Hyrule Warriors could easily be called Nintendo’s Hyrule Warriors Assemble. I certainly was not expecting an absorbing story when I entered the Dynasty Warriors/The Legend of Zelda mash-up, but that is what I got. Seeing fan favourite characters, with some new faces as well, team up to defend Hyrule gave a similar buzz to Marvel’s 2012 superhero crossover.
With an ensemble cast from throughout the franchise’s history, this spin-off game fully embraces both the revelations of Skyward Sword and the official timeline with a story that sees the Cia, a sorceress obsessed with our hero Link, using dark magic to summon foes from the various eras of Hyrule. Her motivation being more personal than villains before, as well as the contrast between her and the more cheery fellow newcomer Lana, makes for some interesting and emotional scenes.
But enough of all that story stuff, you may well be here for the flamboyant Dynasty Warriors combat. If you want a game that makes you feel powerful and like a force of nature, this is it. Waves of enemies fall to your attacks, and wiping out a full room in a few swift blows never gets old. The combat threatens to become tediously repetitive at first, but this is countered by the increasing complexity of combos and techniques you unlock. The repetition does creep in at times, when you find yourself mashing one button many times for a “combo” – crucially, though, your rate of destruction creeps up; even from the raw devastation you begin with. By the end of the game, I was chaining together 4 or 5 phases of attacks at once with Zelda and man, did it feel good.
Oh yeah, I was playing as Zelda. There is an impressive range of Zelda characters to play as here, from Link to bug lover Agitha. They all fit into the Avengers feel – is Agitha Hawkeye, then? The characters also all feel very different; having many different movesets and play-styles to keeps the combat fun and innovative with distinct visual flavours on top. However, despite how cool it is to see Link swipe 50-odd Moblins out of the way with a spin attack, the lack of variation in special moves does get old eventually. Playing as Ganondorf was also hugely enjoyable, as it truly makes you feel unstoppable. I almost felt bad battling as Ganondorf, but bringing ruin to everything in your way is just too enjoyable.
The game still finds clever ways to balance out your power, however. Each scenario in the main Legend Mode is a map with many “Keeps” that must be captured to increase your control of an area. By wiping out the smaller enemies, you eventually reveal a mini-boss that you have to dispatch to capture the Keep. In the majority of your missions, you lead the Hyrulean forces and help them capture multiple areas of the map keeps you on your toes. Do you keep trying to capture a certain Keep, or do you go back and help a Hyrulean Captain who is about to be defeated? It may even be a fellow hero in trouble, as you fight alongside Zelda, Impa and more. You may be powerful, but how you control the map is what often provides Hyrule Warriors with the difficulty it definitely needs. Finding the Gold Skulltulas, which give you pieces of an illustration in the Gallery, serves up yet another distraction.
Boss characters were other serious threats I encountered but unfortunately, they seem stuck between the worlds of Dynasty Warriors and Zelda, unlike the rest of the game, which is a successful hybrid of the two. Bosses in the main The Legend of Zelda series are highlights; tests of your skill and learning. Finding the weak spot and exploiting it, with the boss increasingly getting harder, is one of those sacred aspects of Zelda. The weak points of enemies can be found by dodging around enemies at crucial times and this takes out chunks of their health. However, normal attacks also whittle down health! Staying out of the way of enemy attacks and just bombarding the opponent with attacks will, slowly but surely, defeat a boss character. When this happened – purposefully or not – it ruined the usual satisfaction of a Zelda boss encounter.
Harder difficulty modes, including even higher ones unlocked later on, don’t add much though. Rather than making enemies markedly more skilled, it just makes their health incredibly tougher to whittle down. Simple foes take a while to beat down and it starts to push the combat from fun to repetitious. The Normal setting strikes just the right balance, I found.
Going back to the right-place-right-time mechanics of the main campaign, local co-op naturally fits into this. You can team up with a friend to battle in Hyrule Warriors and it is yet another fun couch co-op game for Wii U. You can either wreck the enemies together, or split up to cover more ground. My friend got rather caught up in Darunia’s rolling attack, which resulted in some hilarious moments too! The resolution of the game takes a bit of a hit, but I found the framerate to be consistently smooth – as in the single-player, in particularly crowded moments the game can stutter a little.
Control wise, you can use the GamePad (including separate screen for co-op), Wii Remote and Nunchuk, or the Wii U Pro Controller. With co-op available across all modes, you and a friend have no shortage of things to do. The GamePad itself is mainly treated as a controller, with few uses of the screen. It mainly holds objectives and information about the health of your Hero allies.
Speaking of modes, this isn’t limited to the Legend Mode. There is the expected Free Mode where you can play any map with any character and weapon, a Challenge Mode offering a variety of different objectives, such as defeating particular enemies, defending areas and more. The most interesting of them all though, is Adventure Mode. The aesthetics of this mode plays on the original The Legend of Zelda for NES, recreating the 8-bit map with different challenges in each square screen. As you defeat enemies and progress from square to square, you also use items from the classic NES title like candles burn bushes for secrets, for example. It is a faithful and meaty experience that any Zelda fan will love. It gets pretty challenging as you progress, too!
The fan service on show in Adventure Mode is a theme throughout the game. Koei Tecmo and Nintendo really treated this game and the Zelda franchise, with care to produce a game that is a love letter to fans of the series. Even the music, which is taken from many games and features some awesome rock remixes, feels indulgent in the best way. Information about the characters, achievement-like medals for certain tasks and the aforementioned Illustrations to slowly uncover…there is so much for Zelda fans to spend time on here.
With so much embracing of the old, the new Dynasty Warriors gameplay might have felt off. It has flaws, yes. The combat is clearly same-y at points and getting the bosses wrong hurts the Zelda feel at climactic moments. But generally, it is remarkable how well Dynasty Warriors fits Nintendo’s precious franchise. The seamless nature of the combination deserves credit and as I said; there is plenty of content here. Maybe even enough to keep you going until The Legend of Zelda for Wii U… no, no, don’t think about that yet. Too far away…