Release Date: September 26, 2014Platform: Wii UDeveloper: Tecmo Koei GamesPublisher: NintendoGenre: Beat-‘Em-Up
The Legend of Zelda series has become synonymous with AAA gaming. While not only being a nearly universally enjoyed franchise, the series has given us a number of benchmark moments in gaming that have gone unrivaled for the most part.
Shifting to the Dark World in A Link to the Past for the first time, riding Epona in Ocarina of Time, even turning into your wolf form in Twilight Princess. We still think of these moments, fondly, whenever video games are in discussion, and the lasting power behind this series is immense. But will this, a new spin-off with a new gameplay style, manage to match those moments from the past and stay as fondly in our memories? Will it turn the whole series and Zelda as we know it on its head? Well, as Na’vi would say, “Hey! Listen!” You’re not going to want to miss this.
As you’ve likely heard by this point, the biggest difference in this title is the gameplay blending between Zelda and the Dynasty Warriors series, and it’s shocking how well it all comes together. This weird thing is such a delight to move though and the kind of rampaging fun many of us have wanted to have with Zelda for a long time.
Link’s Crossbow Training teased what could be done with this world transitioning into a different gameplay genre, but this pushes far, far beyond that. It also helps that every step of the way feels like a colossal love letter to the Zelda series as a whole. 8-bit retro pictures welcome you during the loading and instruction screens, and the plot itself is designed to cater to fan service.
Hyrule Warriors constructs a rather novel plot to implement all of this craziness, with Ganondorf planning his resurrection through the sorceress, Cia (with the help of Wizzro and Volga), who is supposed to protect the Triforce’s balance and keep the world neutral. In the process, the Gate of Souls is opened, which acts as a portal to various moments in Hyrule’s timeline as a means to build an army of enemies, but in our case acts as the conduit to the “Zelda Greatest Hits” mash-up we’re given to battle through. Link is aided by Zelda, Impa, and heroes throughout all of Hyrule’s time-space continuum to battle Ganondorf, Cia, and the forces of evil.
Not only is all of this addictive fun, but it also recaps the history of Zelda’s lore in a streamlined, unique fashion. I found myself surprised at how much enjoyment I got out of watching events come together (like Link getting his trademark tunic, the battle with Dark Link, and I about lost my mind when I saw the moon from Majora’s Mask show up in Midna’s first stage!) and the constant familiar faces and enemies that came up at the appropriate times.
While Hyrule Warriors’ Story Mode is certainly the main attraction, you’re also offered up the relaxing “Free Play Mode” which is exactly as it sounds, the boiled down, stat-specific Challenge Mode.
Adventure Mode is completely separate from Story Mode” and it borrows much from Dynasty Warriors’ Challenge Mode setup. Perhaps most innovatively, the menu for this is almost like its own mini-game, as you move about a classic NES style top-down world, with each block of the grid or landmark on the world map representing a challenge.
It even has a story (I can’t think of the last Challenge Mode menu setup that had its own independent story), as you are once again staffed to take down Ganon and his eight evil minions to restore order to Hyrule. You’re given a number of items to help you in your quest. Link holds his greatest assault arsenal yet, as these items are all used to discover secrets amongst your overworld/challenge menu.
As you move through the challenges, the scores determine whether you unlock more of your explorable overworld map. Getting an “A” rank will also give you a mega-powerful item for a specific character, which can range from something as drab as a heart container to a rare new weapon. I could easily see players even preferring this mode, depending on the sort of Zelda gamer they are. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Nintendo release a full title that takes advantage of this sort of gameplay and set up down the road.
Returning to the frenetic hack-and-slashing of Story Mode, you get to control many classic Zelda characters that, until this point, were just talking heads and shiny non-playable characters to be looked at from afar. There’s a roster of 13, representing most titles in the francise. Each of these characters has their own weapon and magic set which keeps the constant battling to stay as fresh as it can. Smashing foes with Darunia’s ultraton hammer is manic fun, but very different than playing as Ganondorf and double-fisting swords as you fight through the fray.
Keeping the nostalgia flowing strong, you get to take these characters to battle on some of the best known, most revered locations and battlefields from Zelda history, such as Hyrule Field, Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, the Palace of Twilight, Ganon’s Castle, and even Skyloft from Skyward Sword.
When it comes to your fighting, there’s a very heavy slant towards the Dynasty Warriors combat mechanics, with a mix of Zelda elements thrown in, such as enemy targeting and lock-on. This is a pretty seamless system, as you work your way through the hordes of enemies.
As one might assume, endlessly smashing buttons through dozens of levels with near-identical goals behind them does become repetitive to a degree, but that’s more the design of the genre than the game’s fault particularly. Plus, the entirely different stages, and wide berth of playable characters, help keep things fresh.
Zelda games are usually given the proper attention when dealing with the aesthetics, and Hyrule Warriors is no exception, containing amazing graphics (the best of the Wii U, I’d say), and it’s great to see these characters looking so defined. I didn’t experience any slowdown, as I blazed through it all at a frenzied pace either, and there are some beautiful animations throughout.
There are also plenty of recognizable Zelda musical numbers that follow you along on your adventures.
Hyrule Warriors is relatively lengthy at around 20 stages, each one taking you about half an hour to complete, give or take, if you’re collecting everything in the game. That’s not including any of the detailed “Adventure Mode” or the wealth of weapons, artwork, and abilities to unlock on top of everything.
All in all, this game translates well into a new concept and genre. What we get is a fresh approach that might very well stick around for a sequel or two. Either way, new Zelda is never a bad thing.