|The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time|
Indeed, Twilight Princess was more or less a transparent attempt at recapturing Ocarina's specific appeal. The art direction veered toward a dark fantasy-realism; not exactly a match for the style of the 64-bit era, but widely interpreted at the time as a retreat from the cartoon approach of The Wind Waker and the various handheld games that arrived in the interim. Originally designed for the GameCube console (and belatedly adapted for the Wii), control and game play were strongly rooted in Ocarina's precedents, as were the story structure and the geography of the overworld. Despite the rather odd decision to flip the entire game map east-west (a quick fix to make Link right handed and increase "realism" for Wii players), this iteration of Hyrule was recognizably based upon the familiar model; its larger and more stylized appearance is representative of Twilight's overall relationship to Ocarina.
|The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess|
The most noted innovation is the sword control, which now responds to the motion of the Wii remote on a more or less one to one basis. Not everyone has agreed that this is well implemented, but in my experience the sword controls are at least adequately responsive about 95 per cent of the time, and become easier to control with greater experience and concentration. The ability to control the sword so precisely is helpful far more often than it is disorienting or dysfunctional.
Skyward reaffirms the visual developments of Wind Waker and its sequels by resembling them; it doesn't quite have the same Saturday morning cel-shading style, but it features much brighter colors and familiar cartoon explosion and other effects. Combined with a realistic base provided by Twilight Princess, the end result is a look that seems to reconcile the diverging styles that have been applied to the series. It isn't a revolutionary look; it's not even as dramatic or spectacular as Twilight Princess. But it does feel a little more homey, and inclusive of the entire series.
|The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword|
The effect of all this is that the areas we are accustomed to thinking of as "overworld" feel more like dungeons. The actual dungeons, meanwhile, are more simply structured than before: most labyrinths consist of only a single floor, something that hasn't been true since the first Zelda. The creative interplay between underworld and overworld elements takes the focus off of the design of any particular level, and they combine into a more interesting whole than they ever have before.
By these measures, Skyward Sword is significantly more original and inventive than Twilight Princess. Nostalgic fans like myself, however, may feel that a certain something has been lost. In Twilight, it is possible to ride a horse across nearly the entire land in one unbroken path, marveling at vast plains and mountain vistas in a geography that seems natural and holistic; this was a central part of the appeal of Ocarina of Time. The three overworld zones of Skyward might as well be different planets, as little as they have to do with one another. As large as this game is, I often felt that the world had a kind of smallness in common with recent handheld titles, particularly The Minish Cap. I love those games too, but if we measure Zelda games by their fidelity to the classic experience, Skyward is an anomaly that doesn't fit with familiar classifications.
But of course, a Zelda game remains a Zelda game, regardless of tweaks and alterations. The puzzles are as inventive as ever; in fact, the "time shift" puzzles in the desert region are among the most creative that the series has ever done. The story fills in a great deal of detail to the lore of Hyrule, without locking out the possibility of future revisions or elaborations. The new music, while not rising to the same iconic level of previous soundtracks, sounds lovely in full orchestral arrangements. The difficulty is extremely well balanced, offering perhaps the best contrast between challenge and enjoyment since Ocarina.
Twilight Princess was a fantastic game with plenty to recommend it. However, Skyward Sword is a much more original experience, with considerably more confidence in its own identity. Where it changes the formula, it does so boldly, while familiar elements help tie the experience to the familiar games that fans still love. It's set in the distant past, but it indicates the endless potential of new ideas to energize a solid foundation. Skyward Sword comes together on just about every level as a latter-day masterpiece of design.