The Legend of Zelda has always stood out in the action-RPG genre thanks to its originality, both from a narrative and a gameplay point of view. Nintendo has always loved to experiment and offer new visions and versions not only of its famous hero, Link, but also regarding the setting and the game mechanics. In this long string of spin-offs we can add The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, an interesting game inspired by yet another alternative take on the concept, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, which debuted on Gamecube back in 2005.
While the main series has always been oriented to single-player, Four Swords Adventures before it and Tri Force Heroes are actually experiences that revolve around co-operative play, an interesting touch from the always inventive Nintendo. While it maintains a single-player component, a campaign characterised by a story as bizarre as it is comical, the true heart of Tri Force Heroes lies in its multiplayer which, as we discovered, provides many hours of fun, be it locally or online.
We opened this review talking about originality, something that has always been a feature of the series. And The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is absolutely consistent and in line with the philosophy that Nintendo has concocted for its famous saga. The game is set in Hytopia, a kingdom in which all citizens are obsessed with fashion, including Princess Styla, who has always inspired the people of this chic town with her impeccable sense of style. One day, the Princess receives a gift, that turns out to be a curse from a jealous witch, who imprisons her in a horrible black suit and tells everyone in the kingdom to stop dressing fashionably. King Tuft, father of Styla, is devastated by the resulting despair and enlists the help of a hero who can save her from the vile curse. While many have stood before him, unable to deliver the the desired results, now the king is convinced that the only ones who can fulfil a prophecy and save the princess and Hytopia, are the three legendary heroes coming together to form a totem, the three legendary coloured Links.
As you might have guessed, the plot of Tri Force Heroes is completely absurd and nonsensical, but it works perfectly in a game based on some rather special mechanics. The theme of fashion is, in fact, an important common thread throughout the adventure, because thanks to the various outfits that our heroes can wear, we get special powers that, used in combination with our fellow players, makes them very effective. To be able to manufacture these special clothes, the hero must recover the materials to craft them along with some rupees, that Link will either buy from the merchant in Hytopia, or receive as a reward at the end of the boss fight in each world (by choosing one of three chests).
In talking about boss fights, we've finally come to discussing how the game actually plays. Tri Force Heroes has two modes: the first one, of course, is the single-player mode - strictly connected to the plot of the game - and the latter, the most interesting, is the multiplayer co-op mode. Let's start with the single-player mode. Essentially, this acts as a tutorial, a way to learn the various tricks and tactics before we go adventuring with our friends in the co-op mode; but it's also a way to unlock the different worlds and levels (there's a total of 128) that we will face in the co-op mode, and to test our skills for when we are in a team.
We can access this mode inside Hytopia's Castle through the Match Master, where our buddies will be replaced by stone statues, which we carry around in the different worlds, or use to make the totems and place to solve various puzzles in the levels. Using the stylus and the bottom screen of the handheld, we can switch from one hero to another with great ease.
However, the real heart of The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is the multiplayer co-op mode, which is divided into two sub-modes: local multiplayer and online multiplayer. In both cases, the three players - each one playing a different coloured Link - pass through the different worlds cooperating with each other, and advance level after level up to a clash with the final boss of each world. Before entering the game, with a very similar system to the one seen in Mario Kart, players can select the world they'd prefer to play in, and they can choose the clothes and weapons that they'll take with them.
As soon as you enter the game it's evident how the main underlying mechanical element, the cooperation between the three Links, is vital to progressing in the game. First of all, it's crucial because all the puzzles you'll find in various dungeons require the cooperation of the three characters in order to form a totem and reach heights that would otherwise be impossible. Alternatively we need to be able to throw a friend across a crevasse in order to pull a lever or something similar.
The three Links share a common health bar, and it's critical that the three heroes proceed in a coordinated and careful way in order to avoid the dreaded "Game Over" screen. Therefore every action must be thought out and executed with precision, and the role of each player becomes essential for the proper completion of each level. This is far easier to accomplish when playing the game locally with friends because we're all there in the same room, while online communication is not nearly as straightforward.
If in our previous previews we were quite disappointed Nintendo's choice to not adopt party-chat (they instead opt for a simple system of emoticons), we have to admit that we are very surprised how well it works in practice. Indeed, we're happy to admit that, unlike our initial impressions and after several games played online, this mode is definitely a lot of fun. The icing on the cake, there is finally also an Arena mode that throws players into the only competitive part of the game, where we face our rivals in cramped and difficult areas, typically based around some kind of vertical design. Apart from the pleasure of smacking fellow Links around for a bit (as you can imagine the bouts are fairly frantic and quick), it also offers the opportunity to earn special materials.
Another aspect that helps make Tri Force Heroes an interesting proposition is that fact that it offers plenty of replayability. As we said earlier, one of the features is that we can unlock and then buy different clothes with different qualities. Thanks to these special abilities, the player has the opportunity to solve levels in alternative ways, plus they have opportunity to improve your score ,something that extends the hours of play exponentially.
Tri Force Heroes is undoubtedly an incredibly engaging, innovative and enjoyable game, however, even well made game has its flaws. First, to play locally, you have to have three friends, limiting your options when it comes to playing with only one friend, simply because you can't replace the missing third hero with the AI (which is possible online, as the third Link is replaced by a random player). Another downside, but one that's fully consistent with the nature of this particular game, the single-player mode is not as engaging as its multiplayer counterpart: perhaps the narrative is too far fetched, or maybe something's lost in translation. It's hard to tell.
That said, we were positively surprised by the newest Zelda spin-off. Beautiful, intriguing, tremendous fun, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is a great fit on 3DS, a much-needed breath of fresh air for the handheld. If you're looking for a classic adventure that draws from The Legend of Zelda series, perhaps you'll be disappointed. However, if you're among those who'd like to jump headfirst into hours and hours of fun with both local friends and online opponents, Tri Force Heroes might well be the experience you've been waiting for.