Review: Hyrule Warriors

Is Hyrule Warriors the latest must-have for Wii U, or a trivial curiosity?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 10/03/2014 09:00 1 Comment     ShareThis
The Final Grade
B+
Excellent
grade/score info
1up
1-Up Mushroom for...
Smart hack and slash gameplay; Combat system offers a ton of variety, rewards thoughtful brawlers versus button mashers; Excellent art direction; Assortment of Zelda songs and sounds is strong; Fun narrative; Hours of gameplay
1up
Poison Mushroom for...
Adventure Mode can grate with its poor balancing of objectives; Map can prove cumbersome at times, could be more intuitive; Environments slightly spartan

What would happen if a Zelda game focused more on the action than the puzzle solving? It’s an interesting question, one that Nintendo and Koei Tecmo set out to answer when the two companies endeavored to develop Hyrule Warriors. A joint venture between Team Ninja and Omega Force, the game is a crossover of the Zelda and Dynasty Warriors franchises. Rather than mix the two series together for a proper team-up, Hyrule Warriors instead features Zelda characters and locations while controlling with the familiar play mechanics of the Dynasty Warriors games. The end result is a rousing, if imperfect, game that is very fun, very action-packed, and sure to satisfy Zelda fans of all stripes.

The key thing to understand going into Hyrule Warriors is that the game is not supposed to be a traditional Legend of Zelda experience. Dynasty Warriors, which is one of the most quintessential hack and slash franchises ever made, was very specifically chosen as the template for Hyrule Warriors. Link will always be pushing blocks, lighting torches, and navigating through perilous dungeons in the mainline Zelda series. For this title, however, the goal was clearly to take all the other elements of the Zelda franchise that fans love and examine them in a different light. From characters to locations, Koei Tecmo painstakingly sifted through years of Zelda history and cherry-picked a vast assortment of things to highlight in Hyrule Warriors.

Drawing from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword, Hyrule Warriors mashes the three games together to form a fan fiction writer’s dream scenario. A great deal of fun is derived just making mental notes of recognizable faces and places throughout the game. It’s also very entertaining to see how Koei Tecmo reinterpreted all of these classic Zelda elements. Link’s redesign is most prominent on Hyrule Warriors‘ marketing materials, but along with him and his killer scarf, characters like Sheik, Zelda, Impa, Ganon, and more all look incredibly fierce and impressive. It’s not quite at Smash Bros. levels of fan service, but it’s a real treat taking in all the effort that went into the game’s art direction. My one gripe, though, is that environments could feel oddly sterile, despite all the turmoil taking place.

The play control is of course where the biggest deviations from the Zelda formula can be found, but it’s nowhere near as jarring as some might think. As in Dynasty Warriors, players control a lone character who is capable of taking on swarms of enemy infantry single-handedly. The basics of combat revolve around comboing light and heavy attacks, using different combinations of button presses to unleash a variety of moves. The moves, especially specials, draw inspiration from classic Zelda imagery and attacks, making them all the more interesting to watch. Weapon selection plays a big part as well, as each character controls differently depending on what they have equipped when they enter a battle. Characters and their equipment can be upgraded throughout the adventure, using a combination of Rupees and resources to power-up everything from movement speed to weapons.

I greatly appreciated that Koei Tecmo kept the customization aspect of Hyrule Warriors very clear and intuitive. It can often be easy to befuddle a player with a barrage of unwieldy and murky menu screens, but Hyrule Warriors does it right and makes it fun to go in and see what attributes can be improved or what weapons are waiting to be experimented with. With each engagement, I continued to strengthen my various fighters, making them into unstoppable juggernauts who shredded through waves of enemies. The sense of satisfaction that comes from taking out large packs of foes is indescribable, and it’s made even better by having a hand in making it all possible. The boss fights were a real joy, especially seeing old baddies rear their heads more monstrous and gigantic than ever.

The decision to utilize designers from both Team Ninja and longtime Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force was a good one, as both crews played off of the strengths of the other. Hyrule Warriors has the visual flair and tenacious action of the Ninja Gaiden games, while Omega Force’s expertise in implementing large-scale warfare is on display throughout. It’s always clear what the objective is at any given moment, and the onscreen action very rarely stutters or fails to keep up during even the most hectic of fights; I personally experienced maybe one or two instances where the game suffered some notable slowdown, but the overwhelming majority of my playthrough was smooth. I did take some umbrage with the in-game map, though, as getting from point A to B could be tedious at times, and at others outright confusing. With some objectives being time-based, it was frustrating having to backtrack because the map didn’t make it clear that the path I was on led to a dead end.

There are a number of modes to partake in while playing Hyrule Warriors. The first, Legend, is essentially the story mode of the game, where cinema scenes and narrative are present throughout. The storytelling is solid, playing to themes and imagery that Zelda fans will appreciate a great deal. As I said before, the game finds a way to bring all the disparate elements of the Zelda franchise together into one adventure, and Koei Tec l did a good job of making it all work. The primary antagonist is a sorceress named Cia, and I found her motivations to be particularly interesting, as I can’t recall a Zelda game where the main baddie was compelled to action quite like her. I won’t spoil it, but fans who are… enamored with Link might be able to appreciate where she’s coming from! The other new faces sprinkled into the game, like Volga the Dragon Knight and Lana, come across as organic extensions of the Zelda universe. They’re not especially original, but they bring some flair that Zelda games don’t normally have (especially Volga– it’s nice to see Link have a genuine rival for once!).

Hyrule Warriors‘ Adventure Mode is entirely objective based, played out across an enormous grid modeled after The Legend of Zelda‘s overworld. Here, players go square by square, completing goals that range from tackling enormous bosses within a set time, to defeating specific numbers of enemies. I enjoyed Adventure Mode, but its novelty began to wear off fairly quickly. I have no problem with hack and slash gameplay if it’s done well, and Hyrule Warriors does it very well, for sure. What makes Adventure Mode frustrating is that too often it felt like the stages were needlessly limiting. I spent many a stage stuck playing as characters that I didn’t necessarily want to choose, or being made to barrel through the same bosses with minimal time passed since the last encounter with the exact same one: King Dodongo again? But I just saw the thing! Adventure Mode tries to show some breadth, but isn’t balanced well enough to pull it off.

As for the rest, co-op is a fun way to pair up with a friend, especially because the GamePad keeps the action uncluttered by providing a second screen. Free Mode allows for players to go through any previously beaten stage with whichever warrior of their choosing. Challenge Mode, which came via a patch on the game’s release day, is similarly objective-based like Adventure Mode, but with a higher difficulty level. Finally, the game also offers a Gallery Mode where players can check out character bios, collectibles, and so on. Legend and Adventure Modes are meaty enough by themselves, but combined with everything else, Hyrule Warriors offers a ton of content and gameplay. Regardless of the promise of future DLC (which will net you a free Dark Link skin if you pre-order it), the game comes out of the box quite robust and ready to entertain for hours on end.

Hyrule Warriors looks and sounds the part of a Zelda game, but by embracing the mechanics of Dynasty Warriors, establishes its own identity and brings something new to the table. The hack and slash gameplay is deceptively simple, belying an intricate combat system that rewards players for not mindlessly button mashing. The roster of characters allows for new interpretations and looks at many beloved Zelda characters, and provides players an assortment of fighters that cater to a number of individual play styles. There’s someone for every player to have fun with, and I thought it was awesome seeing so many female characters to choose from, as opposed to offering nothing but guys as so many AAA titles tend to do. Despite the game’s unintuitive map system and roughly paced Adventure Mode, Hyrule Warriors is an excellent addition to Zelda’s long history. Longtime series fans will probably get the most out of the abundant homages and shout outs to series’ lore, but action games enthusiasts in general will get a thrill out of Hyrule Warriors‘ fabulous gameplay. Wii U owners shouldn’t hesitate to give the game a purchase.

One Response to “Review: Hyrule Warriors

  • 1396 points
    penduin says...

    Great review! The more I play of Hyrule Warriors, the more I enjoy it. I tend to fire it up for “just one or two missions”, but can’t put it down once I get started.

    Even the Adventure mode, which is admittedly not “balanced”, is a lot of fun and filled with clever ideas.

    It’s interesting to have gaming time split mostly between Hyrule Warriors and Smash 3DS. Both are filled with fan-service battles, customizable characters, and simple mechanics put to use in many different ways. So similar, yet so very very different. :^)

    Thumb up 0

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