of a more immersive experience as the Hyrulian hero.
With sword and shield in hand, well, Wii Remote and Nunchuck in hand, I demoed the very same level the next day on the E3 show floor. The first enemy in this forest environment was a Deku Babas, a plant-based enemy that resembles a Venus flytrap. This isn't your typical Super Mario Bros. Piranha Plant, though. It snaps at the most inopportune moments and it has a hard shell on the top and bottom, making it impossible to defeat without a little crafty swordsmanship.
?Cut it the same direction that its mouth is open,? I remembered Miyamoto saying the morning before. ?It doesn't work if you cut from top to bottom on it.?
Taking the advice of the series' creator, I used the incredibly accurate 1:1 motion tracking of the Wii Remote with MotionPlus to snap my right arm from right to left. The on-screen sword followed my movement flawlessly, and the Deku Babas plant was soundly defeated.
The next plant switched up the sword-slicing gameplay. I remembered that Miyamoto ran into the same enemy with its mouth open sideways and remarked, ?Here, I have to cut vertically.? Likewise, I raised my Wii Remote above my head and flicked it straight down to cut the Deku Babas into two and complete this sword-based puzzle gameplay.
When held in the air for a little longer, Link's sword actually charges up when its pointed toward the sky. This may have a lot to do with the game's name. For now, however, it enables the character to let loose convenient sword beams. Also handy is the ability to perform 360-degree spin attacks. This is done by swinging the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in the same direction.
I ran into more sword-based puzzle gameplay when a creepy eye on a locked door stood in the way of advancing through the demo. To fool the eye and open the door, I had to move the Wii Remote as if I was painting an invisible circle. This gesture caused Link's sword to rotate and the eye to follow the blade until it became dizzy. With the eye dazed, confused and so red that not even Ben Stein could pitch Clear Eyes
to it, I simply jabbed it with my sword and the door opened up.
Beyond the door, shield gameplay became necessary, as a pair of familiar-looking Deku Scrubs popped out of the ground. These classic enemies have a leafy sprout on top of their heads and therefore look like normal bushes at first. As soon as you approach them, however, the rest of their wood-based body jumps out of the ground and Deku nuts start shooting at you from their snout. Defeating Deku Scrubs in Skyward Sword requires giving them a piece of their own nut-based medicine. Shaking your left hand while holding the Nunchuk raises Link's shield and not only protects him from projectiles, but allows you to perform a shield bash to ricochet the nuts back at the Deku Scrubs.
The look of the forest level and characters remains a wonderful fantasy, but the feel of Skyward Sword is more realistic than ever. With sword-and-shield gameplay so closely tied to MotionPlus' 1:1 tracking, I felt like a hibachi chef slicing his way past enemies with the Wii Remote, then felt like I could rely on hiding behind the protective shield thanks to the attached Nunchuk controller.
Also more true-to-life is the way items like the slingshot and bombs are selected. Instead of wading through them one at a time, pressing the B button on the back of the Wii Remote opens up the a circular spectrum of items at once, allowing you to select one by pointing at the convenient wheel. It was a challenge to get used to at first, but I can see switching between items being a faster experience once I get the hang of using the B button and memorizing where items are located in the wheel.
Of the items shown in the demo, the beetle was the most interesting because it's new to the Zelda universe. We've been so used to typing the word ?Beatles? thanks to Rock Band, but Nintendo finally gives video game journalists a reason to correctly spell it for the first time since Beetle Adventure Racing on N64. The beetle in Skyward Sword launches from Link's hand via the A button and flies around automatically while you navigate its direction with the Wii Remote. Tapping the A button again while the beetle is in the air allows it to speed up. These controls function like an out-of-body guided missile often found in a military shooting game. But, unlike a shooting game in which the end result is a remote explosion, this unique item for the Zelda series gives you the advantage of seeing what's ahead and also grabs normally unreachable pick-ups.
With all of the new motion control elements going into Skyward Sword, Nintendo said at its press conference that it needs more time to develop the game.
?We've been working hard on implementing these new ideas into the game,? Miyamoto said, breaking the news to the audience at the end of his entrancing demo. ?Development looks like it's going to take through the end of this year. So, you can all look forward to playing The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword next year.?
Knowing that this Zelda game won't release until 2011, I was pleased to have a 10-minute demo session with Skyward Sword and try out its more intimate sword-and-shield experience. My hope is that Nintendo fleshes out the personalized gameplay and improves the look of Hyrule so that adult Link gets the graphical justice that he deserves in the months ahead.