Hyrule Warriors made a pretty big splash with its announcement and eventual release on Wii U in 2014. It’s a novel concept – take beloved characters and weapons from one of Nintendo’s most cherished franchises and throw them into the “Musou” hack and slash gameplay seen in the Dynasty Warriors series. With a solid single-player campaign, an incredibly expansive adventure mode, and a healthy amount of DLC, it’s easy to consider Hyrule Warriors one of the Wii U’s landmark titles. But Nintendo and Team Ninja weren’t about to let the fun stop there – they’ve added some bells and whistles and ported the game to the 3DS as Hyrule Warriors Legends!
The base gameplay is about identical to Hyrule Warriors on Wii U, which is heavily inspired by Team Ninja’s Dynasty Warriors. There’s a beefy roster of 24 characters, most of them from different Zelda titles (Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask, Skyward Sword, and now Wind Waker are all represented, with characters from other titles coming as DLC this year) with a handful of original characters thrown in for good measure. The idea of original characters in what’s meant to be a Zelda crossover might sound peculiar at first, but since every Zelda game comes with a huge cast of new faces anyway and they’re given appropriate roles in the story they fit in rather well. They all have unique weapons that have different combo strings and special attributes activated by the press of a button (for some characters like Link or Impa these are powerful attacks, other characters like Zelda or Fi get buffs). You also have a magic meter that will put you into a powered-up, guard crushing state when full and a super meter that allows you to unleash devastating area of effect attacks. The real meat of the combat comes from your combo strings – knowing when to start, end, and change up your attacks is key to success when you’re slaughtering hordes of enemies and taking over enemy keeps.
Some of the characters get additional weapon selections that change their moveset entirely, like Link being able to use his Magic Rod or even take to horseback with Epona, but most of the cast is stuck with a single default weapon. I feel like there are some missed opportunities here – Link can unlock and switch between seven different weapons, but the most anyone else has is three? There’s also a few instances of characters having weapons that don’t make a ton of sense with them (I really wish they had held off on giving Zelda the Wind Waker weapon so Toon Link could have used it instead). Legends introduces five new characters. From Wind Waker, we have Toon Link, Tetra, and King Daphnes making their debut, as well as fan-favorite Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask and an all-new character named Linkle, a young girl who believes she was born to be Hyrule’s savior. These new characters are as off-the-wall and fun as the original cast, from Skull Kid prancing around and playing his ocarina while fighting to Linkle freely moving around while shooting dual crossbows. It’s important to note that Legends includes all of the DLC from the first game as unlockable content (the three characters, the adventure mode maps, and the costumes), so you’re getting some real bang for your buck if you didn’t pick up the Wii U game.
Legends brings in a few new components that change up the game a lot and frankly, make this game worth playing. Like in its Wii U counterpart, you’ll often have other characters helping you and your army. Let’s say for example, Impa, Sheik and Lana are helping out Link. Unfortunately, in the last game their AI was really weak and they’d rarely accomplish much on their own, leaving Link to run back and forth saving them and taking care of almost everything. While their obnoxiously poor AI is still a problem here, you can now switch between characters on the fly and direct your AI companions to specific areas and enemies! This brings a whole new layer of strategy to the game and makes replaying the single-player campaign feel a lot different. You can have everyone split up to conquer different areas of the map, or bring everyone together to focus on taking down a huge boss or defending a critical keep. There’s also the addition of “Owl Statues” that you can teleport between at will once you’ve activated them, meaning that jogging for 2 minutes across the field to get to your objective is a lot less common. Hyrule Warriors Legends is a lot more convenient to play while simultaneously taking more thought to excel at.
You have your Legend Mode (lengthy enough single-player campaign with a decent story and gameplay variation), Free Mode (the ability to replay any Legend Mode stage with a character of your choice), and the Adventure Mode, which is where most of the game is. You have a gigantic grid based largely on the NES Legend of Zelda game where you go around completing various missions and unlocking characters, weapons, heart pieces and more. Legends also comes with the first game’s DLC maps and introduces a new map of its own, bringing the total up to six maps in the base game. Completing all of these will take you ages but earn you some serious bragging rights.
Legends isn’t as gorgeous as you’d expect a Zelda game to be, it’s sort of a mixed bag. The characters ditch their highly-detailed Wii U models for a cel-shaded approach, and for the most part it works very well. They’ve still got a lot of detail and the colors make them stand out. Unfortunately, the Wii U version was known to have some rough looking enemies and environments with muddy textures, and they definitely don’t look any better on the 3DS. It’s easy not to notice since the game keeps the camera locked on your character, whose vibrant colors and sleek animations are still pretty impressive. The soundtrack is comprised of a ton of guitar-heavy Zelda remixes that are sure to bring back memories and get you pumped for battle.
Unfortunately there are some technical issues as well. First off, do not buy this game unless you’re a New 3DS owner. Playing this game on the original 3DS or 3DS XL comes with a horrendous framerate that makes the game simply not worth playing (the New 3DS also lets you play in 3D and offers more comfortable control options as well). I’ve tested it on both platforms and the difference is night and day, people are not exaggerating when they tell you how bad it is. But even on the New 3DS you’ll notice that you never see quite as many enemies at once as you did on the Wii U version, with a lot of pop-in and less dynamic camera angles to boot. Elements like the menu and story images look pixelated and washed out, and the co-op mode from the Wii U version has also now been axed completely. On their own these problems don’t mean a lot, but when you take them all into account it’s hard not to wish you were playing this game on your Wii U instead.
Overall though, Hyrule Warriors is a game that seems like it makes a lot more sense on a handheld. The adventure mode maps throw an absurd amount of challenges at you, and being able to pick up and play whenever you need and chip away at them at your own pace is much more convenient on a 3DS. You still have the same absurd amount of characters, weapons and missions that were there in the Wii U version, along with brand new content that you’re able to transfer over. While the game doesn’t look as hot and there are some performance issues, the new mechanics make it a very fresh experience (maybe there’s a chance we could see these features implemented in an NX port of Hyrule Warriors some point down the line… ??).
+Great variety in characters and weapons
+Flashy animations and great soundtrack
+Fun campaign and lengthy adventure mode
+Fantastic new mechanics
3 1/2 Stars