Nintendo’s continuing quest to remind us that the Wii U had some alright games, actually, is more epic than any mission Link ever set out on. You could even name the act of politely pointing out that someone has overlooked something good as doing ‘a Nintendo’. Oh, have you seen Doreen from down the road? She was annoyed Brenda didn’t pay attention to her wonderful Victoria sponge cake recipe, so now she’s doing a Nintendo and she’s stapled it to Brenda’s door.
Enter Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, a version of a game that has been released in two forms prior to this latest drop, on the Wii U in 2014 and the 3DS in 2016. The 3DS was hardly the niche interest that the Wii U was, but a release targeted at the ‘new’ 3DS which didn’t really appreciate having to go anywhere near an ‘old’ 3DS didn’t do its popularity on that system any favours.
Dynasty Warriors is… also a franchise. That much cannot be argued. The hackiest and slashiest of all the hack and slash games has pumped out nine games to people who like ‘that sort of thing’, and is probably a bigger deal in the east than it is over here, like musical toilets and decent sushi.
Now, no one is expecting Hyrule Warriors to be Breath of the Wild, in the same way no one expects Lara Croft Go to be Tomb Raider 2. It does seem a bit odd, to me at least, for Nintendo to have conceded this IP above all others to join the Dynasty Warriors world. At first glance, Hyrule Warriors would look like a new Zelda instalment to someone who isn’t as wise and knowledgeable as we at NGB are. It’s got that familiar third-person camera angle, it takes place in some classic Zelda locations such as Hyrule Field or That Volcano Bit, and it’s… well, it’s got Zelda in it. And Link. Link is the boy one with the sword, y’know, his name’s not Zelda. Everyone gets that wrong but not us.
The gist of the Warriors games is very much a one-note affair, though. You run around and you hack things and sometimes you pick things up to help you hack things a bit better. The hacking is endlessly boosted by the ridiculous OTT nature of the combat; combos are simple and mostly work off combinations of the B and A buttons, but they’re as flamboyant as they are easy, and the different possibilities across characters brings out the personalities of each. You can charge up attacks that unleash with X, and being able to pivot mid-animation is perfect for slashing your way out of the Hyrule moshpits you frequently find yourself in. For the most part, enemies can be dispatched with one-hit, making you feel as powerful as a game like this should do. You’re given a choice of having either Zelda controls or Warriors controls at the beginning, and while I settled on Zelda controls, catering to both sets of fans is a nice touch.
There’s quite the range of characters, most of whom unlock as you play through unless you go for the multiplayer option, in which case you can pick anyone from the dolphin girl to the cat with the big crown thing. Yes, in a move that is becoming pretty familiar now, this is a port of a Wii U title including all the DLC that was available for that system, plus bonus costumes based on the Switch’s best game, Breath of the Wild.
Hyrule Warriors doesn’t really pretend to have a story, which is refreshing. It appears as though the whole thing happens because Princess Zelda has a bad dream about some evil stuff happening, and then that evil stuff happens and you’re off; starting as Link and trotting off with a sword and a few basic combos to defend something against someone or something. There’s some good ideas with how you play the game too, as aside from the main story mode (Legend Mode), there’s also a great poke in the nostalgia from Adventure Mode, which sees Link (or whoever else you’ve chosen) taking a pixelated map square by square by entering into battles and defeating enemies in the game’s standard style. Elsewhere you’re also treated to mini vignettes of 8bit Link, on the loading screens in particular, as well as the option to have 8bit weapons for no reason other than it’s funny.
There’s also Free Mode to replay any scenario with whichever character you like, and the Challenge Mode which offers some boss-rush scenarios as well as the wonderful Ganon’s Fury section, where you get to stomp around as a 30 foot G-Man smashing enemies like Godzilla. For the most part these are just different ways of experiencing the same game, but it works well to add variety and longevity to the title.
Enemies in Hyrule Warriors are very much quantity versus quality. You’re met with waves of disposable foes that can barely stand up to a single sword-strike before disintegrating like your favourite Avenger. Slightly tougher lads, clearly labelled as Outpost Captains, are the guys to defeat to capture outposts and thereby claim parts of the map, and there’s also mini-bosses and definitely-not-mini bosses to contend with. Once you capture an outpost, that spot spawns your own soldiers rather than bad guys. That’s the crux of each area, although you’ll also get other main missions, as well as side missions, thrown at you, although these are nothing terribly innovative and usually revolve around protecting a dude or killing a dude. The mini-map keeps things interesting, and gives indicators as to where you need to rush to next to aid a fellow warrior, and this stops things becoming a routine slog through the map, as you frequently have to change plans and divert your proposed route.
On the downside, the AI on display, particularly from your fellow fighters, is… well, it’s not good, lads. The number of times your army buddies seem content with standing peacefully alongside enemies rather than battering them is on the one hand heartwarming and potentially represents the ability of mankind to put aside differences and live in peace, but on the other hand it’s not helping me win any games. In fact the game as a whole isn’t the best in general at helping you along. Too frequently I found myself wandering dungeons, desperatey trying to interpret vague mission titles and scant direction to figure out what I had to do. I’m sure that more than once the game didn’t acknowledge that I’d done the thing I had to do and just left me running around an empty dungeon until I gave up a restarted the mission.
The aforementioned mini-map is sometimes a bit of a busy nightmare to read on the fly. I mostly paused and took my time with the larger map in that menu when I had to find something or do a drastic recalculation as there’s so much happening on the main screen, with fellow combatants not very well distinguished from each other.
My only other beef is that, while using the Zelda control style, locking onto an enemy and also raising your shield requires you to hold both left shoulder triggers at the same time, something that I would politely describe as ‘unnatural’. I got it eventually, but annoyingly if you’re playing multiplayer with a single JoyCon it lets you lock on by clicking in the analogue stick, a much more convenient way of doing it that isn’t available as a setting if you’re playing in standard, single player handheld mode.
As aforementioned, this is a relaunch. Actually, it’s a relaunch of a relaunch, as this marks Hyrule Rozzers third outing onto a Nintendo console. As such, it’s not the most breathtaking game you’ll be able to find on Switch, but nevertheless it runs great even in handheld mode, impressive considering the amount of movement you typically get on screen with enemies swarming in and swords spinning everywhere. The audio is also something special; I’ve heard people complaining about the power-metal version of the classic theme being quite jarring, but I thought it was great; it’s a silly update that suits the light, faintly ridiculous tone of the game. The classic soundtrack is there too, but if anything we need more of the power-metal please.
It’s undeniable that, for someone never previously that fussed about the Dynasty series, Hyrule Warriors’ initial strength is in its IP. It’s much easier to become invested in a universe and style of play when you’re presented with characters and a world you’re already invested in. Show me a hack and slash game with Generic Sword Man 3 in it and it’s going to take some serious story and hours for me to care, but throw me straight in with Link and I’m invested from minute one. It’s cheerful, then, that what unfolds to a newcomer like me is actually a lot of fun. This is coupled with the innate pros of any Switch game; portability and the option to snap off the JoyCons and have multiplayer wherever you fancy, something that is at least unique to this version above those on Wii U and 3DS. A great game sandwiched between some tasty IP. Like a Victoria Sponge cake.