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The Complification of Zelda
by Robert Boyd on 11/28/11 06:27:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Zelda: Skyward Sword does many things well. The game has fantastic art design and marvelous music. The game is full of expertly designed areas filled with wonderful puzzles and trials. But today, I'd like to talk about some of the game's failings. Specifically, how Zelda: Skyward Sword is the most complicated game in the Zelda series and how the game suffers for this.

Some time ago, I played an indie dual stick shooter with an obtuse control scheme. To mitigate the complexity of their controls, they displayed a picture of the control on the screen at all times with information on what each button.  "How ridiculous is this!" I thought to myself. Even the developers realized that their control scheme was too complicated but rather than trying to improve it, they just did the stopgap measure of putting the controls up permanently in the UI.

Zelda: Skyward Sword does the exact same thing in the default UI (although it does have "expert" UI options that turn this off) and yet I have yet to see anyone call them out on it.

If your game's controls are so complicated that you feel the need to display the controller on screen at all times for fear of players forgetting how to play your game, YOU'RE DOING SOMETHING WRONG!

How complicated are Skyward Sword's controls? Let's see. We have individual buttons for:

Confirm/Run/Pick Up
Use Item (Select Item when the button is held)
Items Menu
Pouch Use (Select Pouch Item when the button is held)
Lock camera
First person mode/Divining
Help Button
Call Sword Spirit/Resynch controller/Call bird

9 buttons? That doesn't sound too bad, does it? After all, many FPS use every button on the controller (even obscure ones like click the right analog stick). Ah, but then you take into account...

1 - Motion controls. In addition to the regular buttons, you also have the following motions that you'll need to use:

Slice sword (angle varies depending on how you wave the controller)
Thrust sword
Charge Sword with sky power
Sword Spin attack
Sword finishing move
Draw shield/Shield Bash


2 - Context sensitive changes. For example, you need to learn controls for the various items, how to balance on tightropes, how to fly, how to dive, etc.

3 - Two controllers. This is just me going on intuition, but it's my guess that if you had two controllers that each had the same number of buttons and functions, but one controller was a traditional controller and the other controller was split into two like the Wii remote/nunchuck (or the PS3 Move controller setup), many people would find the split controller buttons harder to keep straight. With a single controller, you just think "Which button do I press" but with a split controller, you may think "Which controller half do I use?" and then "Which button do I press" effectively doubling the amont of thought that's involved.

4 - No background knowledge. When playing Zelda: Link to the Past, it's much easier to grasp the controls if you've played the original Zelda, because it controls like The Legend of Zelda with a couple extra buttons.  When playing a good FPS game, it's generally easy to figure out the control scheme because it will generally be similar to other good games of the genre. In contrast, there aren't many games that control like Skyward Sword (maybe not any)

5 - Player input needed to make the controls work. This varies from player to player but I found myself having to hit the resynch button often to reallign the WiiPlus remote so I could use various items without the camera going crazy. Controls should just work - if the player has to constantly readjust the controls, that's a major problem and hurts immersion drastically.

Beyond controls, there are other areas where Skyward Sword is more needlessly complicated compared to previous Zelda games. Two in particular come to mind.

1 - The Stamina system. In a game like Shadow of the Colossus where climbing around on precarious beasts is the core gameplay, having a stamina system makes sense. Likewise with the Dark/Demon's Souls series which has combat that is all about maintaining stamina so you can keep attacking and defending. However, Skyward Sword has nothing like this and so the addition of a stamina gauge feels like an unnecessary complication (especially since in areas where they need you to not worry about the stamina gauge, they throw in free stamina restoration items to grab).

2 - The upgrade system. Now, I'm all for giving the player the ability to upgrade their items and equipment. However, the way Zelda does it is unnecessarily complicated. Why make the player collect a bunch of different doohickeys to upgrade a single item rather than just making each upgrade material upgrade a specific item (like Bastion does it)?

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with adding complexity to a game, however it's a tradeoff.

The more complexity you have, the more depth and more variety you can add to your game, however...

The more complexity you have, the steeper of a learning curve your game will have and the more energy your player will exert in just controlling the game rather than playing the game.

Now in the case of Skyward Sword, the added complexity allows the game to offer motion-based sword combat and items. However, the cost is dear - the game's pacing. Especially early on, the game constantly interrupts the player with tutorial after tutorial after tutorial. 

Contrast this with the early 2D Zeldas where the game got to the good fun stuff almost immediately (Link to the Past has an especially effective beginning) and you can see a huge difference. In Skyward Sword, it feels like the game doesn't really properly begin until the player has been playing for a few hours and even then, the tutorials don't end, they just get less frequent.

The key to complexity then is balance. Complexity should only be added if the benefit outweighs the cost. Is the fun motion-based sword & item combat in Skyward Sword worth the horrible pacing & the higher learning curve? Honestly, I don't know.

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Robert Boyd
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Oh and I didn't mention it in the article but a great way that Nintendo could have done the learning curve better would be to take into account that different people have different learning styles. Some people want to just jump into a game and learn as they go. Others want to read up on everything first and then they're good. Still others want step by step practiced instructions.

By providing options to learn how to play the game in different ways, the player could chose the learning style that best fits them and so would learn to play the game quicker and be less frustrated that the game is going too fast or too slow. Instead they choose the lowest common denominator and didn't even provide an option to speed up the text significantly.

Nick Harris
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I think it is ok to have complicated controls if they put the most frequently required features in the most accessible (and comfortable) locations. Zelda games have shown what buttons do what in the past and given the number of context dependant actions this was pragmatically correct. However, I regard the current depiction of the entire Wiimote as ludicrously excessive and disruptive to player immersion. I much prefer games without spurious HUDs - in Halo and Crysis you are wearing a hi-tech suit of battle armor which has visor onto which are projected salient information, this is much the same real-life technology as represented in jet fighter games like Ace Combat; Far Cry 2 had many faults, but it kept my attention because it took special care to avoid breaking immersion with an ever-present HUD - MW3 would have been better if I hadn't spent a large portion of the game watching a white blob with the word Follow above it, or a blue (X) appearing in the centre of my vision with a reminder to Reload next to it.

My thoughts were for an adventure game that mixed multiple genres:

* Riding horses / beasts / motorcycles / bicycles / unicycles / quad-bikes

* Skiiing / Ice Skating / Roller Skating / Roller blading

* Skateboarding / Surfing / Wind Surfing

* Driving / Flying / Sky-Diving

* Swimming / Diving

* Bathyspheres

* Parkour

* Beat 'em up / Hack n' Slash

* Stealth / Hostage taking

* Real-Time Strategy

* Squad control

* Shoot 'em up

* Sniping

* Role Playing Game / XP

* Equipment / Inventory

* Communication

* et cetera

That last one refers to site-specific contextual actions, such as opening doors - or entering or exiting a vehicle. Tapping (X) could try to open a (possibly locked) door; kicking it if both hands were full. Holding (X) or (Y) could let you select equipment for your left and right hands with the aid of D-Pad, a HUD showing the four available options, some of which would be contextual, should appear after a delay so as not to be intrusive (experienced players would not need to wait to see what the options were, in every case, but would always see what they had chosen in their hand before it was used). For example, you could hold (X) & Down to equip your left hand with a fibre-optic "snake camera" before Crouching by clicking (RS) so that you could feed it under the door to check the room beyond by slowly squeezing [LT] to reduce noise and remain stealthy. Similarly, (Y) could be held to equip one of four weapons to [RT]. Some weapons may be equipped in either hand, such as a sword or bow - in the latter case it could be held and then raised to aim at a target with the right hand [RT] and then the bowstring drawn back and then released with the left hand [LT] - however, it would be much more conventional to equip your bow to your left hand so Aiming remained consistent with rifles (which can cause eye-injury if the trigger is pulled with anything other than the right hand, due to the ejection of the cartridge) - merely tapping (Y) could swap between the two last equiped items in the right hand whether they be weapons, or not.

Holding (B) could swap the item in the right hand with one in close proximity, say on the ground - or drop the item entirely from that hand if there was nothing to replace it with. Some feedback would be required to identify what you could optionally swap to, but this needn't be central to the display and obstrusive to the action, but could be a simple subtitle. Actual NPC subtitles are better placed at the top of the display so that they are just beneath the Objective / Compass, this enables them to tell you of a new objective and have its marker and distance appear in the same visual field. This may seem like a HUD, but it is only displayed when [RB] is held, thus limiting its intrusion, but more on that later...

Tapping (B) could Reload a weapon, or reorient a stabbing knife to become a throwing knife.

Similarly, items equipped to the left hand could be cycled through different modes, an equipped Grenade could be exchanged with one of the other kind (preventing the 4 inventory slots for the left hand being swamped with different grenade types), some weapons could be dual-wielded like sub-machine guns by holding (A) to pick one up and then Reloaded by tapping (A). Clearly, this is very like Halo 3. Note: dual-wielding inhibits two-handed aiming, so it is better suited to Running n' Gunning. If the left hand is kept empty and the right holds a pistol, it could be very much like Goldeneye 007 by allowing [LT] to force you to slow to a halt and when stable not only display a targeting reticle that you can rapidly move around the screen with unnerving rapidity and precision, but that what had on (LS) been Turn becomes Strafe and then Lean.

You may in the tradition of RPG games change what you wear. I'm surprised at how much of Halo: Reach was essentially a game of "dolly dress-up". A lot of the action in Hitman revolves around his ability for disguise and it makes sense that a game that aspires to support both kinds of Diving, should allow you to wear a wet-suit and/or a parachute (for H.A.L.O. jumps into the sea). This extends, of course, to battle armor of various kinds. Halo gives you a recharging Shield and the ability in Reach to deploy a Hologram, or go Invisible for a short period of time, unfortunately, there is no way to micro-manage both Invisibility and Shields as in Crysis, which may be a good thing as it was somewhat fiddly. Jet-packs preclude invisibility as you can only wear one thing at a time - tapping [LB] could be a normal Jump / Mantle action and holding [LB] could make an equipped Jet-pack hover (something sorely absent from Reach), pressing (LS) for Thrust. Tapping (LS) will pull the rip-cord on your parachute, toggle Invisibility, or send a copy of yourself running off in whatever direction you happen to be looking at the time as a tactical distraction so that hidden enemies reveal their firing positions, which you can then Spot for the benefit of your squad by holding the Back button. Without special armour, etc. the default action for clicking / holding (LS) is to toggle Prone: whilst in this posture Lean becomes Roll sideways whilst you are aiming a weapon by holding [LT] all the way in.

Note: that both (LS) and (RS) Turn, although (LS) changes where you are heading and may be used to steer vehicles, whilst (RS) merely turns your head to Look at different things. [LT] would need to be partially squeezed whilst holding a weapon for the transition to Aim mode to take place and Turning become Strafing - as I seem to recall it does in GTA IV. This is most useful when piloting Helicopters as you can survey your surroundings whilst controlling the Throttle / Heading with (LS) and then switching to the D-Pad to manoeuvre at a given height. Guns follow what you are looking at so it is easy to pop-up from behind a hill and cause chaos before dropping back out of sight. [LB] and [RB] may be used to cycle weapons to use with [RT] with [LT] providing Zoom / Target Lock depending on whether you are using missles. On foot the gun follows where you are looking with (RS), but given that you (LS) controls where you walk you are able to check the way ahead and then scan around you for threats as you continue on your chosen path - not actually looking where you are going (beware mines!).

Halo 3 didn't have abilities like the Hologram, but did have equipment that could be picked up and deployed rapidly in the field, so to support this, when that style of shielded armor is worn (LS) may be held to equip this special extra fast access inventory slot, or to swap what is in it for what is in close proximity, it can then be deployed with click of (LS) - this would be terribly slow if done via normal inventory management as you would need to equip something you didn't mind swapping out (if your inventory was full up), either drop it ahead of time, or swap it for the deployable when you get to it, then contrive to keep that available (i.e. if you need grenades then you have to equip them and then go back to having the deployable equipped), to be able to deploy by squeezing [LT] as it is equipped to the left hand... hence, the seemingly redundant optimisation.

If you have command of a squad your can order it to do things with the D-Pad. Look at an objective / target / piece of intervening cover you wish them to move to and push Up on the D-Pad for a direct approach, Left / Right for a curving path to flank it and Down to regroup on your position. Back can be tapped to get your squad to retreat to the closest safe cover, not necessarily near to your location. Start can be held to temporarily show a rotated map with any available intel marked on it. Visors on battle armor may show team and enemy locations as coloured chevrons rather than the typical motion detector / radar - which is better done as part of a gun. The utility of a "scanner" depends upon sudden multiplayer battlefield respawns and it is better to return to danger from a safe zone, or via a parachute to a previous deployed Spawn Beacon (another piece of D-Pad accessed equipment), or not at all by just having matches set up as elimination (i.e. no respawning). Medal of Honor has a very nice Hardcore Clean Sweep gametype which has no HUD and no respawns that is intensely atmospheric, Medal of Honor Airborne respawned you in mid-air with a parachute and let you pick your insertion point with flares used to mark relative safe zones. Battlefield 3 has Spawn Beacons for the Recon class to enable you to choose to parachute in to that area when you respawn, this could be just another thing in your inventory, leaving (LS) click free to remain Prone, for stable sniping. Whilst sniping [RT] can be partially squeezed to hold your breath before firing with an almost full squeeze - this means simply yanking on [RT] will skip over the added benefit of breath stabilisation as well as probably being a full squeeze that jerks the barrel skyward unhelpfully. Other factors affect sniping accuracy such as pulse rate, which depends on how recently you ran / sprinted. Feedback can be provided by tuning out battlefield sounds as [RT] is partially squeezed and making the sound of your inhalation and then the gradually slowing sound of your heart beats, no naff pulse meter need be on screen during this.

Sprinting is part of a separate Parkour quasimode. Just as the 5 key is % when SHIFTED, [RB] has a similar effect on the gamepad layout. For example, if you are holding a rifle, taking up [LT] to aim and [RT] to fire, it will conventionally be held at the hip unless [LT] is squeezed. This is not so good if you are going waist deep through swamp water as all that muck will get into its works. Holding [RB] will make you carry it across your chest (or, automatically, above your head as the water deepens), in order to help you keep it dry. Whilst carrying it in this manner you cannot fire your weapon, but you can Sprint by pushing forward on (LS) and perform a frontal Melee with the butt of the weapon with [RT] as this temporarily no longer fires, [LT] may be squeezed when close enough to take a hostage (and use as a 'human' shield) allowing you to back away from close quarters combat scenarios in which you are outnumbered, [LT] may then be released to let them go, or fully squeezed to choke them, having taken a hostage [LT] cannot be used as equipped or for precision aiming even after release of [RB] otherwise you would have to let a hostage go when you wanted to shoot targets with [RT]. Usually, it is best to suppress them or shoot something that will explode behind them so that you can get away from the face-off. When [LT] is finally released either before or after [RB] was released everything gets back to normal and that 'special hostage taking' mini-game mode is over.

Assassinations with whatever is held in [RT] may be performed by squeezing [RT] after first holding [RB]. It is a little awkward and on the PS3 one would recommend using [R2] for [RT] and [R3] for [RB] so that the forefingers stayed on the weapon triggers, in this case [R1] would be used for (RS) click. Perhaps, the next Xbox controller will have a pair of triggers on each side, as well as spitting duplicates of the face buttons between the undersides of both grips as an ergonomic convenience...

[LB] stays as Jump / Mantle, allowing you to look up at a ledge and pull yourself up and onto it like Crysis 2. Another thing in common with that game is that clicking (RS) to Crouch whilst Sprinting by pushing forward on (LS) whilst [RB] is held makes you Slide on the ground. This echoes one of the main actions in Mirror's Edge. It is relatively easy to see how Wall Running is just a Sprinting Jump into a Mantled 'vertical' surface. Edging along ledges isn't complicated either. A 'Skillroll' (i.e. just a fancy name for a forward roll) needs to be in there to help you to reduce damage when jumping down at speed from a height, but mapping this across this just becomes a click of (RS). The only tricky thing, which may not even be necessary is the ability to rapidly turn through 180 degrees with a single button press, this could be made another optional special ability that you could choose to have in place of, say, Prone by clicking (LS). Interestingly, (Y) is used in the 360 version of Left4Dead for the same purpose, so if the adventure were to take in Zombie hordes approaching on all sides, (LS) click could do this job better than the (Y) button, which is rather inconvenient to reach in a panic - this probably explains the game's greater success on PC as it has the facility of a mouse which can be made to scurry across a table top to immediately turn you about. Alternatively, if you happen to be a fan of Black Ops you could leave (LS) as Prone and then click it whilst Sprinting to Dive into a Prone position. GTA IV uses the Start button to put all manner of slow to access stuff on a tabbed menu that includes the normally expected option to Save and Quit; it is here that a journal would be kept of your adventures and ongoing NPC relationships to aid in what is likely to be forgetful discontinuous play. Arcade style combat can combine with underlying XP-driven RPG stats, enabling weaker players without dexterity to bolster their character's skill with a small compensatory degree of faux "dexterity" a harmonious blend of styles that also allows the Arcade gamer to tackle harder foes than their XP alone would determine a low-risk win scenario.

So, a natural rhythm could develop of parkour interspersed with combat.

Finally, conversation could take place in this [RB] enabled quasimode, with you being able to respond to questions from your squad or NPCs you may encounter on your adventures with whatever weapon you may be holding always being held across your chest in a non-threatening manner - well, less threatening than it pointing from your hip directed between their eye sockets as in most games. As was said earlier it is during this [RB] quasimode that you can have a conversation with a character, read their surtitles and look at the rarely displayed (but oh so useful when you need it) objective / compass onto which they can add new quests / objectives.

You answer yes by pushing (Y) and no by pushing (X), NPC's long expository chatter can be skipped by pre-emptively agreeing with their pre-amble, The conversation is dynamic. If they realise you are in a hurry they can be succinct, but this comes at the risk of them missing out salient details. You can also gain a reputation for being rude and impatient, so everyone won't want to spend their time talking to you. However, it is useful that you can escape a conversation at any point by saying 'bye' by pushing (B) and you can simply walk away from them, but you may have to speed up to shake them off as they will follow you unless they think that you are being rude. Given all the risks this is much more preferable to how things were in Zelda the Ocarina of Time where I sat thumbing through endless wittering wondering why I couldn't speed things up or skip past stuff seen before.

You also need a way to initiate a conversation at-a-distance and pushing (A) to call out 'Hey!' at whoever you are looking at in a crowd will gain their attention even if they are in conversation with someone else. It will probably turn the heads of others and stop them momentarily from where they are headed giving you a better window of opportunity to discriminate the one you want from a crowd. You are expected to walk towards them, but they will walk towards you (if they can) unless their snootiness precludes it.

See? Now, that's a complicated control scheme... and I haven't even detailed how you balance on a surf board, etc.

However, my main message here is that all of this is fine as the features that players frequently use are the most accessible. In fact making the acquistion of the "snake-cam" a bit of a fiddle adds to the slow paced atmosphere of its stealth aspect. The use of five quasimodes (i.e. each held face button in conjunction with the D-Pad adds another four to [RB].) brings it up to the complexity of a keyboard enabled game on PC, whilst having an arguably more comfortable operation. What may seem to be a strange use of (LS) to move and turn (rather than strafe as it is in most FPS games) pays dividends consistency wise when dealing with all manner of vehicles. What does need to be said is that GTA IV tutorial made a big mistake in telling you what buttons to use in a brawl and then asking you to use one of them to confirm you had read the instruction, whereupon you were immediately thrown into combat with the button you had just pressed for one reason now being used for something else. Indeed, tutorials should never "stop the show" or display text boxes on screen awaiting (A). They should be NPC conversations that when concluded wait for you to release [RB] if you are about to fight, or let you start running across rooftops when you have mentally mapped out your preferred route

Hence, it may say at the bottom of the screen: Hold (B) to Reload the first twenty times, gradually fading out until your proven familiarity with its binding no longer warrants a reminder. The same goes for equipping a C4 explosives, except the reminder should be forced to be displayed even when you are familiar with it if you are at a point in a Campaign where you are required to plant the C4 as an important mission objective, here you can find out where to place it without need for object-placement "glint" as you have only to hold [RB] to bring up the compass that will mark the objective in your visual field. A necessary compromise to HUDs

Hakim Boukellif
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Doesn't every 3D Zelda game have some kind of representation of the controller on the screen to display what button does what in the current context? In fact, I think this might be the first time you can actually turn it off. Certainly this one's more detailed than previous ones, but I disagree with the notion that the fact that it's there by default implies that players need to be reminded of the controls more than other games that don't have this. The reason it's there, as well as the reason that you can turn it off is the same reason there's an instructional video accessible from the title screen that you don't have to watch and there's a Help button that you don't have to press: Nintendo's continuing attempt to attract players that don't traditionally play these kinds of games without estranging those that do.

Anyway, maybe it's because I'm an "experienced player", but I can't say I found the controls to be particularly overwhelming or requiring a lot of learning. Abstract actions (opening the map, locking the camera) are assigned to buttons, while physical actions (swinging sword, throwing objects) are assigned to motions, unless it makes sense to do otherwise (picking up objects, dashing). The nunchuck is fully devoted to navigational controls (camera controls are also navigational), except for the shield; which still makes sense as you're holding it in the hand link is holding the shield. Specialized controls (rolling objects, leaping from ledge to ledge) don't have to be learned as they're displayed on the screen when relevant, so you naturally pick them up as you use them. The actual motions you have to do for those are also pretty intuitive, so they quickly become natural.

Overall I feel the controls are logically divided, intuitive and come close to the ideal that motion controls were supposed to achieve but so very few games manage to offer.

Jonathan Chan
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At first, I shared the notion that Skyward Sword started off very slow, and sent the user running around on unnecessary fetch quests. I was very eager to get into the action. I wanted to swing my sword, damn it!

But now I think I realize one reason for this slow pacing. In order for Skyloft to be seen as Link and Zeldas' home, there must be a level of familiarity. I think we, as players, have grown incredibly impatient this console generation. In the case of the Skyward Sword, we were excited to experience the sword mechanic; I think that was a huge highlight from press showings. But I feel that this Zelda game is taking its time this time around, because it is the 25th anniversary of the franchise.

There's a lot of love from the developers on display here. And I don't think rushing through the introduction portion of the game is going to convey that. This isn't intended to be a throwaway title, like how Twilight Princess was generally perceived. This is the culmination of 25 years of Zelda, so hell yes, the emotion should be developed and the moment should be savored.

As for the controls being complicated, you mention that the inputs for LttP are familiar because it is assumed players have played the original LoZ. By that logic, could we not assume Skyward Sword players must have played Twilight Princess? The controls are similar. I, for one, appreciate the calibration function on the Down button on the DPad. I understand the wii remote is not perfect, and can lose center easily; it's better to place the calibration button in a single click than through a pause/settings menu. And while you claim that the controls are numerous and cumbersome, the idea of motion controls is that they are intuitive. I'm not even referring to the combat mechanics of the varioud sword and shield attacks. Balancing left and right as you cross a tightrope, flying your loftwing, and rotating key carvings to unlock doors have never been more intuitive. As such, the learning curve should be lower, at least, ostensibly.

And the 'complication' of the upgrade currency is clearly to allow deeper player choice in the game. The difference between the economy used in Bastion allows a fraction of the player thought and consideration than that used in Zelda. If I use a single item to upgrade, that's it - I'm not collecting or calculation how to maximize my upgrades. In Zelda, if I have just enough to upgrade my sword or my shield, I have to consider the pros and cons, and I have to start being mindful of where to find certain resources within the game world.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my counterpoint.

Adriaan Jansen
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Isn't this more a case of tutorials that aren't interesting? I presume that many games introduce higher levels of complexity in less time and in a more engaging way.

Jonathan Jou
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You're right, Skyward Sword's motion controls are like nothing a Zelda game has ever seen before! I chalk that up as a win in my book, but it definitely converts the waggle-like variety available in Twilight Princess into a much more meaningful complexity--swing angles are intuitively aligned with your motion, so there isn't a four-button combo you press or a "quarter-turn+A" combo you need to get the direction you want. That's sort of the whole point of motion control.

As for everything else you've listed, all but one of those were present in every single Zelda game since Ocarina of Time. The Item Pouch Button is the only button that actually adds new functionality to the controller. Z-targeting, pause, three item buttons, a shield button, a multi-purpose button (originally praised, because it simplifies the control scheme), a first-person mode, and an "attack" button. It honestly seems more to me like Skyward Sword succeeds at simplifying what's an innately complex control scheme for the standard Action Adventure/FPS/RPG genre it defines. There are a lot of parts to the game and while the 2D editions were simpler, I don't think there was a good way for them to avoid the complexity of their control scheme.

Have you actually noticed that Nintendo has a bad habit of assuming no prior knowledge about the genre? Even Super Mario Galaxy 2, a clear and labeled sequel, made a point of having an introductory portion. I think it's true that experienced gamers have begun to notice how much of the content they're already familiar with is locked away from them in the form of tutorial sections, but I also know plenty of people who picked up Skyward Sword without an ounce of exposure to Action Adventure, much less the Zelda series. For them, the tutorial seems like a good idea, and I think Skyward Sword's attempt to weave it into a charming story worked fairly well.

I was instantly comfortable with the two-controller setup, which is really a lot more convenient and not anymore confusing if you keep track of your hands. I also never calibrated my controls after the start screen, because the game is designed for players to point the Wiimote at the screen before entering first-person mode for things like aiming rather than basing it off of the initial settings, which define only the sword swings. I don't know why they made that decision--it's certainly got potential to confuse. But I can shoot things fairly comfortably while pointing at my neighbors and so forth, so I guess I put up with that control issue.

Finally, I see why you think the new systems aren't useful additions. They're really just ways to add depth to a game, and they're definitely not part of the historical Zelda experience. Some hail it as Zelda working in modern features, while others find they wanted some particular game and were instead given something else. However, I do think the stamina system has made for more interesting puzzles in many areas, and that the potion/equipment upgrade system is perfect for optional gameplay depth. They had me keeping my eyes open for loot, and hunting down tumbleweeds and other enemies even when I could have just run past them.

I'm interested to hear what you think as you get further into the game!

Denis Nickoleff
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So it has about the same level of control that any other game has had since the early 90s. But you have to swing your arms sometimes? I'm not seeing the issue, it sounds complicated, maybe it is, but it's been the norm for over a decade. And most of the extra complications are intuitive motion controls that rarely have to be explained.

As an example, and this may be apples to oranges, if you explain Pac Man like that, it will be complicated too.

*edit: expanded on statement to avoid appearing sarcastic p*

Robert Boyd
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In the past, most games with complex controls have either used a lot of buttons or motion controls with only a few buttons. However with Skyrim Sword, we have a game that uses both a lot of buttons and motion controls. Yes, the motion controls are mostly intuitive (excluding the occasional malfunction) but it's still another thing that the player needs to juggle.

I think I may have overemphasized control complexity to the point where my original train of thought has been obscured. The original train of thought that led me to write this article was "Skyward Sword sure has an awfully slow start full of tutorial after tutorial compared to the old 2D Zelda games where they just let you start playing almost immediately. Why is that? Maybe the greater complexity with the controls led Nintendo to fear that the average player couldn't figure out to play the game without being beat over the head with tutorials and that's why the game is set up the way it is."

Eric Schwarz
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I haven't got around to playing Skyward Sword (suffering a major case of "don't care" about Nintendo stuff, sad considering I grew up on them), but if what you say is true then I have to wonder how many of these design choices came out of genuine desire to expand and improve the game, in a way that is right for Zelda, and how many were just put in because other games do it, and it might make Zelda more accessible to an audience used to modern conventions.

The sprinting system is particularly notable. Sprinting has become common in almost all games these days, and yet few save for shooters really make good use of it, certainly not in the context of solving puzzles and platforming. Having a dedicated button for sprinting seems like a good idea, until you realize that Zelda is not a massive open-world adventure where getting from A to B is what makes up so much gameplay, or an action-heavy game where getting behind cover quickly is important. Skyward Sword, as I understand, is far more compact a game than others in the series, with levels more purpose-built than oriented towards exploration (much like Mario Galaxy vs. Mario Sunshine). What use could a dedicated sprint button really have? Link already moves quickly enough that moving around the world is fairly painless, and there are lots of travel options available. Additionally, that seems like the perfect thing to put into an item, like a rocket-powered sprint or something (while we're on the topic, think of the similar ability in Mario Sunshine), so why isn't it one? It shows a surprising lack of design acumen from Nintendo, at least considering their standards.

Gamers are more and more keen than ever before, and growing up amongst them means that most players can now pick up and play even fairly complicated games without much trouble. I don't know if more complexity is inherently a bad thing, but you're right to call it into question with a Zelda game, where the challenge has traditionally come from the environments, puzzles, and creative boss battles rather than the core mechanics themselves. But when you think about it, where else does Zelda have to go? Nintendo have to satisfy all sorts of Zelda fans, and a back-to-basics reboot is probably too risky to seriously consider, as Zelda is a hardcore-driven title and alienating those players wouldn't be a good idea. All they can really do is expand on what they already have. The way they're doing it troubles me, though. Like the sprinting example, throwing in modern trends solely because they're popular is never a smart thing to do in game design, especially without thinking of the place of those mechanics in the game's larger context. Much like the rise of XP and leveling systems for everything that I lamented in an earlier article I wrote, complexity is all well and good... but one needs to take the time to figure out how to implement that organically into an existing design in a way that's actually fitting for it.

Ardney Carter
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I haven't had a chance to play through the entire game yet, but I'd like to offer a counter-point in favor of sprinting and its implementation.

The sprinting draws off the new stamina gauge which also covers other actions like holding onto ledges. As I mentioned, I'm not very far at all into the game but based on that I'm guessing that there are stamina based puzzles later on where getting from point A to point B in a given timeframe is the key. So from that perspective it opens up some puzzle options where players reflexes are taxed.

With that in mind, I now turn your attention to the towns where the aforementioned stamina fruit are plentiful. The starting town in SS feels much larger than any similar locations in previous games. Now, who else has observed players of Zelda games in times past constantly rolling in towns to get from place to place just a little bit faster? However, the roll function is now mapped to a nunchuck motion. So the dash has now replaced the roll as the ideal means of fast travel in town and the ample stamina fruits ensure that you are ABLE to sprint to your heart's content without interruption.

Rather than being a haphazard add in to match a feature other games have, I think the dash + stamina gauge were deliberate design decisions. Of course, if after playing the entire game I dont see (m)any puzzles surrounding the dash mechanic I will retract my points here. I seriously doubt that will be the case though.

Robert Boyd
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Speaking of XP, my wife was watching me play Skyward Sword and she was a little surprised that I wasn't receiving any XP for defeating enemies. She also mentioned that the game reminded her of MySims but I didn't press the point. :)

Eric Schwarz
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@Ardney Carter

Thanks for clarifying that. I haven't played the game, as I mentioned, so I was only giving my thoughts based on what I've seen, and I hadn't heard of any such puzzles or other concerns. Certainly, getting from place to place in towns takes time... but then that begs the question, if getting from place to place is such a chore, then why not make towns more compact? It's one of those "well, we have to have towns, it's a Zelda game, and therefore we have to make them interesting to justify their existence" things, but I never found, say, the castle town in Twilight Princess to be tedious to navigate, because everything was placed in close proximity. Methinks developers need to realize that putting a bunch of extra space in between A and B for no real reason doesn't make their game more interesting.

Alan Rawkins
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Great article, I am playing through the game myself now and have definitely found the controls hard to wrap my head around. I do think that it comes part-in-parcel with the wiimote though. I had the same problem remebering buttons and controls in other core games on the system (Metroid Prime, Mad World, Mario Galaxy). Specifically, remembering the various names and locations for the buttons, which are spread out in all directions (C, Z, B, then +, -, 1, 2?) It is an odd naming scheme, made all the more odd by the fact that it's split across two different devices, one of which has only C and Z on it (or is it B and Z?).

At any rate, one funny side effect I find with the complicated controls is that whenver link catches on fire, I have a moment of pure panic as my mind struggles to remember and execute one of the different moves to put out the flames. "Roll, spin dash, dammit man, do something, you're on fire!" I end up just flailing around with the controllers until Link manages to put himself out.