Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD review – A masterpiece still haunted by clunky controls

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD might be a remaster of a 10-year-old game, but it has already soared its way up the ranks of the Nintendo Switch’s greatest hits.

Celebrating Zelda’s 25th anniversary in 2011, Skyward Sword took the beloved franchise above the clouds for the first time and offered a fresh look at the beginning of the series’ timeline. Reception from fans and critics alike was divisive, though, mainly because of its controls that utilized the new Wii MotionPlus – an expansion peripheral for the Wii Remote that was supposed to better the motion controls but didn’t quite hit the mark. Gameplay felt clunky and frustrating, especially during combat.

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Fast forward 10 years and Skyward Sword HD is here. Armed with gorgeous graphics and improvements like a free-moving camera, it’s a masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed out on, even if you’ve played the game before. There is something too familiar about it, though – the cumbersome controls still haunt Link’s every movement, despite Nintendo’s attempts to overhaul them.


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD – Key details

  • Price: $59.99/£49.99
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release date: July 16, 2021
  • Platform: Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD trailer


Still one of the best stories in the Zelda series

Skyward Sword HD takes place both in the Sky and on the Surface. Link, here a knight-in-training at the Skyloft Knight Academy, passes his final exam to graduate to a fully-fledged hero. He celebrates with childhood friend and budding romance, Zelda, by taking a Loftwing flight around the town. Suddenly, she is snatched by a black tornado.

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Hellbent on saving her from the clutches of evil, our green-clad protagonist and spirit of the Goddess Sword, Fi, burst through the clouds to the Surface below to journey on an adventure of danger and discovery.

It’s very much a classic The Legend of Zelda game: traverse through dungeons, solve puzzles, beat up enemies, and engage in fights against a whole horde of bosses. But its story is a cut above the rest and will tug at your heartstrings multiple times throughout your mission to rescue Link’s friend and learn why they are both tangled up in this web of fate.

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Skyward Sword HD’s story is one of the best in the entire series.

Thrilling gameplay let down by clunky controls

As is normal for a Zelda game, its dungeons are hour-long puzzles filled with enemies, locked doors, treasure chests, and a boss lying in wait at the end. There’s something special about Skyward Sword HD’s environments in that you get a thrill from delving into them, rather than feeling like a slog you have to force yourself through. *cough* the Divine Beasts in Breath of the Wild *cough*

Take the Fire Sanctuary for example. It’s not just run in, whack some foes, collect the key, and fight the boss; it feels like you’re Indiana Jones on a tomb-raiding expedition. Link rolls across pools of scalding lava, digs and crawls through underground caverns, and rescues imprisoned Mogmas. And it’s like this throughout – no boring gameplay here.

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In the outside world, exploring is just as fun. On the Surface, there are detailed locations like Lake Floria where you can swim inside the Great Tree and Faron Woods with Kikwis that need rescuing from monsters. And in the Sky, you’ve got a town filled to the brim with side quests and hidden treasure begging to be found, and riding your Loftwing is incredibly thrilling and fun.

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Riding your Loftwing through the Sky feels exhilarating.

The experience is somewhat soured, though, by the controls – both in the handheld button-only mode and with motion controls. It echoes what happened in 2011 where a brilliant game with a fantastic story and an engaging world is marred by how Link is maneuvered. It’s sad because Nintendo promised it would be an upgrade, but it just feels like more of the same.

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The new handheld mode takes quite a bit of getting used to which is to be expected. After all, they translated the motion-only controls over to buttons which is a challenge in itself. Instead of pressing B or Y to attack, you have to move the right joystick in the direction you want to swing your sword which would be fine if it didn’t feel just as cumbersome as the Wii MotionPlus. It’s not always accurate which can be a huge pain in the butt, especially when in tense fights and holding down another button to lock on at the same time or to adjust the camera just feels overcomplicated.

That said, it did start to click into place after around five hours or so – it’s just the getting there that’s painful. It’s a similar story with the Joy-Con motion controls. They feel very similar to how it was on the Wii, albeit a little more accurate but still a hindrance. Overall, I preferred handheld mode when docked and using a Pro Controller, but that’s obviously a personal preference.

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the legend of zelda skyward sword hd review dexertoThe controls take a while to get used to, especially in combat.

A fun upgrade system

Tools and armor can be upgraded in Skyward Sword HD for a higher holding capacity or to strengthen them, all thanks to Gondo’s Scrap Shop in the Skyloft Bazaar. When you kill enemies, they’ll sometimes drop materials that can be used to make alterations to your items. For example, you can turn the Bow into the Sacred Bow with a few Rupees, Lizard Tails, and Tumbleweeds.

Unlike other games with a similar mechanic, collecting said materials doesn’t feel like a grind as you obtain most of what you need by simply playing through the story. You can also create better potions in a similar manner, with each one increasing how many hearts can be restored or stamina replenished – perfect for those tough end-game boss battles.

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Finishing a dungeon and having enough items to upgrade feels like a real reward for all the effort you put in.

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Collect materials to upgrade your tools.

Actually useful quality-of-life updates

While the controls let the game down, Nintendo did add some quality-of-life updates. If you played the original game, you’ll know firsthand just how frustrating it was being pinged by Fi every two minutes and having an item description pop up for the 1,000th time. They’re both fixed now. *chef’s kiss*

One of the biggest changes is that the frame rate is boosted, now being a smooth-as-butter 60 frames-per-second. You can really feel it as you play: sword slashes are fast and soaring through the clouds on your Loftwing is seamless.

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You can also speed up dialogue and skip cutscenes completely if desired, though I’m not sure why you’d want to. With Skyward Sword’s story being so good, immersing yourself and watching every scene is part of the magic.

the legend of zelda skyward sword hd review dexertoNo more constant Fi pings!

One update that I haven’t yet tried out is the fast-travel tied to the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo, purely because it’s not arrived in the mail yet. With it, you can warp between the Sky and the Surface at any point without having to go back to a Bird Statue. It does feel a bit odd to have such a big feature locked behind a figure you have to pay real money for, though – if you can even find one (thanks, scalpers!).

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Rating: 8/10

If you can gel with the controls, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is a must-play for all Zelda fans, both new to the game and those that played the original on Wii in 2011. The brilliant story and new quality-of-life changes make it one of the best titles in the Nintendo Switch library right now and is the perfect way to celebrate the series’ 35th anniversary while we wait for the release of Breath of the Wild 2.

Playing it has left me with one question though: when will Wind Waker and Twilight Princess HD come to the Switch? I need more, and I need it now.

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Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.