On paper at least, Hyrule Warriors Legends is a solid business decision. As the 3DS enters its twilight years (no pun intended) AAA software is becoming increasingly hard to come by, and seeing as Koei Temco's Warriors engine already exists on the handheld, Hyrule Warriors is, on face value, a pretty straightforward title to bring across. However, business concerns rarely get the pulses of players racing, and it's impossible to ignore the fact that a great many fans seem disinterested in playing through this crossover release a second time - and with significantly worse visuals, too.
While it's true that those of you who have completed Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U, purchased all of the DLC and totally exhausted the game's addictive Adventure Mode might struggle to build up any kind of enthusiasm for this portable iteration, that doesn't change the fact that this is, from what we've played, an incredibly accomplished offering that does the 3DS proud and manages to successfully capture the essence of the home console original.
We'll save a detailed breakdown of the differences and enhancements for the full review, but in brief, it's worth noting that Hyrule Warriors Legends pulls together all of the DLC released on Wii U thus far, but loses the Challenge and co-op modes present in the home edition. New content is included, such as an epilogue based on The Wind Waker, new characters and the amusingly-titled My Fairy mode - which we'll touch upon in more depth in our full review - but by and large you're playing very much the same game as before.
That's not to say that subtle changes aren't felt here and there; it's now possible to switch characters during a mission using the touch-screen and this allows you to deal with perilous situations a little quicker, as well as reduce the amount of time you spend dashing around the map trying to shore your defences, capture keeps and save fellow warriors from certain doom. It's also possible to gain boosts and dish out additional damage to bosses when friendly characters are nearby, which encourages you to work together with your allies rather than assuming the traditional job description of "One Man Army".
Of the new characters introduced for this portable outing, Linkle is perhaps the most interesting for the lifelong Zelda afiando. While she was for a short time rumoured to be the near-legendary gender-swap of hero Link, she's a character in her own right here, with a narrative string which winds its way through the story-based Legend mode alongside those of the other main protagonists. Wielding two crossbows with uncanny skill, she's a joy to control as well as being an interesting addition to the main cast and its dimension-mashing plot. Linkle - along with Toon Link, King of Hyrule, Skull Kid and Tetra - are all fresh entrants with new moves and tactics to explore and master, and for this reason alone they should prove to be a major selling point for followers of the franchise.
Visually, it shouldn't come as a massive shock to learn that Hyrule Warriors Legends is a considerable downgrade from the Wii U original. A lot of detail has been sacrificed to ensure that the game remains fast and playable, with character models losing plenty of complexity and levels looking a little sparse and barren. The 3DS can't compete with the Wii U in terms of pure graphical grunt, of course, but these alterations are also an attempt to ensure that the crowded action that has made the Warriors series so famous can be replicated on the smaller screen. While it might look substantially worse than its domestic parent, Hyrule Warriors Legends still has some impressive moments, usually centered around your attacks and their dramatic effect on the hordes of enemies which dutifully line up for a whacking. In this regard, the game "feels" like an incredibly close match to its Wii U forefather.
We've already touched upon the fact that Hyrule Warriors Legends is best experienced on the New Nintendo 3DS family of systems, although it's worth pointing out that we've not personally had chance to play it on an older 3DS model. Even so, there are occasional moments on the New 3DS hardware where the frame rate becomes a little jerky, and it's not uncommon to see character models vanish and reappear when the camera pulls away to show a stage event, such as showcasing a new pathway. Despite the rough edges the game is mostly smooth and fast, and as a result the core "Warriors" gameplay is intact and largely undiminished.
Another thing that we can't help but notice is that Hyrule Warriors Legends feels superbly suited to handheld play - it's arguably more at home here than on the Wii U, despite the graphical disparity. While the Legend Mode has lengthy missions which often threaten to outstay their welcome, the Adventure Mode - with its fantastic old-school Zelda maps - offers up bite-sized challenges which are perfect fodder for bus rides home or a quick burst of play while you're waiting for your evening meal to cook. This ability to effortlessly drop-in and drop-out of the game is sure to find favour with 3DS owners - we certainly found ourselves appreciating it more than we expected.
While Hyrule Warriors Legends may be retreading old ground, it's important to remember that there are over 50 million 3DS owners in the world and just over 10 million Wii U owners - so simple maths would suggest that a viable audience exists for such a venture, despite its familiarity. We'll save more definitive judgment for the final review, but at the moment we're enjoying re-sampling this action-packed fusion of genres more than we anticipated.