Review: Wii U’s ‘Hyrule Warriors’ Improves on the Series, Mostly by Adding ‘Zelda’

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In “Hyrule Warriors,” players take control of Link to battle waves of enemies in an open battlefield. Nintendo

When there’s a great idea, there’s someone right behind the inventor waiting to make a buck off of it. From time to time, when two of these moneymakers meet and when one really likes the other, they kiss and make a crossover.

Aliens met the Predator on the silver screen, Superman met the Hulk in the comics, and Family Guy crashed The Simpsons last weekend on TV. It’s an old trope used to breathe new life into aging properties looking to kick some dust off their tried and true formulas while having some fun with fans.

It’s a risky proposition: For every Abbott and Costello meets Frankenstein there’s an episode where the Harlem Globetrotters land on Gilligans Island. Really.

In video games, the crossover is rare, but when they do show up, either they’re a shoddy attempt at a cash grab or the rare “did you play this yet?” title that flies off the shelves.

“Hyrule Warriors,” developed by Omega Force using the guts of its “Dynasty Warriors” series to marry characters from Nintendo’s popular “Legend of Zelda” universe, creates a strange entry in the crossover genre that on the surface looks as if it shouldn’t work but accomplishes what it set out to do: deliver a repetitive, beat-em-up button masher game with elements of “Zelda” sprinkled in.

In this regard it is a success, but one that suffers from the same problems as all modern hack-and-slash games. The experience grows tiresome over extended play, and for the casual gamer it will be no more than a curiosity that they power up a few times before it belongs to the dust bunnies behind the TV.

 

10_02_VideoGames_Hyrule_02 “Legend of Zelda” antagonist Ganondorf becomes a playable character later in the game, providing a bit of fan service. Nintendo

I’ve always been a bit leery of these types of games. My excitement for a new experience is quickly followed by a feeling of being played by a game’s repetitive combos. Add to the zombie-like state of holding forward (while hitting the same two buttons in sequence ad nauseam) story lines that feel like window dressing rather than character-driven narratives, and you have a big ole plate of ho hum.

Like watching the Saw franchise, listening to Whitesnake or eating bad Chinese takeout, this open world fighting game is an empty experience that seems thrilling in the moment but leaves no lasting impression other than “I think I was there.”

This “Zelda” version of “Dynasty Warriors” rises above the monotony on the merits of its own mythology, and while repetitive—some battles can last close to an hour, with players hitting the same sequence of buttons—there is still an odd sense of triumph after thwarting a giant creature from a past “Zelda” title by diving on its back and going on to hold the battlefield for victory.

“Hyrule Warriors” oozes with fan service for devoted “Zelda” aficionados too. Every level is a trip down memory lane, with characters, enemies, sound effects and locals from past games such as Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess and the fan favorite Ocarina of Time. The decades-old “Zelda” nods are a welcome change from the series’ normal setting, inspired by historical battles in feudal China.

Whereas “Dynasty Warriors” often felt like sensory overload and more tech demo than game, “Hyrule Warriors” is able to take the best of the former—the feeling of being one part of a larger epic war and sparse elements of strategic battle—and combines it with stronger storytelling, a large swath of characters handpicked for fans and a grand feeling of epic-ness that is in line with the appeal of “Zelda” games.

“Hyrule Warriors” is a love letter to fans that benefits from a familiar mythology. And it is without a doubt the most action-packed “Zelda” game yet, but it is a game with few merits and little reason to replay. What you see is what you get.

Correction: An earlier version gave the wrong name of a character in a caption. It was Ganondorf not Gandolf.