Last month at E3 I bumped into one of my old industry pals, David Oxford, at Nintendo's booth near the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword demo. He played the demo's dungeon segment, while I took advantage of my second time at the booth to try the bird riding portion of the experience since I'd already had a crack at the former. Over at the Examiner, David has written about his underwhelming dungeon experience and asked me to chime in about steering birds with the Wii remote's MotionPlus add-on. My take on bird riding is that it's for the birds.
Walking away from the demo, I was really unsure what to think. After I had my turn, my colleague, Matthew Green of Press The Buttons, opted for his turn at the controls. Instead of going after the dungeon, he instead decided to take flight in the bird-riding portion of the demo, and this is what he has told me of the experience:
This part began with the King of the floating city of Skyloft issuing a challenge to suitors, to catch the aforementioned smaller bird who carries a small statue. Link and three others run to the edge of the land and leap off, falling ever downward until each is caught by a much larger bird. Players must use the Wii controller to not only change the bird's direction through tilting, but keep it aloft, you must also perform a slow flapping motion. Meanwhile, pressing A triggers a burst of speed, as well as reaching for the statue when within range.
The first time you attempt this, however, the effort is thwarted by another rider, one who claims that it is he who will be victorious. And then he starts pelting you and your bird with eggs as you attempt to not only reach the statue again while dodging the attacks, which can knock you off-course. Once you catch the bird, you win a prize from Zelda herself. She moves in to give him a kiss, and then a hole in the airlocked landmass opens up, dropping him to the ground below, screaming "this always happens!" as he falls.
...just kidding; that's what would happen in the old cartoon, more than likely. Once Zelda hands over her prize, the demo ends.
In any case, Matt notes that "the whole thing wasn't very fun," likening it to the way that ball-rolling or stingray-surfing would break up the more desirable platforming action in Super Mario Galaxy. "It's another frustrating mini-game with waggle just for the sake of having one," he continued, adding "I found it to be more of a chore than a fun challenge."
So, needless to say, neither one of us came away impressed from our respective demos.
While I really want to like how Skyward Sword is shaping up so far, I'm becoming concerned that it's going to end up as another collection of motion-intensive gimmicks wrapped up in the familiar Zelda shell. The home console Zeldatemplate has basically been locked in place since 1998's Ocarina of Time, and if awkwardly steering birds around is the next bold step for the franchise, then I think it's time for all of us to reevaluate things. For more on the Ocarina influence and where the Zeldafranchise needs to go from here, don't miss next week's episode of the Power Button podcast in which Brad Hilderbrand and I kick the matter around for a while. Birds not included.