Sweet Jesus, where do I start? Maybe with the fact that I’d feel a lot better about this game if it weren’t a full priced 3DS game. If it weren’t for the flimsy excuse for a story that were attached, I might have thought that this was a tech demo or an early Alpha at best. It’s not that the game has any technical faults, that’s not the problem here. It’s that everything else, from the design to the “story,” couldn’t have been phoned in any harder if they’d brought in Russel Crowe to pelt you with literal phones while you played. Lame puzzles, a completely disconnected world, and a multiplayer experience that’s more frustrating than the single player mode – in a game designed to be played by multiple people. This is the worst thing to happen to Zelda since Hyrule Warriors.
And Hyrule Warriors was just an assault on the senses.
Let’s start with the story – it’s terrible and short, so this won’t take long. The Legend of Zelda (LoZ) has a real sense of urgency to its stories, even in its silliest iterations; there’s a cataclysmic or apocalyptic something that demands your call to heroism. You’re the embodiment of the Hero of the Tri Force, a spiritual force that’s incarnated to save the world from the most terrible of evils. Tri Force Heroes saw that narrative bar and limbo’d so far beneath it that it scraped new storytelling lows. The story can be surmised as thus: A fashion witch made a pretty princess not pretty anymore, by cursing her to wear a crappy looking onesie, and that’s made the kingdom sad. I’d fill you in on the equally unfulfilling ending, but I think you can probably figure out what happens.
Not to get all SJW up in this shiz-nit but one could argue that the game might have been aimed at young female gamers this time around, what with the large focus on costumes and fashion. That’s fine, and I’m totally okay with that as a design concept, especially since the costumes are actually tied into the gameplay design (don’t get too excited, I’ll get to that soon.) Whether intentional or not, it seems a bit on the nose to at the same time dumb down the story to be “the princess isn’t pretty anymore – make her pretty.” The only saving grace of the story is that it’s not solely the female characters who are so vain and vacuous – everyone in this kingdom is equally superficial, so… That’s something?
Much like the story, Tri Force Heroes’ design takes a rough approximation of what a Zelda game should be and drains all the fun from it until only the lifeless husk of your beloved series remains. Do you want puzzles? You got puzzles! Not the awesome, adventuring kind of puzzles that are contained in a large area and overlap to create one big puzzle that feels satisfying to solve – no, no, none of that. Each “area” is broken into four levels; each level then contains four chapters – three puzzle levels and a boss. These smaller chapters are like the single room puzzles near the start of most LoZ games that are designed to introduce you to the game controls and mechanics. You’re even given the exact items you need to complete the level right from the start of each one, removing half of the thought work of most LoZ puzzles.
These levels aren’t connected by any kind of world that you can explore, either, with the game just shifting you from “room” to “room” as you complete each puzzle. About the only thing that connects them is a visual theme for each area that maintains a bit of consistency in the background and level features. These are largely superficial for all the difference they make to gameplay, however, and you’ll find yourself repeating the same solutions a lot. I just… Even Hyrule Warriors gave you areas to explore; it wasn’t much, but they were still there. This is literally taking just a single component of what makes the LoZ games so great, completely misinterpreting why it was good in the first place, and then trying to make an entire game around it.
I take it back – this is basically a polished tech demo.
Here’s a pro-tip for anyone considering buying this game with their friends: Don’t, because no one wants to be the middle guy. The “Totem” mechanic is about as fun as it is blatantly tacked on, usually forcing at least one of the participants to do sweet bugger all while the other two practically use them as a prop. Like I said just now, the “middle” section of the totem is the least desired since it can’t really do anything at all. The bottom person can move everyone around, and the top person can use their item, however, the middle person usually sits there until the others are ready for them to throw the top person. This easily could have been improved by allowing the middle person to use their item and to adjust the levels accordingly; the gameplay certainly wouldn’t have suffered for more player engagement.
Playing with other people can also be tiresome since the puzzles don’t really require the thinking of three people. Hell, they don’t even strictly require the involvement of three players anyway, since you can do all the levels single player. It usually just results in one person telling the others what to do, assuming you don’t have some weird, non-verbal, communal understanding thing going on. There’s also no way for players to get loose once they’ve been picked up by another player, so God help you if you bring a troll along. I also wouldn’t recommend playing online since the message taunts made available for communication are about as helpful as they sound.
“Throw! Throw!” screamed Green Link, as he plummeted once more into the lava at the hands of Red Link, aka USER2425462002437.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Tri Force Heroes were the costumes – there was so much wasted potential here that could have saved a lot of the game. The costumes are made from materials that you pick up from completing levels. You’ll get one material piece for each level you complete (not each chapter, each level), which you receive at random. The game does tell you which area certain materials can be found, but they aren’t the only materials you’ll find there. It means a lot of backtracking and replaying for slow progress on some (admittedly cool looking) costumes that provide in-game buffs that don’t really do much to improve gameplay. The buffs all seem more suited to general LoZ combat over puzzle solving, like there was no thought given to how they’d fit into the game.
Instead of giving Link a bow that could aim with a magical laser sight, making orb targets easier to hit, the archer costume just fires two more arrows in a wide fan. Most of the others give you health, damage, or armor buffs when they could be giving you literally anything that helped with the puzzles. Enemies are an annoyance at best in this game; they’re hardly the main objectives, and killing them rarely serves your overall goal unless they’re a boss. I would be okay with Link running about in Twin Rova’s robes and the most hideous makeup job seen by mortal eyes if it meant I could use their magic to hit far away switches. The clothing that I’m wearing doesn’t make a difference to me, but if it’s in there then give me a reason to want to use it! The minor buffs conferred by the majority of the costumes aren’t worth the effort for obtaining them and that’s a shame because they could have been so much more.
“Make me pretty, Player 1…”
Strangely, Tri Force Heroes’ visual appearance is actually improved by having the 3D on, much to my personal, eye-burning, mind-shattering migrainey dismay. It’s like the world is lacking in depth perception without the 3D effect and it’s hard to work out just how high, low, forward or back you need to be in comparison to others parts of the level. Without it, well, you’ll misfire, run off ledges, and generally act like an unhelpful dick until you adjust. This isn’t a criticism of anyone’s ability to play the game, or a subtle jab at those I played the game with, it’s just a fact of Tri Force Heroes’ visual design. This isn’t even mentioning the God awful “info text” that scrolls across the play screen whenever someone does something. Picking up rupees, falling off a cliff, being low on hearts, all of this causes a near constant stream of text to scroll across your vision while playing and it only gets worse with more players.
Aside from that, there’s nothing particularly striking or unique about the way Tri Force Heroes looks. It uses the cartoony-3D style that’s somewhere between Wind Waker and A Link Between Worlds. The world is populated with a lot of the same old Zelda monsters you’ve seen before, with very little done to alter their appearance. The NPC’s are some of the most unimaginative or outright annoying that I’ve seen in any LoZ game, and that includes Tingle. For a game whose story centers on “looking pretty is the most important thing in the world,” it sure doesn’t heed its own advice.
I hated Tri Force Heroes so much that I returned it to the store; in my mind, there’s nothing redeeming about this game. I don’t know how this cracked out pipe-dream of a game made it through play testing with all involved saying “this is great!” The story is a parody of all basic Zelda stories, and not in a good way, with some fairly troubling implications given the audience this was likely being aimed at. The gameplay is severely lacking, forcing a single part of classic LoZ design as the main gameplay element (i.e. puzzle solving) and doing a poor job of it. It’s even difficult to see exactly what you’re doing without the 3D or some serious adjustment to your in-game depth perception. Tri Force Heroes is a watered down, poor man’s LoZ that Nintendo has the gall to charge full price for and call a Zelda title.