2014 was one of Zelda’s off years. With the Zelda adventure games taking just a little bit longer to make in the current generation, it’s the third year this decade without Zelda proper on either console or handheld. But that’s not to say that nothing Zelda-related happened this year. In fact, since the Year of Luigi officially ended in early 2014, one might possibly argue perhaps that Luigi passed on the mantle to his fellow green-clad brother Link. Okay, perhaps that’s a little too ambitious considering that two-thirds of Link’s appearances this year took place in games also starring Luigi. The Year of Luigi never ends. But as for the other appearance of Link and friends? Well, I don’t think anyone ever expected Link to star in a Dynasty Warriors-like game.
Visiting Hyrule’s dynasty
Yet that’s exactly what happened. The much maligned partnership between Nintendo and Philips back in the early 1990s forced Nintendo to become hyper-protective over their IP, and in the two decades that followed Nintendo had only allowed Capcom access to the Zelda brand with Oracle of Ages and Seasons. But not since that partnership with Philips had Nintendo had given a third-party developer so far afield access to one of their best IPs. After all, Team Ninja — creators of Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden — had only thus far partnered with Nintendo to make Metroid: Other M, a rather controversial title at that. But to port Link and Zelda into a third-person hack-and-slash action title? That goes well beyond Nintendo’s partnership with Capcom.
Yet as foreign a concept as Hyrule Warriors sounds at first, the game, to everyone’s relief, was not only very enjoyable but also extremely respectful of the IP. The story, as it goes, is a veritable cavalcade of well-known Zelda characters from across the most popular installments of the franchise gathered together into a very loosely-defined plot. Even more so than the more traditional Zelda titles, the story of the game is largely throwaway and fairly forgettable; in fact, I can barely even remember most of the specifics myself without referring to Wikipedia or the Zelda Wiki. Part of that is due to it being incredibly hard to read the occasional text blurbs that popped up in the middle of plowing through dozens of enemies without the normal voiceover work that usually appeared in Dynasty Warrior games, even back on the PS2. Yet perhaps more importantly, well, the story isn’t really the point of this style of game, now is it?
The story of Hyrule Warriors is largely throwaway and fairly forgettable. Yet the story isn’t really the point of this style of game.
But since we should talk about the characters and the plot, Link and Zelda are joined up with Time Ninja’s original character Lana, an anime-style priestess who seeks to protect the Triforce. They’re opposed by Cia, secretly Lana’s other, darker half, a woman jealous of Link’s preoccupation with the princess. Cia subsequently decides that Hyrule must suffer for Link’s so-called crimes, and so she opens the Gate of Souls to rain down monsters upon the land. However, this also allows Link and friends to travel through time to visit acquaintances of the heroes across time who join their cause against Cia. The game isn’t over once Cia is defeated as then, for the first time ever, we are allowed to play as Ganondorf, who then storms across Hyrule and takes back the Triforce and reigns supreme. That is, at least, until Lana, Link, and Zelda once again summon the heroes from across time who raid Ganondorf’s fortress to defeat him once and for all.
The gameplay is practically identical to that found in Dynasty Warriors, where you wade through countless and relatively harmless minions whilst ravaging huge swaths of destruction in your wake. It sounds fairly simple, but it always makes you feel so good to just wreak havoc. However, new to the Dynasty Warriors-style play is the inclusion of several giant minibosses from the Zelda games such as Dodongo, Gohma, and Argorok, and these force you to take a small break from cutting swaths through enemies to focus upon quick time event-like attacks against an extremely powerful foe. Of course, there are also the normal bosses, namely, the other major characters, that are opposing you, complete with their own unique attack styles and special attacks as well.
What really makes the game sing, however, is the Challenge Mode, where you can play miniature scenarios across the face of the original Legend of Zelda’s map that are remixes of the story-mode stages. While some of the challenges aren’t very challenging, others can be downright brutal, especially if you want to escape with the highest rating in order to win that unlockable weapon for that character you like to play as. Yes, not only is there the base game with all its upgradeable weapons, but there are unlockable forms of weapons as well which completely change up each of the characters’ combos and special moves to require entirely new crowd-control strategies. While it’s true that some of the challenges aren’t very inspired and become somewhat repetitious, there is a lot of replayability to the game, especially if you’re attempting to get those top ratings.
In short, Hyrule Warriors was the Zelda remix nobody knew they wanted until they had it, and, as far as I’m concerned, even if it is a game that exists outside of the official timeline, it is a game that belongs on the shelf alongside the rest of the series.
The year of Link and Luigi
But speaking of games outside the timeline, who can forget Link’s appearance in the in the Legend of Zelda × Mario Kart 8 DLC for Mario’s Wii U racing title. Link’s and Mario’s cameos in each other’s titles are by no means something shockingly new. Link appeared in a bed Super Mario RPG way back in 1996, and it’s well known that there’s a painting of Mario in Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Castle. But rarely has there ever been a fully-playable instance of one in the other. But the secret is out: Link is actually a fan of racing, and he’ll even invite the Mario Brothers into Hyrule Castle for an epic race through Hyrule at the end of the Triforce Cup.
Link may be the only Zelda character to be added to Mario Kart 8’s already long roster, but he knows it’s dangerous to go alone. He brings a sweet new set of wheels to Mario’s little party, namely the Master Cycle — a motorbike decorated with a Hylian Shield on both sides — along with the Triforce Tires and Hylian Kite to pimp his ride. In the Hyrule Circuit, racers can race through the center of Hyrule Castle and the surrounding countryside, collecting rupees instead coins as they race for first place. Also of note in this DLC pack was a focus on F-Zero rounding out the other new set of courses in the Egg Cup.
Last and certainly not least was Link’s other big appearance in another franchise, though this one isn’t quite as foreign to Link as Mario Kart. 2014 saw the release of the fourth installment of the Super Smash Bros. series with Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U. As always, Super Smash Bros. remains one of the biggest franchises in the Nintendo portfolio, and this one was bigger than any installment before it. Not only did Smash come to a handheld platform for the first time ever (with shockingly good playability to boot!) but Smash now featured (after all of the DLC) 37 returning characters and 21 newcomers (counting all of the Mii types separately) for a grand total of 58 fighters. There are 41 stages in all for 3DS and 55 for Wii U, not counting all of the Ω Forms. And while the fourth Smash no longer has a Subspace Emissary single-player adventure nor the original Adventure Mode as made famous by Melee, it included Smash Run on 3DS and both Smash Tour and an eight-player mode for the Wii U.
Unlike the previous incarnations of Super Smash Bros., no new characters from Zelda were added this time around (though whether you count Melee’s Young Link as being a different character from Brawl’s Toon Link is debatable), leaving just the five regulars of Link, Toon Link, Zelda, Sheik, and Ganondorf. And while tweaks to the characters were certainly made, there weren’t any major changes to the move sets of any of the five… with perhaps the one big exception that Zelda and Sheik became completely separate characters; players could no longer transform between them on the fly in the middle of the match. To replace her down-B Transformation move, Zelda received the Phantom Slash using the Phantom she possessed in Spirit Tracks. Sheik’s down-B isn’t as referential as she merely uses her chain whip to toss out a vortex grenade that temporarily traps anyone caught near it.
Of course, the ever famous Great Temple stage inspired by The Adventure of Link makes a grand reappearance in this game as does Brawl’s Bridge of Eldin stage. The other three Zelda-inspired stages were new creations, each of which taken from one of the more recent Zelda titles. From the Wii came Skyward Sword’s Skyloft stage that featured a moving platform that roams across the various features of the city above the clouds. Representing the DS is Spirit Tracks’ Spirit Train, where players must stay aboard Toon Link’s or Alfonzo’s train as it tries not to crash into bomb trains. And finally is Ocarina of Time 3D’s Gerudo Valley, complete with the grand pit that falls down into the river leading to Lake Hylia as well as Koume and Kotake who serve as the occasional obstacle. There would later be some DLC stages for Zelda as well, namely the original Smash’s Hyrule Castle for the 3DS version and Brawl’s Pirate Ship for Wii U.
All in all, maybe 2014 wasn’t truly the Year of Link. Maybe we’ll have to wait until the upcoming Wii U release for that year to come. Which, speaking of that, the dream of a Wii U Zelda title finally became a thing.
At E3 2014, Nintendo revealed their newest console Zelda title to continue the storyline of The Legend of Zelda. It didn’t have a name yet, but everyone knew from the moment that it was going to be huge! Aonuma promised us a great big world to explore, one that wasn’t hampered by harsh linear geography the way that previous games such as Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword ended up delivering. This was a world that could be explored fully, that Link would be able to approach towns, dungeons, and other points of interest from all directions, perhaps adding an amount of strategy or at least freedom to how we would experience the game.
Inevitably, we wouldn’t know much about Zelda U. Nintendo demonstrated an amazing chase scene with something akin to a boss firing gigantic laser beams of death as Link rode away from it on horseback. At some point, while crossing over a bridge, the monster catches up and blocks off Link’s path, but Link isn’t going to take any grief, and so an explosive arrow is the reply. What was amazing about this video was that Link, as rendered in this video, appeared very much more girlish than his previous incarnations, and this led many fans to speculate that the character wasn’t Link and that it possibly was a new female protagonist. Aonuma would later clarify, after a slightly vague and mysterious tweet, that it was indeed Link, but still it was curious to see a generally warm-hearted reaction from fans to a possible big change to the franchise.
Even without a Zelda title for Wii U, 2014 did prove one thing conclusively: the Legend of Zelda franchise is just as important as Mario in the Nintendo portfolio. Nintendo isn’t just willing to sit back and let Mario and Luigi have all the fun when it comes to sports, racing, and all of the other party games; instead, it’s now pretty clear that Nintendo sees Zelda as an equally important card to play when it comes to diversifying their platforms’ offerings. It’s been a good year for Zelda even without a proper game, though thankfully one only needed to wait until the next year for the next Zelda.