On paper, Nintendo's decision to ally Zelda with the Dynasty Warriors franchise makes perfect sense; Koei Tecmo's series is incredibly popular in its native Japan and Wii U owners are simply dying for another Hyrule-themed adventure to embark upon. However, almost immediately after the announcement of Hyrule Warriors there were rumblings of concern that the repetitive and shallow nature of the Warriors franchise would fail to placate seasoned Zelda fans accustomed to deep and rewarding gameplay. It was a fair comment to make and having spent some time with the game, is one that we can't help but agree with to a certain extent. Let's make one thing clear — despite the presence of so many familiar faces, this isn't your typical Zelda title and anyone expecting a similar experience to that seen in Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword is going to come away sorely disappointed.
That's not to say this isn't an entertaining game, because it most certainly is, provided you don't go in expecting the wrong things. As we suspected, this is more of a Warriors game than it is a Zelda one; while Link and company are the ones dishing out the punishment with indiscriminate relish, the core mechanics which underpin their actions are lifted wholesale from Koei Tecmo's lineage of historical brawlers. Attacks can be strung together to form unique and devastating combinations, and the enemy grunts will stand around staring into space until they are presented with the opportunity to walk directly into your whirling blade of death. Success is all about controlling sectors of the map and taking down enemy generals, and even within the short time we spent with this one-level demo, it became immediately apparent that repetition was the order of the day.
Of course, none of this will come as any great surprise to veteran Warriors fans. The appeal of this series — which has sold over 18 million copies worldwide — lies in its accessible action and enjoyable combat; while there are techniques to master here, what makes the Warriors titles so successful is their low barrier to entry. Hyrule Warriors actually goes some way to changing this, adding in welcome layers of complexity to ensure that your brain is getting a workout at the same time as your fingers.
The best example of this comes once you've collected the bomb weapon and you're placed directly in the path of King Dodongo, previously seen in Ocarina of Time. Those of you that have played the N64 (and more recently, 3DS) epic will know that bombs have to be thrown into Dodongo's gaping maw to defeat him, and the same tactic applies here. It's fair to expect that other significant references to the Zelda series will be encountered later in the game, and hopefully these will add some problem-solving magic to the almost painfully straightforward Warriors template.
Visually, Hyrule Warriors is attractive enough but isn't up to the high standard we've come to expect from the mainline Zelda series. Character models and environments are rather sparse when it comes to graphical detail and the frame rate struggles to maintain a solid 30fps, especially when there's a lot of action on-screen. This of course isn't the finished article, but with the Japanese launch looming on the horizon like the sinister moon in Majora's Mask (something which also makes a cameo appearance), it's unlikely that Koei Tecmo and Omega Force will be able to tighten things up enough sufficiently to totally eradicate the slowdown. The main characters are the exception here, with Link sporting plenty of expression and detail.
Hyrule Warriors was entertaining enough to merit repeated playthroughs of the single stage on offer, and it's obvious that having multiple playable characters — each with their own unique talents and attacks — is going to add considerably to the longevity of the title, especially when you take into account the incredible popularity of Zelda's cast. Even so, it's impossible to shake the feeling that Hyrule Warriors is going to disappoint those Nintendo fans who haven't previously encountered this button-mashing franchise. Previous crossovers — such as the downright offensive Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 — keenly illustrate that the formula isn't a sure thing all of the time, nor is it a series which boasts totally universal appeal, despite its fame in Japan. However, what we played of Hyrule Warriors certainly had us eager to experience more, and if Koei Tecmo and Omega Force can ensure that repetition is kept to a minimum as much as possible, we could have a Zelda-themed outing which neatly fills the void until the release of the proper instalment next year.
Be sure to check out our other hands on features from E3:
- Getting Our Hands Dirty in Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley
- Bewitching Bayonetta 2 Brings Action Gaming To A Climax On Wii U
- Taking Sonic Boom for a Spin on Wii U and 3DS
- Moulding Clay With Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
- Getting Creative With Mario Maker
- Solving the puzzle of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
- Enjoying the craft of Yoshi's Woolly World
- Taking aim with Nintendo's new online shooter IP, Splatoon