Previous non-canon entries into The Legend of Zelda series have taken the form of ways to show off a system’s features, such as Link’s Crossbow Training for Wii, or just other little oddities, such as Tingle’s DS games. These spin-offs have mostly fallen flat for Zelda fans eager for a fresh experience in the world of Hyrule, with the main entries coming on top and always leaving fans wanting more.
And Nintendo fans are eager for more Zelda now, but with a fully-fledged Wii U title approximately a year away – or perhaps even longer – Hyrule Warriors is the only one flying the flag, merging the world and characters of the series with the gameplay mechanics of another: Tecmo Koei’s Warriors franchise, which features multiple characters fighting hordes of enemies across large territories.
Thankfully, perhaps due to the success and longevity of the Warriors franchise, with refined and established gameplay mechanics rather than new features being built from the ground-up, Hyrule Warriors is an absolute joy to play.
In the build I played at E3, both Link and Princess Zelda were playable characters – the full game will feature many more, including the likes of Impa and Midna – and having played as Link far too many times in previous titles, I was excited to see what Zelda herself could bring to the battle. Princess Zelda is a great fighter, and she’s equipped with a rapier sword as her main weapon. It makes for smooth and fluid combat mapped to the face buttons, with light attacks and heavy attacks both open to you. It’s all about using combinations of these in battle for devastating effect.
Devastating is about the only way to describe it; characters will face off against dozens of enemies at a time, unleashing massive attacks which throw them back or colossal finishing moves which call upon Zelda’s light arrows or even the power of the Triforce. In truth, the combat is rather simplistic compared to other titles. While that might not be quite the right word, as there are still some brilliant combinations that are hard to achieve, there’s nothing as tactical as Skyward Sword’s motion controls, where enemies would be shielded on one side or had to be hit from a specific angle.
But in Skyward Sword, you were taking on just a few enemies at a time at most, using targeting to pick out an opponent at a time. Here, you’re taking on armies and generals and you’ll never really face an enemy one-on-one unless it’s a boss, and even then you’ll be fending off many smaller enemies around their leader. The sense of scale is impeccable, and makes for some very satisfying gameplay, as you leave destruction in your wake.
The aesthetic is unmistakably Zelda, though that naturally covers quite a variety of visual styles spanning the decades long history of the series. This is closest to Twilight Princess, though it’s much brighter and colours are more vibrant. Despite the conventions and mechanics borrowing mostly from Tecmo Koei’s series, items are from The Legend of Zelda, and there are many other ties to the franchise, such as chests which will gift bombs. Bombs in particular are quite interesting as again, you won’t be placing them down tactically to solve a puzzle, you’ll be throwing them everywhere and even upgrading them into huge superbombs.
There is some great attention to detail that fans of both series with love, with the King Dodongo boss fight being a particular highlight. In Ocarina of Time, the only way to kill the boss was to throw a bomb in his mouth and, here, you’ll be able to defeat him in the same way if you possess that knowledge. But then again, if you’re a fan converting from the Warriors knowledge, without having played Ocarina, you’ll be able to defeat him by unleashing a barrage of attacks instead.
Despite the Legend of Zelda franchise being quite popular, Hyrule Warriors is still quite a hard sell: there’s no series name in the title, it’s a Wii U game, and many people still aren’t fond of the Warriors gameplay. Saying this, it’s definitely going to be one to watch out for, and finally a Zelda spin-off worth paying attention to. The combat may not be as tactical as other Zelda titles, but the sense of destruction and scale on show is quite incredible, and playing as Princess Zelda herself is extremely fun.