It’s a little-known fact that amongst games writers there are several rites of passage that you have to go through to “earn your wings,” such as it were. For instance, you’ll need to consume a ritually prepared potion made of Doritos and Mountain Dew. Tattoos of indie game superstars like Notch and Phil Fish need to be placed around your body, providing wards of protection against the devilry of Electronic Arts. Another, and the one that we’re touching upon today, is that you have to criticize a game from Koei’s long-lived Dynasty Warriors series for having repetitive button-mashing combat. One might say that this is missing the point…and, well, it is. I haven’t gotten my tattoos yet, though, so I’m free to say that games like Hyrule Warriors show that button-mashing still has a little life left in it.
Hyrule Warriors is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you take control of various characters from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise and use them to wreck the faces of many, many monsters. You’ll do this with an arsenal of incredibly devastating attacks and weaponry, slaying dozens of enemies per combo and racking up insane kill counts. It’s a Warriors game, in other words. What’s surprising is how well the formula works with in the context of the Legend of Zelda, which has traditionally been focused on methodical puzzle-solving rather than combat. The injection of a little more action into the mix is just what the (slightly aging and creaky) Zelda franchise needed to shake things up a little.
The whole Zelda franchise is represented here…well, maybe not the King from the CD-I games, which is kind of a disappointment, but no game is perfect. Everyone’s got a variety of bombastic means by which to kill the armies of monsters that you’re going to have to deal with. Impa, Zelda’s ninja-style handmaiden, is a personal favorite, as she’s able to corral enemies into tightly packed groups before annihilating them. One highlight of the cast is Lana, Hyrule Warriors’ original character who can crush enemies with magic force walls or impale them with arcane spears. She’s a little more “anime” than the rest of the team, so she sticks out a bit in story segments, but it’s not too distracting since in the end this is a game about destroying entire armies more so than enjoying a deep and engrossing plot. Naturally, the bad guys like series classic Ganondorf are also available for use.
Heroes can be customized and improved by investing in several skill trees as well as by purchasing and synthesizing weapons. Doing this requires rupees, the traditional Zelda currency, which are dropped en masse by defeated enemies. You’ll also need materials acquired by fighting higher-level enemies and searching destructible objects in levels. Each character needs to be improved individually, which can mean a whole lot of grinding if you want to get the whole cast up to snuff; this might put some players off if they’ve got many favorites, but I found that the massive income of materials and rupees from completing stages was enough to keep my chosen characters in the game.
You’ve got your standard variety of modes here – namely a story mode, free battle mode and a set of challenges to take on. The highlight of the experience, though, is the Adventure mode, a tile-based map containing various missions with requirements like using a specific character or a specific elemental weapon. Completing these missions earns you new weaponry and boosts for your various heroes. You’ll also need to use classic Zelda gear to uncover additional secrets on the map. This mode is definitely the best part of the game as it allows you to get a taste for the many varied character and gear options available to you while continuing to improve your roster.
I never found myself getting tired of the combat, though if you want to be pedantic it is in fact a whole lot of button-mashing. With that in mind, I can definitely recommend Hyrule Warriors if you’ve enjoyed either of the represented series. It’s got the polish you’d expect from one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises and the sheer depth of content available certainly makes it worth the cost. And, frankly, there isn’t a whole lot else to play on the Wii U right now. If you’re lucky enough to own one, you owe it to yourself to pick up Hyrule Warriors.