It's hard to talk about the big N without some mention of Zelda. That being said, it is surprising that there was not an original Zelda for the Wii (Twilight Princess was a port) until the end of the console's lifespan. Like most fans of the series, I preordered the collector's edition, picking it up on launch day. Was it worth my $80? Well, sort of...
Skyward Sword is, plotwise, the earliest known entry in the series. It starts like most Zelda games, with Link having no idea he is meant to be a hero - he's just that blonde guy. This time around, the hub of the game is Skyloft, a floating island in the sky, as well as it's many smaller surrounding islands. Link is training to be a knight of Skyloft, and is close friends with Princess Zelda. It is this close relationship that breathes new life into the storyline of this game. Link has close relationships with multiple character's in the game, and it's great to see him some emotions other than neutrality. For the first time, you can pick Link's response to various people in the game in more than just a "yes" or "no" fashion. You can be sweet, or neutral, or friendly, or in some cases downright rude. Eventually Princess Zelda gets kidnapped (naturally!), and Link sets forth to rescue her - not because she is the princess and not just because it was requested of him, but because she is his friend and he cares.
The graphics in Skyward Sword are pretty, but I feel they could have been done better. I has a cell shaded look, but isn't quite as cutesy as Wind Waker. Though Nintendo claims this art style allowed for them to place emphasis on enemy attack patterns and weak spots, I feel it is just their way of masking the fact that the Wii could only do so much.
Gameplay is a little bit out of the norm for a Zelda game. Rather that is a good or bad thing is up for debate, but I found it to be a bad design decision. Rather than 1 largely connected overworld and 8 large dungeons, the overworld itself is full of minidungeons leading up to bigger dungeons. This seems cool in concept, but it makes the game feel very linear. The game makes heavy use a Wiimotion+ technology, and although I thought I'd never ever say this, motion control is the coolest part of this game. You can literally wield Link's sword! He will mimic your every action with the sword. Enemies have been designed around this concept, and as a result are kind of like little mini-puzzles. Certain enemies may need to be flipped, or hit from a particular direction, etc. For example, Deku-baba's have been redesigned so that they can open their mouths multiples ways. In order to defeat them, you must cut through their throat by swinging in the direction their mouths open. It adds a certain depth to the combat that the Zelda series has been missing. Other items using the motion controls use it very well also. for example, you can now roll bombs like bowling balls if you want, and the bow and arrow is aimed by "pulling back the arrow" while holding the wiimote vertically like a bow. The downside to all these cool combat features is that the game has become very combat focused (it even gives you 5 hearts in the beginning rather than the traditional 3). Perhaps some people enjoy that, but to me the Zelda series has always been about exploration and environmental puzzles. There are much fewer of those, and much more combat challenges.
The linear minidungeon structure I mentioned earlier is primarily on the surface of Hyrule. While in Skyloft, you have the aforementioned floating islands to explore. This is done by flying on your loftwing, a giant bird that knights of Skyloft bond with at a very young age. On these many islands are various interesting characters and side quests to occupy your time. Much like the seas in Wind Waker, however, it just isn't quite the same as roaming Hyrule field. Unfortunately, you cannot fly at night time. If you try to fly at night, knights will stop you and tell you to stay on land until sunrise, claiming it is dangerous. While this makes the world seem a little more alive, and with laws in place, I can see no technical or gameplay reasoning behind nighttime flight not being allowed. Flight controls are simple, and work well aside from the fact that they can get tiring on your wrist. From the main island of Skyloft, there are many shops filled with even more interesting characters. Included in these is an item upgrade shop. When you kill enemies, they may drop spoils. These spoils along with rupees can be spent to upgrade your items - most importantly your shield. It's a neat system that I'd love to see return.
This is the first Zelda game to feature a soundtrack fully recorded by a live orchestra. The problem is that, shockingly, the sound track isn't that memorable.This is very odd for a series that has long been known for and widely praised for it's amazing soundtracks. Speaking of, if you bought the collectors edition, you received a 25th anniversary Zelda soundtrack CD and a Golden, tri-force themed Wiimotion+ controller(you also received the soundtrack CD if you bought a first-run copy of the game). The CD contains orchestrated recordings of various songs, as well as medleys of songs from various Zelda games. I love the CD and listen to it fairly often. The controller was also a nice edition, especially for those like me who did not already have a Wiimotion+ controller. Not to mention the huge box just looks cool on my shelf.
Overall, Skyward Sword does a lot of things right while simultaneously doing a lot of things wrong. The interesting characters and their very eccentric personalities breathe new life into the land of Hyrule (and Skyloft), and the combat is well planned a fun. However, much what is the essence of Zelda itself was sacrificed for some of the new features. I had a good time on this adventure, and it one I will likely go on again someday. even a mediocre Zelda game is still above the par of most other games out there.