Wanna play the best Zelda puzzle game released this year? Then get Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
Sure, that innovative Wii U offering doesn’t feature Link, the Tri Force or the ability to carry around a bomb in your back pocket, but it did begin life as a Zelda title. Also, it’s utterly fantastic.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is merely fine and relies far too much on formula for my liking. Even as an exercise in fan service, I wish it had followed the example of Nintendo’s mushroom-headed hero.
Four swords and fist fights
The first thing you should know about Tri Force Heroes is that it’s a sort of sequel to 2005’s The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. That top-down co-op title was the first ever multiplayer Zelda, and one of the most frustrating games imaginable.
For starters, playing Four Swords at full-pelt demanded the kind of investment even Donald Trump would baulk at. That meant connecting four Game Boy Advances to your Gamecube, each via a separately sold GameCube-to-GBA link cable. Unless your friends were huge Ninty fans, they wouldn’t have the kit to get involved.
Worse still, by rating each player on the amount of rupees they’d amassed at the end of each level (rupees that you could steal by swiping a teammate with your sword) Four Swords actively encouraged its participants to turn on each other at every given opportunity. So how ill-tempered the game could make you? I once punched my brother in the face while playing it.
Sure, I regret this now. At the time? Not so much.
Link up online
Mercifully, for the sake of familial relations everywhere, Tri Force Heroes builds on the stuff that was good about Four Swords and relocates it to the Nintendo 3DS using the slick engine from A Link Between Worlds. The bits where four Links were forced to band together and think their way out of a fiendish dungeon.
This time, you quest as a trio and can link up with players online, as well as locally and in single player mode. It’s easy to find someone to play with, even if you’re the only one in your friend group/Stuff HQ with a Nintendo 3DS. And what of it?
Crucially, every player is rewarded with an item of treasure when they complete each of the game’s 32 levels, which are comprised of four separate stages. This treasure can be then be used to make costumes for your Link that bestow you with special powers. The Goron Garb, for example, allows you to swim in lava. A handy trick, given most people are allergic to it.
Out of fashion
All this talk of costumes and dressing up brings us to Tri Force Heroes’ saddening plot. Boil this game down and it’s a series of challenges that you solve by using classic Zelda items, like the bow and arrow and hookshot.
Do you need an epic tale of good versus evil to string these challenges together? No. How about resorting to everyday sexism to do the same? To state the obvious, no.
As you may well know, a lot of Nintendo games use women such as Princess Peach and Zelda as means for men to do their heroic schtick. In the worst case scenarios, these women often exist because they need to be saved… and that’s it. Tri Force Heroes rubs salt into this egregious trope via the curse that is bestowed upon Princess Styla: she’s forced to wear an ugly black onesie. The kingdom of Hytopia is aghast and her father, King Tuft, requests that you set her free by making her beautiful again.
Granted this treatment of women isn’t as explicit as what’s bestowed on the mute, bikini-clad Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V, but it still hits a clunking bum note. Especially, when you consider that Tri Force Heroes is a kids game, and will influence how young boys and girls see the world.
Stuck? C’mon, you know this puzzle
So when it comes to its story and the items you use throughout it, Tri Force Heroes is very much a traditionalist Nintendo game. Unlike Captain Toad's aforementioned foray into adventure, where your inability to jump completely changes how you navigate across a series of Mario Galaxy-style worlds, this title leans heavily on pre-established Zelda mechanics. If you already know that boomerangs can grab stuff from a distance and unlit pyres should always meet with fire, then you won’t have much trouble getting to grips with things.
The challenge comes when you team up with other Links online and, in this respect, Tri Force Heroes is kind of groundbreaking. Aside from this year’s Splatoon, the house that Miyamoto built hasn’t really done games that rely on an internet connection for you to get the best from them, and that shows here.
Partly because co-op gameplay can be a lot of fun. When each of your team’s Links has a different weapon and you’re all working in unison to slay a boss, there’s a real sense of achievement once you’ve put them to the sword. One that I haven’t felt from another Zelda game.
Since the only way to speak to your teammates is via some Link-themed emoji, communication can be troublesome. In my fight with the giant snake thing, Blizzagia, one dimwit I was playing with insisted on walking straight up to it and walloping away at its bonce. Because all players share the same hearts, we were immediately obliterated.
All I could do in response was furiously bash away at the sadface Link emoji. Sure, this is funny enough the first time it happens. As for the fifth? Well... for you maybe.
For the most-part, online play in Tri Force Heroes is predictable but fun. Having played the game on public servers it didn’t take too long to match with players and I only experienced a few drop offs during my time with the game.
In addition to traversing the game with strangers, you can also play local multiplayer with 3DS-owning friends. They don’t even need to have bought a copy of the game themselves to join (Tri) forces with you and play all the courses available. As mentioned, being Billy No Mates and all that, I didn’t get the chance to try this mode for myself. With the ability to scorn your teammates in person, I can imagine it’s the best way to enjoy Tri Force Heroes.
Single player certainly isn’t, as you’re forced to cart around with two inanimate ‘Doppels’. Although you can switch between these characters using the 3DS’ touchpad, they have no AI of their own meaning you usually have to repeat the same actions with each of the three heroes. Time-based challenges are also a lot harder when using the Doppels, as you’ll waste precious seconds switching between characters. For this reason, I gave up on a lot of these tasks and came back to them in multiplayer where they were a lot less odious.
Tri Force Heroes knows its single-player mode is a drag and that’s why it’s contained to a small side-room next to the main multiplayer arena. Right from the very off, you’re prompted to play with real life humans. Even if they are sitting on the other side of the world from you.
Zelda: Tri Force Heroes verdict
Nintendo has now tried to crack the co-op Zelda nut twice, and I’m no more convinced it’s a good idea than I was when playing Four Swords Adventures.
Several of Tri Force Heroes’ issues, chiefly its casual misogyny and humdrum single-player mode, are either unnecessary or well worth avoiding. Cut out these shortcomings and the game you’re left with is fundamentally OK. Voice chat would make online multiplayer a smoother experience and some real attempts to mess with classic Zelda mechanisms would make it a lot better.
Good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as The Wind Waker or A Link to the Past? No. Some heroes are best left to quest alone.