Over the weekend Nintendo e-mailed some codes to try out a demo for the upcoming Tri Force Heroes on the 3DS. Since it contained a total of three codes, I figured I could get two buddies together online and we could try it out together. Unfortunately the online friend mode was not yet operational, so we each played with a group of strangers. I must say, in spite some technical hiccups I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed my time with the game.
Upon booting up the demo I was thrown into a room with a few NPCs that I could chat with. They gave me the essential information I needed to ready myself for the adventure ahead. Talking to the gatekeeper allowed me to connect to the Internet to team up with two other lucky demo recipients. This process was extremely quick, but not always successful. The first time I connected, the game moved in super slow motion and it took me a good minute to just exit out of the game. The next time was much better, but throughout the night I had several issues with the game skipping frames and sometimes just outright giving me an error connection and booting back out. This could be due to the stress test nature of the demo rollout, sort of like what Splatoon experienced before it launched. I just hope the bugs are ironed out before the game releases this Friday.
The final version of Tri Force Heroes will allow for several modes of play. You can tackle the game alone. You’ll still have two other Links with you, but they’re more like rag dolls that you can switch between to solve puzzles. You can play locally with two other friends and they don’t even need to own the game, which is a fantastic deal. Unfortunately you do need two other people to play locally as the game does not support a two-player experience. However, if you’re playing online you can, for example, play with a friend that has the game and then the third player can be a random hero.
The demo had three different dungeons to explore: Buzz Blob Cave, Bomb Storage, and Fire Temple. At first glance the game will remind players of Four Swords, but it plays very differently. Instead of being a competitive experience, Tri Force Heroes requires all three players to help each other out every step of the way. In fact, all three participants share heart containers, so think twice before intentionally throwing someone off a ledge into the lava pit below. All of the dungeons are very heavily puzzle-based. There is verticality to many of the puzzles that will require some thinking to solve. One of the new mechanics this time around is called the Totem. How this works is someone picks up another player, and then another player picks him or her up, so the heroes can be stacked three high. Some ledges can only be reached in this manner, and other things like switches or even enemies will need to be dealt with in this way. One boss we fought had a tail to slash with a sword, but his tail would move up, requiring teamwork to deal damage.
At the beginning of each dungeon there are three pedestals that have different weapons for the players to pick up. Of course, there’s often a bit of a race to get the weapon you like to play with. One wrinkle is that before entering the dungeon, each player gets to choose what to wear, and most of the garments have special abilities. For example, one might give you the ability to shoot three arrows instead of one, another might allow for a powered-up slash attack, and yet another might allow you to find more hearts. During my play sessions I often had the armor that gave me triple arrows, but the other two people playing didn’t realize this, and often would take the arrows before I could get to them. This left my special ability useless for the duration of the dungeon.
Even the most careful of planning could be deemed useless in the online multiplayer mode since there is no voice chat. So there’s no way to talk strategy before, during, or after the experience. This isn’t as bad as it may seem because there are eight icons on the bottom screen to communicate to the other players. You can simply tap on one to get their attention. These range from things like “Over Here!” to a thumbs up, to a totem icon, and the one that I used a lot, the shrugging shoulders “Oops, sorry” icon after I made mistakes that cost us hearts. Pressing the same icon over and over will make the icon grow to show importance. This is a charming and fun way to communicate to the other on your team, but can still lead to mild frustration.
In one instance we stood around a block for three minutes with two people trying to push it and the other not paying attention running around the screen spamming “Item!!” over and over again. That was a hair-pulling moment that I experienced. I wanted to reach through the 3DS screen and slap the other player. Where’s my “HEY!! LISTEN!!” icon when I need it? Since the players aren’t confined to a single screen, one nice addition to the game is that if you tap another player’s icon on the bottom screen (called the Hero Panel), the camera will move over to him or her and you can see what he or she is doing and can even offer up suggestions to help out.
Despite some of the frustration, I must admit I had way more fun with Tri Force Heroes than I ever expected. The game went from “I might pick it up on sale” to “I have to have this right away”. The complete reliance on co-op puzzle solving is so refreshing when compared to the basic stuff found in Four Swords. If you encounter people online that refuse to play nice, you can add them to the Blacklist and James Spader will make sure they are never heard from again.
The audio video presentation is superb. I know the game uses a version of A Link Between Worlds’ graphics engine, but I feel the art direction looks a bit more refined this time around. Also, the 3D effects are glorious. I really liked the Fire Temple and seeing the little fire embers floating above the screen, giving it a sense of depth not seen in most games. The top-down view works wonders with the 3D effect turned on and the dungeon layouts and puzzles use the depth of field to a great extent. The music is also superb. As much as I loved A Link Between Worlds soundtrack, this one sounds even better. Most of the music has an orchestral sound to it and the instruments really sound fantastic despite the 3DS’s limited speakers.
I’m really excited to try out the final game and to see how it holds up with local play, which I think could be a different experience altogether since everyone can yell at each other. At that point I think the icons on the bottom would be used to just troll one another. Although, I think an even smarter design decision would be to completely remove the icons and replace them with something else when playing locally. Then again, maybe that’s the case, as I haven’t yet had the chance to try that out. Another aspect to the game that I am really curious about is its focus on fashion. At the end of each dungeon is a treasure chest with some material. Collecting the right pieces will allow you to create new outfits, each with special powers that can make playing the same dungeons fresh again. The quest for new loot has bitten me before (Destiny and Diablo), and I know how addicting this aspect of gaming can become. It wasn’t fleshed out in the demo, but I hear it can be quite fun to try and unlock all of the outfits. Look forward to a review shortly after release.