This past weekend was New York Comic Con, a place where nerds, geeks and pop culture fiends alike gather along a sweat-filled showroom floor to meet creators, take pictures, and gawk at nerdlebrities .
There were also a lot of games on the floor: DC Comics had a demo of Batman: Arkham City, Square Enix showed off a generous demo for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and IGN and Sprint sponsored Uncharted 3 and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 play-sessions.
However, what gained my attention and kept me staying in line, not once but three times, was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword demo. The new addition to the Zelda series was the focal point of Nintendo’s booth with eight demo stations dedicated to the game, and each station with three different types of levels. A dungeon level that typical for any Zelda title, a boss battle that showed-off Link’s new enemy Ghirahim, and last but not least was a bird riding level where Link partakes is race on a giant bird to capture a tiny statue on the back of another bird.
The demos themselves have been covered to death by several gaming sites, however playing the demos myself gave me new insight into the game, and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.
When first selecting the bird racing level, the Nintendo attendant at the booth gave me a look and said, “Okay, but this race is a bit tricky.” The fact that the attendant was warning me about this level before it had even loaded was already a pretty bad sign.
The controls were really disorientating, using the Wii Nunchuck to control the bird, while making flapping motions with the remote while also steering it along. Not to mention there are other people in this race knocking you around while flying to gain the statue for themselves. It took me at least 10 minutes to beat the level, after flying out of screen or nose-diving into oblivion a few dozen times. When I went back on line again to play a different demo, I heard another Nintendo attendant reassure a player, “It’s alright; it took me like 45 minutes to get the statue!”
What seems to be the killer with these third-person 3D action-adventure games is that without that thumb-stick to control camera, seeing targets is next to impossible.
During my battle demo with Ghirahim, it became growingly more frustrating to focus my camera on him given that he moves so quickly. Timing in games is critical, and this is especially true in Zelda titles. Fighting most bosses requires the player to watch their movements, looking for an opening and timing when to attack. While doable during the demo, it was incredibility infuriating to fight with the camera to catch Ghirahim’s nimble movements.
A few months back, I wrote a column about my experience with the Wii title from last holiday season Epic Mickey, a game with an interesting story that was crippled by funky controls and a terrible camera. My experience with the Skyward Sword demo, fighting with the Wii’s lack of camera control and second guessing my wrist movements with the motion controls, brought me back to my frustrating Epic Mickey play-through.
I want to love Skyward Sword, unlike the vocal majority I think the art style is pretty and I’m interested in the story, but the Wii’s controls worry me. Skyward Sword is not a short game, as Shigeru Miyamoto mentioned in a pre-Tokyo Game Show press conference, it could take anywhere between 50 – 100 hours to finish. I just wonder how many players are willing to spend that much time waggling their controllers.