Repetition can be beautiful. All music is built on repetition. No art could exist without referencing or repeating facets of what came before. Some of the most accomplished and beloved games of all time are strictly regimented reiterations of the same basic actions. We jump, we run, we shoot, recognizing and exploiting patterns until the credits roll.
Nintendo believes in repetition.
Hyrule Warriors is loosely a Legend of Zelda game. It’s based on the concepts and characters that have made up the Zelda series for 30 years. When you start you play as a swordsman named Link, master of the bow, bomb and boomerang. The goal is to liberate triforces and protect Hyrule and defeat a constantly reawakening evil intruding upon your plane of existence. In words it seems to repeat every Zelda game you’ve ever played before.
Hyrule Warriors is not a Zelda game. It is a Dynasty Warriors game with a Zelda makeover. If you know anything about Dynasty Warriors, you probably know that it is infamously repetitive. That is true of Hyrule Warriors. It is also true that Hyrule Warriors sees Nintendo repeating a mistake it’s made often of late.
Nintendo often struggles to attract the young adult male demographic. That is bad for Nintendo because 18-34 year old males will blow more money on their hobbies than anybody else. For the last few years Nintendo has reached out to Japanese developer Team Ninja to collaborate on games for players looking for something less whimsical or childlike than Nintendo’s typical fare. That has lead to a series of underwhelming, underloved games, including Metroid: Other M and the Wii U launch title Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Neither of these games was successful critically or commercially.
Nintendo and Team Ninja and Omega Force, the Dynasty Warriors developers, worked together on Hyrule Warriors. It’s an all ages game made to appeal to adolescent sensibilities that might be turned off by the cuteness of Mario or Pikmin. This isn’t the adorable cel-shaded Link of Wind Waker, but the more dynamic anime action hero from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, finally fighting in HD for the first time. And he fights a lot in Hyrule Warriors.
Despite the characters and items and musical cues we expect from a Zelda game, there’s more Dynasty Warriors in this DNA. That means roaming battlefields infested with enemies, endlessly jamming one or two button combos while wiping out dozens of stalfos or moblins. It’s broken into a series of missions that tend to follow a basic pattern. You’ll take over small outposts on the battlefield to slightly reduce the number of enemies that can spawn, conquer larger forts or courtyards to weaken them even more, eventually trigger a mid-battle miniboss fight, and then protect your forts while building up to a scrum with a strong foe familiar from Zeldas past.
With its battlefield maps and strongholds Hyrule Warriors has the appearance of a strategy game. You have to take over certain locations on the map to increase the size of your forces, while also protecting your home base. There’s little need for any strategy in how you actually play the game, though. You control a single character in each battle, an almost unbeatable demigod that towers over the weaker enemies that make up most of the competition. Constant taps of the B and Y buttons will reel off attacks that ripple through these legions of bad guys, which often hit Times Square on New Year’s Eve sizes. Little forethought or strategy is needed to succeed.
That contradicts one of the most important aspects of the Zelda series: You need to use your brain. There’s almost constant combat in Zelda games, but there are also mysteries large and small to crack, and puzzles fill every dungeon. Hyrule Warriors eliminates the need for any cleverness on your part, recycling the Zelda mythos in a blunt force donnybrook that swirls like a hurricane from one iconic Zelda setting to another. There’s a harder difficulty setting that might make you shift your tactics, but for the most part charging straight into the monster swarms and randomly mashing B or Y will inevitably lead to victory.
The concept of a more action-oriented Zelda makes sense for Nintendo. Returning to Team Ninja after the failure of Metroid: Other M and utter inconsequence of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge does not. Omega Force has created many Japanese hits under the Dynasty Warriors name, but that series and this type of game has never caught on in America. Hyrule Warriors only makes sense in Japan. It looks and sounds like a Zelda, but has neither the spirit nor the feeling. Despite experience points and RPG-style leveling up, this Link doesn’t grow like you expect him to. Zelda games are mythopoeic epics of discovery and there’s none of that in Hyrule Warriors. It’s a muddled crossover more likely to appeal to Dynasty Warriors fans than Zelda loyalists, a repetitive game built from reused parts that will probably alienate the audience it’s directed at in America.
Violence this effortless and on such a mass scale possesses a certain charm, of course. It might help you manage your stress. It is also visually satisfying to see 30 monsters fly in all direction after Link spins his sword, or after a single spell from the sorceress Lana, a new character introduced for this game. It’s rare to see a cast of playable characters so overwhelmingly female, and other than one enemy none of the character designs are as crass or oversexualized as you might expect from Team Ninja. That is good. There is much to admire and enjoy here, if you don’t hold it to the standards of a legitimate Zelda game, and realize it’s less a game made by Nintendo than a game made by another company playing with Nintendo’s toys.
But that’s overthinking it. Pick up that GamePad and warm up those thumbs. There are buttons to push and monsters to end, references to catch and nostalgia to indulge. It’s Hyrule Warriors, a game from Nintendo and Team Ninja. It has the hookshot. You like the hookshot. It gets you closer to things. Things that you can kill with a sword. You must repeat.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games section and reviews games for the Boston Herald.