To say Hyrule Warriors is a taste of nostalgia for me would be an understatement; it's transported me back to a world I didn't know when I was going to visit again. But, nostalgia-trips aside, Hyrule Warriors is a journey through the Zelda universe you wouldn't want to miss, whether you've played all the previous titles or not. The game mashes together the Zelda game aesthetic with all the large-scale battle gameplay elements of the Dynasty Warriors series.
I haven't played a Zelda game since the N64's Ocarina of Time, and I haven't played a Dynasty Warriors game since around Dynasty Warriors 4 on the PlayStation 2, so perhaps I'm a little out of touch with both series, but I don't think that makes much of a difference with Hyrule Warriors.
Hyrule Warriors' Legend Mode is where the game's story takes place, tasking you with playing through a number of stages and introducing you to many familiar characters, if you've played any of the Zelda games before. The story is standard Zelda fare, you start off as the hero Link and must save the land of Hyrule from a malevolent force. You end up adventuring through many different places in the Zelda universe as portals open up to the eras of the Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword, and Twilight Princess. I won't talk too much about the story here, as I don't want to spoil it, but I wouldn't expect anything ground-breaking, it's you're usual good vs evil tale, which is fine, but it's the gameplay that steals the show in Hyrule Warriors, with that added bonus of mountains of fan service.
Zelda's bodyguard, Impa, has some great attack combos.
The premise of the game is simple, you're thrown onto a battlefield, often filled with hundreds of enemies, and must complete certain objectives, usually ending in a boss battle, to secure victory. What isn't simple is completing your tasks. As you jump into the fray you're met with a series of choices - do you try to take over that keep held by the enemy, or do you head for your latest objective (that often have a time limit)? And when you've made that choice you could be hit with another dilemma - one of your own keeps is under attack and is about to fall to the enemy - should you go there to help instead? This seemingly-fluid array of risk and reward gameplay, that tasks you with making your own choices depending on what you feel you could accomplish within your own abilities, is both satisfying and challenging.
The battles constantly throw obstacles in your way, whether it's a keep about to be taken, a new objective to accomplish, or a direct attack by large enemy forces on one of your allies.
As you work your way through the story's stages you unlock new characters to take into battle. Link uses his signature sword and shield combo, whilst Princess Zelda's bodyguard, Impa, uses her Giant Blade. Not all characters use traditional weapons however, there are some that use magic, or there's Midna who uses magic and her hair. As you progress you'll pick up other weapons that characters can be equipped with before going into battle.
If you want a lot out of the story here you’ll have to juggle battling hundreds of enemies as well as reading in-game chat between your allies. I was often so engrossed in what was happening in the battle that I would regularly miss the story text in the lower left hand corner of the screen. The conversions between characters and enemy bosses, when I caught them, would add that extra little element to keep me engrossed.
Each character has their own unique sets of attacks and ability animations that work as light and heavy attacks you can mix together for different combos. As you gain experience and level up the characters you'll be able to unlock new abilities and attributes, to further their effectiveness.
You don't need me to tell you this is a great-looking game, just look at the screenshots.
More time playing the game meant I began to grasp a steady flow of attacks and combos for the characters I tended to favour most. I particularly liked using Link a lot of the time, as I found I could gain some decent momentum with him around the battlefield, as I ploughed my way through hundreds of enemies. But I'm sure everyone will find a character they naturally sway towards as they're all pretty diverse, ranging from the more nimble to the slower and more powerful.
In addition to the weapons your characters can wield you eventually build up a number of Zelda items including the Hookshot, Bombs, Bow and Arrow, and more. These items can be used directly against most enemies, but are more suited to tackling specific enemies or obstacles throughout your campaign, and also come in to play when battling bosses.
Each stage comes complete with Zelda music from the past, all given a modern, and guitar-based, overhaul. Just hearing the music at the title screen told me I was going to enjoy this game, not only for its setting, but because of the nostalgia hit I was about to get in every aspect. You can also choose what music will be played in the background when you enter the game's Free Mode, a mode that allows you to choose any stage in the game and re-play it with any character you've unlocked.
One of the only gripes I really have about Hyrule Warriors is its crafting system. The items you pick up throughout the battles can be used to craft badges that unlock new abilities, combos, and attributes, or usable items. However, I never came across a time where I was lacking in a certain item to progress my characters' skills, so I never really felt too much of a challenge with choosing where to spend my resources. I did play the game through on Normal difficulty, so the items and crafting aspect were kind of valueless to me, but Hard mode does ask much more of you skill-wise, and you’ll definitely need to take more time in the crafting areas for that. The leveling seems balanced enough, and the characters you play as the most will level up the quickest, however you can spend rupees you earn to boost lower characters’ levels if you like.
Each stage is the same gameplay, you hack and slash your way through seemingly-endless droves of enemies (which is incredibly fun, trust me), but it’s the missions, settings, different bosses and story that keep it fresh and exciting. When you want a break from the story mode there’s the Free Mode I mentioned earlier, or you can test yourself in the Adventure Mode. Adventure Mode is set in the style of the original 8-bit Legend of Zelda game, and in it you must move around the map completing battles with certain rules. As you progress you’ll unlock new weapons, characters, and gain experience. There’s also a specific Challenge Mode which puts you in a level and gives you task to complete before the timer runs out. If this is all too easy for you, you can always switch the difficulty up to Hard in Free or Legend modes, and see how you get on.
Adventure Mode mixes in some old school aesthetics.
The Wii U’s gamepad acts as an extension of game’s UI, giving you the name and health of other characters/commanders on the field with you, as well as the latest missions text, so you know what you’re tasked with accomplishing next. You can also use it to switch items with the touch and minor movement of your thumb/finger - although you can use the d-pad for this too.
I believe there's a co-op mode which is played locally, with one player using the gamepad and another using the Wii remote and the TV. Unfortunately I didn't have chance to try this out, but I think playing Hyrule Warriors with a friend would be brilliant. I would have liked to see some sort of online multiplayer included, but maybe we can just wish for that in any future renditions of the game.
Hyrule Warriors is a complete blast, it took me back to my youth with the fan service it provides in its Zelda aesthetic, and the great gameplay provided by the Dynasty Warriors formula. But you don’t need to be a fan of both, or even just one of these franchises in order to enjoy this game. A simple good vs evil story, accompanied by rock-solid hack and slash gameplay, this game will speak to many with its appeal. Hyrule Warriors is exactly what Nintendo's Wii U needs right now, to set it apart from the competition, and re-establish why it's worth buying a Nintendo console - for its exclusive Nintendo franchises.