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Video Game Review: Old link, new quest in 'Skyward Sword'

‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s’ version of Link lives in a floating city.
‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s’ version of Link lives in a floating city.

Games in “The Legend of Zelda” series have, with occasional exception, stuck to a similar pattern since 1991’s “A Link to the Past.”

All have a hero named Link and a heroine named Zelda. All have an emphasis on exploration, the clever use of interesting gadgets, and expertise with a sword and shield. Many of them have had parallel worlds, like the twisted, dark versions of the normal world in “A Link to the Past” and 2206’s “Twilight Princess.”

“Skyward Sword” has just one world, but it’s nonetheless divided. High above an impenetrable cloud barrier is Skyloft, where a society lives on a chain of floating islands raised up by a goddess from the surface world of Hyrule, which was once beset by demons seeking to steal the goddess’s power.

The people of Skyloft ride giant birds to get around, and Link graduate’s to the city’s force of knights early on — just in time for his friend Zelda to be carried off by a freak windstorm. Approached by a mysterious figure from his dreams and led to a hidden sword, Link is shown a path to the world below and informed he and Zelda are both prophesied to fight the returning demon army.

The game, above and below the clouds, is beautiful, compensating for the Wii’s relative lack of visual processing power by presenting a highly stylized world with more distant objects rendered in pointillistic dots, creating a striking depth-of-field effect.

The world of “Skyward Sword” isn’t as sprawling as those of most games in the “Zelda” series, which typically have a large countryside dotted with towns, ruins, temples and caverns, but its locations are dense with detail and points of interest. “Skyward” features a large area of sky with many floating islands to explore, similar to the ocean of “Wind Waker,” but faster to navigate. The surface is divided into discrete areas — a forest, a volcano, a lake — that are reached by flying through portals in the clouds once the stone tablets that open them are found.

A variety of deadly foes — giant spiders, skeleton swordsmen, nasty goblins, rock-spitting octopuses and so on — inhabit the world below, along with more friendly inhabitants who may ask Link for help, or offer their own. Thankfully, Link’s sword isn’t for show, and he has a shield for defense.

Link’s actions with his sword correspond to your movements of the Wii Remote

controller — swing it horizontally, vertically or at an angle, and Link’s strike will mirror yours. Point the Wii Remote upward and the blade will gather power that you can release with a swipe an energy beam. The controller is also used to aim items such as the slingshot and bow Link will discover.

Those two standard pieces of “Zelda” equipment, along with bombs, are joined by new gadgets such as a beetle bracelet that can be guided to hit switches and snag out-of-reach items, a pair of mitts that can dig out soft ground, a sailcloth that acts as a parachute and a whip for swinging a round and pulling on objects.

Most of Link’s equipment can be upgraded by a tinkerer in Skyloft, if you can gather the right components — the slingshot becomes able to send a spread of pellets at its target; the beetle gains speed upgrades and the ability to pick up and drop objects; and Link’s breakable shields are reinforced for extra durability.

All this adds up to a “Zelda” adventure that seems familiar in many ways, but with enough tweaks to the formula that it doesn’t feel like a retread, a complaint sometimes leveled at “Twilight Princess.”

Of special note: The game requires either the Wii Motion Plus attachment ($19.99) for the standard Wii Remote or the Wii Remote Plus ($39.99), which has the device built in. The game is also available in a bundle that includes a gold-colored Wii Remote Plus.

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