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

Triple the fun, or triple the headache?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 11/03/2015 09:00 5 Comments     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Wonderful presentation, including a brilliant localization; Multiplayer is fun when it works; Stacking mechanic offers some fresh takes on classic Zelda puzzles
Poison Mushroom for...
Single player is tedious; Poor communication tools for online interactions; Solo multiplayer battles are barebones affairs

I want to be like all the other cool gaming journalists and put a big old tagline at the top of this review that says something like, “Tri Harder,” “Tri, Tri Again,” “Tri-umphant,” and so on, but… that would be annoying. So instead, I’ll just say that The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is an okay game. Which is really disappointing, because Nintendo has already proven that it can do an outstanding multiplayer-focused Zelda game when it released Four Swords Adventures on GameCube back in 2004. Tri Force Heroes scales the action down to three players as opposed to that game’s four and introduces an entirely different control scheme, to mixed results. While it does have some of the good traits of its predecessor, this is an imperfect experience, at best. Tri Force Heroes was brimming with potential, but sadly it fails to deliver on it in any meaningful ways and feels like a step backward as a result.

If nothing else, Tri Force Heroes is utterly hilarious when it comes to its narrative. Link is summoned to the kingdom of Hytopia, a fashion-obsessed realm under siege by the evil witch of the Drablands (see what Nintendo did there?). The witch, consumed with jealousy over the style-forward Princess Styla, curses the young girl to be stuck in an irremovable (and really tacky) head-to-toe bodysuit, and threatens to do similar things to anyone else in Hytopia who wishes to be fashionable. Link arrives on the scene in a side-splittingly terrible outfit, ready to save the day. It’s an intentionally light backdrop that suits the game well given its multiplayer focus. Unlike conventional Zelda titles, there is no massive, open world to explore. The game takes place entirely within Hytopia Castle and its surrounding castle town. From the castle, players choose between solo and team play (more on those in a second), where they then select different missions/stages to embark on in the Drablands. It’s not unlike the stage progression of Four Swords Adventures, and given the arcade-like qualities of the main quest in Tri Force Heroes, it fits. The hub world, though small, also offers a handful of shops and characters to interact with, which was a nice touch, though admittedly slight on activities to engage in.

There are two ways to play Tri Force Heroes: solo or with two other people via local play or Wi-Fi. Single player replaces live teammates with mannequin-like creatures called Doppels, who look a lot like Link wearing a Shy Guy mask. The player can switch back and forth between the three Links by tapping on their corresponding tiles on the touch screen; when one Link is active, the other two are lifeless Doppels. Oddly, Tri Force Heroes leaves the two Doppel Links motionless when the player isn’t actively using them. This means a lot of tedious back and forth on the touch screen, tapping in and out each Link to position them wherever they need to be at a given moment. Stacking the two Doppels on top of Link like a big totem pole (which is the central control gimmick of the game) helps minimize some of the monotony, but there are plenty of actions that require a single Link, or even just two, so there’s no real way of avoiding manually swapping between characters constantly.

The design team has already gone on record as stating that Tri Force Heroes wasn’t meant to be a solo outing, and it shows. While I did garner some satisfaction out of arranging the Links to solve puzzles, the frustration of the Doppels’ immobility greatly diminished my enjoyment. It’s hard to fathom why the solo play is so mediocre when Nintendo already nailed it perfectly eleven years ago; a more competent and elegant solution for controlling multiple Links was utilized in Four Swords Adventures on inferior (by comparison) hardware. I’m not pitting the two games against one another, but the disparity between the titles is glaring and can’t be ignored, and even played in a vacuum Tri Force Heroes is obviously hampered by this design shortcoming. I’m also not saying the controls don’t work, but rather that they’re clunky. Luckily, combat and item use is as satisfying as previous Zelda games, but it’s not enough to distract from the title’s other problems. With so much of the gameplay centered around teamwork, solo players should be warned that completing Tri Force Heroes alone is doable, but expect to have less fun doing so. I want to mention that I initially had a good time with the game’s solo online multiplayer battles, where up to three Links can slug it out against one another and there’s no teamwork, but the mode isn’t very deep and quickly lost its appeal after a few matches.

When joined by two other players, Tri Force Heroes is a much funner experience. The tedium of Dopple-swapping is gone when teamed with two live bodies, allowing the vision of the design team to shine brightly. This is most true in regard to the puzzles in the game, with many of which requiring players to take depth into consideration in order to solve them. Observing if a switch is at the height of two versus three stacked Links is a common dilemma, and it even factors into engaging enemies, lending a deeper sense of strategy to combat than the average Zelda game. That said, communication can be tricky when playing over Wi-Fi. Whether with friends or strangers, there’s no real way to give specific instructions to companions, which can sabotage especially nuanced segments of gameplay that demand quick alternations between being stacked and moving independently. There are panels to tap on the touch screen that offer simple dialogue prompts to shoot to teammates, but they ultimately don’t have enough utility to replace the most obvious solution, which is a chat function. Funny enough, 3DS has a built-in microphone, Nintendo…

It’s such a shame that Tri Force Heroes falls as short as it does. The game has a brilliant presentation, making wonderful use of the engine that powered A Link Between Worlds to offer a gorgeous, vivid take on the overhead perspective of classic Zelda titles coupled with a catchy (though somewhat standard) soundtrack. The addition of costumes is another pleasure of Tri Force Heroes; I loved dressing Link up in both practical and outlandish digs, and they imbued a feeling of customization that I’d be welcome to see more of in future Zelda games. Yet, despite its shiny exterior and its moments of genuine bliss when the cooperative gameplay comes together in perfect harmony, too often Tri Force Heroes is marred by a lack of foresight on the part of the development team. Swapping Doppels is a chore, and communicating with players using limited, often uninformative scripted dialogue prompts scuttled far too much of the fun for me. For the best time with Tri Force Heroes, I strongly recommend gathering two buddies in the same room, but that will do little for those who can’t or don’t want to. I applaud how Nintendo attempted to do something new with Zelda multiplayer, but Tri Force Heroes is a pale shadow of the company’s own previous efforts. It’s worth a play, but this is a rare Zelda game that will leave most fans underwhelmed.

5 Responses to “Review: The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)”

  • 1561 points
    penduin says...

    It’s too bad they didn’t put in some formation shortcut stuff like Four Swords Adventure – solo players will be understandably annoyed.

    I always play online with strangers. Sometimes, somebody has a crap connection and everything lags. Sometimes, someone quits and a few minutes of progress vanish into a small pile of pity rupees. But most of the time, it’s great fun. Working together to solve puzzles and conquer bosses with limited communication tickles my brain in all the right ways. Without comparing it against an imagined what-could-have-been, I like the game that’s here.

    Now, if this was the first “Zelda” release in ages and there were no others on the horizon, I might be a bit upset with it. It’s only tangentially related to the kind of play one expects from a Zelda title. (Federation Force, are you listening?) But as it stands, I’m enjoying Tri Force Heroes. I hope to see some of you Dojo folks online!

    • 1561 points
      penduin says...

      As I’ve gotten to the later levels, I’m sad to say my satisfaction with Tri Force Heroes has taken a dive. My trouble isn’t with the game itself, but with players who quit the moment things aren’t going our way, or when the level they wanted isn’t chosen.

      If I want to finish the game, I might have little choice but to try the lousy-sounding solo mechanics. It’s a shame; I was having a lot of fun throughout most of the adventure.

  • 0 points

    This was the first Zelda title I ever skipped getting on release or within the first week anyway. After this year’s E3, I thought this game might be weak. The review confirms this, not a real Zelda title in the truest sense of the word. I’ll get it sometime later, but will probably just leave it sealed. Have to have the collection complete after all. Hope we get another handheld original Zelda, but with the NX coming and all the rumors who knows? By the time the new console Zelda is out it will be around five years since the last one.

  • 459 points
    Drew Ciccotelli says...

    Do you think if there was no solo option at all this game would have been better scored?

  • 0 points

    It seems that Nintendo is just jumping on the latest trend, which I hope does not continue to the point where there are no solo campaigns. I read that the latest call of dookie on the 360 and PS3 has no campaign at all, just multiplayer; while the PS4 and X1 have the campaign. Kind of like Destiny and Titanfall and all these other games where you have to pay to play. I’m not down on people that want multiplayer online, but don’t take away a solid and lengthy campaign which seems to be the current trend. It’s becoming far too common and is just a scam to make more money.

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