Is there a better series of games than those within The Legend of Zelda franchise? I’d argue no; how could there be? If you feel differently, I’ll be polite enough to offer you a courteous ear before telling you that you were in fact wrong, or words to that affect. Hyrule Warriors, another Wii U (and 3DS) classic that’s making its way to Nintendo’s much more popular Switch, sounded like an ungodly bastardisation of the Zelda franchise when it was announced, and one which could have ended the series’ virtually perfect run. Of course it didn’t, with the folks at Omega Force fusing their trademark combat to Nintendo’s iconic characters in a way that felt natural and unforced. It just works, and in its Definitive Edition form it works even better, combining both previous versions of the game.
The Warriors games and the Musou genre are all about fighting your way across battlefields teeming with enemies, with kill counts spiralling into the thousands, and it’s a format that has been working for Omega Force and Koei Tecmo for many years. There has been some loose evolution in that course of time, but it’s mostly technologically driven, with newer systems allowing for more enemies on the screen at once or for more vibrant locations. It’s still a series that you could potentially just hit the same one button during your entire playthrough, but that’s not its flaw, that’s your mistake, and to do so in Hyrule Warriors would be to miss out on what is a fun, engaging combat-heavy romp through Zelda and Link’s beloved world.
There’s tons of content here, with the central Legends story mode telling a relatively straightforward but enjoyable tale of good versus evil. The sorceress Cia’s plotting results in Ganondorf once again raising his despicably ugly mug and needing to be put back in his place. Once completed, you can return to each level in Free Mode to mop up any pick ups, or to level up some of your other characters. Adventure Mode is a brilliant mash-up of old and new, with the NES stylings of the original Legend of Zelda map rubbing shoulders with the Warriors combat, and where you can uncover extra items and power-ups for your characters. These central modes are joined by My Fairy taken from the 3DS’ portable entry Hyrule Warriors Legends. It offers a useful, if twee, sideline in befriending, feeding and clothing fairies who’ll serve as your companions, lending you extra assistance in combat.
Beyond the non-canonical tale of the sorceress Cia, and her plot to conquer Hyrule, this is fan service through and through. With twenty-nine characters at your disposal, which cover a swathe of the mainline Legend of Zelda games, there’s sure to be someone that takes your fancy, and there’s all of the Wii U version’s DLC too, including lovely Breath of the Wild costumes for Link and Zelda and “girl Link” Linkle. Omega Force have done a fantastic job on all of the character models, and their slightly more realistic take could be the best yet, at least, if you’re that way inclined.
Building into that fan service, the audio is spine-tinglingly good at times, from the instantly recognisable chest opening riff to the remixed versions of the main theme that you’ll hear during your playthrough. I refuse to believe that anyone can be left unmoved by the 8-bit rendition that accompanies the Adventure Mode’s NES-era stylings – it’s simply wonderful. The audio cues undoubtedly play on player’s affection for the series, so if you’re somehow a Switch owner with no interest or knowledge of the Legend of Zelda then it may well leave you cold.
This version of Hyrule Warriors has a few immediate advantages over its predecessor, not the least of which is just how well it now runs. In docked mode it’ll merrily skip along at 60fps the vast majority of the time, though extreme numbers of enemies – and angry chickens – may see it have a little wobble. Overall though it feels spectacularly fast and smooth, while the undocked mode’s 30fps seems rock solid.
Playing in split-screen, particularly when undocked, sees the framerate take more of a hit, and while it’s still playable it’s far from ideal. The map, which is an integral part of the playing the game, becomes an indecipherable blur. It was surprising not to see the return of Fire Emblem Warriors’ performance or graphical options, but Hyrule Warriors manages to look and run better as standard. It’s clearly become less of a concern as they’ve become more accustomed to the Switch’s capabilities.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition takes a great game and makes it greater, though it’s fair to say that for anyone outside of Legend of Zelda or Warriors series fans it will undoubtedly feel less special. Combat and the rhythm of gameplay can become repetitive as you progress, but there’s obviously so much affection for the source material that it almost falls over itself as it strives to keep you involved. As a love letter, and as a merging of two iconic franchises, there are few games as thoroughly enjoyable as this.