When you think of Nintendo, you probably think about big first-party franchises–Mario, Pokémon, Smash Bros. Perhaps you think about your first home console–be it the NES, N64, or GameCube. Or maybe you remember a childhood colored by the warm glow of their stellar portables like the GBA SP or the Nintendo DS–but certainly not the Game Boy, because god knows you couldn’t play that things without direct sunlight!
I’ll wager, however, that what you don’t think of is a compelling online multiplayer experience. From the Wii’s meager online offerings to the hassle of DS Friend Codes, Nintendo’s transition to the internet age of gaming was far from smooth.
In recent years, however, they finally seem to have hit their stride. The fact that Splatoon–not just a game with a thriving online community, but a Wii U game with a thriving online community–continues to be a fixture in my family’s gaming rotation really drives home the fact that, at long last, Nintendo gets it. Which, of course, brings me to the true topic at hand: new 3DS release Tri Force Heroes.
As Nintendo has taken great pains to point out, TFH takes The Legend of Zelda franchise back to the frantic multiplayer of Four Swords, this time with three Links adventuring side-by-side. But this is far from the only liberty the title takes with the ever-nuanced LoZ canon.
Tri Force Heroes takes place not in Hyrule, but in the fashion-forward land of Hytopia. When a witch curses Princess Styla–by giving her an unflattering black unitard, natch–her father, the king, solicits for the heroes of prophecy to travel to Hytopia and right this most unattractive wrong.
I’ll pause here to specifically point out that, while humor is by no means absent from the Zelda franchise, several of the core titles have tried for a darker, more serious take on the lore. While that’s all well and good–different strokes, and all that–I personally adore the lighthearted approach of TFH. As a matter of fact, this games manages to wrap up a number of my very favorite things (adventure gaming, humor, and clothes) in one tiny package. So, of course, I love it, right?
Well, sort of.
Never a company to overlook the importance of the single-player experience, Nintendo essentially presents Tri Force Heroes as two different games. The basic premise, a team of heroes working together to traverse multi-level dungeons, remains the same throughout, as do the basic tools.
At the start of these dungeons, each of the three Links must choose from three available weapons. Sometimes the choice is simple–there’s no debating it when you’re presented with three identical Bows. If the choice is more varied, however, like two Boomerangs and a Water Rod, it’s every man for himself in a race to get his preferred armament.
Each weapon type is used strategically both in offense/defense against your enemies and to aid in the often complex puzzle-solving required to unlock the Triforce gate that moves the characters from level to level. Bows are great for activating out-of-the-way switches, Boomerangs can actually be used to pick up and carry your partner characters to your location, and everything from the Fire Gloves to Gust Jars can be used in innovative ways to help get your team where it needs to go. Much of this hinges upon the ability to pick up (or be picked up by) your fellow Links totem pole-style, assuring that the right tool is in the right spot to achieve the right result.
After successfully traversing the entire dungeon, characters are offered three treasure chests, one for each player, containing helpful crafting items. These items are used to unlock additional outfits, which in turn affect the way in which your Link performs. From giving your Boomerang or Bow a boost to protecting you from environmental hazards, each serves to supplement gameplay in a meaningful way. It’s also just kind of adorable to see three Links decked out in the exceedingly pink and frilly Legendary Dress, which allows more helpful hearts to be discovered in the destructible jars and grass, slashing away at enemies.
Tri Force Heroes plays best with two friends, or even two strangers, using their own copies of the game. Matchmaking, even during the limited windows afforded to us reviewers, was solid, stable, and responsive. There’s also the option to play with others locally using Download Play, which rather cripples the clothing options (and related buffs) for your two hangers-on, but still makes for a fun play-through.
It’s only in the dedicated single-player that Tri Force Heroes‘ enjoyable sheen fades. In this mode, you control Link and two lifeless Dopples, but the catch is you can switch control between the three characters on the fly using the touchscreen, swapping your consciousness from one form to the next. Don’t get me wrong, this mechanic works… it just doesn’t always work well.
Trying to coordinate movement and action between three individuals without any means of voice chat–all you have are a few quick-comment icons on the touchscreen allowing you to celebrate success, call allies to your location, or, in my case, apologize for accidentally tossing someone into bubbling lava–is challenging in a fun way. Trying to do it on your own, though, with two deadbeat dummies, is less so. Which brings me back to my previous premise, that TFH is, in fact, two very different games: a really clever collective puzzle-solving action experience, and a veritable gauntlet of split-second decision-making and frantic character management.
If the former sounds enticing for you, and if you have the itch to try adventuring through this screwball world with two more mute protagonists, Tri Force Heroes is where it’s at. If, instead, you were looking for another glorious LoZ single-player experience, you’d likely do better to look elsewhere.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America