How the New Zelda Game 'Hyrule Warriors' Could Change Nintendo's Other Franchises
Nintendo recently announced that Hyrule Warriors, a crossover title between Nintendo's Legend of Zelda franchise and Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors series, will be released for the Wii U in 2014.
Hyrule Warriors, the game's tentative title, is being developed by Tecmo Koei and will merge the world of Zelda with the fast-paced hack-and-slash mechanics of the Dynasty Warriors series.
The reveal trailer shows Link using his trademark sword, shield, and bombs while fighting off hordes of classic Zelda enemies in the manic Dynasty Warriors style.
Dynasty Warriors debuted in 1997 as a fighting game for the original Sony Playstation, but has since been defined by the third-person 3D hack-and-slash mechanics introduced in Dynasty Warriors 2 (2000, PS2). Like older 2D brawlers like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight, Dynasty Warriors pits a single hero against hordes of minions that can be dispatched by the dozen.
Dynasty Warriors traditionally features heroes from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a series of classic Chinese tales set in the turbulent Three Kingdoms era (169-280 AD) in China, albeit in a ridiculously exaggerated, anime superhero style. Instead of the slower block, parry, and swing mechanics that Link generally employs in the mainstream Zelda games, the swordplay in Hyrule Warriors will be upgraded to the more manic levels on par with other Dynasty Warriors titles.
This is the second time that Link has appeared in a Dynasty Warriors game. In Dynasty Warriors VS (2012, Nintendo DS), Link appeared as an unlockable costume, although he still fought in the Dynasty Warriors world.
This is also the second time that Tecmo Koei has produced a crossover title. In 2007, it teamed up with Namco Bandai to develop Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, which adapted the Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash engine to the massive mechs of the classic Gundam anime series.
What Hyrule Warriors means for Nintendo
Hyrule Warriors will be an interesting game for Nintendo for two main reasons.
First, most gamers still feel a sense of loving nostalgia for Nintendo's classic characters, even if they favor Sony or Microsoft consoles. Second, one of the biggest complaints about Nintendo is its lack of third-party software support.
Today, nine out of Wii U's top 10 selling games were published by Nintendo, with the notable exception being Ubisoft's ZombiU, which comes in eighth with 570,000 copies sold worldwide.
The top three spots are predictably occupied by a trio of Mario and classic Nintendo-themed games -- New Super Mario Bros. U (2.68 million units), Nintendo Land (2.62 million units), and Super Mario 3D World (730,000 units).
Nintendo, which is highly protective of its flagship characters, knows that people usually buy a Nintendo console to play Nintendo games. Therefore, it has adamantly refused to develop games for other consoles featuring its classic characters.
Developers, on the other hand, have been burned by Nintendo in the past. Some of Nintendo's staunchest allies in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Square Enix, Capcom, and Konami, abandoned the gaming giant after the N64 cartridge debacle in 1996 and cast their lots with Sony instead.
Developers also look at the top selling games for the Wii U and wonder why they should bother developing games for the platform, when Wii U gamers are apparently just obsessed with all things Mario and Zelda.
That's where Hyrule Warriors comes in -- it's a game developed by Tecmo Koei, a third-party developer, but the game takes place in one of Nintendo's trademark universes. It's an interesting approach -- rather than develop games for other consoles, Nintendo is inviting Tecmo Koei to put its iconic, nostalgia-inducing characters into new environments.
It's a win-win situation -- the third party developer creates a "Nintendo" game on the Wii U, which could generate more sales than a regular title, and Nintendo gets additional third party support.
The 'Link Effect'
Namco already did this a decade ago with the fighting game Soulcalibur 2, which featured Link as a playable character in the Gamecube version.
The Xbox version featured the comic book antihero Spawn and the Playstation 2 version featured Heihachi, a character from the fighting game Tekken. How much of an impact did Link have on Soulcalibur 2 sales back in 2003? Take a look:
Total U.S. consoles installed as of 8/2003
U.S. sales of Soulcalibur 2 from 8/2003-12/2003
Sony Playstation 2
Considering that Nintendo had the least installed consoles at the time and still sold the most units of Soulcalibur 2, it's safe to say that featuring Link in a third-party title significantly boosted sales.
Electronic Arts also recognized the potential of putting Nintendo characters in its games, and featured Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach as playable characters in NBA Street V3 for the Gamecube in 2005.
Since then, there haven't been any third party titles featuring the main Nintendo characters in playable roles -- until Hyrule Warriors. Although this could simply be a rare experimental project for Nintendo, it could have some fascinating implications for other third party developers, if it proves to be a hit:
What if Nintendo allowed EA's DICE studio to develop a dizzying, first-person version of Mario, based on the Mirror's Edge Parkour engine?
What if Square Enix, which developed Super Mario RPG in 1996, developed a new Super Mario RPG with the engine of its modern Final Fantasy titles?
What if Nintendo crossed over with Capcom to produce a Nintendo vs. Street Fighter fighting game, similar to Street Fighter X Tekken?
What if Nintendo allowed Ubisoft to develop a Zelda title, where Link can free run across rooftops and sail pirate ships like in Assassin's Creed?
Those possibilities, while seemingly absurd, would allow Nintendo to keep its own characters exclusive to its console, decrease the amount of heavy lifting it does for both software and hardware development, attract third-party developers back to the Wii U, and breathe new life into its core franchises, which are being worn out by endless refreshes of Super Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., and other party and sports games.
A final thought
It's obvious that the Wii U is struggling -- the ailing eighth-generation console has only sold 4.49 million units worldwide since its launch in November 2012. By comparison, the PS4 and Xbox One, which both launched last month, have already respectively sold 2.37 million and 1.84 million units.
Nintendo has already flatly refused to develop games for rival platforms, although CEO Satoru Iwata acknowledge that the company "might be able to gain some short-term profit" as a result. However, Iwata believes that deciding to go third party, as its former rival Sega did in 2001, would ultimately be disastrous for the brand.
Therefore, with the release of Hyrule Warriors, Nintendo may have found a comfortable middle ground, which could be a win-win situation for both the company and third party developers.
What do you think, dear readers? Will Hyrule Warriors usher in a new era of innovative crossover titles for Nintendo? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!
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