The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes Review
While a title like New Super Mario Bros. can successfully toss multiple players on-screen without changing what experiencing it will be like for a solo player, Nintendo has always seemed to struggle to have the same success with Zelda.
Four Swords was a tidy little spin-off, and while it is in many senses a follow-up from the wonderful A Link Between Worlds, the most important thing to note about Tri Force Heroes out of the gate is that this game is more a sequel to Four Swords than any other title in the Zelda series - even if it draws its visuals and item mechanics from the other 3DS title.
The second most important thing to note about Tri Force Heroes, then, is how successful it is at providing this multiplayer experience while also having a solid single-player offering - and the answer to that one is far more complicated.
The long and the short of it, however, is that alone, Tri Force Heroes just isn't as good. In fact, without friends, it drops steeply to the lower end of the Zelda series in terms of quality.
Even the presentation of this title seems built to drive home this point. While there is a typically whimsical Zelda story about a kingdom in distress, the game doesn't feature the sprawling overworld or item-based progression.
Instead, it offers up numbered levels in a series of different dungeon locales, each gradually getting more difficult and each reached via a teleporter in the aforementioned Kingdom's castle. Every few levels there's also a boss, which again draws from the well of classic Zelda enemy tropes. It's all deceptively simple.
Rather than rent weapons as in A Link Between Worlds, weapons such as the familiar bombs and bow and less traditional Water Rod and Fire Glove are offered up at the start of an individual level and are lost once you complete it. Players can also only hold one item at a time, with the equip/unequip mechanic and menu familiar to Zelda fans removed.
After the simply-structured opening levels there's usually three different items. Each of the three different Links must pick one and then deploy it in whatever way the puzzles require while working with the others.
Green Link might lay down a bomb, for instance, while Blue Link will then use the boomerang to pick up the bomb and send it flying across a gap. Together, the two can accomplish something they couldn't alone, since they can only equip one weapon. As in ALBW, weapons don't have infinite use and are governed by a generously-recharging meter.
The multiplayer focus drastically adjusts the pacing of the game, with the only thing left to break up the actual dungeon action heading down to the limited shops in the castle town to adjust your costumes.
Costumes are a major part of this title, with the player tasked with dressing up in different suits that often make you look a bit silly but also offer up significant gameplay bonuses. The game doesn't actually expect you to remain in Link's iconic tunic for long.
The Big Bomb Suit does exactly what you'd expect, for example, making Link's bombs larger and more powerful. Another suit levels up Link's bow skills, allowing him to fire three arrows in a spread, shoot-em-up style - and so on.
Each suit has different properties, and one of the main modes of progression in the game is earning enough money and collecting enough loot to pay the game's built-in fashionista to create you something new and useful.
While the concept behind it is a little offbeat, the execution is fun with some great little bits of character design around the suits themselves. They also inject a much-needed additional layer of strategy into the game, with suits essentially required reading to make some of the later, more difficult dungeons in the game viable. As with weapons, each Link will want to approach with an area of speciality and therefore a suit to match - and it adds quite a bit of nuance to this otherwise stripped-back experience.
The final big co-op driven addition to the Zelda set up is 'totem time', a mechanic which sees one Link pick up another and then, if you so wish, the third picking up both of them, making for a three-Link-tall stack. A Link Between Worlds made great use of depth throughout its dungeons, and here this is put to the test in a different way.
In early dungeons, a full size stack of links may be required to fire a bow at a switch on a high plinth - that's the most simple example of this mechanic, but as the dungeons progress things of course get more absurd and extreme.
Everything I'm describing plays incredibly well as one would expect from a Nintendo title, but everything should also be quite obvious in just how multiplayer focused it is.
In what I view as a misstep, Tri Force Heroes isn't even two-player friendly. You need a full crew of three or else you'll be playing on your own. It's strange, and while this age of online play makes finding a complete set of Links to crew up with much easier, Nintendo's often backwards online systems of course don't help this situation.
When alone, you essentially take control of all three Links at once, switching between them by hitting their icon on the touch screen. This works well enough, and creates an interesting multi-angled approach to some traditional Zelda puzzles. Some that are timing based - such as hitting three switches in more-or-less unison - are of course a touch more difficult when playing alone.
Sometimes it just gets tedious. Imagine a situation where you both have to Totem up to hit a boss, but also need to hit a boss with two different weapons in order to open him up for real damage - a proper Zelda Trope.
Alone that means you have to: Pick up a Link, Switch Link, Pick up the other Links, Use the weapon in the Totem, Drop a Link, Switch Links, Pick Up a Link, Use the other Weapon - it just isn't ideal. The other Links turn into inanimate mannequins who can't be damaged when they're not in use, but the whole thing does still end up a touch frustrating.
It all works. It's hard to really, truly level a complaint against Tri Force Heroes even when playing alone. It's competent and well crafted - but the truth is that Tri Force Heroes is undeniably less fun when alone.
Not only is it less fun than when you're playing with people, but something about the tedious micro-management of three different Links feels inherently less fun than what one has come to expect from the Zelda series.
The most fun to be had with Tri Force Heroes is when sitting in a room with several friends, where you're able to chat with and hurl a bit of abuse at your compatriots to give instructions (indeed, some mechanics such as shared health seem designed to incite friendly abuse between players), something the rudimentary pre-set communication emotes don't quite allow on the same level.
It's second best online, the puzzles slowly worked through with other real people. It is at its worst when alone, but even at its worst, Tri Force Heroes is still pretty good - just perhaps not by Zelda standards.
If you're looking for a substantial solo Zelda experience with narrative and deep progression, Tri Force Heroes is not that game. If you just enjoy Zelda puzzles a lot, or enjoy multiplayer twists on familiar formula, it's an easy recommendation. Just be sure to understand what you're going in for before you pick this up.