Nintendo’s unending crusade to port every game to the Switch continues with Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition.
If you missed the game on both Wii U and 3DS, this version packs in all the characters and past DLCs, along with some smaller changes like Breath of the Wild costumes.
Once you’re in game you’re presented with the game’s seemingly simple premise: you’re a character from the Legend of Zelda franchise, and you’re strong enough to kill dozens of enemies with a single swing of a sword.
In this respect, Hyrule Warriors is incredibly enjoyable and very cathartic. From mission one you feel powerful and able to take on anything that gets in your way.
This power trip gets better as you unlock more combos for better killing potential, and you start letting off special attacks that can decimate entire squadrons of enemies.
With hundreds, if not thousands of enemies on the screen at once, performance was a big concern for the underpowered Switch, but we were blown away by how smooth the experience was.
In handheld mode the framerate and resolution was solid no matter how many enemies we were juggling or how many partical effects were accompanying our combos.
The only slowdowns we saw were in certain cutscenes, which isn’t a big deal.
In docked mode Hyrule Warriors is bumped up to 1080p, and you will start to see the performance fall down here. It’s still a solid gameplay experience and an impressive feat, but it does fall just short of the amazing portable performance.
But performance isn’t the only factor in a Switch port, because on other fronts there are major issues. The UI is extremely small with no option for scaling, so prepare to be squinting a lot.
The tiny map could have really benefited from touchscreen integration so you could zoom in and pan around, but that’s not available here either.
These UI problems only compound this game’s biggest weakness: the strategy layer that lives beneath the hacking and slashing.
Instead of just being thrown into a small room with enemies, each level is a sprawling map with several nodes that spawn enemies. Defeating a node will then spawn friendly NPCs to fight for you.
These levels also have a failure and win condition, which start simple (defend your base, defeat the boss, etc) but it becomes more complex as missions roll on.
Because of this you’ll be constantly pausing the game to check the miniscule map and the new objectives you have. This is really not helped by the fact that the map is a grid, but icons are not placed within its squares, leaving you to click around until you find what you need.
Only trying to look for your objectives is a frustrating game in itself. Protecting bases and killing bosses are easy to understand, but when the game asks you something trivial you will be stumped.
Open the flood gates so the water goes down! Arm the catapults to kill the dragon! Stop the tree from burning down! The game will bark these to you without telling you where they are, or how exactly you need to interact with the world to advance.
On top of all of that, the NPCs and characters you’re not currently playing as are so useless that they sometimes feel like a waste of space.
That means that every time there’s a new problem, you have to haul ass across the map to sort it out. Oh, and don’t forget that the sprint happens automatically, and only after you’ve been walking slowly for a painful amount of time.
To try and mitigate this, the characters you’re not controlling can be ordered around the map. If there is something happening on the other side, you can auto-path a character there and switch to them when they’re close.
Great, except that this is done using the terrible map, and the character you aren’t playing will get trounced by the enemy.
Some of this game’s most frustrating moments are character deaths that happen out of the blue. Sometimes you won’t know a character is close to death because there is no warning. And don’t even get us started on the escort missions, which have all those problems without the option to take control of the NPC.
These strategy mechanics turn every level of fun combat into an endless list of chores more akin to babysitting than commanding an army.
The levels can also be very long, meaning it isn’t exactly conducive to short play sessions when you’re using the Switch in portable mode.
All of this is a real shame given how great the combat is. To shake up how boring hacking and slashing could become, the large roster of characters gives you so much variety, and new weapons completely change how each of them feels.
But there’s just too much on top of the combat and it becomes weighed down. We have dozens of small grievances outside of those mentioned, such as repetitive music and uninspired upgrades.
Somewhere inside of Hyrule Warriors there’s an excellent game, but it’s buried by poor design decisions and irritations. Hopefully we can see that game in Hyrule Warriors 2, or the Definitive Definitive Edition.