When Hyrule Warriors came out on the Wii U at the end of summer 2014, I was quite taken with it. Despite being little more than a toy chest full of Zelda-themed action figures, I found its dazzling displays of over-the-top comic violence to be nearly irresistible, especially as a condensed survey of some of the most famous moments in Zelda history. That it lacked the depth of a proper Legend of Zelda adventure didn’t matter; yes, it was really dumb, but it was also a hell of a lot of fun.
When I reviewed that original version, I predicted that I wouldn’t stick with it for very long, and that certainly turned out to be the case: despite the game’s pick-up-and-play nature and promise of abundant DLC, it’s just not the kind of game I’d spend a ton of time with on a home console. But now that it’s been released in expanded form as Hyrule Warriors Legends on 3DS—a system I’ve spent more time with than any other over the past five years, by an order of magnitude—I have a feeling it’s going to be one of my go-to games for years to come.Not that Nintendo didn’t make some serious compromises to get Hyrule Warriors running on their aging handheld. As a 3DS port of a console game previously exclusive to a relatively powerful HD console, Hyrule Warriors Legends takes a severe and immediately noticeable hit where visuals are concerned. Despite a new cell-shaded art style meant to simplify character models and keep the action running at a steady clip, the game feels at odds with the 3DS’s limited screen resolution, with character models that appear quite handsome in closeups losing most of their detail during the standard action view. It’s also got the same fuzzy-menus problem as last year’s otherwise stellar Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, which makes me seriously question what’s been going on in Nintendo’s quality control department lately.
Still, graphical fidelity has never been as important as speed in Omega Force’s Warriors games, and if you’ve got the right hardware, you’ll likely be having too much fun with Hyrule Warriors Legends to notice its visual shortcomings. That’s a big “if”, though. On a New Nintendo 3DS or New 3DS XL, the game sings every bit as sweetly as on the Wii U, with what can feel like hundreds of bodies radiating through the air as your character slices through them with balletic aplomb (though disappointingly, stereo 3D cuts out half the frames of animation, so get used to playing it in 2D.) On an original 3DS, 3DS XL, or 2DS, it’s a different story entirely: far fewer enemies on screen, more pop-in, and an overall lack of spectacle means basically everything that makes the game great is… well, gone. If that’s your only way to play, I recommend trading up to the latest hardware, or just passing on the game entirely. There are plenty of other great 3DS games coming out in 2016 that don’t require the extra oomph of the New 3DS.As for me, I’m playing on a New 3DS XL, and I’m having a blast. If Legends were merely a rehash of the Wii U version, I’d be happy with it, but the handheld version has so much added content that it’d easily be the definitive version of Hyrule Warriors if it weren’t for the visual downgrade. That new content comes in many forms: some thrilling, like the handful of new post-game Wind Waker stages and characters; some welcome, like all of the previously released Wii U DLC now included for free and the new gender-swapped version of Link (whom Nintendo for some reason thought fit to name “Linkle”); and some rather baffling, like the new My Fairy mode that lets you feed, dress, and carry a fairy friend into battle… if you can figure out how to even activate it (hint: start smashing brown pots in Adventure mode.)
If all this window dressing isn’t enough to entice you, Legends also features a trio of tweaks that are literally game-changing. First is the introduction of an ocarina that lets you warp nearly instantly to a number of pre-determined locations on most maps. Second is character swapping, which adds some much needed variety to each mission, but also allows you to more quickly reach those locations on that map that need the most immediate attention. Third is a new touch-based command system that lets you direct computer-controlled allies toward critical points on the map—besieged keeps, for instance, or rampaging bosses. Altogether, these tweaks make for a game that feels infinitely more strategic than the Wii U version, and while you’ll still spend plenty of time charging from one location to another in pursuit of what often feels like too many active objectives to count, the chaos at least feels manageable this time around. And if you’d prefer not to make use of these new features, Nintendo’s not forcing any of them on you. Go ahead and play Legends the same way you played Hyrule Warriors on Wii U.Hyrule Warriors Legends, despite featuring a boatload of new content and some thoughtful gameplay tweaks, is still ultimately an irreverent and easily digestible celebration of one of gaming’s greatest legends. It may not be a proper Zelda game, but its plethora of gameplay modes—from the narrative-focused Legend Mode to the infinitely replayable Free Mode and challenge-based Adventure Mode (still the best part of the game)—and its seemingly endless variety of play styles thanks to an ever-expanding roster of characters makes this the kind of game I can return to time and time again.
Also, did I mention Marin’s coming as DLC? That’s something I’ve been asking for since 2014. So, yeah.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Hyrule Warriors Legends is based both on final review code provided to us by Nintendo of America, and by a physical cartridge imported as part of the Europe-only Limited Edition. The game launched in the U.S. and Europe on March 25th, 2016, which just happens to be this writer’s birthday.