Despite fans often complaining about how long it takes Nintendo to develop a new Legend of Zelda title, the iconic series has quickly become one that has a yearly release schedule. Sure, these yearly entries may not be new console offerings, but spinoffs such as Hyrule Warriors and remakes of past games keeps the series on store shelves year-round.
With there being a new Zelda game every single year, it’s easy to feel burnt out on one of gaming’s most critically acclaimed series, as the main structure hasn’t changed since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in 1991. For better or for worse, the latest installment is a spinoff that offers up some much needed change. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes no longer has players exploring an interesting world, instead focusing on over 30 co-operative, bite-sized dungeons.
As someone whose favorite parts about The Legend of Zelda series were the exploration and discovering a new world, this new focus on dungeons was initially disappointing. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the series’ iconic dungeons, but they always served as a great change of pace. Now, rather than being one part of a winning design, it’s the bulk of the experience. This is either a good or a bad thing, depending on what you love about Zelda.
Even if the challenge of 30+ dungeons doesn’t sound super appealing, you’ll be happy to know that each dungeon is fantastically designed. Each of the three players will have to work in tandem in order to succeed, and it’s nice to see a game developed around co-operative play, rather than it be tacked on to a single-player experience.
The reason why the co-operative element ends up backfiring at points, however, is due to the game not allowing voice chat while playing online. Instead, players can use a small selection of emoticons (which are adorable drawings of Link in different poses) to communicate. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t work well. Imagine having to tell a loved one that they had to do a complex task, but you could only use the emojis on your phone. That is about how efficient the communication system is here.
Since Tri Force Heroes does require all three people to play their role, it means progress can grind to a halt when one player is confused or is unsure about how to solve a puzzle. Instead of other players being able to explain what they need to do, everyone is bombarded with frustrated pictures of Link popping up on their screen. It ends up making the game feel more hectic than it should be, and that your partners are heckling instead of helping. A bad set of partners will turn Tri Force Heroes into a miserable experience, and one that offers up zero enjoyment.
All of these issues are unique to the game’s online matchmaking, though. If you’re lucky enough to have two other friends that own the game, then you’ll be able to circumvent a lot of these problems (even if you have to use something like Skype to communicate). Once everything gels in Tri Force Heroes, it really starts to feel like something special. Three players working in unison in order to achieve one common goal is a beautiful sight, especially when the core gameplay is just as fun as the excellent Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
Online play with friends isn’t a perfect experience, though. In the majority of the matches I played, I ended up running into some sort of lag that would make the experience less than ideal. It often wasn’t for more than a few seconds, but it’s annoying when there are so many timing based puzzles to solve.
The best way to play The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes would be local multiplayer, but it also requires that you have two friends that own a 3DS. This will probably be a great game for schoolchildren, but adults will likely have issues trying to make the stars align to make local multiplayer a reality. The good news is that only one person needs to own Tri Force Heroes, as it’s one of the few Nintendo 3DS titles that supports download play. Sadly, I wasn’t able to check out the local multiplayer personally, but that’s just a drawback of having a job and a busy schedule.
There is also a competitive multiplayer mode called the Coliseum, which acts as a deathmatch between the three heroes. This is a fun diversion, and one that is very much needed after playing dungeons for hours on end. Players will rush around the level to pick up an item, and then have to use that to take out their opponents. I never really appreciated how well the combat in Zelda worked until playing in the Coliseum. It may not have the depth of the main campaign, but it’s definitely a mode that people will come back to.
If there is one part of the package that won’t be played often, it’s the single-player. While it’s nice that Nintendo tried to retrofit a multiplayer game into one that could be played by just one player, it just isn’t fun. You’ll have to control all three heroes by themselves, and even the simplest of levels become a hassle to play.
Thankfully, there are several reasons why fans will want to check out the multiplayer time and time again. This is largely due to the fantastic outfit system that the game uses. Players earn materials after completing each dungeon, and can use these materials to craft new outfits. These outfits give Link different abilities (such as firing three arrows instead of one), and keeps the game feeling fresh. Plus, you can even unlock a Tingle outfit, so what’s not to like?
Additionally, you’ll unlock different variants for the 30+ dungeons after completing them. These variants include time trial like challenges, beating a level with a limited amount of hearts, and dragging an orb throughout a level. It would be a lie to call these challenges a lot of fun, but they are certainly better than playing the exact same dungeon repeatedly. Completionists will have 128 dungeons to complete which amounts to a content-filled package.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is a strange game to review. So much of its fun requires good partners, and just a single bad egg can turn the experience into a complete nightmare. If you have two other friends that are willing to take the plunge into Hyrule with you though, then you should definitely pick it up.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with for review.
There are glimpses of a fantastic game in The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, but you'll have to play under specific circumstances in order to experience it.