Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Accessibility Review

There are two things I’ve come to accept when doing accessibility reviews:

  1. Remasters, remakes, and ports rarely, if ever, feature any meaningful accessibility improvements.

2. Nintendo IPs aren’t really doing the most when it comes to accessibility.

Combine the two and what do you get? The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, an enormously frustrating and inaccessible experience. While the motion controls featured in the Wii version of the game from 2011 have been replaced, they haven’t been replaced in a way that renders them any easier to use. Who among us doesn’t love just jamming the right stick around wildly in hopes of swinging your sword in some random direction, after all?

I don’t have anything good to say about Skyward Sword if I’m being honest, so I’ll skip my usual “Let’s talk about what’s good” opener and we’ll dive right into the many, many what were they thinking? design choices present in this game.

We’ll begin with the options menu shown below:

Page one of the options menu.
Page two of the options menu.

Missing are some essential features that even other Nintendo games have, such as the ability to view the control scheme, the ability to choose the display speed of the dialogue text, and toggles for things like dashing or moving the camera.

Controls

Speaking of the camera…I mentioned they replaced the motion controls for combat with the right stick for combat and they did so at the expense of being able to move the camera the way you do in every other game ever. To move the camera and adjust your view in Skyward Sword, you have to hold L while moving the right stick. That’s right, the most basic of all game controls has been rendered inaccessible.

The sword / combat tutorial area.

Swinging your sword, as illustrated above, involves swinging the right stick around. Move it a tad in the wrong direction? You might find Link doing a back flip and using up half of his stamina as I did multiple times.

And that’s not all that is absurdly bound to the right and left sticks.

Illustrating the dialogue choices that are bound to making your selection only with left stick and not the d-pad.

For all dialogue choices and interacting with shrines to save your game, you must use the left stick to select. Unlike in most games that feature stick selection, you can’t also use left and right on the D-pad.

Perhaps the most confusing and frustrating UI choice also involves the controls. Think of any game you’ve played recently. Where did you go to refresh your memory on the control scheme? The options menu, right? Well, dear reader, don’t look there in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD because you won’t find it. Getting a look at the control scheme is a multi-step process.

Illustrating the "help" text bound to right on the D-pad.

Step one: Press right on the D-pad to bring up “help.”

Some tips that appear on screen after pressing the help button.

Step two: Read these movement tips if you need to remind yourself why everything you have to do to play the game is so frustrating and then press +.

The control scheme image.

Step three: Finally look at the control setup.

Subtitles

Illustrating the slowly scrolling dialogue text.

Another pain point for me was the very slowly scrolling text for dialogue boxes. Missing the option to tap a button and force it to all appear at once, enabling players to read at their own pace, the only way to change the speed at which this text—which is sometimes a paragraph long—is to hold A. And even that only makes it appear ever so slightly faster.

Navigation

The map screen.

My last bit of frustration is far from unique to this game but it’s yet another barrier in a game filled with them. There is no minimap, no waypoints, no wayfinding assistance, just a map with a compass and some dots like it’s 1990 and you’re lost out on a road trip. There’s a very faint directional indicator but for that to be useful at all, you need to check the map, close the map, make sure you’ve turned the proper amount, and check the map again until you finally become familiar enough with the level to remember landmarks if you have a visual memory.

While many are thrilled about the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD remaster for Nintendo’s newest console, disabled players are likely to find a game they couldn’t play in 2011 and still can’t play today because there have been no meaningful improvements to accessibility despite a complete redesign of the game’s controls.

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