I enjoy disparate co-op experiences; video games where two or more players take on different tasks during play. The shining example from my youth was the title 8 Eyes, where my brother and I took on the roles of Orin the rogue and his falcon Cutrus. As Orin, my brother would wander the enemy castles, slaying monsters on foot with his trusty short sword. Meanwhile as Cutrus, I would fly around these gigantic rooms, diving at evil warriors with razor-sharp talons and discovering out-of-reach secrets for my human companion.
8 Eyes was such a departure from the usual co-op games of the NES, where most two-player options are reduced to whether I would play as the red guy or the blue guy. It was a fantastic change of pace to be working towards the same goal with different tools and objectives.
Other games have approached cooperative play in similar ways over the years. This is particularly true of the shooter genre, where my friends and I approach games like Halo with different weapons-of-choice and play styles. But so often these games boil down to using a limited number of tools from a shared belt. We all play as the same default character and work at singular tasks to make progress, often in the same tight corridor or arena. There is nothing wrong with this sort of game, but it is this sort of widespread similarity that makes the recent mash-up of Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors such a treat.
Hyrule Warriors shines as a couch co-op experience, providing fun “divide-and-conquer” gameplay. While two players can work at a single objective to achieve victory, the meat of the game is better tackled individually. Each player can focus on smaller in-mission tasks (conquer a base, defeat a particular enemy, etc.), which directly contribute to completing each mission more efficiently. As I use Link’s high damage swipes to take out singularly difficult captains in forts, my wife can use Volga’s area-of-effect flame attacks to clear entire platoons of enemies on the other side of the map.
This separated method of play is encouraged through the physical interaction with the game. Instead of splitting a single screen vertically to accommodate multiple players, each person has their own screen. The first player can be slaying waves of invading enemies on the Wii-U GamePad, while their comrade-in-arms can infiltrate enemy territory on the television screen. If any single objective proves too difficult for one warrior, a comrade can rush to their location, where each player will get a nice view of their teammate on their screen.
All of this fun gameplay is rounded out with a variety of characters to unlock, each of which has multiple weapons and costumes at their disposal. I mostly relied on strong sword attacks from Link and Impa to cut through my enemies, while Laura would use the magical abilities of Volga and Cia to cover the battlefield in a blaze of fire. Many of these attacks and weapons are callbacks to older Zelda games, which adds several moments of nostalgic sweetness to hours of play.
When Laura and I bought the Wii-U last year, we knew that games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World would provide us with plenty of cooperative fun. We spent the first few weeks playing side-by-side, working together to win races and bound through stages as feline versions of Princess Peach and Luigi. Now that we have had the console for months, we keep coming back to play Hyrule Warriors again and again, testing out new characters and trying to tackle A-Rank missions with a variety of strategies.