Hands-on Preview: Hyrule Warriors

The Dynasty of Zelda!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/16/2014 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

I’m probably in the minority with this one, but I liked Link’s Crossbow Training. Sure, it wasn’t deep, nor was it particularly long, but for me, it was fun, and offered fans a chance to play in the Zelda universe in a different way than they were accustomed to. Zelda games tend to be revolutionary experiences, so when Link’s Crossbow Training came along and settled for just being fun, there was some outcry that seemed to suggest that Zelda games should only be world-changing sorts of titles. I respectfully disagree. The Zelda universe is so rich and unique, I think that Nintendo should take opportunities to explore it from different angles, so long as the games are well done and not simple cash grabs.

With that in mind, I had very high hopes for Hyrule Warriors when I approached its kiosk on the E3 floor. Developed by Tecmo Koei’s Team Ninja and Dynasty Warriors veterans Omega Force, Hyrule Warriors revels in being an unabashed Zelda-tinged brawler. The demo thrusts players right into the thick of an enormous battle at Hyrule Castle, with swarms of Moblin forces engaging legions of Hyrulean soldiers. Each army is escorted by powerful leaders. Lizalfos and enormous wooden shield Moblins add some bite to the packs of underpowered grunts they lead, while the Hyrulean forces have Link, Impa, Zelda, and Midna providing major muscle. Nintendo continues to promise that more characters besides the two playable ones at the show (alas, Impa was there but unplayable) will be part of game, but it was still disappointing to only get a chance to see Zelda as the lone debut for E3. Regardless, even if the game were limited to just her and Link, it would be pretty darn entertaining.

Let’s start with Zelda, who made a major first impression. It’s not like she’s never fought onscreen before, but seeing Zelda cut loose the way she does in Hyrule Warriors is something else entirely. Zelda slices her way through enemy forces like a fencer, using a thin rapier-like blade to take out entire clusters of Moblins. Her other, primary attacks center around her bow and arrow, which Zelda is ludicrously lethal with. She makes Katniss in The Hunger Games look like a high school hobbyist archer. Zelda is light and quick, but still feels potent as a brawler. It might take some getting used to for longtime fans to see, but again, Zelda’s no stranger to combat, and Hyrule Warriors is intentionally over the top, so I took the change in stride. I was pleased with Zelda’s design, too; I had some trepidations with Team Ninja in charge, but they showed restraint and emphasized Zelda as a fighter, not just a beauty.

Link plays how one might expect; fast, powerful, and brutal. All players have access to multiple weapons to use in battle, with Link utilizing either the Master Sword or Fire Rod. Both options are solid choices, which gives me a lot of hope that the entire arsenal of weapons will be a joy to use. I spent the most time with Link using the Master Sword, which was perfect for sending him on extended paths of destruction. Characters have access to special moves and can upgrade other items in their arsenal for better power. There are so many combat options that it can get a person’s head spinning, but the demo did a great job of keeping the controls clear, which freed me to enjoy my time playing as opposed to slavishly trying to decipher things on my own. You’d think that sort of design element would be down pat with developers after all these years, but it’s amazing how often that’s not the case!

The marquee moment of the Hyrule Warriors demo comes in the form of a final battle with King Dodongo. I’ll admit, this isn’t the prettiest game on Wii U, so far. Which is understandable to a certain extent; with so many enemies and allies on screen at once, it’s clear that Team Ninja had to scale the visuals back just a bit to accommodate it all. That being said, character models for our heroes look stunning, and in this battle with King Dodongo, Team Ninja went nuts making the boss into a truly fearsome, lumbering beast. The monster is a great physical threat, and offers an exciting, if somewhat simple challenge to players. Anyone who has slain Dodongo in Ocarina of Time will have no problem dispatching him here; lob bombs into his open maw and wale on him. I actually shocked the booth attendant because of how quickly I defeated Dodongo! It pays to play a lot games, sometimes.

So is Hyrule Warriors living up to expectations? I certainly think so. While there weren’t any puzzles for me to solve, the aesthetic and atmosphere of the demo felt like a Zelda game should, just with a bit more adrenaline mixed into the proceedings. I had a blast seeing series staples used in different ways, too, like using the map to keep track of objectives and teammates in need of a helping hand, rather than for finding treasures. I think some people tend to perceive Zelda as being a tad more monolithic than they should; the series is strong enough that it can stand a little reinterpretation and experimentation, especially when it comes in the form of a spin-off and not a mainline entry. Taken for what it is, Hyrule Warriors seems like a very well-made and natural extension of Zelda that I hope everyone will have an open mind toward.

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