Released right at the end of the Wii’s lifespan in late 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of the most controversial Zelda games ever released. In stark contrast to the games that came before and after it, Skyward Sword was a motion control exclusive Zelda game focused on a linear story, revisited dungeon style overworld environments, and directional sword combat. It was a game people tended to have very strong feelings on, either it’s one of your favourite games in the series, or it’s unplayable trash.
While I recognise Skyward Sword isn’t without its flaws, I personally love the game. I was a really big fan of the game’s motion controls, which worked reliably for me, and the game’s focus on dense dungeon design and plot were exactly what I wanted from the series. Yes, Fi talked too much, and the constant pop ups about items being put in your inventory were bad, but I still find the game charming to revisit today.
In a recent Nintendo Direct presentation, it was revealed that Skyward Sword is getting a HD port to the Switch later this year. The port will feature updated visuals, as well as several tweaks to gameplay, some of which look set to actively make the game more playable for disabled players.
So, this week on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. We’re going to talk about the addition of non motion controls to the game, why the game looks set to still be less accessible for left handed players, and why I would love to see Nintendo use this game as a template for removing motion controls from more of their first party releases.
Let’s start off by talking about motion controls. When Skyward Sword first released back in 2011, I was personally a big fan of the game’s motion controls. As a right handed gamer, with no physical disabilities that limit my ability to use motion controls, and the luck of having my controls register properly, I really enjoyed the feeling of immersion that came from 1:1 sword motions. I felt like I was really slicing up enemies as I fought through the game. That said, I recognise having that experience with the game was a privilege,
For many disabled gamers, motion controls are simply not an option, due to pain, fatigue, or range of motion. This was very much Nintendo’s MO during the Wii years and beyond, design first and foremost for motion, with non motion controls an afterthought, if they existed at all. The Wii’s unique gimmick was motion controls, so if they weren’t making games that were exclusively motion controlled, they were seen to not be utilising their own hardware. This mindset has continued within Nintendo over the years since, an issue we will get back to later in this video.
So, for disabled gamers, the news that Skyward Sword HD will support analogue stick controls in place of motions for sword combat came as a huge relief. Not only should this open the game up to players who can use a regular controller without motions, but it should also make the game playable for players using either the HORI Switch Adaptive Controller, or Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller via an adaptor.
However, I do have one lingering fear about the implementation of stick based sword combat in Skyward Sword, the fear it may be a handheld mode only feature.
Now, this may seem like a silly fear to have, but I believe there is precedent to suspect this might be the case. Nintendo’s Eiji Aonuma when revealing the game during a recent Direct was very specific in the language used to reveal button and stick only mode. It exists “to ensure [the game] can be played in handheld mode, or on the Nintendo Switch Lite system”. And if you want precedent for Nintendo making a button and stick control scheme exclusive to handheld mode on one of their games, look at Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. This pair of games both feature a button and stick control scheme for catching Pokémon in handheld mode, but force players to use motion when docked.
Now, I am certainly not saying this will be the case for Skyward Sword, but from an accessibility perspective I want to see Nintendo be crystal clear up front that non motion controls will be available to docked mode disabled players.
While Skyward Sword getting non motion control support is a great step forward for disabled players being able to play the game, it does raise an interesting question, could and should Nintendo adopt this approach for more of its software going forward? It seems pretty clear that at least part of Skyward Sword HD getting a non motion controlled mode option is because the original game’s motion controls were such a point of contention. However, the developer is still releasing a number of first party titles, such as Super Mario Party, that are only playable with motion controls.
I would personally love to see Nintendo going forward make sure that all of their motion control segments in games have alternative non motion ways to play through them, such as using an analogue stick to replicate the motions the player would be asked to do. While I recognize those additional control schemes would take additional work to implement, forced motion controls are one of Nintendo’s biggest accessibility sticking points, and taking this approach seen in Skyward Sword HD going forwards would be a great step towards making games on their system more accessible.
While the addition of a non motion controlled mode is obviously the biggest accessibility topic when it comes to Skyward Sword HD, I actually wanted to take some time during this video to discuss a less often considered aspect of Skyward Sword accessibility, Left Handed player support. This was an issue back when the Wii original released, and looks set to still be an issue a decade later.
Prior to the release of Twilight Princess on the Wii, Link in the Legend of Zelda games had always been a left handed character. It’s a small detail, but one I know a lot of left handed gamers in my life really felt a connection to. When the Zelda series first introduced motion controls with Twilight Princess, Nintendo decided that because 90% of people are right handed, they would mirror the entirety of the Wii version of Twilight Princess, making Link Left Handed in the Gamecube release, and Right Handed on the Wii. This didn’t matter too much for Twilight Princess, as the motion controls were fairly simple and rudimentary, but it became a much bigger issue with Skyward Sword’s addition of 1:1 motion controls, and led to Link being a permanently right handed character in future titles.
While some left handed gamers were able to power through Skyward Sword, others found the requirement to swing around their non dominant arm made later stages of the game difficult to complete, and switching around the hand they held the Wii Remote in caused a disconnect between themselves and the player character which was hard to overcome.
While Nintendo has not outright stated that Skyward Sword HD will only support playing as a right handed Link, the reveal trailer for the HD port does state that Link will wield a sword in his right hand, and a shield in his left, controlled by the corresponding Joy-Cons. Additionally, the new Zelda themed Joy-Cons releasing alongside the game feature a shield motif on the left, and sword motif on the right.
I quietly hope Nintendo will allow players some method of switching the sword controls to the left Joy-Con if that’s their dominant hand, but short of a Twilight Princess style world mirroring, I doubt we will see that happen.
While it’s great to see Skyward Sword HD get a non motion controlled gameplay mode, I really hope they confirm ahead of release that this mode will not be exclusive to handheld play. Nintendo has a track record of making non motion control modes locked to handheld play, and I really hope this isn’t another case of that.
I’d love to see Nintendo in the coming years recognise there is a market for non motion modes being provided in all of their games, even those where motion was designed to be at the core from the beginning. From an accessibility point, this would fix a lot of the issues I have with Nintendo and their level of accessibility, and open up their games to a lot more people.
While I suspect we will not see improved motion support for left handed gamers with this title, we can live in hope that one day, left handed Zelda fans can wield their motion controlled sword as a left handed Link, and feel the magic I felt when I originally played the game right handed.