Hyrule Warriors Review: All Zelda, All Dynasty, All Fun

out of 5

I love the Legend of Zelda. It is the reason that I write about video games. When I first popped that shiny gold cartridge in my NES back in the Christmas of 1987, my life changed forever. It’s important to realize this as we get into the review, as I cannot help but be biased. The mythology, the characters, the land of Hyrule. I’ve been there so many times in so many games, and I’ve watched my favorite game series transcend game system after game system, each time topping itself in the presentation and gameplay. And here we are again with a new take on a classic video game legend.

In Hyrule Warriors for the Nintendo Wii U, Koei Tecmo has taken the Zelda myths and integrated them into their mega-popular Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash gameplay and the amalgam works splendidly. Both Nintendo and Koei Tecmo argue that its not a Dynasty Warriors game, nor is it a true Zelda game, but they are wrong. The concoction is one heck of a great time and should appease fans of both franchises, and even bring new fans into the fold of both.

Hyrule Warriors review

Link takes on all comers in Hyrule Warriors.

Hyrule Warriors takes the classic Zelda characters of Link, Zelda, Impa and Ganondorf, and adds more recent additions such as Fi, Agitha, Sheik, and Mida and even new characters for this story, and gives players a story that is essentially a “Zelda’s Greatest Hits.” Throughout the course of the Legends Mode, the story twists and turns, giving players a chance to explore this version of Hyrule, while also letting them travel to the Hyrule of Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword as the conflict rages onscreen. Through the 18 chapters, players fight wave after wave of Zelda baddies, collecting rupees, gold skulltulas, and weapons–including the iconic weapons of classic Zelda: bombs, bow, boomerang and even the hookshot. The bosses are also classic Zelda like King Dodongo, Manhandla and Gohma, but here they are presented in full 3D, in 1080p at 60 fps. The Legends Mode is where the game’s story is played out, and as the story is revealed, additional characters are unlocked to play, up to and including Ganondorf himself. This makes for a Zelda fans dream come true.

Hyrule Warriors Screenshot

Ganondorf is a force to be reckoned with.

Where Hyrule Warriors differentiates itself is in the gameplay. It is 100 percent Dynasty Warriors-style. Enemies are unrelenting and there are hundreds on screen at a time. Never before in a Zelda game has Link and company been faced with such a huge number of adversaries at one time. As the battles rage, text boxes pop up with objectives and story–all told in a series of grunts, moans, laughs, and screams. Objectives change on the fly and time is of the essence in trying to turn back the encroaching evil. This creates replay value as there is so much to do and collect (there are 100 Gold Skulltulas in the game, but only 18 are in the initial Legend/story mode, to give you an idea). But there are other game modes in addition to Legends including the incredibly thought out Adventure Mode.

Hyrule Warriors

Adventure Mode resembles the classic Legend of Zelda map!

Adventure Mode takes the classic Legend of Zelda grid map and gives each of the screens on the map an objective, with treasures to find (including more Gold Skulltulas) and minor puzzles to solve in addition to fighting hundreds of enemies. It’s a neat mode that further emphasizes what the geniuses at Omega Force and Team Ninja are trying to do by melding these two great franchises. It’s also much longer and in-depth than the Legends Mode, which takes between 15-20 hours to finish, and gives Hyrule Warriors that much more gameplay out of the box.

In addition to Legends and Adventure, there is a Challenge Mode that gives the player certain objectives to complete in order to proceed. Some are races against time, others are kill X amount of villains in X time limit. There is also a Free Mode for players just wanting to collect materials, weapons, and rupees, which brings me to the next point: customization. Each of the 13 playable characters have skill trees that can be unlocked to create even stronger warriors. Materials and rupees are used to pay for these upgrades, and there is a smithy to fuse weapons into bigger, badder blades, rods, books and even harps. Yes, Sheik uses a harp, and the power move with the harp is one of the most devastating in the game, easily racking up 80, 90, and 100 K.O.s in one move. It’s pretty awesome to pull off and watch the annihilation of your enemies in such a way.

Zelda is one of 13 playable characters in Hyrule warriors.

Zelda is one of 13 playable characters in Hyrule warriors.

The best parts of Hyrule Warriors is in how it feels more like a Zelda game than a Dynasty Warriors game due to the subtle influences peppered throughout. Players find treasure chests that contain heart containers and pieces of hearts that can be collected four at a time to create a whole heart container to add to the characters life bar. And each time a chest is opened, the iconic “found item” fanfare plays. Zelda may not be in the title (though she is a playable character and she’s pretty awesome), but this is a Zelda game through and through. The second best part is the music. Classic Zelda themes are used heavily (including the just-mentioned item fanfare), and when the action starts, those themes are played with screeching guitars and drums and bass. You’ve not heard the Zelda theme until you’ve heard it as a thrashing metal song.

Hyrule Warriors

Can you hear the fanfare when you look at this image?

Nintendo has promised post-release DLC support in the form of additional costumes and weapons and possible levels, and that alone makes Hyrule Warriors a must-have title for fans of Zelda or hack and slash button mashers. The Wii U’s gamepad works well as a controller and as the second screen for couch co-op (sadly, there is no online co-op, but there is an online component in Adventure Mode where your Link can go out into the world and help other players and vice versa). Each level ends with a Miiverse posting so friends will know what you did and how well you did it.

In addition to the gamepad, Hyrule Warriors uses the nunchuck and Wii remote combo, and the Wii U Pro Controller to play the game. With so many options, finding the right, most comfortable combination to play with is a snap.

Hyrule Warriors is easily my favorite game on the Nintendo Wii U to date. As a fan of both core series, I found the gameplay natural and not forced, and it’s gorgeous to look at with zero stutter or lag. It is a Zelda game and it is also a Dynasty Warriors game, no matter what they try and tell us, and Koei Tecmo pulled it all off splendidly. Hyrule Warriors is the perfect segue to the next true Zelda game for the Wii U which could hit next year, and there is enough content and challenge and fun here to make the wait for that game painless.

Hyrule Warriors was reviewed on Wii U and furnished by Nintendo for the purposes of this review. It is available now in certain regions and will be available as both a retail copy and as a Nintendo eShop download in North America on September 26, 2014.

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