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Skyward Sword: An adventure 25 years in the making

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

Dissenters would have you believe that Link's 25 years are a quarter century of conservative repeats. Boy finds sword, snaffles exotic kit, solves puzzles and saves princess. Re-release every four years with slightly shinier graphics.

Such thinking does the boy hero a massive disservice. If anything, by returning to the same theme Nintendo make it easier to see where the differences lie. We've walked many different Hyrules and saved many unique princesses by slaying a variety of Ganondorfs with a rich catalogue of Master Swords.

Take the Master Sword. (It's dangerous to go alone, after all.) In 1986, swordplay meant poking a grid square directly in front of Link. By 1997 we could hop around three dimensions, meting out shrieking justice. Wind Waker gave us delicious spine-severing back slashes, Twilight Princess taught us hidden techniques, and Skyward Sword... well, Skyward Sword puts us in full motion control. The point is that Zelda is ever evolving. And in Skyward Sword, those ideas have never been better...

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Buying for Link's 25th birthday is tough. Flame retardant Goron socks? Malo Mart vouchers? Perhaps beard clippers for those wolfier mornings? He's one of those irritating sorts who treat themselves to new toys throughout the year. Bows, boomerangs, hookshots, Pegasus Boots... you name it, he has it. What we need is the means to reappraise his old kitbag. Freshen the application, if not the weapon itself. What we need is MotionPlus.

That tiny white add-on - tinier if you have a newer, in-built remote - reminds us of the N64 expansion pack. The redheaded graphics booster powered the N64's sexiest looks in the same way MotionPlus gives Wii unmatched control clarity.

Just as Majora's Mask would have choked an unexpanded N64, so Skyward Sword proves too much for MotionMinus wands. Enemies require surgical precision to outwit. Come at Nintendo's new bestiary with automatic swipe animations and... well, lets just say Zelda ain't got much to look forward to.

Imagine enemies as living puzzles solved with a sword stroke. It's up to you to work out what kind of stroke on what bit of body at what time. Obvious ones include swinging the blade in the gap between a Stalfos' two swords, or matching the horizontal/vertical mouth axis of a Deku Baba.

Others require wilier wrists. Forest ogres need their shields whittling down before blade can be embedded in belly. Mechanical totems - courtesy of a steampunk-meets-Aztec dungeon - need to be severed along glowing seams of energy. Buzzing attack droids can be cleaved clean in half as they open up to fire a laser volley.

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There's almost a hint of Punch-Out thinking: Little Mac's lumbering opponents could be 'solved' by throwing specific punches during certain visual cues. Link also has the option to play it slow and steady, or aim for a perfectly timed takedown. Evasive play will lead to death by a thousand cuts; the more daring swordsman can do it in one.

Take spiders, for example. Mindless slashes will flip them and make them susceptible to a jumping finisher. However, going in with an upward slash exposes a jewel-like weak spot and the opportunity to kill with one thrust.

FIGHTING FIT
Add defensive shield parries into the mix and the Punch-Out similarity strengthens. As shouty American football coaches will tell you, a good defence is a good offence. It isn't enough to raise a shield with a nunchuk shake; a second shake thrusts it forward, counteracting violent blows. A quick parry can unsteady a Bokoblin, leaving him ripe for fatal belly slashes.

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