In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, characters discover solace in enjoying their half in a grand custom. The earliest chronological renditions of Link and Zelda, the two characters who will probably be reincarnated repeatedly all through The Legend of Zelda’s intricate timeline, are more than pleased to hold out the roles they’re advised are their future. Every different main participant on this story feels the similar manner.

Take Groose, the sport’s loud, overconfident heel. He begins his arc by trapping Link’s Loftwing, a race of rideable companion birds that permit the residents of the airborne Skyloft village fly to neighboring islands. He jealously complains about how Link and Zelda are collectively all the time, how they get particular remedy from the village higher-ups. Yet by the finish of the sport, he’s content material along with his supporting function in the story and completely happy to assist nevertheless he can.

The Skyward Sword remaster finds the similar sense of goal in custom as its characters do. When it launched in 2011, it each felt prefer it was abandoning what made the Zelda sequence nice whereas holding on too dearly to traditions from later entries in the sequence. But it additionally exhibits now, because it did when it first got here out, how rewarding some traditions could be to uphold, and it makes a concerted effort to introduce them to extra individuals, even because it showcases why Zelda needed to transfer on from them.

In 2011, some Zelda followers noticed Skyward Sword as the most clear-cut case but for the way the sequence had misplaced its manner. Zelda video games had all the time been about exploring a world that appeared huge, about uncovering little nooks and caves with out being advised to. But as the video games entered the 3D area with Ocarina of Time and centered extra on grandiose tales and setpiece dungeons, that sense of discovery appeared to take a again seat, with Skyward Sword breaking the sequence’ give attention to exploration altogether.

Link rides on the back of his Loftwing in Skyward Sword HD

Image: Nintendo through Polygon

Just a few hours into my playthrough of the Switch remaster, I made a decision to do a fly-by of all the floating islands on the sport’s map to see what secrets and techniques I may discover. It was a reasonably brief survey, as a result of you may’t land on most of these rocks. The islands you can land on are small and aren’t meant to be explored; they’re holding grounds for chests you unlock by hitting “Goddess Cubes” in the sport’s precise overworld down beneath.

Instead of exploring and discovering secrets and techniques, you’re funneled from part to part, particularly in the sport’s opening hours. Skyward Sword’s three main locales — Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert — are extra ranges than areas to discover. In Faron Woods, I met a personality who despatched me alongside a simple path to activate some Goddess Cubes so I may go get the corresponding chest later highlighted on my map. I solved just a few puzzles, unlocked just a few shortcuts, then solved barely extra advanced puzzles inside the first dungeon. For my efforts, I received a brand new merchandise. I may clearly see the factors the place the sport wished me to come back again later, as soon as I had extra instruments like this at my disposal.

That’s the movement for many of Skyward Sword, and realizing how inflexible it is going to be is disappointing. But it was a lot extra disappointing in 2011. The manner Skyward Sword funnels you from goal to goal, with exploration as an afterthought, felt like the sequence abandoning what had made it particular. The final Zelda sport earlier than Skyward Sword was Spirit Tracks, a conveyable entry that was much more, nicely, on rails. It felt like the Zelda that individuals had grown up on had disappeared, and this new model was right here to remain.

Link exploring a woodsy area in Skyward Sword HD

Image: Nintendo through Polygon

Playing it in 2021, realizing that Breath of the Wild has revitalized the sequence’ sense of exploration, it’s simpler to understand what Skyward Sword does nicely with out the weight of the sequence’ future hanging on it. In my preliminary impressions of the Switch model, I attributed the sport’s rigidity and sluggish begin to it being the Zelda sport for the Wii, the console that expanded Nintendo’s viewers and launched a technology of individuals to video video games. When you concentrate on Skyward Sword being constructed for the Wii distant and the viewers that got here with it, rather a lot of the sport falls into place. It explains why the sport feels so railroaded, why it explains a lot of itself to the participant.

More importantly, it explains what I like about Skyward Sword. More than another Zelda sport, it feels rewarding to participate in the Zelda tenets Skyward Sword abides by. Combat has all the time been an element of the sequence, however in Skyward Sword, it’s extra of a cornerstone than ever. Designed round movement controls with the possibility to make use of the proper analog stick on Switch, it’s extra intricate and concerned than most different Zelda video games. It asks you to consider which course you’re slashing, since enemies will block assaults coming from sure instructions. It feels good to swipe in the proper course, even when it’s not tough to do most of the time.

Similarly, most of the new gadgets are notable for his or her physicality: the bug internet you may swing round in circles, the drone you fly to chop strings and carpet-bomb enemies, the whip you fling backwards and forwards with a satisfying snap. All these actions really feel nice, extra so now that you are able to do all of them with an everyday controller as a substitute of utilizing the still-finicky movement controls (although the gyroscopic aiming is a welcome possibility).

Link faces a massive, many-eyed boss in Skyward Sword HD

Image: Nintendo through Polygon

That give attention to physicality extends to the design of each the outdoors sections of the overworld and the dungeons. Compared to different Zelda video games, the dungeon designs aren’t all that intricate; most of them are one or two flooring tall, and their rooms are spacious quite than labyrinthine. The path via them might need you revisiting rooms a pair of occasions, however you all the time know the place you’re going. I used to be stumped a handful of occasions on my second playthrough, however by no means for lengthy.

The dungeons could be disappointing at occasions, particularly once you examine them to some of the extra advanced dungeons in the sequence. But they work as a result of of the give attention to how you do one thing as a substitute of determining what to do. You learn to bomb varied objects with the drone beetle in the Lanayru Desert, then layer on a time-traveling mechanic and one other merchandise, the Gust Bellows, inside the Lanayru Mining Facility dungeon. This flexes your potential to stack totally different varieties of logic collectively, and it felt good not simply to determine an answer, however to execute. Solving puzzles in Skyward Sword has an analog really feel to it, like turning knobs and levers on a fancy machine, so I didn’t thoughts the options being so simple.

Things in Skyward Sword really feel good to do, which isn’t one thing I can say about each Zelda sport — even the ones I like higher. The Eagle’s Tower dungeon in Link’s Awakening might need one of the smartest hooks of any Zelda dungeon, however boy, is it a ache to maneuver these boulders round. The notorious Water Temple in Ocarina of Time may be one of the most intricate in the sequence, nevertheless it straight-up broke me and my brothers the first time we tried to beat it.

Breath of the Wild’s quite a few shrines may be a pleasure to find and its Divine Beasts spectacular technical feats, however all of them really feel like an expression of the similar (sensible, generation-defining) system that’s higher expressed in its overworld, the place discovering improvised options really feel extra at residence. Skyward Sword’s dungeons are bespoke, purposeful, and thematically distinct, one thing I particularly missed in Breath of the Wild. In the Ancient Cistern dungeon, I used to be not solely utilizing the whip to flip switches, swing throughout gaps, and take down phoenixes with glee, however collaborating in what felt like a stage play loosely impressed by The Spider’s Thread. The Lanayru Sand Sea and Sandship not solely characteristic a pair of stupendously cool gimmicks, but in addition have an arc that alludes to the attractive historical past of the area and closes with a harrowing boss. Moments like these make it simpler to embrace the reality that you just’re being guided alongside.

Link evades an enemy between rocks in Skyward Sword HD

Image: Nintendo through Polygon

Between these moments, although, Skyward Sword will get caught up in detours that make its adherence to the sequence’ dogma downright aggravating. The final couple of Zelda video games earlier than Skyward Sword’s Wii launch had sequences that acted as intermissions between dungeons (the Triforce Quest in Wind Waker, the Tears of Light sections in Twilight Princess), so Skyward Sword has them too. You get the Silent Realms stealth sequences that lose their novelty after the first run. You should preserve beating The Imprisoned, a dopey-looking boss that resembles one thing out of Yoshi’s Island, again into its jail a number of occasions. You should do an escort mission backtracking up the facet of Eldin Mountain, made all the worse by the little shit of a robotic who places you thru it as a result of it thinks it’d be enjoyable to spite you. There’s rather a lot of backtracking at the 11th hour of the sport, dragging issues out simply as you’re about to enter the closing act.

I dreaded these sections, however they’re not as unhealthy as I bear in mind; it helps that you just get via textual content way more rapidly now. But enjoying via them realizing what got here subsequent for the sequence, it’s apparent Zelda needed to change. It had grow to be too mired in its personal traditions of creating larger dungeons, delivering extra elaborate setpiece moments, and getting too caught up in its storytelling to go away gamers to their very own units. Simply iterating on these items wasn’t serving to.

As Nintendo itself points out, Skyward Sword birthed a number of of the issues Breath of the Wild used to interrupt the sequence’ mildew, like a stamina meter, useful resource assortment, and merchandise sturdiness, one thing I bear in mind distinctly considering in 2011 that I by no means wished to see in one other Zelda sport (it’s good in Breath of the Wild, by the manner). These ideas are all current in Skyward Sword, however the sport doesn’t actually know what to do with most of them. These are ideas meant for a sport with extra freedom.

Skyward Sword wished to maintain Zelda contemporary and thrilling, nevertheless it did this by making the stuff you already did as half of its system really feel good as a substitute of discovering new methods to do them. But for a sequence about exploring at your individual tempo, simplifying dungeons to make them extra enjoyable to finish wasn’t going to chop it for for much longer. The give attention to motion, on pulling off simple-but-cool issues, solely works on a platform constructed round how enjoyable its controller is to make use of, and it solely works as soon as. After this sport, Nintendo had to do one thing totally different.

When I’m going again and play different Zelda video games, I’m grateful for the way they really let me free on a world full of surprises I can discover at my very own tempo as a substitute of being led on to them. But there’s a lot of issues I miss about Skyward Sword, too. It’s sensible in methods different Zelda video games can’t be, because of its refined fight, meticulously constructed dungeons, and surprisingly heartfelt story about coming to grips with future. Revisiting it in 2021, with its extra inflexible traditions now damaged, it will possibly breathe just a little simpler. It’s performed its half.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD launched July 16 on Nintendo Switch. The sport was reviewed on Nintendo Switch utilizing a pre-release obtain code supplied by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. You can discover further details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.