Hyrule War­riors

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Nin­tendo/Koei Tecmo (JP) De­vel­oper Omega Force, Team Ninja For­mat Wii U Re­lease Out now, Septem­ber 26 (NA)

Wii U

We’re far too good at this. The Mu­sou (AKA War­riors) se­ries goes out of its way to make you feel pow­er­ful, but Omega Force might have gone too far this time; ev­ery few min­utes, we break Hyrule War­riors. The en­gine groans be­neath the weight of our ac­tions, the fram­er­ate tank­ing as Link charges a few dozen foes to­wards an arena wall or Ganondorf crushes ev­ery­thing on­screen with a gi­ant de­monic hand. We pause in empty are­nas, wait­ing for another set of en­e­mies to load in. The stream of UI text pop­ups runs 30 seconds be­hind the ac­tion be­cause we are just too strong, too fast. Koei Tecmo’s en­gine has been built specif­i­cally to han­dle an in­dus­try-lead­ing level of hackand-slash car­nage, but it can’t keep up with us.

This should be ru­inous. In­stead, it feels like a cel­e­bra­tion. Rather than cau­tiously Z-tar­get­ing one en­emy at a time on a jour­ney from boy­hood in­no­cence to world’s saviour, our Link ef­fort­lessly jug­gles a wave of foes with a jet of fire. Rather than await­ing res­cue in the bow­els of a tem­ple at the end of the world, we watch Zelda zigzag through a crowd, leap­ing into the air and oblit­er­at­ing the strag­glers with a vol­ley of light ar­rows. And they’re joined on the character se­lect screen by a host of fel­low war­riors, the se­ries’ sup­port­ing cast and lead­ing lights trans­formed into an en­sem­ble. Goron chief Daru­nia wields a ham­mer and chucks gi­gan­tic boul­ders; Midna slaps foes around with a magic hand made of hair. Sheik fights with a harp; new­comer Lana, a spell­book; bug-ob­sessed Agitha, a para­sol. All have ac­cess to Link’s kit bag: the sub­ver­sive thrill of see­ing Zelda loose off the hook­shot, or Ganondorf turn from trea­sure chest to cam­era with a piece of heart in hand, never re­ally fades. As a work of fan ser­vice, Hyrule War­riors is almost with­out equal.

As a game, though, Hyrule War­riors has plenty of equals – almost 30 of them in the past five years, in fact. It is the lat­est in Koei Tecmo’s Mu­sou se­ries, and so it comes bound to a cer­tain me­chan­i­cal tem­plate. Here, it in­volves rep­e­ti­tion of a hand­ful of sim­ple de­ci­sions: when to use a spe­cial move, to ac­ti­vate Fo­cus Spirit for pow­ered-up at­tacks, or to dodge. And above all, how long would you like to keep mash­ing the light at­tack but­ton be­fore you start mash­ing the strong at­tack one? War­riors games have al­ways prized spec­ta­cle over sys­tems, and even the short­est combo strings here pro­duce daz­zling re­sults, but the out­come is al­ways the same: a crowd of dead en­e­mies evap­o­rates in a shower of ru­pees, and then you move on to the next.

Va­ri­ety is one sub­sti­tute for com­plex­ity, and while the character se­lect screen af­fords plenty of it, much of the Leg­ends story mode ei­ther lim­its you to a choice of a few se­lect char­ac­ters or, worse, gives you no choice at all. As thrilling as it is to lay hands on Ganondorf, by the time you’ve swung his dual blades through three con­sec­u­tive mis­sions, you’ve seen enough de­monic hands to last a lifetime. The craft­ing sys­tem and skill trees, pow­ered by ma­te­ri­als found in the field, are a re­ward for rep­e­ti­tion, rather than a so­lu­tion to it.

At least the mis­sions of­fer a bit more va­ri­ety than the me­chan­ics. In one, you need to es­cort an ally car­ry­ing soup to a god who, when fed, cre­ates path­ways to new ar­eas. In another, you must stop Bom­bchus from blow­ing up and tak­ing a base’s worth of al­lies with them. All the while com­rades are call­ing for help, char­ac­ters are chat­ting about the big­ger pic­ture, you’re be­ing warned that a cou­ple of keeps are about to fall into en­emy hands, and be­ing urged to press on to the next ob­jec­tive. There is a tremen­dous amount go­ing on, both on the bat­tle­field and the end­less streams of text that frame it, to the point that it’s all too easy to miss a mis­sion-crit­i­cal SOS that ren­ders the most re­cent check­point un­us­able. In one mis­sion, we were given three seem­ingly vi­tal ob­jec­tives in the space of ten seconds and no in­di­ca­tion of which was the most im­por­tant. We had to restart another level for fail­ing to stop a hand­ful of en­e­mies from tak­ing the al­lied base be­cause we were fo­cus­ing in­stead on the gi­ant dragon gob­bing fire­balls at it. Hyrule War­riors may make you feel in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful, but Leg­ends mode fre­quently makes you feel like quite the in­ad­e­quate leader. Thank­fully, while Leg­ends may take top billing – oc­cu­py­ing the first slot on the menu – Ad­ven­ture mode is big­ger, pacier, and more var­ied. Set on an 8bit­styled world map, it is bro­ken up into briefer mis­sions that tin­ker with the for­mula, al­ter­ing en­emy dam­age, per­haps, or drop­ping you into a time-limited boss rush. Two en­e­mies will spawn in a closed-off keep and you’ll be given a Zelda lore hint on which one to kill. There are ad­di­tions to the cast and more pow­er­ful weapons for its ex­ist­ing mem­bers too, with grad­ing and item sys­tems to en­cour­age re­plays. Ev­ery great Zelda game has been an ad­ven­ture, so it’s ap­pro­pri­ate that the mode of the same name just about res­cues Hyrule War­riors.

It’s tempt­ing to dis­miss this as just another new War­riors game, but Nin­tendo has not given the keys to one of the most revered se­ries in gaming to Koei Tecmo and Omega Force just to swell their out­put fur­ther. This is a Zelda game, and the sight of Link and company on the boxart car­ries with it a cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tion. It’s one Hyrule War­riors fails to match, but there’s still plenty to ad­mire, not least the way its mak­ers have flouted nearly 30 years of con­ven­tion, treat­ing one of Nin­tendo’s most prized as­sets in ways it would never dare to. The game’s great­est achieve­ment is the way it re­casts char­ac­ters who have long been por­trayed as be­ing in need of a young boy’s help. The next time we see Zelda be­ing dragged away by Ganon’s forces, we’ll won­der why she can’t just fight her way out of trou­ble. After all, we’ve seen her do it hun­dreds of times be­fore.

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