Can three Links really prove to be better than one?
If A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS offered a bold new approach to The Legend of Zelda series with its sprawling overworld and open-ended gameplay, then Tri Force Heroes takes the core mechanics from the 2011 reboot and runs in a whole new direction.
Of course, that direction is one the Zelda series has dabbled in before, but it’s never been quite so streamlined. Tri Force Heroes takes advantage of the 3DS’s trio of multiplayer options and makes it quicker, easier and more fun than ever to play a game of its kind with your friends.
Online multiplayer is arguably the staple here, and it allows you to connect with two friends — or strangers — to take on the game’s plethora of challenges. It’s a shame Nintendo made the decision to region-lock this aspect, but providing your friends have systems and a copy of the game from the same region as yourself, you’ll have no trouble.
Another decision on Nintendo’s part that’s generated a certain amount of negative buzz around the game is its lack of voice chat. But believe me when I say that I never once felt frustrated or annoyed due to a lack of communication with my fellow adventurers. Actions truly speak louder than words here, and each level’s intricate puzzles are designed meticulously with co-operative play in mind. On the touch screen are a selection of commands, which you can quickly tap to display an on-screen prompt to all of the players. “Over here!” and “Totem!” — which refers to the state of the characters when they’re all stacked on top of each other — and “Nooooo!” are just a couple of shout-outs, and each is a worthy replacement for the alternative. Nobody wants to be yelled at by an angry child when you sweep up all the rupees for yourself, after all. In fact, even while playing locally I found myself using the bubble commands more often than verbally communicating with the players who sat beside me. It’s simple but effective fun!
While we’re on the topic of local multiplayer, Tri Force Heroes undoubtedly handles this better than any other handheld game to date. If two players each have a copy of the game, they can both meet up online and search for a stranger to join as a third wheel. Sadly there’s no way to play with just one friend with a single copy of the game; however, when you gather up two friends and a trio of 3DSs, the three of you can set off for adventure with just one cartridge. Those without a copy of the game needn’t feel short-changed, as it gives the option to partake via Download Play and save progress to the SD card — which can then be imported into the full game should your friends decide to purchase it at a later date.
As we’ve already established, Tri Force Heroes is far from a conventional Zelda game, and this is further conveyed in its level structure. The core gameplay takes place within the Drablands, which can only be entered via the Triforce Gateway in Hytopia Castle. You must enter this world in pursuit of the Drablands Witch, who’s cursed the land’s beloved Princess into a horrendous, irremovable outfit; and as her name, Styla, implies, fashion plays a huge role in both Hytopia’s culture and Tri Force Heroes’ gameplay.
Entering the Triforce Gateway will present you with a menu, offering a selection of areas each based on common locations within the Zelda universe. Each “world” has four levels to choose from, while each level is split up into four stages. The stages feature bite-sized slices of pure Zelda gameplay, often with a focus on either puzzle-solving or action-based challenges, while boss fights at the end of each world will push your team to the limits, encouraging clever thinking to utilize each of the game’s co-operative mechanics throughout. Returning items such as the boomerang and bombs are joined by a handful of new items, which continue to spice up the formula by opening up more gameplay options and presenting additional unique solutions to puzzles.
At the end of each level, you’re rewarded with rupees and certain items which can then be spent and used as resources in Madame Couture’s store. She’s a zany character, and one which represents the delightful dialog and stellar translation efforts seen throughout. As her name suggests, she’ll use your resources (and hard-earned rupees) to craft one of many unique outfits for Link. Put Link in the Legendary Dress and enemies will drop more hearts, making it easier to survive in the Drablands. The Kokiri Clothes power-up Link’s bow, while Tingle’s Tights are just plain creepy! Although Tri Force Heroes seems to pander to a younger female audience — especially following Nintendo’s recent comments — it opens up another level of strategy when it comes down to deciding on an outfit for each level.
I have a lot of praise for Tri Force Heroes. In fact, the biggest downfall only raises its head while playing alone. As the Triforce Gateway may only be entered by a trio of heroes, solo players will have their souls split into three parts, and embedded into two lifeless wooden Doppels. Unlike in Four Swords, where the three “spare” Links were controlled by AI, it’s the solo player’s job to switch between the three via a tap of the relevant Doppel’s avatar panel on the touch screen. This often proves fiddly. In fact, the New Nintendo 3DS’s C-Stick can be used to move the camera in place of the D-pad; it would’ve been nice to have the ability to switch characters with a push of the ZL or ZR buttons, but alas that’s not possible. And the levels, which are otherwise fantastically designed and paced for a team of heroes, start to feel cumbersome as you fight with the touch screen to find where you left your Blue Link. I’m adamant that some stages are impossible to complete when going solo; I recall the Volcano’s boss being a source for frustration in particular. This is somewhat alleviated thanks to the three Fairy bottles you’re given in a particular level — intended to be used as extra lives, or 1-ups, single-players can use them to skip up to three of the four stages within a level. Yes, it works, but it undermines the insane levels of satisfaction that can be derived from solving puzzles and conquering the bosses with a couple of friends.
On the contrary, when things start to go wrong and your team gets wiped out by a particularly fiendish boss, tensions can begin to run high and it’ll start to feel like even your fellow adventurers are against you. In this case, the Coliseum is quite possibly the place for you. It pits you against one or two fellow heroes in one of eight battle stadiums — each based on a different Drablands world. You’ll start with your trusty sword and duel it out before picking up bows, bombs and other power-ups to help you on your way. Extra challenge is thrown in the leader’s direction, with a foe not dissimilar to the Smash Bros. series’ Master Hand ready to wipe him or her out in a single hit should they remain stood in a single place for more than a couple of seconds. As with a typical fighting game, the player who retains the most hearts in the allotted time is deemed winner. It’s not an experience worth writing home about by any means, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall package, and it serves as a fun distraction away from the Drablands’ main offering.
In terms of aesthetics, Tri Force Heroes certainly looks and sounds the part. The visuals are crisp and clear throughout, while dynamic lighting is used to great effect — from shiny ice levels to ash from a nearby river of molten lava floating across the screen. If you’re one of the few remaining advocates of the 3D screen, you’ll be pleased to hear that the added depth often proves handy when it comes to navigating some of the tighter platforms.
All in all, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is certainly one of the quirkiest Zelda games to date, and it’s all the more fun because of it. Gathering two friends and three 3DS systems to play the game as the developers intended is less than ideal, but oh so worth it when it comes together, and for the times when that’s just not feasible, hopping online and joining strangers is a worthwhile alternative. It’s true what they say: Three Links certainly are better than one.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes for Nintendo 3DS debuts in Japan on October 22, 2015. It will launch one day later in North America and Europe on October 23, 2015.
Review copy provided by Nintendo