The fourth quarter of 2011 brought about the usual flood of new releases and this year we have seen some genuinely fantastic titles turn up in time for the festive season. While you might argue that there’s little on offer that is truly new, lots of titles are still ground breaking in their own way, non more so than The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword on the Wii, and of course The Elder Scrolls 5 – Skyrim. These two games are usually categorised as Action RPG’s, but they are so different from each other they might as well be in a different genre.
Before I launch into my rant, I want to state that both games are fantastic. Clearly there’s hours of enjoyment to be had with both games and the scope for continued play in Skyrim makes it a superb package, particularly on the PC. The differing receptions both games have had at review makes me quizzically raise an eyebrow however. Let’s start with Skyward Sword, much has been said about the games decision to switch to motion control. Trendy videogame review site Destructoid gave the game 9.5, criticising the fact that motion controls were the only option, and stating that the game was “still more physically demanding than a solely button-based game”. Frankly I think breaking wind is more physically demanding than playing Skyward Sword and I find the notion that the game should have had the option for standard controls to be absurd. Skyward Sword is so excellently designed around motion controls that adding support for a classic controller would have meant compromising the game for people playing it the correct way.
Let’s not mince words here, playing the game with motion controls is correct. Is the MotionPlus a perfect control system? Of course not. As many of the video game blogs and sites on the internet are quick to point out, occasionally Link’s sword will swipe from bottom to top instead of top to bottom, or simply won’t register a thrust as you lunge towards the television. However, these instances are the exception rather than the rule. Before I’m accused of being a Nintendo apologist, consider this, the MotionPlus Wiimote allows you to swing your sword freely, backwards or forwards, in any of nine directions. To emulate that on a mouse or on an analogue stick would not be easy, if it were, it would have already been done. To criticise motion control for being imperfect is legitimate, but that doesn’t mean that traditional controls are perfect either. Consider the most complex fighting games, such as Street Fighter. These games use six buttons and a joystick and for the most part work in two dimensions. The combination of buttons and a stick allow for very quick, accurate responses where clearly motion controls would fail. However, we should also consider the controls on games like Skyrim. Keeping in mind how terrible the user interface in Skyrim is, it has received little attention compared to the myriad criticisms Skyward Sword gets. Combat in Skyrim is simplistic and clumsy, switching between weapons and magic involves pausing the action and delving into badly organised inventory screens. Fighting dragons usually involves circle strafing around to the dragon’s side, and then mashing the mouse or attack button repeatedly, before fumbling in the menus for a healing spell. Contrast that to boss battles in Zelda, which are no less dramatic and often contain puzzle elements that require you to quickly change weapons, something that can be done in a second with the games slick, well optimised menu system.
Of course, perhaps I’m unfairly singling out Skyrim here, certainly the traditional controls on Dark Souls make the combat in that game much more compelling. Even so, let’s remember why motion controls came about in the first place, they were designed to be wholly more intuitive than a pad with ten or more buttons on it. I play a lot of videogames and I like traditional control schemes, but can you honestly say you’ve never accidentally thrown a grenade instead of reloading your rifle, or punched instead of jumping while playing a game? I certainly can’t. The point is, if you can forgive Skyrim its terrible control system, or you can accept the intricacies of playing a game with six or more often context sensitive buttons, surely you can adapt to a motion control system and forgive the odd miss-interpreted sword swipe in Zelda too?
Frankly if you have the time you should enjoy both games this Christmas, for all its bugs and over used game assets (really, this dungeon feels strangely familiar!) and other quirks, Skyrim’s still a compelling RPG. I think Anthony Carboni put it best in his review (link here) when he said “Name any feature of Skyrim and I will show you a game that does it better” but, “no other game does everything that Skyrim does”. If possible, pick up the PC version which has the huge advantage of being supported by a dedicated modding community that will no doubt improve the user interface over time. Likewise, despite it running on terribly underpowered hardware and existing in a much smaller (but some might argue more varied) game world, Skyward Sword is still a completely wonderful, magical videogame and is easily my game of the year. If you have time left over after all that to play Dark Souls too I envy you, but you absolutely should pick that title up too. Have a great gaming Christmas and above all, don’t push away a motion control game when it’s as fantastic as Skyward Sword is.