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Previews

Skyward Sword: An adventure 25 years in the making

Taking to the skies with Link in this huge preview...

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Do it to the dual-wielding Stalfos (which also comes in terrifying quadruple flavour) and the impact of sword on metal is enough to tear his limbs from his body. It's risky territory, mind - just one of those swings can gobble three Link hearts at once.

As genre-defining as Link's past combat has been, it's fair to say that as each game progresses and you learn attack rhythms, the difficulty plummets. With risk/reward decisions, Skyward Sword is the toughest Zelda yet.

Refreshing quirks prevent lazy habits resurfacing. Potions are selected in real time from a radial menu; enemies don't politely wait for Link to heal. Likewise, a shield health bar means cowering isn't an instant fallback. Remember how vulnerable you felt when fire consumed the Deku shield in Ocarina? Imagine that threat running through the entire game.

New shield types - we've handled wooden, iron and Hylian - are part of Skyward Sword's revamped upgrade system. Producer Eiji Aonuma wants to fix the age-old problem of rupee overflow by giving us goodies worth spending on. When cash rich Twilight Princess Link started putting rupees back into the chests, something needed fixing.

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That fix arrives in the form of Skyloft's tradesmen and citizens. Link's sky village apes Majora's Mask's Clock Town, a base camp plump with side quests. Crossing ironmonger palm with rupees nets you basics, others require Monster Hunteresque scavenging in dungeons below.

Revisiting dungeons is a neat departure for the series. Previous Links (or later Links, if you want to honour the spaghetti-like timeline2) enter dungeons, take the goods and leg it like some looter in the night. Isn't it odd that Nintendo's finest level design should have such finite value?

Skyward Sword invites Link to return to the scene of his crimes for the post-riot cleanup. He can forage - rare fungal spores grow in the opening forest temple, for example - and snaffle previously unattainable item upgrades. With new puzzles and trinkets, Aonuma feels this is his densest Zelda yet.

The blurring of the overworld and dungeons is our favourite element of Skyward Sword. Nintendo choreograph the outside lead-in to dungeons as much as their lethal innards. Take the second major area, a volcanic quarry patrolled by subterranean mole-men the Mogmas.

The sod-gobbling cads split and bury the entrance key, creating a treasure hunt every bit as head-scratching as the conundrums inside the mines. Time to crack out Link's sidekick Phi, the ethereal lady who resides in his sword hilt. Bet all his swishing is doing her head in.

Phi couldn't be further removed from Midna or Navi. She has an icy demeanour, almost more befitting clinical sci-fi. Enemy or item analysis is delivered with robotic detachment. Did the localisation team accidentally mix in their Metroid script? A least Phi doesn't blather on about her poxy feelings.

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There's a definite Samus vibe as she doubles as a metal detector. Holding the sword out in first-person sees sonar waves radiate from the tip. Aim towards a buried key piece - by pointing the remote - and Phi begins to bleep. The same power helps mum find dad's car keys.

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Nothing is simple in overworld version 2.0 and excavation is an earthy enigma in itself. By this point Link dons digging gauntlets (harking back to Minish Cap's Mole Mitts) to burrow through the topsoil. But what of pieces atop rocky pillars or in caverns secluded in slippery sandbanks?

These force Link to grapple with improved bomb controls. MotionPlus lets a remote differentiate between overarm bowls and underarm rolls. The former good for height, the latter good for... rolling bombs down sandbanks. We'll keep this preview a spoiler-free zone, but eagle-eyed readers may find a solution hidden in that last sentence.

We were going to liken the outdoor puzzles to Twilight Princess' shadow insect hide-and-seek - an earlier attempt to inject geography with a bit of purpose. No need: Nintendo have returned to the idea themselves.

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