It goes without saying that when any new system from Nintendo hits stores, there will be Zelda title to follow. Bolstering up a slow roll out of new Wii U titles is the Hyrule Warriors, which serves up heaping piles of familiar Zelda characters, images, items, sound effects, worlds, and music to the franchise faithful. However, it’s not in any way a traditional Zelda game. That’s still coming. We’ll get there. Hyrule Warriors is something quite different and while it’s by no means as satisfying as a new entry in what just might be Nintendo’s finest franchise, it is a wonderful place holder offering hours of instant gratification and familiarity. This is not a half-assed endeavor, it’s just different. It’s a little bit of an experiment to see if the beloved series can flavor another genre. The game is a place holder until the real epic arrives and thankfully it should satiate hungry fans and at least give everyone who owns a Wii U something worthy to play in a surprisingly slow fall release season.
What type of game is it? Well, there’s a very specific formula being followed here. It’s a Dynasty Warriors clone, an epic hack n’ slash with a sandbox battlefield populated by entire armies knocking heads against each other and the player dropped right in the middle of the action. All of that slow world building and careful storytelling of the Zelda franchise is gone. This is not an RPG by any stretch of the imagination and yet the folks at Tecmo Koei Games have proven that’s not the same thing as saying that this isn’t a Zelda game. All of the familiar sights and sounds are there, just repurposed into a vastly different package. You’re no longer a young Link unsure of his abilities who must slowly battle through an epic quest to prove himself as a warrior. Nope, you’re a butt-kicking superstar from the start able to hack your way through swarms of enemies while barely breaking a sweat. Purists will complain that ain’t the Link they know, but everyone else will have too much fun to care.
Thankfully, the designers have come up with ways to keep the game feeling fresh as you plow through the roughly ten hour main story. Every level comes with its own new items, enemies, and challenges. Meanwhile, you’ll slowly start to unlock 13 playable characters who are instantly familiar to fans of the franchise. Characters pop up from seemingly every game in Zelda’s almost 30 year history. Obviously that’ll have folks who memorized the ever-changing mythology scratching their heads. It’s explained away in a story that leans on some sort of inter-dimensional ballyhoo. The plot doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense when you lay it all out, but it’s delivered to players in absolutely gorgeously realized cut scenes that punctuate the endless streams of combat. This isn’t a resonant emotional story, it’s an action epic and one that follows its own stream of logic head first into a series of grand-scale, bone-crushing battles. Take it as Nintendo sanctioned fan fiction and you’ll have yourself a good old time. Think about it too hard and you’ll raise questions that simply shouldn’t be asked. It’s best not to get too heady about it. There are armies to be thwarted, son! Get out of your head!
Make no mistake, Hyrule Warriors is not really the latest game in the beloved Legend Of Zelda franchise. This is a spin-off and act of fan service, pure and simple. None of the dungeons and puzzles that fans love are present, and even with difficulty settings cranked, it’s a very easy gaming experience. However, Hyrule Warriors is all of two tons of fun with more than enough geeky references to make longtime Nintendo nerds like myself giggle with delight and that’s all it had to be. Granted, I’m not someone who committed enough time or energy to the Dynasty Warriors series to be tired of the format as I’m certain many other gamers already are. If the thought of another Dynasty Warriors clone is enough to make you scream out in disgust even with the Zelda facelift, then you should probably stay away. The game is exactly what you’d expect. However, if you’re a hungry Zelda fan excited by the possibility of epic action fun with your favorite characters, then grab it immediately because the game is also exactly what you’d expect. Hyrule Warriors is no masterpiece, but it’s a blast that shows off just what the Wii U can do. There really aren’t enough titles in the tiny Wii U library that do that yet, so this sucker is more than welcome for starved Nintendo fans. It would be nice if this were merely a secondary title in Nintendo’s Wii U holiday rush, but it’s not. This is one of their big boys and at least it’s not a disappointment.
To read Phil's extended review of Hyrule Warriors, check out the Oct 2014 issue of CGM.