Hyrule Warriors review: old tricks

Hyrule Warriors' links to Zelda only run skin deep

Game Info
Platform Wii U, 3DS, Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Tecmo Koei Games
Release Date Sep 26, 2014

Hyrule Warriors isn't a Legend of Zelda game. Nor is it really a Nintendo game. Hyrule Warriors is a collaboration between Nintendo and two outside studios: Team Ninja, the studio behind Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden, and Omega Force, creators of the Dynasty Warriors series.

Instead of the traditional puzzle-solving and exploration focus of the Zelda games, Hyrule Warriors features hack-and-slash gameplay that defines titles like Dynasty Warriors. As a sort of mash-up, Hyrule Warriors takes that action gameplay and layers on top settings, characters and themes lifted from nearly three decades of Zelda history.

It's a clever idea. But the Zelda elements feel like the thinnest skin, names and faces swapped onto a monotonous beat-em-up.

Hyrule Warriors borrows its design from the Dynasty Warriors beat-em-ups

Hyrule Warriors' premise resembles most Zelda games: Evil threatens Hyrule and Princess Zelda calls upon the Hero of Time. After introducing this scheme, the plot's connections to the series involve little more than places and times. The beat-em-up DNA takes over, first showing itself in Hyrule Warriors' simplified commands. Each character has two standard attacks to build on with combos, a special magic attack and a more powerful ultimate attack. You will always be crunching through hordes of Bokoblins and Stalfos, with greater rewards like health hearts (a Zelda staple) given for taking out bigger groups. Combat gets monotonous, but at least the enemies' screeches when they're blasted 20 feet away is satisfying feedback.

zelda hyrule warriors screen 1

There's also some purpose and a little strategy to the constant slaughter. Each stage is a battlefield laid out with a handful of keeps, which are square rooms packed with enemies that must be claimed for Hyrule. One of these is your Allied Base, which must be protected. If enemies overtake the base, it's instant game over. Keeps are captured by eliminating the enemies within and can be retaken if more return and wear down defenses. You'll need to get rid of wandering enemies in order to avoid wasting time retaking keeps.

hyrule warriors review screen tall

Some battlefields include final bosses that, similarly to Zelda games, require use of special items like the boomerang or bombs to knock them unconscious before dealing damage. I loved this touch — it made the game feel a little less like Zelda grafted onto Dynasty Warriors and more like a classic Nintendo adventure. But as battlefields piled on objectives, I grew frustrated as the cluttered UI got in my way.

Health and attack power appear in one corner with a map in another, and under it, objectives, death count and rupees. Dialogue boxes hoard a chunk of another corner. I would complete objectives faster than the game could keep up, which is a problem, since new objectives will only appear when previous ones have been satisfied. Once, I killed a boss and finished an escort mission simultaneously, then had to sit tight while the UI ran through dialogue boxes confirming their completion.

hyrule warriors villain review screen

Hyrule Warriors' crafting system is just as poorly thought out and shallow. Completing missions in Free Mode and Adventure Mode provide materials for use in crafting, which let you build more effective weapons and stat boosts. But these aren't very meaty, and there were only so many times I wanted to defeat 500 enemies in five minutes to obtain them.

If you come to Hyrule Warriors expecting a meaningful Zelda narrative, it's not here. The plot revolves around a corrupted sorceress who wants to destroy Hyrule and take the Triforce so she can force Link to love her. Her castle includes a room plastered with portraits of Link, and it's creepy. More damningly, it's severely out of place and pulled me farther from the already superficial Zelda aesthetic.

Hyrule Warriors looks nice, at least — until another player joins in. One player views the battle from their character's perspective on the GamePad screen, while the other hogs the TV. I ran into clusters of soldiers only to watch the action slow to a crawl as the frame rate dropped. Object edges became blurry on both screens. And like when I played solo, my partner and I ran into the same problem of completing objectives faster than the game acknowledged they were done, resulting in more waiting time as text boxes passed.

Wrap Up:

Hyrule Warriors' links to Zelda only run skin deep

Hyrule Warriors demonstrates that the Zelda universe works within the Dynasty Warriors framework, but with limitations. It makes sense for Link to cut down fiendish hordes in the name of Hyrule. It's exciting to play as beloved characters that up until now were just supporting cast members. But Hyrule Warriors' novelty wears off as the game trips over its setup, story and shallow systems. Team Ninja and Omega Force have forced Zelda's universe into the confines of a beat-em-up, but much of the charm and appeal was strained out in the process.

Hyrule Warriors was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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5.5 Wii U