Hyrule Warriors Review: Hookshot to the Heart

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The Legend of Zelda is a storied and beloved franchise that spans generations and timelessly brings wondrous gaming to players of all shapes and sizes. Dynasty Warriors is a…franchise. Combine one of history’s most successful game franchises with a series that is often viewed as just “good” at best, and you get Hyrule Warriors. The resulting game is, as many may have expected, a fairly enjoyable experience that doesn’t quite feel as grand or elegant as any given Zelda game. Instead, it slaps a Zelda skin on the Dynasty Warriors format and becomes an overall fun game that lacks significant substance–but that’s not always a bad thing.

Hyrule boasts a gargantuan cast of colorful characters–enough to support a Zelda only Smash spin-off, if Nintendo so desired–and Hyrule Warriors takes advantage of the marvelous collection of familiar Zelda faces. This is the game’s primary strength: each character feels unique and right. Sheik’s quick and agile combat feels true to the character, as does Darunia’s clobbering hammer and Midna’s twilight magic attacks. It’s evident that Koei Tecmo took great care with the source material. Of the entire cast, Ganondorf is the most satisfying. He’s been getting the shaft as a Smash Bros. clone for years, so a full-fledged Ganondorf who can pummel enemies with ease is overly welcome. I played Sheik and Zelda the most, because I prefer sweeping attacks and quick strikes, but there’s a character or two for every play style. Lana is also noteworthy since she’s an original addition to the series–fittingly, she has a very unique play style and is worth checking out.

My least favorite aspect of Hyrule Warriors was it’s lack of combat depth. Sure, there are insane combos and destroying 50 enemies at once is a powerful feeling, but it doesn’t require much finesse. I can look past this with large group of moblins, probably because it’s so intensely satisfying to knock them forcefully through the air. With bosses, however, the sensation diminishes. Huge bosses are a Zelda staple, but here they’re slightly off-kilter. Their attack patterns are stale, and defeating them rarely chalks up to anything more than exploiting a minor weakness and slashing them over and over. In a game that otherwise pays such glorious homage to the series, this element is rather disappointing. Still, the combat in general is fun, if a bit mindless; I’m of the mind that it’s not really bad if I’m enjoying it after more than a few levels. The character diversity helps counteract the repetitive nature of battle.

The campaign, “Legend Mode”, took most of my time with the game. It involves advancing through various locales, each with a few selectable characters. I actually enjoyed the story, which brought the various Zelda universes together (namely, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword) via magic inter-dimensional gates. It’s no storytelling marvel, but it gets the job done and allows for some great fan service. The one thing that really pissed me off the whole “OMG who is Sheik?!” thing. Fine. If you want to give that surprise to people who live under a rock, go ahead, but we all know who Sheik really is. Setting that aside (I mean, come on, Darunia and Ruto are frickin’ SAGES from THAT ERA, they would totally know), the story was a nice touch and a viable method of collecting so many disparate aspects of Zelda’s history (would’ve been nice to see more Wind Waker love, though).

Even after the campaign, Hyrule Warriors is a pretty meaty game. Free Mode is much the same as Legend Mode, but allows you to use any previously unlocked character in any previously completed level. Adventure Mode cleverly combines the original 8-bit Legend of Zelda with Hyrule Warriors to create a quest-like game that adds a few hours onto the experience. I didn’t spend too much time with this, but it was fun for the hour or so I played–completionists may hop aboard this mode way more than I. Regardless, there’s plenty to keep fans playing, including a co-op mode that puts one player on the TV and another on the Gamepad. Try this at your own risk–the performance takes a noticeable hit, enough to detract from the experience when a ton of enemies appear (which happens quite often).

Some loose ends that deserve at least a mention, but not a full paragraph, include the music, which is an awesome collection of rock remixes of popular Zelda tunes; the special attacks, which feature each character performing an incredibly powerful move that just annihilates enemies; a special move with the hookshot that involves summoning Termina’s moon and crashing it into the ground; and the use of side characters like the Great Fairy and Levias, all of whom help out once or more throughout the game. Oh also, where the hell was Groose?

Ultimately, I enjoyed Hyrule Warriors a ton. It lacks the charm of a full-fledged Zelda game, but the developer’s immense respect for the source series and its fans permeates every sliver of the game. It’s a bit shallow and imperfect, but it’s a damn good time.