Koei Tecmo are no strangers to licensed spin-offs of their Warriors series, but that didn’t stop the announcement of Hyrule Warriors—almost five years ago, now—from being a big surprise. Nintendo isn’t the kind of company to license it its properties willy-nilly, and Koei Tecmo aren’t exactly known for the family-friendly image that Nintendo typically favours.
Its actual release set any worries aside, though, delivering what was both an excellent Zelda game and an excellent Warriors one. It was followed up with an expanded (though technically sluggish) 3DS port that introduced new modes, mechanics, stories, and playable characters, as well as a handful of DLC packs. On any measure, Hyrule Warriors was a huge success—deservedly so.
Now, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition brings that all to the Switch. There isn’t much new stuff to speak of, but in collecting all the previous DLC together and bringing the game to a handheld console that can live up its demands, this really is the best way to play Hyrule Warriors.
Set in an alternate timeline to the main Legend of Zelda games, Hyrule Warriors sees Hyrule under siege by a new threat: the sorceress Cia. Aided by the Gate of Souls, she’s amassed an army of monsters from different eras in Hyrule’s history (in other words, from different Legend of Zelda games). However, in doing so, Cia also allows heroes of those different eras to join forces in order to save this new Hyrule from being overthrown.
This style of cross-over plot is very familiar by now, and Hyrule Warriors does little to build upon it. (Oh, how I long for writers to find a fresh way to bring characters from different worlds together.) Even so, it’s enjoyable enough, thanks to a colourful cast, exciting cutscenes, and some neat late-game twists.
One side-story that particularly stands out is of Linkle. Despite her awful name (why, Nintendo? Why?), Linkle is absolutely charming; envisioned as a female version of Link, she quickly finds her own place as a happy-go-lucky, brave, dorky hero. She’s got more personality in her left thumb than any other Link has in his entirety, and that’s enough to make an enchanting adventure out of what amounts to a retread of the classic Zelda story.
In true Warriors fashion, Hyrule Warriors plays out through large-scale hack and slash battles that pit you against thousands of enemies at a time. Most of these are weaklings that go down in a hit or two (and exist mainly to help you build your KO count), but there are also captains, bosses, and other more powerful foes that require a more tactical approach.
There’s a more strategic layer over that moment-to-moment action. Each map is dotted with keeps, and taking over these is key to not having your own base overrun by sheer weight of numbers. Other objectives–some mandatory, some optional–task you with taking out specific targets, attacking or defending certain keeps, searching for items, or navigating to marked spots on the map, typically under some time limit. Often, you’ll have multiple quests at once, each vying for your time and attention, and managing those competing priorities is where a lot of the excitement in a Warriors game lies.
Hyrule Warriors mixes that formula up with a few Zelda-inspired touches. Tools play a big role in navigation and exploration: a hookshot to grapple up ledges; bombs to destroy boulders and cracked walls; a boomerang to cut through vines; and so on. There aren’t the full-blown dungeons and puzzles of a regular Zelda game–action is the focus here–but the items do a great job of marrying the two source franchises. Each level also has its shares of treasures to find, in the form of new weapons, heart containers, and unlocks for the in-game art gallery.
At around 40 characters, Hyrule Warriors‘ roster is smaller than a lot of other Warriors games, but that’s a good thing. With bigger rosters, an element of homogenization is inevitable, and there are always those who get pushed to the sidelines. In Hyrule Warriors, every character’s move set is unique enough to make them stand out, and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. Linkle takes the cake once again with her sheer dual-wielding-crossbows badassery, but I genuinely enjoy experimenting with the whole cast, which isn’t something I can often say.
As well as the story-driven Legends Mode, Hyrule Warriors has a few other options for play. Free Mode lets you revisit any Legends Mode levels you’ve completed, but without the usual character restrictions in place. Challenge Mode is what you’d expect: a series of specific challenges, like fighting a series of bosses back to back or defeating a certain number of enemies within a time limit.
Far more interesting (to me, at any rate) is Adventure Mode. This is similar to Challenge Mode, but rather than isolated battles, they’re all connected by a tiled, 8-bit map. Each tile has a regular Hyrule Warriors battle waiting for you, but there’s also a more classically-styled adventure game in how you move around the map, finding and using items to unlock the way forward.
The only brand new additions in Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition are outfits for Link and Zelda based on Breath of the Wild, it would have been nice to see a bit more–maybe another Adventure Mode map, or one or two new characters. But even so, the Switch release is worthwhile just to have a portable version that isn’t hamstrung by aging hardware like Hyrule Warriors Legends was. Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is the best version of a fantastic game, and it’s well worth a look for any Switch player.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is developed by Omega Force and published by Nintendo. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.