A link between worlds
Poor Link. As if being bound to save Hyrule cyclically across the generations wasn’t enough, now he has to contend with a stalker. Perhaps it’s those snazzy tunics. Being the Hero Of Time, however, he has it a teeny bit worse than being hounded by a high-school ex on Facebook – Cia, a corrupted sorceress and erstwhile guardian against evil, has become fixated on his very soul. She’s also hell bent on rending time and space apart to restore an ancient evil to glory. And it’s only Link’s first day on the job.
If that sounds overdramatic, then it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Hyrule Warriors, which recasts Zelda in the mould of Japanese monolith Dynasty Warriors, a series famed for its glorious excess. These are games that put hundreds on the field of battle, where hordes fall with each slash of your mighty blade, and where courage is extolled but rarely required, since you’re so ludicrously powerful.
Even problematically so: some dismiss Warriors games for requiring little more of you than an insatiable appetite for spectacle and callouses enough to withstand pushing buttons at 200bpm. True to form, Hyrule Warriors has you hammering out strings of B like you’re destruct testing the GamePad before throwing in a tap of Y to, say, scoop 20 Bokoblins into the air for a rising spin attack that then slams them into the verdant ground of Hyrule Field. And yet to call it a button masher is like saying an inferno is hot: sure, but it doesn’t quite capture the whole. Hylian lore already dabbles in the inflation of mythic proportion that Warriors games specialise in – Link has always been a one-man army, just a more patient one – yet it’s surprising quite how much else series helmer Omega Force has chosen to plunder from Nintendo’s treasure chest, and quite how much it enriches the Warriors template. L-targeting pulls focus from the crowds to enemy generals and bosses, allowing for single combat to punctuate the gleeful turmoil, while circling and athletic dodging taps into decades-old muscle memory and creates new openings for yet more theatrical finishers. Weak points are an enduring Zelda crutch, but they’re transformative here, a gauge appearing over enemy hero units at vulnerable points in their attack cycles and dealing out huge damage if emptied. It’s a whole new reason to save up your special bar (née Musou) attacks, with judicious timing enough to put a serious dent in not only a troublesome Darknut or Lizalfos, but all those about them.
And who knew that Zelda bosses would work so well when freed from claustrophobic dungeon chambers? Early on, we fight Gohma across Faron Woods, this version holding two ornate shields before its giant eye, scattering waves of friendly forces with sweeps of its disgusting limbs. Wearing down its health bar via mashing is possible, but it takes so long as to mean certain defeat for your troops. The solution is classic Zelda: whip out the bow from your items menu and stick an arrow in Gohma’s eye at the opportune moment to expose its Weak Point Gauge for punishment. Bomb, boomerang and bow are all unlocked in the early hours – every one familiar, every one a thrill to use in novel circumstances.
That kind of fan service is key to Hyrule Warriors’ appeal, and its creators know it; Cia’s meddling in space-time is an excuse to not only battle across a new Hyrule, but those of the past too. Early on, you’ll leave the evergreens of Hyrule Field and Faron Woods for branching paths that start in Skyloft, Ocarina Of Time’s Death Mountain and the Twilight Fields. There you might fight Midna with the help of bug-obsessed ‘princess’ Agitha, then join up with the Twili royal, unlocking her as a playable character. You’ll also fight as Ganondorf, Darunia, Ruto, and Zelda, each with their own upgrade paths. Hyrule Warriors is a crossover event like few in videogames, in other words, but it’s also a love letter – one with affection for not just the trappings of a series, but its very soul.
Midna stars in a mission with a three-way battle between her forces, Hylians and Cia’s monsters, but Wii U bears up well under the sheer numbers onscreen