Murdering gangs of Gorons on the bus might not be what you’d expect to do on a Sunday, but Nintendo's next major 3DS game lets you do just that. The 2014 Wii U release, Hyrule Warriors, took the Dynasty Warriors template and smeared fairy juice over it, demanding you listen and toot on ocarinas while you waded through--literally--thousands of enemies in each level. Hyrule Warriors Legends condenses that onto the portable dual-screens of the 3DS, and in some respects the transition to handheld makes it play better than the original.
One of the drawbacks of Hyrule Warriors was play fatigue, with each level demanding repeated stabs of the slice button for upwards of thirty minutes. The option to close the 3DS's clamshell, to pause the game and reopen it again whenever your murderous tendencies rise to the surface, allows this feast of brutality to be enjoyed in bite-sized pieces. And it suits the game; being able to liberate a fort here, a base there, take on a boss for a bit before shutting the clamshell and going to climb a mountain (or whatever it is people do in their spare time) is transformative to the experience.
The baseline game which this is built from presents a cheerful carousel of fine fan service.
Elementally, this is the same game as the Wii U edition. Everything from the original is here, including all of the DLC bundled in. The extras are a great little touch, adding the option to change characters while you play, as well as a Wind Waker setting and characters to go with that. There’s also a new star, Linkle, who is essentially a female Link, and carries her own side-story and path to become a hero.
Cynics will say it’s merely a few sundry bonuses added to an old game, that nothing is fundamentally altered by their inclusion. That’s true to a point, but the new characters do add some strategic variance to gameplay, and the option to transfer your characters to the Wii U version is a nice touch. Also the baseline game which this is built from, lest we forget, presents a cheerful carousel of fine fan service. It’s the characters, the locales, the tinkling of a jingle you’ve known for 30 years that resonates here, and it’s all done with a knowledge and reverence for Zelda’s lineage that you can't help but admire.
There are some welcome changes nevertheless, with a new focus on objective-led missions. Gone is the primitive goal to wipe the map of all adversaries, as was the case in the Dynasty Warriors series that this Nintendo spin-off was built upon. More than ever, Link and co’s adventure focuses on an ever-changing array of smaller tasks. Take this fort, stop this enemy, protect this person, feed this flying whale.
It makes for a much more appealing game in the long term, compared to Warriors’ non-objective-based approach, and it means you must pay close attention to what’s going on at any given time in order to avoid failing miserably. Battlefield management is a key factor, and you’ll have to be juggling different fronts, watching out for different forces and making sure both your home base and other main characters aren’t at risk of being taken over or defeated. If they are, that’s an instant fail.
While the first few levels ease you in nicely, it can soon become overwhelming for the less experienced. Failure will frustrate often and suddenly if your focus strays. (Word of advice, if a character says your home base is about to fall, don’t assume you have any time to spare). This mild element of strategy, which has been present throughout the Warriors series, has become far more pronounced in Hyrule Warriors Legends. You are forced to understand your surroundings, to become fluent with the ebb and flow of enemy spawns, and to pay attention to the points of interest on your map. It’s nothing particularly deep or taxing once you’re used to it, but there is an initial rush to the proceedings.
It’s hardly perfect, however. Hyrule Warriors Legends isn’t free from criticisms made of its forbearers, insofar as it’s absurdly repetitive. Wading through hundreds of enemies in a single level might sound like the ultimate power trip fantasy, but in reality it soon becomes pedestrian, to the extent that the next deployment of minions evokes a distinct feeling of irritation.
Hyrule Warriors Legends isn’t free from criticisms made of its forbearers, insofar as it’s absurdly repetitive.
There are also moments where the game seems unwilling to play fair. When, for example, an AI teammate flees battle because your silver-bullet maneuver against a boss doesn’t pay off, thus triggering a mission failure notice. This is fundamentally irritating, but even more so after 30 minutes of busywork slashing through hordes of foes. It’s not uncommon either. It will likely happen to you.
Then there’s the lock-on functionality, the boon of any such game wherein you’re wading through enemies by the ton. It allows you to pick out the important, powerful baddies in a crowd so that you can focus your attack on them. Except of course when the game chooses not to, for reasons unexplained, and instead targets the wrong enemy. Sometimes Hyrule Warriors Legends’ lock-on likes to play jazz with the rules; sometimes it will lock onto your intended target and switch that at the last moment. Targeting is key to success, and the distrust it builds between yourself and the game can be devastating.
Legends’ optional stereoscopy, meanwhile, at times dropped the frame rate by half. Sometimes more so, depending on how busy the action became. This isn’t a dealbreaker, partly because this feature is exclusive to the New 3DS models, and primarily because it’s so hard to care about 3D effects. For those who still do, switching on this visual effect will disrupt the flow of the action, and it’s hard to think of many 3DS games that require a constant frame rate as much as Hyrule Warriors Legends.
Assessed solely as a Zelda game, Hyrule Warriors probably isn’t good enough to lure in non-Dynasty Warriors fans, but it is passable enough to offer Musou lovers something different to play between their usual battles for dynastic superiority. Stereoscopy notwithstanding, it’s technically impressive. And while age-old criticisms of Warriors' repetitiveness still applies, that burden is eased somewhat thanks to the option to play this handheld edition in bursts. Now nearly twenty years since the birth of the Warriors series, here we have a convincing argument that this franchise is best suited to handhelds.