The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes for 3DS is one of only a small handful of multiplayer Zelda games. Its unusual mechanics and irreverent tone definitely mark it as a spin-off rather than an essential installment in the series. Tri Force Heroes attempts some things that no other Zelda games have tried, to mixed results.
All Zelda games star a reincarnation of Link, a green-clad, pointy-eared hero who battles evil (often Ganondorf) and (usually) seeks to aid Princess Zelda and protect the mystical Triforce. Tri Force Heroes takes place right after The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and actually stars the same Link incarnation. Ganondorf and Zelda do not appear in this title at all, which is fitting considering how different the gameplay is from most Zelda games.
The story takes place in Hytopia, an extremely fashionable kingdom, where the Princess Styla has been cursed by an evil witch. Under the curse, Styla is forced to wear an unfashionable unitard. The king of Hytopia calls upon three heroes to come and fight the witch and break the curse.
Tri Force Heroes doesn’t have very many characters, and none of them are particularly interesting. But that’s okay. This is a game that focuses on mechanics above story. The dialogue is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is silly. There’s even a meme joke hidden in there.
Despite its laughing tone, I am unsettled by the way that, once again, a Zelda game’s lazy plot hinges on princess rescuing. I know, it’s supposed to be a joke, but I do not like the idea that making Princess Styla fashionable again is the equivalent of saving her life. Tri Force Heroes tries to poke fun at other Zelda games (which is fine), but it manages to simultaneously reinforce the idea that a woman’s value lies solely in the way she looks. It may not have been intentional, but it is cruel nonetheless to girls who are unhappy with their physical appearance, and so I can’t say anything positive about it except for the fact that it doesn’t waste much of my time.
I like the fact that you can wear dresses and skirts, despite playing a male character. None of the other characters made fun of me while I was dressed as a cheerleader—in fact, I only ever received compliments—so I thought it was a nice way to shake up some gender stereotypes. If Link had been the butt of a joke, it would have been less fun, but it didn’t feel that way to me.
Tri Force Heroes is incredibly familiar in some ways and very unusual in others. Your main lobby area is the small village surrounding the princess’s castle, where you’ll find a treasure chest game, a camera hut (where you can share pictures of your adventures in the Miiverse), a wandering salesman, and Madame Couture’s fashionable clothes shop. Despite the small size of this area, there are a number of cute Easter eggs hidden here and there to keep things interesting.
The game has you going out on adventures in the “Drablands” to collect items, battle bad guys, solve puzzles, and eventually defeat the evil witch. After you’ve defeated a level in the Drablands, you can go back and play it again with an added challenge, like finishing within a time limit or with half of the hearts. This makes replay somewhat more interesting—which is important, because this game involves a lot of replay.
Every puzzle requires three Links to complete, and you can play the game either online with strangers, online with friends, locally with friends, or by yourself with two dolls called “Doppels.” I played the game about half on my own and half with strangers online.
There are pros and cons to both methods. If I had a good Internet connection and a good team of Links, I loved the online play. For one, teammates all share hearts and rupees, so the motivation to help one another succeed is pretty strong. The only way to communicate with teammates is by hitting one of eight emoticons, and it is hilarious to watch teammates try to explain complicated concepts to each other with only such rudimentary tools. The emoticons Nintendo chose are excellent and simple, and they strongly encourage you to communicate with positive reinforcement. It is easier to tell a teammate when they are on the right track than when they are messing up, so it feels like you are always celebrating victories instead of bemoaning losses.
Online play was not perfect, though. For one, if either of my teammates had a bad Internet connection (which happened often), the game would stutter so badly that it became infuriating to play. Several times, one of my teammates would lose their connection entirely, and our progress for the entire level would be lost. This happened to me an astounding four times during the final boss battle, which was SO UPSETTING.
Also, you can’t play the level you want to play every time. Each teammate votes on the level they want and then it’s selected via roulette. I like this method for casual play, but it meant that I had to replay a lot of levels, or drop out of the room and feel like a jerk.
I imagine that playing locally with friends would have solved these problems. However, you need exactly three 3DS consoles in order to play locally. You can’t use Download Play with just one friend and recruit a stranger to play as your third. This is awful. What if your kid only has one 3DS-owning friend or sibling? What if they have three, making a group of four and leaving one player out? Restricting the number of players like this feels like an invitation for social drama, and I really hope that Nintendo changes this soon with a game update.
Every time you finish a level, you get to open a chest that contains a collectible item, which helps with the replay factor. These items can be given to Madame Couture in exchange for costumes, which give you cool powers in the Drablands like increased heart meters or a more powerful weapon. It’s a pretty good collectible system, except that it was hard for me to remember which items I needed at any time, and I felt like I constantly had to go back and check, which was annoying. I was craving a pause screen menu that would just tell me which costumes were one item away, so I could focus on collecting those.
Single-player gameplay was not as much fun as multiplayer, but it was good if I was somewhere without Internet or if I needed to play a specific level and I didn’t want to risk the roulette. The downside was that some of the puzzles are much harder in single-player mode, even with my ability to switch between the three Link-sized Doppels. Additionally, I had to fight the same number of enemies, which meant that battle sequences lasted way longer. Choosing between online play and single-player mode often felt like trying to decide which option annoyed me less.
Tri Force Heroes also has a battle arena where you can fight head-to-head with other Links. I didn’t really get much out of this mode. It came with all the Internet problems but none of the cool teamwork aspects, so it just didn’t draw me in. You can play this mode with just one other person, but it doesn’t work with Download mode, so the other player needs to own their own copy of the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is rated E for Mild Fantasy Violence. Players use swords, bombs, arrows, and other weapons to attack monsters. There is no gore. While there is online play, it is nearly impossible to communicate inappropriate messages to other players.
Tri Force Heroes is definitely a spin-off game, and Zelda fans shouldn’t feel guilty about skipping it over. It’s silly tone did not save its disappointing story, and it failed to deliver the nonstop satisfying experience that I’ve come to expect from Zelda games. However, when Tri Force Heroes is good, it’s really good. I adored playing cooperatively and watching my teammates communicate and encourage one another. For casual, Zelda-style puzzles and dungeons, Tri Force Heroes is a pretty good investment.