Hyrule Warriors Review (Wii U)
Link trades out his time usually spent on puzzles and dungeons to clearing out the exponentially raised numbers of Ganon's forces throughout Hyrule Warriors. With Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. being the Wii U's big sellers, Nintendo went to Koei Tecmo, Team Ninja and Omega Force to put together a Hyrulian adventure that is more akin to the Dynasty Warriors series than it is to a traditional Legend of Zelda title. Hyrule Warriors lives up to its expectations by having as many nuances and tropes from the Zelda series attached to it as it can, but after the fog of nostalgia clears, the game is found to have its fair share of shortcomings, which we aren't used to in a game starring Link since the CD-i. Luckily, Hyrule Warriors is (literally) a trip through time, reminding us of every good feeling we had while playing a Zelda game. As always, Link has enough heart to see his adventure through to the end, and Hyrule Warriors is no exception.
The story of Hyrule Warriors isn't really up to par with previous Dynasty Warriors or Zelda titles and simply acts as a mechanism to reunite Link with every friend and enemy he made throughout his journeys. It's nice that the game tries to explain the concept that Link gets reincarnated throughout history and is part of a prophecy where the Triforce of Courage's hero always returns to thwart the evils of the land, but there's not much else to it than that. Playing into a fangirl's dream, a part of the story explains that Cia is obsessed with having Link leave Zelda and staying by her side, which we all know won't ever happen. Of course, Ganon helps trick Cia into resurrecting him and causing all sorts of chaos throughout the land, and we're glad to see that Zelda actually has soldiers and armies at her command this time around. Nevertheless, Cia opening portals through time to Skyward Sword's Skyloft, Ocarina's Death Mountain and areas of Twilight Princess were just a means of having Link unite with his all of his old friends for a big, hack and slash adventure.
The presentation and theme of Hyrule Warriors are its main selling points and its most redeemable qualities. Every character, area, song, setting and sound effect is designed to pluck the nostalgia cords of your heartstrings based on a previous appearance in a Legend of Zelda game. On one hand, it feels like Team Ninja and Omega Force put in a lot of work trying to cater to the fans of the franchise by cramming the game chock-full of Hyrulian lore, visuals and sound effects. On the other hand, when you remove this Triforced theme and look at Hyrule Warriors without those rose-colored glasses, you realize that it is technologically stuck somewhere between Dynasty Warriors 6 and 7 in terms of quality, with DW6 coming out in 2007 and DW8 debuting just a few months ago. Unfortunately, the reasons for this discouraging comparison are due to the limitations of the Wii U itself and Nintendo's bizarre preferences of game design that it undoubtedly told the game's developers to include, such as a lack of voice acting.
Within the first few minutes of Hyrule Warriors, you will notice its obvious lack of voice acting. We know -- Link never speaks, but every other character did at some point throughout the series (in text form), and we were hoping to hear the voices of Ganon, Zelda and the rest of the supporting cast. Hyrule Warriors has a voiced narrator, but its entire cast only speaks in the "Hey! Listen!" way that Navi did in Ocarina of Time as a means of grabbing your attention to read the text on the screen while hacking and slashing. It's 2014, the Wii U most definitely has the capabilities for full voice-overs, Nintendo can offer huge budgets for its games and Dynasty Warriors 8 had the option for both English and Japanese dialogue -- there is almost no excuse for not having voice acting in this game from its supporting cast. While I would never hope Link would get a voice expanding beyond his cries during combat, Hyrule Warriors' lackluster story would have been much more effective if it had, for example, an Impa played by Jennifer Hale speaking to a Zelda voiced by Courtney Draper. I really hope Nintendo's adamant, stoic nature towards voice acting changes in the next big Zelda game for the Wii U (it's just a means of hiring a good voice team and avoiding the story and script fallacies of Metroid: Other M). Most of the supporting cast of Hyrule Warriors had enough dialogue, especially during battle, to the point where full voice-overs felt necessary. If Star Fox was able to make its dialogue work in 1997 with minimal voice acting quality, there is no excuse 17 years later.
Hyrule Warriors looks and sounds beautiful and meets the visual standards we have come to expect from a Wii U Zelda game, but there are some hiccups along the way. Since Hyrule Warriors is all about fan service, every main and supporting characters' model looks exceptionally well done. We were surprised by some of the redesigned characters, like Impa and Ganondorf, as well as the new characters making their Hyrulian debut. In particular, Cia's racktastic outfit is a telltale sign of Team Ninja's influence on the character designs. Each of the basic enemy models (Moblins, Stalfos, etc.) were purposely kept simple so that the game could have dozens of them on-screen at the same time. When the camera is up close (the game likely doesn't allow you to zoom for this very reason), I noticed most of the basic enemies look like they were pulled straight from the N64, but when you're in a rush button-mashing through Ganon's armies, it's hard to really notice. On the other hand, the mini-bosses and bosses taken from previous Zelda games were all redesigned and look impressive.
Each level in Hyrule Warriors is huge and expansive, but are all filled with constantly reused resources -- once you've seen one fort you must defend, you've seen them all. We should mention that every single time you run around the map at full speed, you will always encounter enemy platoons fading into the screen, similar to the way buildings and cars did while driving fast in the older Grand Theft Auto games. Unfortunately, Hyrule Warriors has you running across these maps a lot, so you will see this graphics defect happen all the time, especially when your character finally stops running and the game takes a couple seconds to have its enemies mysteriously appear, making it evident that the Wii U just loaded them into the area.
Obviously, the gameplay of Hyrule Warriors should be familiar to anyone who has ever played one of Omega Force's Dynasty Warriors titles. Each stage is filled with repetitive objectives: liberate some forts by killing hordes of enemies, kill specific monster types, escort an important NPC or fight a boss. While the attack sequences of each character are fun to watch the first time you see them, they become all too stale after a few minutes of gameplay. You can watch every combo a character has to offer within 45 seconds, and you will have to use those same combos hundreds of times throughout each level. Link has three different weapons, his sword, Fire Rod and Gauntlet (technically four if you count the Great Fairy), and each one feels different and makes him control like a different character. The Fire Rod is more of a medium-ranged attack, the Gauntlets have a far reach and his sword attacks are what you expect. Zelda, Impa and Lana have two weapons each and the rest of the cast only has one weapon each.
Regardless of what character or weapon you're wielding, the combat of Hyrule Warriors becomes awfully stagnant in just a few minutes of playing. Hyrule Warriors is not meant for marathon lengths of gameplay as you will get tired of the repetitive hacking and slashing during each 30-minute-long stage rather quickly. It would have been nice if you were able to switch between characters and weapons on the fly, especially since most of the battlefields have other playable characters on them. The combat system is simply far too repetitive. You have a light attack and a strong attack. Each character has a handful of combos they can do by doing a handful of light attacks ending with a strong attack. There should have been more interchanges between the light attacks and strong attacks like most third-person action games feature (Devil May Cry, for example). There is magic meter which will supercharge your character's attacks, but nothing really changes when your magic is activated except the character's damage output increases and you automatically perform a special attack at the end. After doing all of these combos hundreds of time throughout each level, you find yourself alternating between each combo just to throw small amounts of variance into the monotony.
Hyrule Warriors' gameplay is not only repetitive, but it is held back due to the constraints of the Wii U platform. Hyrule Warriors constantly hindered by the fade-ins and other graphical detriments previously mentioned, and it feels like the game took a significant hit being on the Wii U. Even though the Wii U is a more powerful machine than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, most third-party developers can't push the Wii U to its limits, and this game is a sign of it. With a gigabyte of its RAM going towards the Wii U's OS and GamePad display, Hyrule Warriors felt like it never really optimized use of the Wii U's full capabilities -- this game would have performed much better if it was on an Xbox or PlayStation console. Sadly, Hyrule Warriors does not offer online co-op, which is a shame because Dynasty Warriors 7 and 8 each offered the feature. The main story missions had multiple playable characters on the battlefield at once, but usually kept far apart from one another, and playing local co-op showed why. While it doesn't have split screen co-op, the Wii U allows you to play local co-op with one person playing on the big screen and another playing on the Wii U's GamePad screen. Unfortunately, there were staggering lag issues whenever you had two characters fighting relatively close to each other. While the localized co-op did work better when the heroes were farther apart on the battlefield, it's a shame to know that having Link and Zelda fight side-by-side in co-op would slow the game down every single time.
Luckily, Hyrule Warriors offers a ton of replayability, but that just depends on how long you're willing to abide with its combat system. Adventure Mode puts you back in the shoes of Link in a makeshift version of the original Legend of Zelda game for the NES. You explore the old, 8-bit overworld and it will sporadically put you in time attack sequences using Hyrule Warriors' combat in much smaller portions than the Story Mode's massive, dragging levels. Playing Hyrule Warriors in this manner is much more enjoyable because each combat encounter is only a few minutes long and offers varying circumstances each time. Every bomb hole and secret from Zelda's original overworld is intact and Adventure Mode rewards those who are fortunate enough to remember its secrets. You are also able to unlock additional characters and weapons for use in Adventure Mode, offering more incentive to keep playing.
We applaud Nintendo for willing to experiment by giving one of its biggest franchises to a third party in order to give the fans what they want: more Link. While Hyrule Warriors' gameplay is fun in short bursts, it does become stale when played en masse, which its Story Mode forces you to do, making its shortcomings all too noticeable. Adventure Mode and the game's massive amount of nostalgia make up for Hyrule Warriors' bland story and repetitive combat. While it isn't the Wii U Legend of Zelda we are waiting for, Hyrule Warriors pays proper tribute to where it's due and provides a solid experience for those wanting to wield the Master Sword one last time before Link hits the open world. Plus, you finally get to play as Zelda, Sheik and Ganon in game that isn't Super Smash Bros.
This review was completed using a purchased, retail copy of Hyrule Warriors for Wii U.