2011's The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Wii doesn't typically rank at the top of people's "Best Of Zelda" lists. Even USGamer's own crew failed to slot it in the Top 10 when we ranked our favorite Legend of Zelda titles earlier this year.
If you haven't played Skyward Sword, its general failure to excite Zelda fans may cause you to believe the entire game is tepid, from Link's awakening at the start of his adventure to the final sword-stroke that fells Demise. That's not entirely fair, though. While Skyward Sword definitely deserves to be criticized for its failure to trust its players (shhh Fi, shhh), it also offers a personable world full of rich colors and characters.
Despite getting a good long look at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at E3 2016, we still have very little idea of what its story and characters are like. However, Breath of the Wild's closest visual relative is Skyward Sword, and that gives me some hope that Nintendo understands the latter game still has a lot of good stuff to contribute to the Zelda legacy.
It's not simply a matter of Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild both favoring soft colors and beautiful landscapes. Skyward Sword mixes up technology and magic with its unique race of ancient robots, whose design resembles the mysterious Sheikah-based magitek Link uses in Breath of the Wild. Does that mean the robots and the Sheikah Slate are connected, story-wise? Not necessarily, but it does mean Nintendo remembers the cool stylistic choices it made with Skyward Sword, and intends to deliver more of the same in Breath of the Wild.
Though Skyward Sword's gameplay prompted a lot of complaints about the Zelda series sticking to stale mechanics, the game is visually different. No other Zelda game looks like it outside of Breath of the Wild. In fact, Skyward Sword takes a sharp left from fantasy media in general. While Hyrule's guardian dragon deities are obviously based on depictions of Chinese dragons that control the elements, the infusion of Western and humanoid elements into their designs (broad bodies, expressive faces) make them highly unique creatures that belong to the Zelda universe alone.
Another example of Skyward Sword's lovingly careful character design can be found with Levias, the giant sky-whale whom Link must free from a parasitic curse. Levias is obviously based on the Biblical Leviathan, which can be represented as a sea dragon or a whale depending on which scholar you're talking to (video games tend to opt for the former depiction). Levias, however, is seemingly a mash-up of both – a whale-like creature who glides through the skies with the aid of "fins" shaped like dragon wings. Oh, and he has an epic beard and mustache for good measure. It's original, it's fun, and I still dig it.
Even Link, who's often classified as a cipher in most Zelda games (not without reason), exudes a good deal of emotion and amiability in Skyward Sword. He never says a word, as per Zelda tradition, but there's never any doubt that he's fond enough of Zelda to repeatedly sky-dive into the wilds of Hyrule in search of her. And when the ever-exuberant Groose hitches a ride down to the lower world on Link's back, Link quells his rival's subsequent freak-out with a smile and reassuring pat that carries more significance than any words he could possibly offer.
These are the characters and moments that make The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword worth playing through, even when the gameplay itself dips below the Mirror Shield-shine of its predecessors. If Nintendo can indeed serve up the same brand of creativity within the borders of Breath of the Wild's sprawling world, then I'm hyper-stoked for the game for reasons beyond "It's Skyrim, but it's Zelda."
(Though I'm hyper-stoked for that reason, too.)
Got questions about Link's first adventure for the Nintendo Switch? We have answers. Check out all our guides, tips, and articles about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.