Developer: Omega Force/Team Ninja
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Released: May 18, 2018
Copy supplied by publisher
Hyrule Warriors remains one of the most unexpected video game crossovers this side of Kingdom Hearts. Even nearly four years after its original release, blending the hack-and-slash gameplay of Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series with the characters and settings of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda still seems like a wild idea that shouldn’t work. After all, here were two series seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of critical opinion — I don’t think I need to tell you which is generally viewed less favorably — combined into one game expected to appeal to fans of both. To the surprise of many, the experiment actually worked out pretty well.
First released for the Wii U in 2014, Hyrule Warriors received mostly positive reviews and even managed to sell around one million copies; an impressive feat given how few people actually owned a Wii U. The game was then ported to the 3DS in 2016 and has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch, where it’s received the “definitive edition” treatment. With all content from the previous two editions and the portable nature of the Switch itself, this is easily the best version of Hyrule Warriors available, but whether or you not you should bother with it depends on a few important factors.
If you’ve somehow never played a Warriors title, the set-up is pretty straightforward. A third-person action game with light tactical elements, you complete various objectives on large battlefield environments while carving a path through the enemy ranks. The main appeal of these games is feeling like an overpowered demi-god, as your character is capable of cutting down thousands of enemies in a single battle. Essentially, every fight is like a giant chess battle, only you’re able to insert yourself pretty much anywhere and shift the tide in your favor. While Hyrule Warriors doesn’t really offer much of a challenge in its hack-and-slash gameplay, you’ll need to employ a surprising amount of strategy in order to emerge victorious. Each battle offers constantly evolving objectives and if you don’t keep track of what’s going on, you will quickly find yourself on the losing end. It’s this tension between focusing on the fight right in front of you, while also trying to stay on top of everything else going on in the wider battle, that makes Warriors titles more compelling than their repetitive combat might suggest. Hyrule Warriors has an advantage in that it’s a great Warriors game that also benefits considerably from the Zelda license.
Hyrule Warriors gets a ton of mileage out of fan service, in that the novelty of having characters and settings from across the Zelda franchise proves very difficult to resist. It’s fun getting to experiment with the different characters and seeing how their skill set works in a Warriors game. For instance, Link is a great melee fighter who relies on crowd-clearing sword attacks, while a character like Zelda hits enemies with big blasts of magic. It’s all wonderfully over-the-top and seeing enemies drop copious amounts of rupees or unlocking bombs as a special ranged attack help make Hyrule Warriors feel like a legitimate Legend of Zelda game, rather than just a re-skinned Dynasty Warriors title. If anything, all the flashy, over-the-top moves make me long for a more elaborate combat system in the mainline Zelda games, as it’s hard to go from Link taking enemies out with grace and ease here to practically tripping over himself in Breath of the Wild’s solid, if unspectacular enemy combat.
Hyrule Warriors has a number of different modes to choose from, with “Legend Mode” being the main draw. Here, players progress through a story that spans multiple dimensions and timelines, while also learning the ropes of the game’s systems and being introduced to its large cast of characters along the way. The biggest surprise with Legend Mode is that the story is actually halfway decent! It may not be very memorable when all is said and done, but it does a good job of finding ways to incorporate the franchise’s disparate characters and other elements into a cohesive narrative. It takes a little while to unlock every character — which was a drag for myself as I just wanted to play as Ganon — but then, unlocking new characters, weapons, and new skills is all part of the experience in these games.
Much like the recent port of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Hyrule Warriors is another Wii U game that feels right at home on the Switch. Even with the massive scale of everything that is happening on-screen, the game is a joy to play in handheld mode, with clean, colorful visuals and not much in the way of noticeable slowdown. However, it’s a different story if you decide to play in split-screen, which is new to the Switch version. The game already chugs a bit when there’s a lot of action happening on screen, but throw another player into the mix and things get even worse. Still, the Warriors games are pretty much built to be played cooperatively, so this is a very welcome feature. I just wouldn’t recommend trying to play with two players in handheld mode because good luck trying to figure out what’s going on with such a small viewing space. The only other notable addition to the Switch version are some new costumes for Link and Zelda based on their appearances in Breath of the Wild – a nice bonus, but hardly worth the price of admission if you already own Hyrule Warriors on Wii U or 3DS.
And that, really, is the crux of the dilemma with Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition. Of the three, the Switch version is objectively the best, as it is the most feature-rich and best-performing. However, unless you’re a die hard fan of the game, there is very little here that would justify another purchase, though I can certainly understand the appeal of owning Hyrule Warriors on a platform like the Switch. Newcomers are in a much more advantageous position, as they’re getting the best version of Hyrule Warriors on Nintendo Switch, though this is a game I would hesitate giving a full recommendation. You really have to either be a big fan of the Zelda series or the Warriors style of games to appreciate it, as this is still a niche title at its core. Still, for those who enjoy this kind of game, Hyrule Warriors is one of the best in the genre, with delightful fan service and a ton of content to explore and unlock. If the quality of ports like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and now Hyrule Warriors are any indication, I’m perfectly fine with Nintendo porting every good Wii U game over to the Switch so that they can finally get the attention they deserve.