You know, a chap could start to feel unappreciated after the usual response I tend to get from honestly reviewing first-party Nintendo titles. They really do feel like games that it’s utterly pointless to criticise, because the moment I utter anything short of gushing hagiographical praise, Zelda’s army of self-appointed nannies fight each other to put little sticking plasters on the boo-boo.
One complaint that usually gets directed at me at this juncture is that pointing out how samey the games are has become a tired argument. I fucking agree, it certainly has, and yet, the problem hasn’t gone anywhere, so I’m going to keep using it. You wouldn’t tell those Occupy Wall Street to sod off because their complaints are getting repetitive. Yes, I did just compare the Occupy movement’s courageous opposition to corporate injustice to me saying Zelda games are a bit shit.
The other, more common argument I hear at these times is that I’m just automatically biased against the entire franchise, or Nintendo in general. Nothing, I say, could be further from the truth. If I’m biased against anything, I’m biased against games that aren’t fun. Games that I spend thirty hours of my week ploughing through looking for entertainment value and cultural relevance, after which I realise I would have been better off spending the time eating chocolate biscuits and watching The Ascent Of Man.
Yes, I’m biased against motion controls, but that’s just a sub-heading of the broader overall bias against games that aren’t fun. I’ve been trying to figure out a quick, pithy, all-encompassing way to express my reasons for thinking that motion controls are poisonous to gaming, so I can bring my opinion across in conversation without having to rant for ten minutes, and I think I’ve come up with something I like: Motion controls are a system wherein a game can fail you for something that completely wasn’t your fault. Like smacking an electrified sword because it was horizontal half a second ago and the game only just registered your horizontal swipe. There ya go.
But what infuriates me about these bumblefucks dismissing my Skyward Sword video with the argument that I’m just biased against Zelda is that in the very same video I reiterated that I really liked Zelda Wind Waker on the Gamecube. This does admittedly put me in a minority, apparently, since most of what it did right has been stubbornly ignored by every console Zelda since. Alright, locking a capable-seeming Princess Zelda in a basement for the last half of the game wasn’t doing much for gender relations but the fighting engine worked well, there was an epic free-roaming world to explore and the cartoony visuals will ensure that it never ages poorly. Link was actually able to express emotion and have a visual personality. The first time I saw Link in Skyward Sword I had to stifle a horrified laugh because his exposed nostrils and swollen lips look like he let a swarm of bees practise amateur plastic surgery.
I even liked Twilight Princess quite a lot, although bear in mind I again played the Gamecube, non-motion-controlly version. It had a slow start and was structurally rather similar to Ocarina of Time, but again the game world felt expansive and detailed with lots of lovely varied locations and dungeons. Even if it wasn’t a revolutionary take on the concept it was at least an elevation, which is apparently the most anyone expects of Zelda games. The support character, Midna, actually had an interesting arc. I could only think of her with soppy nostalgia as I barely tolerated the monotone creepy-eyed dullard that follows you around in Skyward Sword, endlessly popping out to remind me that my health was critically low while I was busy trying to circle strafe something nasty. And that excruciating is-this-the-emotion-you-call-happiness dialogue in the ending scene made me want to projectile vomit all my innards like a giant party streamer. I mean, at least Navi was enthusiastic, y’know?
So while never quite being what you’d traditionally call a sandbox game, Zelda at its best certainly leans in that direction. Closer to the ‘open world’ model one associates with Metroidvania, I suppose, exploring new areas once you’ve unlocked the ability to go there. And what disappointed me about Skyward Sword is that there was a fairly massive downplaying of that exploration element. The game world felt small with just the three questing locations and rather rigid separations between gameplay areas. There didn’t seem to be as many opportunities as there usually are to go to places in the open world you’d seen before and can only explore now you’ve acquired a certain tool, to find optional treasures and all that. I can’t even remember any points when you use the whip item in anything except a mandatory story context.
And then there’s the padding. They make you revisit the paltry handful of locations so many times just to get a decent gameplay length out of all this that it starts getting ridiculous. Some dragon can only help you once you’ve brought him a magical healing fruit that can only be found across the map and which not one entity tries to stop you from acquiring. It’s just a fetch quest for no reason. Busywork.
There’s a temple door that only opens if you pour water into a nearby ornate frog statue’s mouth. You do that, walk down a corridor, and there’s another with the same mechanism, so you have to walk all the way back to the nearby waterfall to refill your jar. And then once you’ve opened that door, there’s a third, bigger door that requires lots of water. So you have to leave the area, go all the way back to the forest and ask to borrow the water dragon’s central heating tank or something. Which she just lets you take. Again, this is just busywork. Fanboys, please defend this. Explain how this added anything to the game, in context, challenge or gratification. How many times should a hero reasonably have to ‘prove their worth’ before you start to question the local hiring policies?
There were times playing Skyward Sword when I actually laughed. Not in an amused way. I was laughing like how that one lady in the movie Necronomicon started laughing while the monsters were sawing all her arms and legs off. Laughing because it’d all just gotten too absurd for my head. I’m on the pirate ship, tentacles are bursting through the walls and I’m suddenly slightly pumped for a big fight with a big monster. But just as I’m about to run out hookshot blazing, that fucking support character jumps out, stands in my path and reveals as slowly and tortuously as possible that there’s a big monster smashing up the ship in case I hadn’t realised and we were probably going to have to fight it. That’s when I laugh. I laugh because I’m not sure I believe this is happening in reality anymore.
I guess I was hoping to end on an actual point, but I haven’t got anything wittier than “Fuck you, Skyward Sword, and also fanboys.” Happy New Year.