Hyrule Warriors E3

E3 2014 Must Buy: Hyrule Warriors

The Legend of Zelda’s long been a simple story to tell. You’re a green-clad elven boy, Zelda’s the kidnapped elven princess. Solve some puzzles, find a few arrows, get the girl, and slay the Ganondorf of the day and you’re home before dinner. It’s this comfortable little adventure that’s worked well for decades, and now Nintendo’s turning the land of Hyrule on its head in ways that can’t help but impress.

Part Zelda, part Dynasty Warriors, Nintendo’s “Hyrule Warriors” churns every bit of both into the blender in an over-the-top action brawler courtesy of Tecmo Koei, complete with the best of either. Hyrule Warriors is no fairy tale picnic. Rather, it’s a battlefield as we carelessly daydreamed about on a midsummer’s night eve that finally shows us what Link and company really mean in a battle of pure brawn as much as ferocity against waves of action we always knew the series to be capable of.

The Dynasty Warriors influence, of course, takes the center spotlight: you play as a chosen warrior and mow down wave after wave of enemies like chopping down deadbeat blades of grass. While the core gameplay looks to be very much a hack-and-slash affair, Hyrule Warriors still seems fresh and visceral, and better yet, more so than we’re accustomed to seeing from a Zelda entry, even if an unorthodox one. That’s probably more to do with seeing the action through Zelda characters’ eyes this time around, but there’s little wrong with seeing the formula stretch its legs through some more diversity.

From Link to Zelda, players can pick heroes as much as their heroines in the best and most playable lineup of cast members the series has sorely needed. Inevitably smaller than any Dynasty lineup but infinitely more memorable, Impa and Midna complete what’s seemingly a lady’s pick of show-stopping characters we’ve been dying to return to with more to be announced on the horizon. And maybe we ought to learn a bit more about them to boot. Even better are the toys you’ll be playing with. Link is fast and brutal with his always trusty Master Sword and Fire Rod cutting hundreds of devilish moblins asunder with a nasty mixture of blade and fire attacks. Build up a combo and chain kill droves in a “wipe-the-floor with ‘em” feeling. And did we mention you can drop the moon on them too? Now all we need is the kitchen sink Nintendo.

Nevertheless, there’s some mental acuity to be had in battle. You’re still a knight or queen in shining armor and your forces are your friends not to take lightly. An allied Goron commander might need help, or a liberated keep might be under counterattack, and it’s up to you too leap to their rescue like a speeding bullet bulldozing the enemy line. Holding and capturing areas makes it seem all the more like a bigger, action-packed board game of RISK, Lizalfos and all.

Hyrule Warriors also taps into familiar adventure mechanics, exploring (very basic) dungeons to uncover power-up items of old, arrows and bombs included. Hyrule Warriors’ real difference is its most spectacular: its boss battles. These puppies are basically bosses in the Zelda sense sped up on steroids. Each one has a tactic you’ll need to work out to defeat them, and hacking away at them whilly nilly isn’t a get- out-of-Hyrule free card. Just like fighting “generals” in the field in Dynasty Warriors, Hyrule Warriors has big beasties to tame. If King Dodongo and Argorok’s the tip of this beastly iceberg, we want space over our fireplace for some monster hunting trophies.

And where does that leave Hyrule Warriors’ story? Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma describes it as a “celebration title” more like an Avengers spin-off than a bit of tired fan fiction as relevant to the universe as it is independent of it. Sure, the game trades puzzles for high-octane combat, and the removed emphasis on story doesn’t follow tradition. After seeing it live-streamed, it’s clear Hyrule’s being respected here, whether that’s the familiar beauty of Hyrule Field or the haunting aura of Midna’s Twilight Realm. You’ll get your treasure chest cues and your character cameos, all wrapped around a Zelda cast reunion.

What really impresses is the game actual dedication to the lore. Beyond its ever-growing cast of favorites, we’re finally given a glimpse into rarer sights; of Zelda at the helm of her own kingdom and battle-ready no less, making the whole world feel bigger and more important. Better still, it continues to expand it with characters all its own. We get Cia, we get Wizzro, we get Valga, three not-Ganon villains with agendas worth exploring in an alien time. Are Cia’s eyes really only for Link? Or is there more at work behind her vendetta against Zelda?

Hyrule Warriors is more than just a cash grab, and that Aonuma’s guidance is making developers create something interesting and fun for Zelda and Dynasty fans alike. Hyrule Warriors isn’t revolutionary, and maybe it needn’t be, but there’s just as much depth here as a simple, guilty pleasure title. If it adds an extra oomph to the legend and cutthroat fun, it’ll be more than a worthwhile holdover until the day we do step foot in that new grassy knoll in Link’s newest adventure next year.

Hyrule Warriors charges onto the Wii U this September 26th in North America at retail and on the Wii U eShop.