Out of all announcements made on this week’s Nintendo Direct, none has been more analyzed and debated than Hyrule Warriors. It comes rather naturally, after all, it was the only truly surprising software announcement of the show, and it sports the label of Nintendo’s grandest franchise. At first glance, the game seems like a traditional Dynasty Warriors title with a coat of Zelda paint all over it. Link appears running on the field at the gates of Hyrule Castle Town while easily disposing of armies of well-known enemies and a few bigger beasts, such as Ocarina of Time’s iconic King Dodongo.
The limited view of the game leads to fair, yet premature, conclusions that deem its gameplay as repetitive and its visuals as poor. The North American trailer reveals, at its end, the game’s title written on a standard white font with a warning as to the possibly temporary nature of its current name. The visual state of the game, and the lack of a proper logo, indicate that the game is still miles away from completion, and reveal the loose feel that Nintendo has been trying to give to its presentations, as a game in this condition would most likely not be shown during the formal E3.
Even if it still looks rough around the edges, the game is set to release in 2014, which is a tad worrying. The Zelda franchise has, differently from the Super Mario one, rarely been a source of inspiration for spin-offs, and Hyrule Warriors might be the starting point of a sea change in that regard. Whether the fact that from now on Link’s face might be more frequently apparent out in the market is bad or good comes down to personal preference, but Hyrule Warriors shows that not only is Nintendo dead focused on giving the Wii U significant momentum, but they are also considering 2014 to be a pivotal year for the console.
Mario has already landed on the console in two highly accessible games, and new versions of Wii Fit and Wii Sports have also been released to try to replicate the success those two brands had on the previous generation. Zelda is an equally strong franchise in terms of commercial power, and one that can cause both skeptical Nintendo fans and other doubtful gamers to jump aboard. However, the next true game of the franchise is still a few years away, and – given the company’s commendable philosophy of not setting a fixed timetable for the release of new games of its major franchises – it is unlikely that it will be rushed just so that it can serve its purpose sooner.
Hyrule Warriors is, then, a good way to quickly allow Nintendo executives and marketing to say there is an exclusive Zelda game out for the console without putting pressure on the franchise’s next entry. It is not a true Zelda game, so it allows Nintendo to push for its release as soon as possible with considerable wiggle room to shrug it off in case it ends up being a product ranging from bad and decent; levels of quality that are simply not worthy of the Zelda brand.
At the same time, as a gamer and a fan of the franchise, one has to hope that Hyrule Warriors will go beyond what it initially shows. Instead of a a Dynasty Warriors game in Zelda skin, one has to expect the Zelda infusion will bring up interesting gameplay elements and changes that will distinguish the game from other titles on the Tecmo Koei franchise and make it a valuable addition to the Zelda brand rather than a forgettable software Nintendo will disown and fans will pretend to never have existed. That is likely the key that will allow Link to make Dynasty Warriors – a very popular franchise in Japan, but a niche game in the West – an important addition to the Wii U catalog.