Nintendo allowing other developers to create The Legend of Zelda games has resulted in both terrible and great games. Phillips were responsible for the infamous Zelda CD-i games, while Flagship/Capcom created the Oracle games and the marvelous Minish Cap. This time, Nintendo have allowed Koei Tecmo to create a spin-off, using the talents of Omega Force and Team Ninja.
Hyrule Warriors takes after Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series, providing a hack-of-slash game filled with massive armies for Link and friends to fight their way through. The game revolves mainly around controlling keeps, which are square rooms filled with respawning enemies, in order to control the flow of the battle. To gain control of a keep, you need to kill enough minions for the keep boss to appear. Defeat the keep boss and your minions will start spawning there. There are also smaller outposts dotted around the map which will spawn enemies until you defeat the outpost captain and take it for yourself.
The basic minions in the game are essentially cannon fodder. You could plough through thousands with ease, even on the hardest difficulty setting. This doesn’t mean that fighting them is useless. On top of killing them to take control of keeps, it’s also wise to thin down large groups to make them more manageable for your own troops. Dispatching these minions will also fill up your special attack gauge, allowing you to unleash (shockingly) a special attack.
While there are some stronger minions which have health bars, most of the combat skill required is against enemy commanders. These commanders have more health and will also block and use a range of different attacks. Most of these are defeated fairly easily on Normal difficulty, while on harder difficulties you will need to do a lot of blocking and dodging and will need to learn how they telegraph their attacks in order to react accordingly. After their stronger attacks, they will become vulnerable and a Weak Point Gauge will appear. If you’ve reacted properly to the attack, you’ll be able to counter attack to whittle down their weak point gauge – bring this down and you’ll pull off a stronger attack.
The combat is fairly straightforward. You have a dodge button, block button and a light and strong attack. Using the light/strong attacks, you can create various combos, many of which are gloriously over the top and very fun to watch. Each character has their own set of special weapons (although a few only have one), and each special weapon provides a unique set of attacks that feel very different due to the combos. It’s a lot of fun taking a new character or weapon out for a spin. The game also has L-Targeting for focusing on important enemies, an item button for using bombs. arrows and other items (most of which have temporary power-ups that dead enemies can drop); and finally a magic metre. Collect enough magic bottles to fill this up and you can enter a “focus mode” which makes you stronger and lets you unleash a devastating attack.
While most enemies aren’t a challenge on normal mode, that doesn’t mean that the battles as a whole are easy. Through Legend Mode (the main story campaign), Hyrule Warriors will provide you with different scenarios and tactics for you to counter. You will need to learn when the best time to take keeps is, as well as deciding to ignore cries for help and focus on the objectives while your allies get defeated and flee. The different scenarios keep the campaign interesting from start to finish, and it took me around 18 hours to complete on normal mode, including a fair few failures along the way.
The story itself is entertaining, while simple at times. A “mysterious” dark force corrupts a sorceress called Cia, who launches an attack on Hyrule, starting with Hyrule Castle where Zelda. Impa and a trainee called Link are. The adventure takes them into different time zones – those of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword – and to some familiar locations for Zelda fans. Some of the twists are glaringly obvious due to being repeated from previous games and one in particular feels silly by the time it’s “revealed”, due to the reactions of other characters. However, the story revolving around the new characters Cia and Lana is genuinely interesting.
Throughout the story missions, you will encounter bosses. These bosses, in true Zelda fashion, require you to wait for them to expose their weak spot and use the required item to stun them before you pummel them. The boss fights are a lot of fun, especially when contending with other nearby enemies.
In each mission you will collect various items. Rupees and materials will let you buy upgrades for each character from the bazaar while you will also find many weapons, which are different versions of the special weapons with unique stats and bonuses, which can be combined at the smithy. Some of these even have a different look to them, for example, Impa has Giant Blade, which comes in Giant’s Knife and Biggoron’s Knife versions. Hidden throughout missions are gold skulltulas, which appear under certain conditions. Finding these will improve the bazaar and unlock illustrations.
Free mode is the same as Legend Mode, except that you can use any unlocked character rather than the ones that Legend Mode limits you for each mission. You can still use this mode to gain resources for upgrades as well as finding gold skulltulas. The other significant game mode is Adventure Mode.
Adventure Mode’s menu takes place on the overworld from the original NES Legend of Zelda. Each “screen” of the map represents a different challenge, which ranges from small challenges to large battles that take place on the same maps as Legend Mode, but with unique scenarios. These will sometimes have all features such as making all attacks “devastating” or spawning hoards of cuccos, which you don’t want to attack. At the end of each mission you will receive a ranking, and some items need to be unlocked with an “A” ranking. By completing missions, you will find item cards. which are used to unlock rewards (which you then win by completing the mission it’s unlocked for). Unfortunately, this method means that you’ll need to repeat some missions to get the required items.
Adventure Mode also has a network feature. Network Links will appear on your map. This will create a harder version of that mission, but will yield greater rewards (which will be better still if the Network Link is a friend). If you win, the Network Link will also receive a bonus. All three modes of the game also feature local co-op where a second player can join via a Pro Controller or Wii Remote & Nunchuck. Player 1 plays on the GamePad screen while player 2 gets the TV to themselves.
The graphics for Hyrule Warriors are fairly basic, which means that it runs extremely smoothly even with hundreds of enemies on screen at once. The style of the game gives it a pleasant look which captures the Zelda feel in its character and level design. The graphics do take a noticeable downgrade in co-op, with much reduced anti-aliasing and noticeable pop-in. The soundtracks mainly consist of rock versions of various familiar Zelda tunes, which fits rather well with the gameplay.
Hyrule Warriors is a solid Dynasty Warriors game that successfully captures the world of Hyrule. The Zelda characters feel like you’re playing as Zelda characters, and each one is a lot of fun to play with, which makes up for the relatively small amount compared to other Dynasty Warriors games. It is a shame that the characters only come from three Zelda titles, with only a few references to other games – the most significant being the moon from Majora’s Mask. There is plenty to unlock and the game features accomplishments, which get posted to Miiverse and has a handy progress list to keep gamers occupied for quite a while.
While it may seem simple at first, Hyrule Warriors has fun combat and requires you to think about the whole battlefield instead of mindlessly slashing through enemies. It may be a Dynasty Warriors game, but it still has a Zelda feel and the extra polish you would expect from a Nintendo game.
Fun characters and movesets.
Lots to play and unlock.
Feels like you’re part of a larger battle.
Only focuses on a few Zelda games.
Small amount of characters.
No online mode.
Final Score: 9/10