TORONTO – While the core “Legend of Zelda” games have been uniformly excellent since their debut on the old Nintendo Entertainment System, some of the side projects in the land of Hyrule have been less than compelling.
The two Zelda titles released for the ill-fated Philips CD-i console have been mercilessly mocked since their release, “Link’s Crossbow Training” for the Wii was a short, shallow experience and two spinoff games starring the creepy side character Tingle for the DS never even saw the light of day in North America.
“Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition,” out this week for the Nintendo Switch, is another spinoff, a combination of the successful hack-and-slash formula of the “Dynasty Warriors” games with characters, settings and some mechanics from the “Legend of Zelda” series. But while this title is not going to take a place alongside “Breath of the Wild” or “Ocarina of Time” in the pantheon of great core Zelda games, it holds its own as a combat-oriented romp with a large heaping of fan service.
This is the third iteration of “Hyrule Warriors,” which first saw life on the Wii U four years ago. At that time it served as a stopgap for Wii U owners desperate for a new Zelda title. A 3DS port followed in 2016 with some new features.
To leverage the Switch’s fast-selling start, Nintendo included everything from the Wii U version, including downloadable content, added in the 3DS extras and beefed up the visuals for the “Definitive Edition.” It’s the second repackaged Wii U game to come out in the last couple of weeks after “Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze.”
The Zelda universe lends itself well to the “Dynasty Warriors” concept. Players can tackle stages with a solid roster of characters from multiple Zelda titles. Obviously the omnipresent Link and Princess Zelda are options, while the imposing Darunia from “Ocarina of Time” and the mischievous Midna from “Twilight Princess” are among the other characters available to hack their way through the stages.
You will be given a time limit and a series of objectives in each level, usually defeating the big bad and protecting your allies’ base of operations. Along the way you will be beset by thousands of monsters, but each character has an assortment of attacks and abilities suited to dispatching enemies en masse.
The run-of-the mill monsters pose zero threat, even in massive hordes. They are simply there to see how many you can destroy with one of the many devastating attacks at your disposal.
Combat gets more interesting when battling tougher creatures, like the large brutish Moblin, which can block your attacks with a shield or send you flying with a belly flop. These foes require you to expose a weakness by dodging an attack and countering, or by using a specific item to interrupt a special move.
Boss monsters, in a nod to the Zelda series, often have a weak spot that can be exploited by hitting them with a recently found item or weapon.
Objectives will change during the mission as immediate threats to your success arise, such as a keep under siege that needs to be saved. The number of heroes at your disposal depends on the level, but when you have control of multiple warriors it’s a good idea to issue commands to them in order to tackle several tasks at once.
While the initial goals are simple, action can get pretty chaotic with enemies sometimes initiating attacks on several points of the map at once. It can be a little stressful when notifications of an ally about to fall or a keep under siege by elite forces keep popping up while fighting a boss monster. But this becomes less of an issue once you get the hang of splitting up troops and switching between hero characters.
It doesn’t help that the mini map that highlights your objectives is difficult to read, particularly in handheld mode. Putting the game in pause mode to bring up the larger, clearer map helps, but also interrupts the flow.
There is a story mode which features a corrupted sorceress and some time portals to explain why all these characters from disparate games are appearing in the same title. This is not a narrative-driven game, but the story is certainly serviceable and links up the stages adequately.
After finishing a level you can go back and try it again with different characters and with all the items you acquired since first completing it. Some items can only be obtained from giving a level another go, so this adds some re-playability for the completist gamer.
There is also an “adventure mode,” which offers shorter missions played out in settings from previous Zelda games that can be a quick and fun way to level up characters and get upgrades.
“Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition” gives Zelda fans a way to play as their favourite characters in a breezy, combat-heavy adventure. It’s doesn’t reach the sky-high standard of a core Zelda title, but as a spinoff it delivers.
“Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition” is rated T for teen games and up, and retails for about $80.