Review: The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (Nintendo 3DS)

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: 10/23/2015

When The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes was first announced, the general fan response seemed to be tepid at best. And understandably so. Fans were waiting for any news of the Wii U version, and having a multiplayer centric Zelda title as the followup act to A Link Between Worlds was a little underwhelming. Still, I was excited to play it simply because the Four Swords series of titles were fun to play with friends and this seemed like something that could build off of that experience. However, while there is fun to be had here, the number of missteps will turn away all but the hardcore fans.

Tri Force Heroes takes place in the land of Hytopia, a place where fashion is prioritized above all. One day, Princess Styla, is afflicted with a curse by a witch known simply as “The Lady” which permanently fastens an ugly brown suit to her body. Rather than do the reasonable thing and become accustomed to wigs and wearing other clothes over the top of this suit, the king sends out a call for heroes to try and break the curse. But only if they dress like a hero, of course.

The premise is dumb and silly, and the game certainly knows it. That being said, it still managed to work its way into the official timeline (it comes after A Link Between Worlds), which may irk some of the diehards considering the Four Swords titles at least tried to put together a serious narrative. Still, it’s merely window dressing to the adventuring at hand and you’ll quickly forget about it as soon as you put together a crew and go.

The gameplay should be very familiar to those accustomed to the 2D Zelda titles. The B button will attack with the sword and can be held for a spin attack. Any items such as bombs or arrows are assigned to Y and will drain a magic meter when used. If you talked to a photo bro in town, X will take screenshots that can then be uploaded to Miiverse for sharing purposes (not entirely useful, in other words). There’s no dodge/roll, although you can dash with either L or R.

Where Tri Force Heroes sets itself apart, aside from being a three player game, is with the totem ability. The A button will allow you to pick up one (or both) of your comrades, not unlike the Disgaea games, and stack up in order to reach new heights. The Link in the middle won’t have much to do aside from being able to throw someone, but the player on the bottom can move the entire totem while the top Link can attack and use items. This ability factors heavily into the game’s many puzzles and boss battles as only by being stacked up will you be able to scale higher places or attack weak points that would normally be above you.

Tackling the game’s eight worlds composed of thirty two stages is a lot of fun as a co-op experience. The game can be played online or locally, even if someone doesn’t own a copy of the game by way of download play. Once everyone is connected, each player picks a costume and a choice of stage, and off you go. The stages vary in rewards as well as which items will be necessitated in getting around, plus handicaps can be enabled for additional challenge, such as restricting sword use or carrying a chalice like the Gamecube’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. If everyone can’t reach a consensus, a roulette wheel will determine where you go and under what circumstances, and you’ll be whisked away to your destination.

Now, when the pieces fit, they fit well. When players know their roles and are able to act accordingly, the game is a blast. And players DO need to know what they should be doing, as health and fairies (lives) are shared among all three players, so it only takes one person to screw the whole thing up. Which is why the lack of any kind of voice chat, or at the minimum, a way to type to your fellow players, is all the more aggravating. You get a selection of emotes that range from “Come here!” to “Item!” and the only way to let your partners know what to do if they’re clueless is to hammer on one of them until it clicks. Sometimes it doesn’t. A lot of times, it doesn’t. And if someone leaves mid-game or happens to disconnect, you get a handful of rupees and are forced back to the lobby. You don’t even get to wait on someone to fill in the lot. There was one instance where one online partner wanted to collect all the rupees in an area while another wanted to move on and suddenly I was stuck in the middle of who to side with. I chose to continue on, so I carried the rogue player to the end, threw him on his spot, and we moved to the next area. He sabotaged the match by quitting right before the boss.

This sort of thing happens a lot, which is a shame if you don’t know anyone else who owns the game. Match made players have a habit of disconnecting if the stage that was selected doesn’t have the items they want or if they get impatient with you or one of your other partners. That’s assuming if people didn’t bail because the connection was laggy to begin with, which is all too frequent with Nintendo games. So what you’re left with is either to play locally with two other folks, or by yourself. There is strangely no middle ground here either. Unlike Four Swords Adventures that would give control of unused Links to other players, it’s all or nothing here, which is absurd.

Speaking of the single player, it’s atrocious to the point where I cannot recommend even bothering with it. As odd as it sounds, despite playing all of the same stages as multiplayer, the lack of additional comrades really kills the experience to the extent that it becomes a chore to play. All Links not in active use by the player are lifeless dolls that can be switched to on the fly, but they don’t move on their own. At all. Rather than follow the player on command, they either have to be individually moved or carried to the destination. There were some puzzles that I couldn’t even figure out how to do with just myself, which led me to skip segments of the stage with a lower chance at rewards. That’s right, the game lacks so much confidence in your ability to complete it alone that you can beat the game just by skipping every level.

Replayability comes in the form of obtaining components to craft every costume in the game. You earn materials by completing stages, buying them from vendors, or winning them from a treasure chest game. Once you have enough materials and rupees, outfits are craftable that range anywhere from Tingle’s attire to a cheerleader’s outfit. They’re not entirely cosmetic either, as they may offer advantages in terrain or items utilized in a particular world, which is neat.

For the competitive folk, there’s a Coliseum located in the basement of the castle. This mode will match you up with other players in a fight to the death for a chance at items that you’d normally have to complete an entire stage to earn, but only if you place at a certain number. Outfits can be worn, and items will be strewn around the battlefield to be used, though they’re not all the same, leading to some players having an unfair advantage based on their placement on the map. It’s fine for what it is, but not a mode I would expect anyone to invest a fair amount of time in.

Many of the assets in-game were borrowed from A Link Between Worlds, which is just as well considering how sharp that game looked. The 3D effect isn’t utilized nearly as well in this title though, so if you were looking forward to having that enabled the entire time, you’ll be underwhelmed. The music is top notch as always though. I especially enjoyed the little touches such as having classic Zelda tunes play when you’re bouncing a ball around between matches.

I don’t want to say that The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is a bad game, because it’s not. It’s merely a mainstream franchise putting out a spinoff that appeals to a very niche set of its fanbase. If you know a couple of buddies that have this game and you have some way to chat online or better yet, can play in person, you’ll have a blast with this game. On the other hand, if you were hoping to play the game alone or with strangers online, you’ll find that the experience is far more trouble than it’s worth.

Short Attention Span Summary
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes attempts to recapture the magic of the Four Swords games by dropping a player and adding an online component. It mostly fails in this endeavor due to its limited communication online, unstable connectivity, and awful single player experience. However, if you have two friends that have this game or are willing to go in on it with you, there are some good times to be had. It’s just a shame that with a little more polish, Tri Force Heroes could’ve been something truly special.


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