Announced in February 2021 and released just five months later, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD was a welcome upgrade for an oft-under loved Zelda title. One of the biggest changes to the HD port was the addition of a second control scheme — the ability to play the game without motion controls, which made the game more accessible to tons of people.
Tom Crago, CEO of Tantalus — the developers who made this port possible — spoke about the difficulties of translating the motion controls of the Wii Remote to the Switch’s button inputs on a recent episode of the Fragments of Silicon podcast.
During the episode, Crago clearly relished the chance to work on Skyward Sword because of the control scheme of the original:
The ability to bring that Wii Remote gameplay to a Joy-Con, I mean, I’ve always wanted to do that because, for me, I think that’s — dare I say it — a comparable and in some senses superior experience playing it with the Joy-Con rather than waving around the Wii Remote.
The original Skyward Sword on the Wii required the Wii MotionPlus to play with, and there was no option to play with just button inputs, so this meant adding a second, more accessible control scheme was going to prove difficult. When asked if it was the “hardest” part of the process, Crago felt that because the motion controls were “kinda the game” and the unique selling point, and that “having it work button-only, joystick only, was probably the biggest challenge for us”
But it wasn’t a challenge the developer wanted to back down from, as it would allow the game to be more accessible to people who struggled with motion controls or people who perhaps didn’t have the space to use them.
…the great majority of people loved it, a few people didn’t, so what we’re trying to do is replicate the joy of freedom of that experience on a totally different piece of hardware. We felt that we had the potential to be criticised for it but we also felt “here is a huge opportunity”, especially for people who maybe found it challenging or a little bit kind of exhausting waving the Wii Remote around to give them a different option with the gamepad.
This updated control scheme also lets people who have a Switch Lite play the game without worrying about waving their consoles around — a win in our books! But Crago says the process of converting the original control scheme was a “back and forth” process. The studio wanted to retain the “feel” of Skyward Sword through this additional control scheme, so it wanted to make sure it nailed them. Tantalus did this by making the right stick the choice for sword attacks, which means you still get the directional feel of swinging your Master Sword around.
In terms of how long development on the game, and the controls, took, Crago said it was around “a year and a half”, though the controls themselves were ready before the game launched:
I don’t know on what day we were actually able to pronounce that we’d nailed the control — it certainly wasn’t at the last minute, and we certainly sent lots of different options and suggestions to Kyoto for their review, but yes it was a big part of the process. But also with games like this, you know, if we hadn’t figured it out, Nintendo just wouldn’t have published it, so they’re not going to put something out there that doesn’t resonate with The Legend of Zelda, with the fan base, and with the legacy, so we knew that we needed to get that right.
Given this, it makes sense that Crago recalls that the game was “pretty much done” by the time Skyward Sword HD was announced. The motion controls are a key part of the game, but having an extra option that would likely be a draw to fans old and new would also be an important focal point.
And it worked, too! Even the motion controls felt better to us, which we remarked in our 9/10 review of Skyward Sword HD last year, and we call the button controls “remarkably good”, so everyone’s a winner!
In the same podcast, Tom Crago also talks about Twilight Princess HD and how the team learned a lot from working on the Wii U Zelda port. He also mentions that Tantalus would “love” to bring Twilight Princess HD to the Switch, but that the studio hasn’t been approached yet.
You can listen to the full episode below, where Crago talks about Tantalus’ many projects, as well as the studio’s upcoming game.
Share your thoughts on the new control scheme of Skyward Sword HD in the comments!