The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes promised a gleaming mixture of the pitch-perfect gameplay in A Link Between Worlds and the cooperative nature of games like Four Swords Adventures. The result is a finely-crafted series of 3D Zelda dungeons that you can fully explore with your friends. And you’ll need some support on your journey as well, because much of the game revolves around clever puzzle designs that utilize the power of three formidable heroes. Despite a few odd bumps along the way in terms of story and online communication, Tri Force Heroes boasts a lot of longevity to its name, thanks to the excellent level design and a rewarding collection system.
There’s really no other way to say this: the story in Tri Force Heroes is extremely bizarre, especially for a game in The Legend of Zelda canon. The game takes place in a fashion-obsessed kingdom called Hytopia, in which the great Princess Styla has been cursed to forever wear some kind of dopey black jumpsuit. So not chic! Your goal as the hero is to traverse the Drablands and remove the curse, so that both Princess Styla and the kingdom can prosper as a result. This whole setup leads way to some dialogue between characters that can only be described as lovably weird at times and uncomfortably awkward at others. Although it’s a nice backdrop to the addictive costume creation component that makes the game really excel, it often felt like quite a vapid and materialistic motivation for completing dungeon after dungeon. Luckily, Tri Force Heroes more than makes up for it in the gameplay department.
Aside from the humble hub world of Hytopia, each location in the Drablands is comprised of four levels made up of several different puzzle rooms. The rooms are quite bite-sized in nature, making it very feasible to move through dozens of them in an afternoon. It’s nice to experience this almost streamlined version of Zelda dungeons in a way, because it lets you move right into the heart of the action. The environments themselves are all welcomed Zelda staples, including the riverside, volcano, and ice cavern, to name a few. Your reward for clearing each level is a random piece of material, which can then be used along with a sum of rupees to make a number of unlockable costumes. Creating new outfits is one of the game’s biggest rewards and becomes surprisingly addicting very early on. Not only does wearing a costume offer specific bonuses, like more heart drops or faster swimming, but most look simply dashing as well!
A successor of sorts to A Link Between Worlds, Tri Force Heroes makes great use of the same fantastic play style and top-down view point. The three-hero dynamic is used wonderfully to solve many of the game’s environmental puzzles. One of the most important elements in progressing through the game is stacking the three heroes on top of one another to create a moving totem pole: this allows the player on the top of the totem to use his/her weapon to trigger elevated switches or be tossed onto high ledges. The dispersal of weapons also turns out to be an interesting twist to the gameplay, as certain areas will find only one player with a bow and arrow and the other two with bombs, requiring an extra level of coordination as to who is responsible for which elements going forward.
Everything in the game has that sweet blend of puzzle and action gameplay that The Legend of Zelda series is known for, even in this more straightforward version. The boss battles are a particular high point, with fun and exciting designs and rewarding strategies used to defeat them. There is a heavy emphasis on replaying previously completed areas to acquire more materials needed to make new and better costumes. Thankfully, Tri Force Heroes accentuates this design choice with the expertly implemented Drabland Challenges, which are unlocked for each area upon defeating its final boss. These challenges consist of three separate tasks per level, which ask you to do everything from completing all areas with significantly reduced hearts or within a specific time limit.
The multiplayer co-op is seamlessly integrated into the experience, both local and online, and you can easily communicate with fellow players and form strategies directly in a level by tapping on one of several emotive expressions, such as “Use Item!” or “Totem!” However, some of the more difficult sections will leave you wishing for a more direct means of communication with your teammates. There were a few times when I was a little slow on the uptake as to what my team needed to do next to proceed, and their constant spamming of the “Use Item!” emotion and subsequent “Nooooo!” were just not specific enough and did little to actually point me in the right direction. When you want a break from adventuring (or need to let out some steam), there’s also a PvP coliseum mode that provides some frantic fun and a chance at earning exclusive materials.
For you lone wolves out there, you can also complete the entire game solo by utilizing the help of two “Doppels,” stone-like doll companions that stand in for the red and blue hero, respectively. Managing the Doppels can take some getting used to, as you’ll need to constantly swap between the three using icons on the touchscreen, and things can feel a little slow during puzzles and hectic during boss fights. However, it’s still nice to turn to this mode on occasion whenever you get a bit too frustrated with the multiplayer’s wavering communication components.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes largely accomplishes what it set out to do. A light, action-adventure puzzle game filled with memorable moments of cooperation and dependency on your teammates, the short and straightforward missions work wonderfully well with the multiplayer design. Despite a story setup that borderlines on bonkers and streamlined communication that just isn’t enough at times, it is the core action gameplay, exhilarating boss fights, and addicting costume creation that makes Tri Force Heroes one gleaming fashion accessory to your library of 3DS games.
Joe Jasko is a game critic.