Skyward Sword HD: an imperfect upgrade

It has been almost ten years since the original release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, so it wasn’t surprising when an HD remake was announced earlier this year.

Last week, fans finally got their hands on the long-awaited Skyward Sword HD, diving back into a world before Hyrule existed, and before the legend forged in the Triforce.

So how does the remake hold up? Are the quality of life changes worth the upgrade? I spent the weekend checking it out to answer these questions — and see how the game holds up a decade and two console generations later.

Soaring into Skyward Sword HD

Skyward Sword HD

I spoke earlier about how Skyward Sword suffers from whatever the opposite of “rose-tinted glasses” is. Fans seem to have forgotten the excellent reception the original got when it was released in 2011 — but all the things that fans and critics talked about upon its original release are still here in the 2021 version.

The story is still fun, expanding on the lore of the franchise while introducing some great side characters that breathe life into what was the most ambitious Zelda game at the time. The art style of Skyward Sword shines through with the HD visuals, with an improved colour palette and smoother frame rate thanks to the newer console’s additional capabilities. This isn’t an upgrade on the scale of Final Fantasy VII Remake, obviously, but it is enough to breathe a bit of new life into the game.

There are some quality-of-life upgrades implemented, such as an autosave feature that pops up when you pass a save point, and fewer interjections from Fi to explain things you already knew. The opening tutorial is also much shorter, with bits of dialogue cut entirely to allow you to get stuck into the action that much quicker. It’s a similar approach to what Nintendo did with Wind Waker HD — trim the fat but keep the experience authentic.

Skyward Sword HD

As much as the changes are welcome, the gameplay is still where Skyward Sword HD falls somewhat flat. The implementation of a button-based control scheme is welcome, but it also creates issues around the fact the game was balanced around the motion controls of the original. Flicking a remote takes longer than moving a joystick, meaning that enemies often remain stationary in their vulnerable pose for much longer than necessary. The resulting combat is uneven and too easy at times — even bosses can be finished off too quickly.

After playing through the enormous, detailed and lively world of Breath of the Wild, travelling through the overworld of Skyward Sword feels bereft of life. Exploration is a chore rather than a joy, but this is an issue of the original game rather than something exclusive to the HD remaster; fixing that issue would have been beyond the scope of this remaster.

Skyward Sword HD

A lot has been said about the Zelda and Skywing amiibo controversy, where a new in-game fast travel feature is locked behind the purchase of an overpriced but adorable figurine. But the greatest sin this game commits is in its camera control.

When using the new button-based control scheme, Link’s sword is controlled by flicking the right joystick in the direction you want him to swing it. However, the camera is also controlled by the right joystick when the L-button is depressed, making it impossible to attack and move the camera at the same time. This creates a lot of frustration when you get surrounded by enemies.

All this isn’t to say that the game isn’t worth playing. Whether you are a fan of the original or you are experiencing it for the first time, Skyward Sword HD is a Zelda game worth playing as much as any other.

However, it doesn’t wipe away the issues that the original had completely. The various quality of life issues that are implemented in this version only serve to highlight the issues that plagued the original — and the fact that some of those issues require more than a simple “quick fix” provided by a remaster like this to resolve.

Maybe Nintendo will try again in another ten years or so?

You can pick up Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch. Don’t forget your amiibo… if you can find one!

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