Warning:  This article contains details about the Skyward Sword demo.  If you don’t want to be spoiled, proceed with extreme caution.

I’m a little late in getting this posted online, but I swear that I’m just not as young as I used to be.  This year will mark my fifth consecutive PAX, and while I’m always a bit tired by the end of the three-day extravaganza, I’m usually not completely wiped out tired while I’m still making use out of the last few hours to play games and meet new folk.

To say that the Legend of Zelda didn’t make a splash at PAX 2011 is an understatement.  As if to underscore the autumnal release of “Zelda 16” (provided you don’t count re-releases and the CD-i games), the final round of the Omegathon this year was a two-player race from the very beginning of The Legend of Zelda all the way through the first dungeon to beat Aquamentus and snag the first piece of the Triforce.  It was a nice look back into the history books to see where Zelda came from while being confronted with where Zelda is going.

As far as where Zelda is going, well, it’s still a mystery to me.  The demo at PAX was identical to the one at E3 just a few months prior, which I’m truthfully not too surprised by.  Given that we’re in the final countdown until the game, it’s no surprise that they used the same build for the PAX demo so as to (a) not completely spoil another segment of the plot, which I appreciate royally, and (b) so as not to distract them from the final sprint on the way to going gold with the game as they begin to finish their final bug bash and make sure the game is solid for release.  At any rate, content-wise I have nothing new to share with you as far as secrets go.

But I can share with you are some of the experiences I had.

First and foremost, back in 2006 when I first played Twilight Princess, I played it on this gigantic tube TV.  I couldn’t even run at 480p, so I was stuck with a 480i composite connection to the TV.  And honestly, when I played it, I thought that it looked completely fantastic and was a testament to the new age of gaming.  And then, years later, after I’d adjusted to playing games on my Xbox 360 and my PS3, now with an HD television, I realized that the graphics, even now at 480p, didn’t quite pass the same muster that they once had years past.

But even on a gigantic screen that took center stage at the Nintendo booth, Skyward Sword looked just as good as the original image of Twilight Princess had in my memory.  I can’t tell if it’s just that they managed to squeeze so much more out of the hardware over the past few years (they probably have) or if it’s just some visual tricks due to the impressionistic and colorful style they’re going with, but it’s not really important exactly how they’ve achieved the effect.  The bottom line is that it does look good, rest assured.

I got to see all three of the demos while I was waiting impatiently in line.  For the most part, gamers across the board seemed to take to the bird riding portion of the demo with a natural grace.  Granted being that it’s one of the first challenges in the game, I’m not surprised that it’s one of the easier bits.  One thing that did surprise me a bit was that it was alluded previously (or at least I got the strong hint) that the prize that was to be given away for snagging the trophy from the golden bird was to be a date with Zelda, but the actual text seemed to indicate that it was just a “gift” that Zelda would be bestowing.  Now maybe there’s some secret subtext going on beneath the scenes, and possibly it’s just six of one and half a dozen of the other, but I’ve yet to really get that spoiled for me yet.  (I also haven’t watched the video that has the first 20 minutes of the game for show… on purpose.  I’d like to play the game straight-up the first time.)

I tried my hand at the dungeon level.  I thought that it was actually going to be fabulously easy for me given that I’ve seen so many of the tricks of the trade through videos from E3, but I was well mistaken.  As was noted to me by my NOA helper, defeating each enemy really is a puzzle unto itself, and only specific sword strokes will work.  You’ve of course got your horizontal slashes, but you’ve also got downward blows, upward hits, diagonal slices, and forward thrusts where you poke your sword into your opponent like a fencer’s foil.

I quickly maneuvered my way into the not-quite-miniboss’ chamber and disposed of him without too much trouble whatsoever.  And honestly, the enemies and the swordplay didn’t prove to be all that problematic except for the times when the swordplay wasn’t exactly as 1:1 as I’d like it to be.  Add a little bit of vertical movement to a horizontal slash and suddenly you find yourself getting blocked.  All in all, the enemies will likely prove an interesting mental game as you’re trying to slash away furiously.

Speaking of 1:1 issues, I couldn’t help but notice that so many players ended up running about the scene with Link awkwardly holding his sword to the side and slightly behind him as they were running about the room.  I understand why the Wii Motion+ was doing this sort of thing, but it still looked crazy weird to see Link running around like Raccoon Mario from Super Mario Bros. 3.

The next big experience in the dungeon was with the Beetle, and I can honestly say that I was very disappointed with that.  You guide the Beetle by laying the Wii Remote flat on your hand and tilting it to guide it up and down, left and right.  But the Beetle turned out to be immensely troublesome and frustrating to me.  First and foremost, it reminded me of all the curse words I threw at the television screen when riding dolphins along the Rainbow Road-like river in Super Mario Galaxy; the sheer quantity of lives that were spent to get those two stars are quantities I do not wish to calculate.  At any rate, the Beetle became frustrating because it has the turning radius of… a car with a really big turning radius.  If you slightly miss the slender string that’s holding up a crate in the sky, good luck getting it on the second go around if you fall for the oldest trick in the book and try to turn towards the string; it isn’t going to happen.  Also, the Beetle has a very shallow ascent angle, and so the higher an object is that you want to cut down, you have to back up crazy far just to be able to get your Beetle up that high.

At any rate, after defeating the boss, I ended up trying to do everything imaginable to get out of the main room and continue my dungeon trek… but I think in my haste to experience as much as possible, I must have missed something completely obvious because I simply could not find any key or switch out of there.  I’m sure there was something; I just completely ran out of time to discover it.  There were several caverns along the wall well above the floor where you could guide the Beetle, and I had presumed that there would be a host of items up there to discover, but every single one I managed to search before I ran out of time turned out to be a wild Cucco chase.  I’m sure if I had a lot longer to explore and really plan out my method of attack, it’d have been a different story.  But when you’re rushed, you miss obvious things.

I didn’t get to fight His Holiness the Lord Deborah Ghirahim of Planetside, but know that he’s just as fabulous and terrifying looking at him up close and personal.  Most of the videos online seemed to exaggerate the difficulty slightly, but not incredibly much.  Proper shield work definitely seemed to be a must against him or else you would just start hemorrhaging hearts as you proceeded to Game Oversville.  While Debbie was inclined every now and again to block your sword, it definitely seemed easier to hit him than the E3 videos led me to believe.  Either that or the fans that haunt the halls of PAX are much better gamers than all of the guys in the media!  Though for what it’s worth, I do not think Debbie is going to disappoint, and I’m looking forward to facing him once and for all.

Skyward Sword, you’re only three months away.  I cannot wait.