My relationship with the Legend of Zelda series is likely different from most. As a child I played the original and its side-scroller-y sequel on the NES, but the property didn’t get its hooks into me until the GameCube era. I adored Wind Waker, and it was through that lens that I truly began to perceive the weight of all the titles that had come before.
While it’s a far cry from the Toon Link of that oft-maligned “Cellda,” Hyrule Warriors represents another noticeable shift in the property. Gone are the delicate soundtrack and careful, deliberate problem-solving and measured combat of LoZ-proper. They are replaced with the unrestrained bombast of the Dynasty Warriors series. And I kind of love it.
In a storyline that doesn’t stray too far from the established “Hero of Time” motif, Hyrule Warriors sees Link lead the kingdom’s soldiers into battle against a veritable sea of classic enemies – ranging from relatively harmless Bokoblins to the more difficult Darknuts and Lizalfos – on a mission to hack and slash his way to victory over Ganondorf. The difference this time around, aside from the gloriously mindless button-mashing inherent in the combat system, is that the player controls not only Link, but other series stalwarts like Midna, Impa and even Zelda herself in an adventure that spans established series locales and beyond.
This time-hopping adventure puts you in each different character’s shoes in turn, often limiting your selection based on the combat scenario and generally letting you know which hero and weapon combination will prove the most advantageous with a helpful thumbs-up symbol. Experience, buffs and secondary weapons abound in each spacious (but occasionally maze-like) level, with bombs and bows and the like quickly becoming available for an additional dash of mayhem.
Loot and Rupees are collected and subsequently used to flesh out each character’s skill tree to allow for better bonuses, lengthier buff effects and bigger combos via craftable badges. Each map contains various controls points, wherein your character does the most of his/her fighting, and wresting these from enemies’ hands, while not necessarily a victory condition, always helps shape the battle. Often the game warns that your soldiers in a certain area are in danger of being overwhelmed, leaving you to ponder whether to charge on toward your ultimate goal or fall back to offer aid. A morale system rewards allies around you for your own superlative combat performance, a subtle system that cuts both ways to turn the tide of battle.
The weapon system itself seems intentionally vague, with simple stats like damage supplemented by a star system, to denote rarity and overall power, and bonus effect slots, which provide additional attacks and supplemental damage. Add to this a crafting system wherein effects from one weapon can be moved to another with one or more open slots – destroying the original in the process – and you get a feel for the seam-busting content and barely controlled madness that is Hyrule Warriors.
And therein lies my big gripe with the game. Hyrule Warriors, from its oddly meandering plot and disparate cast of characters to its mission objectives and less-than satisfying camera controls, looks and plays wonderfully from the cursory 10,000 foot view, but when examined critically its flaws begin to show. Success and failure within each battle is measured via specific objectives, and expect these to change in the heat of battle – a lot. “Capture this place” quickly becomes “No, find this other thing” and, by the way, “Whatever you do, don’t let this third thing happen!” — oh, “Also a bonus Gold Skulltula has just appeared somewhere on the map, so good luck with that.”
It’s a fun enough mechanic, but amid pitched battle and relying on a map system that’s barebones at best, it can get a little frustrating. This is compounded by a camera system that’s not exactly polished itself. The L-trigger locks onto the nearest non-grunt enemy in your combat area, but when more than one mini-boss appears Hyrule Warriors doesn’t seem to know who the hell it wants you to fight. Even with just a single high-value target in your sights, the system falters by losing camera focus entirely, and trying to finagle a proper viewing angle using the right stick muddies up the otherwise frantic but fluid combat.
Hyrule Warriors has heroes and combos and weapons galore, it offers the Wii U’s hallmark GamePad-only view (in case you need to share the television with an otherwise distracted loved one) and it even manages to rock those classic Legend of Zelda melodies up with a truly inspired level of guitar-shredding. Still, when the title does stammer it always manages to let you down at the worst possible time.
Does this mean I recommend passing on this game? Not even close!
I can’t imagine Hyrule Warriors is going to take home any ribbons for its graphics or its gameplay, but you’ll likely be having too much over-the-top fun actually playing it to worry about either. Plus, between all the unlockables, a secondary old school map-based “Adventure Mode,” two-player co-op and multiple controller options, it packs in a ton of content.
The fate of Hyrule is up for grabs, but, in the battle of enjoyment versus frustration, the former always wins.
Review material (and a super-sweet scarf) provided by: Nintendo of America