Spoilers ahead: the following will be your face if you're not prepared as such.
Adequate spacing having been provided, you are now reading Play by Play: Skyward Sword. I'll be covering more or less every moment of play (albeit with a little less completeness than I did Lufia DS). In-body that makes this topic largely a review of the game. Unlike Lufia DS, I'm going to recommend that you buy this game, and I'm already prepared to tell you why.
Right away, it's clear that this game is a different breed, and that in developing it Ninty took a very different approach. As of now, I've logged 3 hours of play without leaving the lofty Skyloft for the world below -- YMMV, as a large chunk of this was casual browsing, and a little bit of understanding what's expected of me. (Last warning for spoilers.)
I won't get into the intro with too much detail -- it's entertaining. I find the characters immediately endearing; the colourful characters surrounding the Knight Academy are varied and interesting all, and naturally none of them thinks there's anything under the clouds. Zelda's father is Headmaster Gaepora -- his introduction involves a juicy slow camera movement, and as he walks on-stage you notice two things. One, the dude is a visual callback Rauru from Ocarina of Time, and since Rauru himself was a callback to the Old Man from Zelda 1, this is instant chills. Two is another visual callback that ties in with his name as well, because he looks like an owl. Alarm bells are ringing at this moment, and because of the way the camera moved re: conventionalism, it seems really, really clear that the viewer was supposed to draw this conclusion.
Look at this owl though, really, what a bro. I'll look over the OC because this fanart is just badass.
Another character around the Academy is a student, Groose, and his two cronies. Groose is also vying for the attentions of young Zelda, although not very well. There's some really good use of music here; variations on Groose's theme as he goes through different moods in a short span of time, and there are good laughs to be had.
Groose has hidden Link's bird (by the way, everyone has a special soulmate bird from a young age). There's a flying contest today and Groose wants to win, because the winner gets a cool KNIGHTLY TUNIC WITH A HAT teehee, and a cloth that Zelda made, and a special ceremonial moment with Zelda. Apparently it's the 25th anniversary of the Knight Academy.
Everybody loves Link though, so they delay the contest so he can go find his bird. Here, I had a moment which has been rare for me in Zelda games of late: I said "what the hell am I supposed to do" and wandered for a while, until I found a barred-up cave. (I'm pretty sure there's actually a guiding function of some sort on the map screen, but I think and hope that this moment speaks well of what's to come.)
There's no switch around, so what's a man to do? I went back to the Academy and someone told me there's a Sparring Arena somewhere. Excellent, a sword. And here's where we start the fun.
I've got a sword and I'm going to cut logs along specific lines. Right away, I can see that the way I played Twilight Princess (waggling a lot until bushes were cut and enemies were dead) isn't valid here. While I have a little leeway, to make sure my slashes are specific I really need to ensure that my arm is raised rather than against the couch. At first my actions feel wonky; swear words may have been uttered. My idea of slashing a sword apparently isn't the same as Nintendo's, but very quickly I come to understand what's expected of me and how my movements reflect those in-game. It's not revolutionary yet, I don't feel entirely like I'm swinging a sword -- maybe it's the game, maybe it's my third-party Wii Motion Plus controller that I got from an electronics store downtown while on my liquor run. Whatever the case, after three hours of play it's feeling natural.
Here's a little sidenote: you never use the sensor bar in this game. You could point your Wiimote at the screen if you like, for menus or to aim the slingshot or what have you. But the "pointer" is actually led around using WM+. In-hand with this comes a feature that I really like; any time the pointer is on-screen, you can press down on the Control Pad to center the pointer. What this means is that even laying back on the couch if I like, I can realign the pointer spatially to suit where my hand currently is. It's clear that this was a method to fix any kinkiness in the control scheme, but this quickly becomes a reliable and surprisingly useful tool, as well as a method of chilling on the couch.
Back to the cave now. After I figure out the best way to chop away the barred gate, I proceed inside and fight some bats, and some round jellies ala LoZ, AoL, LttP, LA, MM, or WW. Despite the setting on a big floating island, I keep getting these fantastic back-to-roots Zelda feelings and it's genuinely great.
Another side-note: the visual style of the game is awesome as noted in media coverage. It's like playing an impressionistic painting -- textures are made up of dots of colours, and clouds appear this way as well. There's also some kind of rendering technique being used here, because from far off structures and shapes also look like impressions rather than solid polygonal structures. In sum total it's really neat.
While we're on the subject of visuals, it's immediately clear that this is made by the same team as Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, simply by looking at the menus (and it's made clear later as well in a lot of ways, which we'll get into as we encounter them). If you liked Spirit Tracks especially, you'll notice a lot of visual cues, the same sort of structure throughout, and a very similar characterization as well. For those of you who didn't like PH or even ST, you might have cause to be a little alarmed, and we'll get into that later as well. But trust me when I say that if you didn't like those games, the good still outweighs the bad here and you need to give this one a go.
On the other end of the cave, we find out feathered friend. (Epona? The birds seemingly have no names or genders, but convention dictates that mentally my bird is female and responds to the call of Up-Left-Right, Up-Left-Right.) This part stumped me a bit in several places, and already I'm seeing how my thinking will need to shift for this game, to pick up the visual clues that tell me what I need to do. The bird is boxed in by some boards, and they're tied up with some metal things that visually make it clear to slice between them. For those of us who paid attention to media coverage, this isn't new information -- visual cues direct the swordplay. Where I faltered is in not noticing as well that after the first slash, the ropes were only frayed. After slicing the ropes once, I started rolling into the boards, throwing barrels at them etc. to try to knock them down, when what I needed to do was simply slash them again. Oops.
After this, you practice flying a bit. This is nothing new -- have you played the bird segments in Super Mario Galaxy? Regardless, you turn the Wiimote back and forth to fly and do some other shit, it's intuitive. Then you go back and do that contest and win, and indulge in a little romantic tension as well as diving off of cliffs.
Then a big tornado comes out of the cloud sea and sucks Zelda to The Surface. Quel dommage. At night, you get a suspiciously blue sword from a suspiciously blue lady, and Rauru sends you out to go save his daughter in your new knightly duds. You place this map tablet thing and a pillar of light bursts from the clouds to bring you down to The Surface.
So naturally, I spent the next hour flying out around Skyloft instead, and here came another cool surprise -- there's a lot more little islands out in the air than just Skyloft itself. You can see them from the main island, so the whole time so far I had been curious, but bam, there they are. There's not much to be done just yet (This one needs bombs! This one needs a hookshot!) but I got a Piece of Heart and in general I'm pretty stoked. It's Wind Waker! But in the sky!
There's also a bazaar with some neat stuff and again, some really cool variation on music and themes as you walk between vendors that makes me consistently smile.
Before the end of this segment, I have one more note of advice: the world is very clearly encapsulated. Think Spirit Tracks, and think Metroid Prime 3. While I haven't been Below yet, I don't think there's going to be a connected overworld ala OoT or Twilight Princess, or at least it will play less prominence. I don't have a problem with that myself, but I think this game in general projects a DS Zelda vibe and you should be prepared for that.