The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is a multiplayer-focused Zelda game for the Nintendo 3DS. If you want more information on what Zelda games typically are, please check out my other reviews of Zelda games. I’m going to assume you either have done so or know you about the Zelda series in general. The basic story is that you reside in the land of Hytopia, where fashion is an important part of the culture. The princess is seen as the pinnacle of fashion in the kingdom. However, a jealous witch casts a spell on the princess that forces a magical body suit onto her body which cannot be removed. It’s worth noting that this is not a very fashionable item. So it’s up to the three chosen heroes to go work together in order to assemble a legendary outfit, defeat the witch, and break the curse.
The gameplay is similar to other entries in the Zelda series. You fight enemies with a sword and some type of secondary weapon, solve puzzles in the environment, and defeat bosses. However, Tri Force Heroes focuses heavily on teamwork. You will need to work both independently and cooperatively with your two teammates in order to overcome these obstacles. Sometimes you are all given the same secondary item, which can be bombs, a bow, a water rod, or many other things. Other times you will all be given different items. This means that sometimes you are all able to the same things while other times you’ll each have your own jobs to do. This creates a need to coordinate in order to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. Who should distract the enemy and who should attack? Who should do one part of this puzzle and when? It adds an interesting little piece of freshness to the combat and puzzles of the series. Along with having a few items unique to the game, the new mechanic here is the ability to pick up and throw your teammates. You can have a stack of two or all three of you. The person on the bottom controls movement and the top can use their item. Any person carrying another person also has the ability to throw them. This is used to attack enemies, hit switches, cross gaps, and get onto ledges at different heights. This technique is woven into the battles, the puzzles, and generally traversing the levels, but that’s not the only new addition.
The game is split into eight main areas. Each area consists of four levels. Each level consists of four stages. The areas have an overall theme to them, such as water, forest, fire, etc. Generally the second level of each area ends with a mini boss and the fourth level with a main boss. The four stages of each level are continuous and cannot be individually selected. In the first stage of each level every character must get a secondary item before advancing. This indicates that the following stages will focus on using those specific tools to conquer. At the end of each level there will be three chests, one for each hero.
In these chests are randomized materials, typically two of one kind and one of another. You can bring these materials to a shop in town to make outfits. You’ll usually need a number of different materials and some rupees in order to create these outfits. These outfits can be selected at the beginning of each level and give you some special perk. They can do things like give you more health, power up one of your items, or make rupees appear more often, and much more! You can also get a few that will buff your teammates instead of directly affecting you. It adds another interesting layer to the gameplay trying to strategize what you should use in conjunction with your team and the given level. These materials can also be obtained through a daily mini game of opening chests or purchasing a daily rotation of materials from a vendor in town. You can also get materials from completing challenges. After completing an area you will be able to access the challenge versions of the levels in that area. There are three challenges per level, each with their own variation on materials to win. These challenges can be time trials, transporting an object, popping all the balloons in the stages to advance, and more. This adds some interesting replayability to the levels and gives you more opportunities to take advantage of different outfits as well.
The one other way to get materials is to fight people in the colosseum. There are some materials unique to this mode. This is basically just a place to go head to head in death battles with other players online. You pick an area, pick your outfit, and fight. The winner gets the loot. There are some extra rare gold materials here as well, which means you’ll have to play a lot to collect them all. There’s also the ability to get the friendly token material from playing local multiplayer, but you can also buy these materials in the shop in town.
I mostly played the single player campaign, and it obviously has its own pros and cons. It’s generally easier to do puzzles alone rather than trying to juggle responsibilities and communicate solutions with others, but it’s much more difficult to try and coordinate a boss battle by yourself than having each player hold their own. In case you’re curious on how it works, in single player you only control one character at a time, but you have the ability to switch between two lifeless statues called doppels. Each one gets their own item, just like in single player, but you can only control one at time. You can lift them up and form the iconic totem stack of the game, but it works a little differently. While in the stack, you must control the character at the bottom of the totem in order to move. However, hitting the item button will allow the top character to use their weapon at this time. As for throwing characters, the currently selected character will do the throwing regardless of the stack order. So the gameplay, fights, and puzzles are the same. They just take a different approach when you’re alone. After you complete the main campaign a whole new area opens up to really test your skills. It’s about the size of the entire game and was added as a free update. This area consists mainly of difficult battles with mobs of enemies, as is a staple in many Zelda games.
I like a lot about the game. It’s built on the A Link Between Worlds engine, so it still uses the stamina system implanted there. The visuals are very vibrant, the sound effects are satisfying, and the music is catchy. The presentation and polish on this game is superb. The interesting tactical spin on planning your outfits for the challenges and items ahead is nice. The new combat and puzzle challenges with the totem technique are a good change of pace as well. The progression of getting new outfits is cool and the amount of content here is pretty impressive. Plus, the ability to play it online makes it the best attempt at a multiplayer Zelda game to date. I’d also like to mention that not only are the levels well-designed around action and puzzles separately, but they also combine the two in a really good way as well. There’s a lot here to not only get you hooked on the game but to keep you playing it for hours and hours. It’s definitely pretty good for what it is.
However, I think that’s the main problem. I mean, I think the story is dumb and a lot of the dialogue is near cringe-worthy, but those are easily forgivable. The overall experience of the game just feels lacking for a Zelda title, at least to me. Exploration, one of the biggest draws to the franchise, is practically non-existent here. There are a few small branches in levels that you can wander off to, but these areas generally only yield chests filled with rupees, which can be found on the main path anyway. There’s also a lack of compounded progression. You can get more and more outfits as you go through the game, but you don’t really become stronger. You don’t get more hearts or a collection of equipment or anything concrete. You get more and more outfits which give you more possibilities, but you can only select one at the start of a level. You can’t switch on the fly or anything. It’s just more possibilities.
The challenges can be pretty fun, but some of them are downright annoying. By yourself, some of them are incredibly more difficult as well. You can use the skip feature to advance past a difficult stage, but every time you use one of these skips one of the materials at the end is replaced with rupees. If you plan to go through all the challenges then that’s replaying every level in the game four times, which is a bit much. Also consider that if you don’t happen to get the materials you need from the random chests at the end then you might be forced to go back and play the levels even more times over, which isn’t helped by the skip function since it removes materials and decreases your odds of getting anything with each use. The game gets incredibly tedious in this regard. It’s very addictive, but it’s very tiring. I often found myself wanting to play the game more to advance to more levels and get more outfits, but I got sick of replaying the same levels over and over with annoying challenges just to get more materials. It’s either that, or wait for it in the daily riches shop and the street vendor in town by chance.
What I’m going to say about Tri Force Heroes is that it’s probably for a more specific audience. If you like the idea of multiplayer Zelda combat and puzzles, replaying stages over and over with new challenges, or just liked what you’ve seen of the gameplay, then go for it. There’s lots of content here and if you’re into it, you’ll love it. However, if you’re more of a traditional Zelda fan looking for a good single player experience filled with progression and adventure, look elsewhere. Basically, even if you’re a big Zelda fan, unless you are truly very interested in the idea of this game, I can only recommend paying twenty bucks or less on it. It’s interesting and fun, for sure. There’s lots of content and the polish is fantastic. But at the end of the day, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes just isn’t the next big Zelda game we were all looking for.