The most exciting Zelda game in recent years, Hyrule Warriors is a must buy for any Zelda fan
Available formats: Wii U
Nintendo hasn’t had a good run when it comes to lending its treasured franchises to third party developers. Metroid: Other M, which was co-developed with Ninja Gaiden creators Team Ninja, immediately springs to mind as the most prominent misstep in recent years, and Arzest’s Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS was one of the least inspiring platformers we’ve ever played. Thankfully, Hyrule Warriors – a mash-up of The Legend of Zelda and Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors series – proves that, with the right guidance, great things can come from the most unlikely alliances.
Admittedly, the Dynasty Warriors series has never garnered quite as much love and attention as The Legend of Zelda games, and with good reason. Based on the ancient Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Warriors is almost famed for its choppy frame rates and repetitive hack and slash combat. However, put a Zelda skin on it and something truly magic happens – not only does it make the series exciting again, but it also manages to become one of the most refreshing Zelda games in recent memory.
^ Impa has always been a non-playable character in the main Zelda series, but here she finally takes up her blade alongside Link
Of course, Hyrule Warriors isn’t just a Warriors game with a pretty coat of Zelda paint. It’s clear right from the start that a lot of love’s gone into this game and it’s something that every Zelda fan will relish to the full. A big part of this is down to the combat, and much of the game’s appeal stems from seeing your favourite Zelda characters lash through hordes of enemies with ludicrous, over-the-top attacks like they’ve been overdosing on gallons of blue potion.
Whether it’s Link’s signature spin attack or Princess Zelda’s nimble rapier jabs, it’s the kind of combat you wish was present in the actual Legend of Zelda series. There’s simply nothing more pleasurable than slicing through banks of moblins with Impa’s giant samurai sword, complete with additional water magic shurikens, or watching Sheik part crowds of moblins with her ninja-like street-dance acrobatics before delivering a final melodic blow with a strum of her harp.
^ Fi’s fighting style is unlike any other character in the game, making full use of both her human and sword form
There’s a huge cast of characters to choose from and unlock as you play through the main campaign, too, which makes a refreshing change from always playing as series hero Link. We were particularly enamoured with Fi’s almost ballet-like kicks and flicks and Midna’s warping wolf attacks which leap out of portals straight from Twilight Princess. In this sense, Hyrule Warriors is one of the greatest celebrations of the Zelda franchise ever made, and it taps straight into the same vein of giddy Nintendo fan service as games like Super Smash Bros, Nintendo’s all-star fighting crossover series.
Style carries the game a long way, then, but there’s much more to Hyrule Warriors than flashy attacks. Strategy plays an equally important role in winning your battles and you won’t be able to ensure your victory through brute force alone. Each stage revolves around completing certain objectives, from capturing keeps and outposts to help your troops advance across the map to performing rescue and escort missions. You’ll also have to keep a firm eye on your own allied base as well, as losing this will result in failure. This gives players plenty of action to keep them on their toes, and the pace rarely lets up until the final boss or enemy commander appears.
^ In the middle of the campaign, you get to fight as Ganondorf himself. Watching him bust open a treasure chest is one of the game’s best moments.
Our only main complaint is that Normal difficulty can quickly turn into a bit of a cake-walk. While the number of enemies onscreen at any one time is often impressive (particularly for the Wii U), it’s a rare occasion when one of the jostling grunt monsters actually attacks you. Only the more powerful captains and keep bosses pose any kind of threat, but even they can be easily avoided using your dodge attack. Moreover, any damage you do take is almost instantly negated by your ever-increasing health bar and the large numbers of heart jars dotted around the various keeps ensure it’s always kept topped up.
We wouldn’t say this necessarily detracts from our overall enjoyment of the game, though, as the real challenge lies in managing your troops on a macro rather than microcosmic scale. You may have captured a handful of keeps, for example, but that won’t stop the enemy from invading them again while you’re off fighting on the other side of the map. Likewise, your other leading allies can quickly get overwhelmed by enemy onslaughts, and failing to rescue them will force them to flee the battlefield. This not only leaves you with fewer soldiers for the rest of the level, but it can also affect your team’s morale, causing them to suffer a loss of attack power.
^ Skyloft is one of the game’s most memorable stages and you can play through it using any character in the game’s free play mode
If anything, moments of one-to-one combat are there to slow you down on your way to dealing with other crisis, acting as important road blocks for you to overcome under pressure. Speed is everything in Hyrule Warriors, and while enemies may not dent your health bar like traditional Zelda games, the time they take to defeat certainly makes up for it. You can always run past them, of course, but then you’d be missing out on important item drops that can be used to advance each character’s various skill trees.
If you do find Normal difficulty is too easy, there’s always to option of selecting Hard mode (or the punishing Hero mode once you’ve completed the main campaign). These modes are far more brutal than Normal difficulty, so you’ll really need to learn each character’s wider move-set if you’re ever going to get through them.
For instance, you can unleash extra powerful special attacks by performing combos of weak and strong attacks to fill up your special attack gauge, while magic jars help fill your magic meter. Once this is full, you can release your Focus Spirit, which gives you a burst of super strength and speed that allows you to cut through armoured enemies and makes you more resistant to damage. When it’s depleted, you’ll automatically use your Focus Spirit Attack (which is unique to every character and weapon), although you can also press A to use it earlier.
^ Fighting The Imprisoned from Skyward Sword is another game highlight and we love how Omega Force has reimagined the Sealed Grounds for Hyrule Warriors
Some characters have weapons that need charging as well, particularly if they have an elemental type that then affects the strength of the rest of their combo moves. Z-targeting is another welcome addition, but this only lets you hone in on the most powerful enemy captains and bosses. This is just as well, as battlefields can quickly become rather crowded. Pop-in and frame rate issues still persist here and there, particularly when battles get really congested, but we were too busy cutting everything down to really care.
Classic Zelda items are also part of your arsenal, including your bow and arrow, hookshot, boomerang and a healthy supply of bombs. These can be scrolled through using the D-Pad and are often key to taking down certain types of enemies and finding the 100 collectible skulltulas that appear on the battlefield after meeting certain conditions. These distinctive-sounding gold spiders first appeared in Ocarina of Time, and finding them will unlock pieces of artwork and let you upgrade the type of potions you can make to use in battle. They’ll flee after a set period of time, though, so you’ll need to be fast to track them down. Some only appear when you’re using specific weapons or warriors as well, so there’s plenty of replay value in store once you’ve finished the main campaign.
^ Items can also be powered up, but the Hookshot (above) is easily our favourite.
More powerful enemies can also expose weak points after performing strong attacks, giving you a chance to counter and deal a heavy blow to their health bar if you destroy their weak point gauge. This won’t appear if you simply hammer them with attacks, though, so patience is once again stressed as a virtue in battle rather than wading in and button mashing your way to victory.
All this adds up to an incredibly rich and varied gameplay experience, so it’s even better that you can share it all with a friend in local co-op. Here, one player plays solely on the GamePad while the other focuses on the TV. As much as we loved single-player mode, we almost preferred playing in co-op, as it not only allows you greater freedom to use alternative characters (single-player mode often has prescribed story characters), but it also gives you the time to explore other areas and cover more of the map – which is perfect for finding those hidden chests and secrets that pepper each level.
Co-op does have its problems, though, as in order to process both screens simultaneously and keep up the frame rate, the resolution for those playing on the TV has been lowered. This is quite a severe downgrade from the Full HD single-player mode, and we found the frame rate dropped more frequently in co-op mode as well. This may be a deal-breaker for some, but at no point did our enjoyment of the game weaken because of it.
Then there’s Adventure Mode, which is almost another game in itself in addition to the main campaign. Riffing heavily off the original Legend of Zelda on the NES, it combines short, mini missions in Hyrule Warriors with grid-based exploration on The Legend of Zelda overworld map. Here, you can unlock additional heart containers and weapons for each character as well as whole new warriors to use again in the campaign’s free play mode.
^ Adventure Mode gives you specific missions to complete with a retro twist
Your performance is graded on how many enemies you kill, your completion time and the amount of damage you sustain, and your rank affects where you can move next on the map. The first element often feels a bit counter-intuitive when several missions are time-attack based challenges, and you’ll lose points for not defeating hordes of minions in addition to the main targets. This can make it difficult to judge exactly what you need to do to get the all-important A-grade, especially when rare rewards are tied to your end score, but you soon get a feel for it once you’ve played a few missions.
Certain map squares carry special item cards, too, such as bombs, candles and compasses, and these can be used to unearth even more content in certain map squares. Rare compasses will reveal the location for you, but otherwise you’re stuck using trial and error with the bombs and candles. The fact that they’re all located in the exact spots of all the original Legend of Zelda secrets is sure to please older Zelda fans, but those who have never played the game will quickly find it a bit frustrating, especially when you’ve got to play missions again just to win another compass. As a result, this mode is better played in short bursts, but it’s nevertheless a refreshing change from the main story, and there are enough new rules to keep each battle feeling fresh and interesting.
Hyrule Warriors isn’t quite perfect, then, but this is easily the most enjoyable Zelda game we’ve played in recent years. While a lot of that enjoyment can be traced to the sheer amount of Zelda fan service on offer, Team Ninja and Omega Force have done the series proud. Add in an amazing soundtrack, free add-on-content on launch day (including an all-new mode, weapon and the option to select your backing music) and more DLC to come, and Hyrule Warriors is a must buy for any Zelda fan. It comes highly recommended.
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