Fried Take - "Hyrule Warriors" (2014)

Nintendo, as of late, has been taking some interesting risks as a company. A shooter featuring an adorable cast of squid-human hybrids? Sure! An entire game focused on Captain Toad? Why not! But to me, the most unusual announcement recently was Hyrule Warriors, which is exactly what it sounds like. That is to say, a Zelda game that plays exactly like a Warriors title, albeit with a few tweaks. Would this be a simple reskin, a la the Dynasty Warriors Gundam titles, or would it bring the best of both series together in a deliciously orgasmic package? The series have very little in common, and putting them into one game sounded like the most incongruous mixture possible.

Pleasingly, Hyrule Warriors represents the very best of franchises in varying capacities. Koei-Tecmo brings its satisfying core formula of "press one or two buttons to kill hundreds of enemies in minutes," Team Ninja spices said formula up with gameplay mechanics that lend a distinct variety and weight to each attack, and Nintendo brings its established lore and does some really funky stuff with it, in the best way possible. These three forces collude to produce a game that is rich in content and heavy in fun, not to mention some of the most fun I've had with a co-op game in a long time.

From a narrative stand-point, this is one of the more interesting Zelda titles out there. A new villain, the unrealistically proportioned sorceress Cia, tears rifts between different points in Hyrulian history in an attempt to cause disorder and steal Link's soul. This is a sinister and evil plot, yes, but it's also an advantageous one for longtime fans of the franchise. The reason? It's the perfect excuse for fan-favorite characters from different games to team up and knock down evil forces side-by-side. So, aside from a patently annoying original character (Lana, a walking anime stereotype,) players will be able to get their hands on Midna, Ruto, Darunia, and many others, anachronistically teaming up to dispatch foes both fresh and familiar.

There's obviously a lot more going on in the plot, but to spoil it would be a crime. While it would be silly to say that this is one of the absolute best Zelda storylines, it's certainly one of the more interesting ones. It constantly undermines your expectations, despite some jaw-droppingly predictable "twists," and does away with the traditional "one villain" storyline that's made of the more recent entries a bit stale. It's also a novel concept to have three different periods in history appearing at the same time and interacting with each other, something that I've always longed to see happen. While there are no real moments of emotional resonance or significant character development going on here, there's a sense of chaotic whimsy that feels really fresh and interesting. Most importantly, it avoid the pitfalls of many crossover titles, and for that, it deserves some praise.

Cia's design comes with the Official Team Ninja Stamp of Approval!
 That sentiment can be echoed for the gameplay as well. Many crossover titles lose something in translation, favoring one franchise too much and the other too little, or doing something entirely unwelcome and feeling nothing like either franchise. But here, it truly feels like a wonderful mash-up between both franchises, much like this year's earlier Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Players will hack through thousands of enemies in a fast, frantic fashion, and unleash ridiculous special moves that devastate the opposition. They'll capture bases, take on special enemies, and upgrade their gear. But on that same token, maps are sprawling and varied, peppered with hidden collectibles and chests, and many possessing a signature boss fight that can only be effectively fought with a certain item. Koei-Tecmo and Team Ninja have both brought their own things to the table, but without losing the fantastical atmosphere and sense of exploration that comes with Nintendo's flagship.

There's no hurting for both variety and depth of content here, either. On top of Legend mode, which is where the narrative unfolds, there's Free Mode (a hallmark of the Warriors series) in which players can play through any story level with any character they've unlocked thus far. There's also Adventure mode, where players progress on a charming 8-Bit recreation of the 1987 The Legend of Zelda map, taking on special challenges along the way. Each mode interacts with the others, too, meaning that materials collected, characters unlocked, and levels gained in one mode count towards the other two. As if this, along with the numerous collectible trinkets and healthy catalog of unlockable music, wasn't enough, everything in Hyrule Warriors can be tackled with two players locally (one on the TV, one on the WiiU GamePad.) Playing this with a friend or significant other comes highly recommended, as it makes tackling tasks easier by leaps and bounds. One player can conquer a base while the other hunts for a Golden Skultula, for example, and both can then come together to tackle a boss. This is one of the finer examples of local co-op I've seen in recent years, and with minimal slowdown, there's no reason not to play this with another person if you can.

There have been some reviews disparaging the visual quality of this title, and to be blunt, they can sod off. It might not have the resolution and parity of, say, a AAA title on the PS4 or One, but for what it's trying to do, it more or less hits the mark. The maps are carefully crafted and beautifully designed, taking players from a tree-top village to the depths of Ocarina of Time's infamous Water Temple, among many other locales, some new, some fresh takes on old classics. Despite some occasional texturing issues, each map does a good job of pulling one in, especially with the usage of varied, vibrant colors. The real showstopper here, though, are the characters. Everybody on display looks absolutely magnificent, rendered with the utmost attention to detail and fluidly animated. While Cia's design reminds me of what a horny middle-school boy would create on DeviantArt, everyone else looks great. Again, this might not win any awards for sheer horsepower, and the camera could use a little work (it has the tendency to grow unfocused from time to time,) it makes up for it with style and variety.

Zelda: Princess, Bearer of the Triforce, Amateur Fencer.
Hyrule Warriors is a lovely bit of fan service to longtime fans of the Zelda franchise, packed to the brim with content (with more on the way for some time to come,) fun to play, look at, and listen to. It avoids some of the monotonous repetition that comes with certain Warriors games, and the plodding pace that comes with some Zelda titles. Without strictly being one game or the other, it somehow represents both titles at their very best, and it's quite obvious that a massive amount of effort went into making this game just right.

If you have a Wii U, love Zelda, and like killing lots of things at once with friends, it doesn't get much better than Hyrule Warriors Also, you can bring down the moon from Majora's Mask and crash it into a dragon using hookshots that spring forth out of a magical abyss.

I rest my case.


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