Wild breathing changed a lot Legend of Zelda. Most importantly, it made Hyrule’s fantasy world more open and added a sense of pure adventure. If you see something on the horizon – crumbling ruins, a giant mountain, or whatever – you can find your way there instead of following the path defined by the game’s developers. It made the game so refreshing, but it can also make for a challenging return to older entries.
At least it was playing my fear Sword of Heaven, which originally launched a decade ago and is coming to Switch this week. With a few quality of life changes, slightly updated graphics, and a very welcome addition to the motion-free control system, the new version is the same as the one introduced on the Wii in 2011. This means it’s largely a linear thing lacking an open structure BotW so fascinating. But there is still enough Zelda magic to make it worth playing – especially if you miss it for the first time.
The core is the same as always. A quiet young boy named Link finds himself a hero – shock! – and eventually gets a legendary sword and a green outfit to help her in her quest to save the princess named Zelda. But as in the best Zelda adventures, Sword of Heaven takes that basic formula in interesting new directions. The game starts in the city in the clouds. Residents of this small floating village ride giant birds like horses and live above an explosive cloud barrier that separates them from what they consider to be a desert and inaccessible surface. Of course, this is where Link needs to go.
The starting point was refreshing a decade ago, and it remains an attractive world to explore. There is something really fun about ascending in the sky as you explore this very different history of Hyrule. At its best, Zelda takes a familiar place and makes it feel new – there’s a reason for that Wind chuck is so loved – and that’s what happens Sword of Heaven. This was especially true in 2011 as it was the next main line Zelda relatively raw after Twilight princess. Each entry is like a new ancient story. Sword of Heaven still one of the most memorable.
But while the world still feels fresh after this time, the actual game is a very familiar area. Unlike BotW, Sword of Heaven push you along a predetermined path through several areas – forest, desert, volcano – to solve puzzles to reach the dungeon at the end where you will find another crumb of bread during your search for Zelda. And traditionally Zelda fashion, you slowly collect new items that open up new areas. It can be a catapult for shooting vines or a magically controlled drone that allows you to hit switches remotely.
The sense of progress is satisfactory, although the straightforward structure may seem dated. Sword of Heaven shrink you along the path; The path can be great at times, but you can usually or should only do one or two things. It lacks the sense of freedom and serenity that are so central BotW. This didn’t bother me as much as I expected – probably because the world is still so interesting and the puzzles and battles are still excellent – but it can be frustrating at times, especially if you find yourself stuck.
A big change between this version Sword of Heaven and the original is the controls. Sword of Heaven built with motion controllers in mind; it originally required the Wii’s MotionPlus add-on, which made the points on your sword more accurate. You can still play this way by waving two Joy-Con controllers like a sword and a shield. But the switch also has a more traditional control system, so you can play in portable mode or use the Pro controller.
For the most part, it works. The sword sweeps are transferred to the right analog stick, allowing you to repeat the sword push in different directions. Because someone who doesn’t enjoy fluttering my hand in front of the screen is a welcome addition, but there are a few small picks.
For example, Sword of Heaven The switch eventually adds camera controls to the game, which is one of the biggest drawbacks of the original. But the way they work is a little cheeky. To turn the camera, you need to hold the button on your left shoulder and move the right stick – the same stick that controls the sword. I found myself constantly turning the gun when I wanted to look around; it is only natural to go straight to the right stick when the camera needs to be turned. The fight is especially annoying if you have to attack and look around at the same time. (The locking option helps somewhat, but not when a lot of bad guys or bosses are teleporting around.) The right stick is released when using the motion controls, but this requires a level of coordination that I don’t seem to possess; rotating the camera with your thumb is difficult and at the same time turning your hand.
In addition, this port will be improved in all expected ways. It works smoothly, the graphics look cleaner (despite a few muddy textures here and there), and the new control system makes it an easier version Sword of Heaven. There are even some nice little adjustments, like a slightly less talking talking sword that works as your guide. The biggest hurdle is your expectations. Yes, it may seem dated after Wild breathing. But at least I think the fantastic world, the smart puzzles and the challenging dungeons made it worth printing. And given that still an unnamed sequel Wild breathing it seems to have a similar celestial-themed world, this may just be the thing that holds you back to release.
Legend of Zelda: Sword of the Sky HD will launch on July 16 on the Nintendo Switch.