Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow from Skyward Sword

Yeah, okay. I realize I wrote an article that was kinda pretty similar to this back during the “Countdown to Wii U” article series, titled “10 Zelda Franchise Features That Should Return on Wii U.” But that was a broader-reaching piece; this time, I’d like to focus on the specific strengths of each individual Zelda game and identify the ones that could be leveraged well in a brand-new Wii U Zelda.

I actually really enjoyed The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, despite what some people might have thought based on a certain article. While it wasn’t my dream Zelda game or anything, it did a lot of things right – it delivered a solid format for motion control play and the right balance of rewards for those who dared to explore and fight their way to every last corner of the world via loot and item upgrades.

Five of the game’s unique features stood out from the rest – features that I think could work well in the next Zelda game for Wii U. Click below to see which ones made the cut.

#5: Using Swimming to Lead to Secrets

While this wasn’t done on a wide scale in Skyward Sword, I remember a couple moments when the game made great use of its swimming mechanics, something I felt was woefully missing in virtually every other game apart from Majora’s Mask (with the Zora Mask) and Oracle of Ages (with the Mermaid Tail). Sure, the actual mechanics themselves were mostly old news – the main strokes were borrowed from Twilight Princess – but the way they were put to use was different and interesting, more on the level of Majora’s Mask.

skyward-sword-swimmingInstead of strictly limiting swimming’s usefulness to one particular region, there were a few places where you’d find deep water to dive into: Faron Woods, Lake Floria, and even Skyloft. And even if you found areas with deep water, it was often a challenge to track down the passages or sunken items that were hidden there. Now imagine if the game made more extensive use of deep water, featuring places to dive into, possibly even an entire hidden cave or sub-dungeon to explore for the observant adventurer.

Now, I will say that I think the franchise ought to ditch requiring motion control for swimming and offer a more traditional option as well. A lot of people found the swimming controls annoying, and that’s a problem.

But “secret caves” used to be the bread-and-butter of the series, and now that Skyward Sword has dipped its toe in the idea of underwater secrets (that don’t necessarily involve Iron Boots), I think it could be great to expand the concept to submerged secret caves. It’d add a bit more variety than the usual “bomb the wall, hit the switch” secrets we’ve grown used to over the years.

#4: The Adventure Pouch

One of the things that’s been missing in Zelda compared to other games in similar genres is the ability to customize your character. While I don’t expect any kind of full-blown character creator, I do think it’d be a good idea to embrace the series’ RPG roots and allow players to equip their own personal Link with different equipment options based on their play preferences.

ss-adventure-pouchSkyward Sword made a big step in this direction with its Adventure Pouch. Though the pouch was mostly used to swap out shields and store potions and medallions – all ideas I’d love to see return, by the way – I think it’s usefulness could be expanded by adding other equipment options: different swords, tunics, and boots, perhaps, as well as more potion varieties and more “stats-enhancing” items. (Remember all the different Rings in the Oracles games?)

Still, the Adventure Pouch is a great concept that helps meld the series more closely with RPG conventions without intruding too much on the less number-heavy action-adventure gameplay the series has become known for. I think it deserves a second appearance, don’t you?

#3: Loot & Item Upgrades

Skyward Sword‘s item upgrade system goes hand-in-hand with the Adventure Pouch, though of course it has application for the more traditional item sets as well. What we saw was a good start, but like I said with the Adventure Pouch, it’s just a start. I’d love to see the concept enhanced and refined for a second go-around.

For starters, I think the upgrade options ought to be more meaningful. Perhaps we could even have divergent upgrade paths – players could choose whether to equip their bow with ice or fire properties, or whether to give their bombs a bigger, heavier blast radius or make them lighter and thus able to be thrown farther. This would help add more strategy and variety to the item upgrades without making the game too reliant on “stats” in the form of more damage tiers.

zelda-shield-upgradesAs I said with the Adventure Pouch, I also think more equipment types are a must as well. Perhaps the upgrade system could be extended to swords and armor as well, with the addition of certain magical properties for swords or extra “pouch” storage for certain pieces of armor.

I’m also a big fan of the way loot is handled in Skyward Sword. Each piece of loot has a unique item model associated with it, which gives the presentation a good edge over the generic “item bag” pickups found in many RPGs. I’d love to see a further distinction between “environmental” loot, or the stuff you find just lying around, and “enemy” loot, or spoils from specific enemies. Some standout examples of the first variety include the Ancient Flower and the insects, while my favorite pieces of enemy loot were the Monster Horn and Lizard Tail. I also enjoyed the rare “relic” loot, like the Goddess Plume, and would like to see that category expanded as well, perhaps even with unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.

#2: Denser and Freer Field Areas

Skyward Sword‘s Faron Woods might just be the pinnacle of the 3D series in terms of area design. It’s not so much that it’s visually impressive or particularly difficult. It’s just designed with a lot of heart, and a lot of attention to discovery-driven exploration. It’s a mostly-open area that happens to also be filled with stuff, as well as divergent pathways through and tons of shortcuts, giving players tons of options for getting around.

It’s also a very layered area. You’ve got the main pathway, which you can follow to complete most of the needed objectives, but it’s also got ridges overlooking that path that players can climb onto and explore. The Great Tree looms overhead, yet another area to explore once players have the right equipment. And speaking of the right equipment: there are secrets to be found with most of the major items you’ll collect later on, including the Bombs, the Water Dragon’s Scale, and the Clawshots.

skyward-sword-faron-woods-densityIt’s too bad the rest of the game’s world didn’t capitalize on a similar balance of openness and density. Eldin Volcano and Lanayru Desert as well as the other regions unlocked later on were by comparison largely linear, both in terms of design and in terms of the way objectives were laid out before the player. While I think games do benefit from a little variety – if every area thrown at us was that unrestricted or that crammed with stuff, I think we’d get tired of it – I felt most of Skyward Sword wondering where the great sense of freedom and curiosity I discovered in Faron Woods had gone.

I’d love to see more areas designed in this fashion in Zelda Wii U. The content density of Faron Woods carried a very “A Link to the Past” feel to it that I think longtime fans of the series would greatly appreciate.

#1: Wii MotionPlus Control Options

I’ll be straight with you: Skyward Sword offered my ideal Zelda control scheme, and I don’t want to see it done completely away with for the Wii U entry. That’s not to say I’ll adamantly refuse to use a GamePad control scheme. I think Wii U was made for Zelda – but I think that part of that promise is the fact that it’s compatible both with the possibilities offered by the GamePad and those already realized in the Wii Remote.

zelda-motionplus-controls-wiiuThis time, however, it wouldn’t be a forced and required control scheme – no mandatory motion control gimmicks! It’d be there for people who loved it, while the GamePad will be there for people who’d rather not. The tough part would be, as I’ve said before, balancing the game so that multiple control schemes can each work just as well. However, if Pikmin can do it, I think it’s definitely possible that Zelda could do it too.

So while I’m definitely looking forward to see all the inventory-swapping, map-manipulating, dual-stick camera panning, Off-TV Play glorious excellence the GamePad will bring to the table, I’m also strongly hoping that I’ll be able to enjoy the next great Hyrule fantasy with my trusty Wii Sword and Nunchuk Shield at my side.

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