Scrimmaging with Sony for the hearts of precision-perfect motion-control wonks, Nintendo unveiled The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Wii with true 1-to-1 sword control at its E3 press conference today.
Nintendo glossed over the game’s story to focus instead on a brand new control scheme that capitalizes on the MotionPlus Wiimote add-on’s precision-enhancing attributes.
Where Twilight Princess had players wiggle the Wiimote to indirectly trigger sword slashes, thrusts, and spin-arounds, Skyward Sword gives you realistic, precision-mapped control over the sword itself.
I had a chance to fiddle with a single area demo of the game after Nintendo’s press show, and thank goodness, because the jittery, imprecise wireless demo helmed by Nintendo design legend Shigeru Miyamoto during the show itself was at times painful, at others disturbing to watch.
Hefting a MotionPlus-tapped Wiiremote in one hand, the Nunchuk in the other, I took a few seconds to test the 1-to-1 tracking, expecting a stuttering mess. Instead, the pointer tracked my every move perfectly and fluidly. If you watched the conference live and wondered about the jitter, rest assured, it was entirely absent in my demo unit.
To put things in finer perspective, imagine Link facing away from you, brandishing his sword and shield, just as he does in Twilight Princess. While holding the Wiimote out like a hilt, you can move it in any direction and Link’s sword arm will track to follow. Move left and the sword slides left; right and it moves right. Slash horizontally or vertically the sword slashes in the direction indicated fluidly, not–as in Twilight Princess–like a move you’ve conjured from a library of animations.
The crazy part? There’s no discernible lag or delay. In fact after spending time with Sony’s Move wands performing similar actions (more on that later) I’m comfortable saying the sword tracking in Skyward Sword is easily on par in terms of gestural fidelity.
But what about the shield…
Satisfied I’d mastered the basics of swordplay, I tried moving the Nunchuk to swing the shield around. Alas, the shield isn’t fluidly tracked, and raising it to defend yourself involves thrusting both arms along with your body to the left (as if pushing something large away). When I asked about this, the Nintendo rep said “Remember, it’s still a work in progress.” While 1-to-1 shield tracking with the Nunchuk isn’t possible, I wonder if they won’t create additional shield maneuvers, probably derived from different gesture combinations.
Moving around the colorful demo world worked just like Twilight Princess. The thumbstick on the Nunchuk directs traffic, while tapping the A button on the Wiimote causes Link to roll (or dodge if you’re holding the Nunchuk trigger).
My first encounter involved the Venus flytrap-thing from the stage demo. Instinctively, I leapt forward, slashed, and leapt back–to no avail.
“You have to think directionally now,” said the rep, grinning, clearly amused. “Watch its mouth. Watch how it opens.”
Sure enough, studying my enemy, I noticed it sometimes snapped its jaws vertically, other times horizontally. The key? Obvious once you’ve sussed it: Slash in the direction of the opening. A quick, confident flourish of my sword in the proper direction the next time and kapow, down he (she? it?) went.
I paused at this point to try the inventory feature. Tap a button on the Wiimote and you’ll conjure a radial menu similar to those found in various first- or third-person shooters. Moving the Wiimote around, I could easily and precisely select different weapons.
Thanks goodness. A jungly cliff thronged with spiders loomed. A tap to bring up the inventory radial, a flick to select the slingshot, and presto: Time to snipe arachnids. After clearing the wall–and realizing I was probably hogging my demo unit–I made a beeline for the nearest boss-creature, indicated by a red X on the map.
It turned out to be a giant scorpion of sorts with pincer-like appendages harboring ocular orbs. This time, instead of wailing away, I hung back for a moment to take him (it? her?) in. Sure enough, Nintendo continued the “it’s all in the vector” theme, and winning was all about slashing perpendicular to the direction it opened its claws.
All told, the game looked pretty 2005 visually, but–as is often the case with Nintendo first party Wii games–after playing for a few minutes and realizing just how right the controls felt, that desire to see things pop at crazy-high resolutions faded completely away.
The only downer? We won’t see this one until Sometime, 2011.