The land of Hytopia has been thrown into despair thanks to an evil witch who has cast a spell on Princess Styla, forcing her to wear drab clothes. Now the inhabitants of the world are petrified of wearing anything stylish out of fear of the witch, and the Princess has locked herself in the castle, ashamed of how she looks. King Tuft puts out a decree asking for heroes to step up and take on the evil witch. The heroes must meet very stringent requirements, and they must have: pointy ears, rugged sideburns, and hair parted to the side. As it turns out, you’re just one of the many heroes the kingdom needs.
In Tri Force Heroes, a group of three players must infiltrate the Drablands to clear the 32 dungeons and vanquish the evil queen’s minions in the process. There are 8 different dungeon types, such as forest, fire, ice, and water, and each zone has 4 dungeons. The first dungeon in each set will have a set of secondary weapons that each player can choose from. These will be familiar to veterans of the Zelda series and range from the boomerang to the bow and arrow to bombs, to name a few. Sometimes all three heroes will be have the same item, and other times it will differ depending on the dungeon puzzles that await.
All three players will need to work together to solve the vast array of challenges found throughout the game. This can be difficult if playing online since there isn’t a voice chat option. Instead, players communicate through small panels on the touchscreen. Pressing the same panel over and over again will make the icon grow bigger, which can signify urgency, frustration, or even trolling. At first blush, this way of communicating with your teammates may seem archaic and unnecessary, but the clever way the dungeons are designed and the required cooperation with one another makes it an essential tool for success. It can cause frustration and introduce an artificial level of challenge that wouldn’t exist if voice chat were implemented, but the feeling of accomplishment when a puzzle is solved is heightened thanks to the limitation. Plus, history shows us that Nintendo is very conservative and doesn’t like to allow strangers to voice chat with each other, so this was probably the next best solution. In addition, it adds a sort of charm to the game that would otherwise be absent.
Each play session progresses the same way in co-op mode. You team up with two others (there has to be three players total to start) either online (the game supports any combination of friends or strangers) or offline (other players don’t need to own the game). Once all three players are in the lobby, each stands on a piece of the Tri Force and is whisked away to a dungeon type that has four parts to it. At the end of the fourth is a boss that, once defeated, will yield three treasure chests. Each player opens one and inside is usually a material that can be used to create new outfits. These can be worn in the dungeons and awards the players special status boosts. For example, one might give a player larger bombs, whereas another will upgrade the bow and arrow to a triple shot.
Tri Force Heroes is a true co-op experience. Everyone shares the same health bar, so if you think you’re being funny by throwing your friend into a pit, you’re really just hurting yourself and the team. All rupees collected are pooled together as well. Unlike 4 Swords, this Zelda game is all about solving puzzles to progress. The game uses the sense of verticality throughout. Many times an enemy is higher off the ground and out of reach of the sword or subweapon, so a player must lift another onto his shoulders and that person will then be able to damage the monster. Lifting one Link may not be high enough to reach the baddy or switch; so then the players must perform the Totem mechanic. To do this, one player picks up another, and then the remaining player comes over and picks those two up; so all three players are stacked on top of one another. The bottom player controls all movement, and the top player deals the damage with his sword or subweapon. If this sounds a bit chaotic, it is. But, it’s also a great deal of fun; especially when fighting bosses that require this type of coordination to win.
You do have the option of going solo through the entire game. Since all of the dungeons are designed around three players, you will have to take charge of your character plus two dolls called Doppels (doppelgangers). You can only control one at a time unless you are in the Totem pose, then you have control of all three. Switching between the different heroes is easy, but the timing and coordination required for one person can be daunting, especially in the more difficult dungeons. It’s obvious that single player was an afterthought, and a bit disappointing that Nintendo couldn’t have come up with some different challenges for this mode to make it more inviting. As it is, some people will have a good time with this, but I don’t think most will enjoy it, as it’s too cumbersome and can become extremely frustrating. If you’re looking for a single player Zelda game, this is not the one to buy.
In the castle town are various shops. The main one that you’ll be visiting the most often is Madame Couture’s business. It’s here that you can exchange the materials found in dungeons for new outfits. She’s quite the character and her dialog is extremely funny. Outside her shop is a street vendor that is selling the same materials that can also be found in dungeons. His stock changes on a regular basis, so if you haven’t been lucky enough to get the materials necessary for an outfit, you can keep checking in with him to see how much he’s selling it for. Visit the Photo Bro shop to get a camera and take pictures of the top screen’s action. You can then post those screens to Miiverse. There’s also a treasure chest mini-game shop where you can select one to open, with the hope that it has a useful prize. You can open one new chest every day, so keep checking back for the opportunity to snag something worthwhile. There are the usual NPCs around town that give hints and add a little flavor to the story.
Tri Force Heroes isn’t like a normal Zelda game. It’s designed so that you’ll want to replay the same dungeons over and over again to acquire the loot necessary to create new outfits. Granted, there are 32 different areas to explore, but some of them aren’t all that large. I think most people will be able to experience all of the various dungeons in about 5 or 6 hours. Keep in mind that new challenges are added to each dungeon, so things do switch up a little bit. Also, since you’re playing with other people most of the time each play session could be a different experience from the last.
Tri Force Heroes looks and sounds amazing for a 3DS game. The music is delightful to listen to with real instrumentation and some fantastic original tunes. All of the traditional sound effects of past Zelda games are also here to complete the package. The 3D effect of the graphics is especially pronounced thanks to the top-down view. Small touches, like birds flying overhead, fire embers floating about, and the verticality of the stage designs really showcase the unique aspects of the 3D graphics. Everything runs silky smooth, assuming there’s no latency in the online connection. The art style fits the game wonderfully, and the non-playable characters in the town all have over the top personalities to go with their exaggerated looks.
Tri Force Heroes is a great game that’s super fun to play if you have the ability to grab two friends and play locally or hop online. As a single player experience it leaves much to be desired and loses much of its appeal. There’s enough to do in the game to make it a worthwhile purchase and the charming graphics, ridiculous story, and spot-on game mechanics make it a memorable experience. It doesn’t take the place of a full-fledged Zelda experience, like A Link Between Worlds, but it’s a nice offshoot that’s worth a look.