Tri Force Heroes is a multiplayer Zelda game on the 3DS. With three Links – a green Link, a blue Link, and a red Link – three players work together to solve puzzles and beat bosses. Tri Force Heroes is also one of the most divisive Zelda games in recent memory.
So it is not a popular opinion when I say, Tri Force Heroes is one of my all-time favorite Zelda games. I say this as someone who has played every single Zelda game (except the CD-I installments) and finished them all aside from the original NES titles and Spirit Tracks on the DS.
I love Tri Force Heroes because it distills Zelda down to its purest essence – exploration and discovery.
“If I’m going dancing, then I wear the highest heels and the shortest dress.” — Kate Moss
Tri Force Heroes works for me because of a few clever design decisions.
First: Link, you’re not in Hyrule anymore. My favorite Zelda games step outside the bounds of Princess Zelda’s kingdom. Majora’s Mask exists in the weird and tragic land of Termina. Link’s Awakening on the dreamy island of Koholint. For the majority of Wind Waker you don’t know you’re in Hyrule (decades-old spoiler alert), and in Wind Waker companion game Phantom Hourglass you enter a parallel world. I love leaving Hyrule and seeing something new.
The world of Hytopia in Tri Force Heroes is a madcap, zany place. Obsessed with fashion, the people are distraught when Princess Styla is cursed to wear the ugliest leotard ever. Ehrmagerd, guys, this is tragic. I like to pretend the story is being narrated by Alyssa Edwards of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame.
To save this kingdom, your hero must dress in the most badass of fashions. These are designed by Madame Couture, or Edna Mode moonlighting in a Zelda game. Her creations include Zora suits; pink dresses; and the too-sexy for Hyrule, Zorro-inspired Dapper Spinner outfit. Decked out in the most stylish garb, the Links team up to defeat The Lady. The Lady is a devious witch who looks like Hillary Clinton but with a wider variety of pantsuits at her disposal.
Zelda worlds are often populated with charming oddballs, but it seems like the characters who were too weird for Hyrule packed up and relocated to Hytopia. And while the plot is wacky, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Plus, it’s nice to have a female villain who is a formidable foe. Although she relies on fashion for her power, and like The Penguin knows the value of a complementary umbrella, she isn’t sexed up. Link may even don her outfit after defeating her.
“Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.” — Jean Cocteau
That’s the second reason Tri Force Heroes works: You’re not Link anymore.
Despite Nintendo’s efforts to retcon all of Zelda into a coherent timeline, you will go cross-eyed trying to make sense of it all. Every game features a character who is a reincarnation of the legendary Hero of Time, traditionally named Link.
Except this one.
The moustachioed Sir Combsly informs you that you simply look like the Hero of Time. But you are you! It’s a brilliant choice for an online game, so that everyone isn’t running around named Link.
(However, the game’s director, Hiromasa Shikata, later said this is the same hero from A Link Between Worlds [http://www.gamespot.com/articles/triforce-heroes-place-in-the-zelda-timeline-reveal/1100-6431687/], which doesn’t make sense to me.)
The third reason I love this game so much is the most important reason: it cuts the fat. With its multi-area structure, each section is divided into little chunks to explore. There are eight main worlds, each with four areas, and each area is divided into four sections – an intro, an exploration, a fight, and a boss battle. With a different trio of traditional Zelda items at your disposal in each area, you can play differently each time. There are also challenges, which can be very difficult, to keep things fresh.
The sections are great fun to explore. There’s an incredible sense of scale in the Secret Fortress, the first area of Riverside, where the Links work together to find a fortress on the side of a waterfall. With the 3D on, the depth is astounding. Other areas feature magic statues, rotating platforms, disappearing pathways, quicksand, mine carts straight out of Temple of Doom, and gliding with chickens in the sky.
The game makes creative use not just of player colors, but each classic Zelda item. They’re all here, from the hookshot and bomb, to more recent items like the Gust Jar and Fire Gloves. Plus, the costumes allude to other Nintendo franchises, like a Hammer Bro. suit powering up Link’s hammer, and allow you to experience each level in different ways. Plus, with the game’s new totem mechanic, players can stack atop each other to reach high-flying enemies and tall platforms.
Although there’s a little town to explore, there is no vast overworld connecting them all. Considering how weak the overworld was in Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, I don’t miss this. By allowing the player to click on the map and just go there, it eliminates some of the patented Legend of Zelda bullshit.
See, Zelda games have a lot of time-wasting bullshit. This can be as innocuous as backtracking through a dungeon or as irritating as traveling across the game’s barren world to find a heart container. It’s about as fun as deciding to make a cake, going to the grocery store for ingredients, realizing you forgot baking powder when you get home, and having to go back to get it. A lot of Legend of Zelda, including the entirety of Spirit Tracks, falls into the “going back to get it” category, except in Spirit Tracks you can’t just drive yourself to the grocery store, you have to get there and back by commuter rail. And for as much as I love the mad inventiveness of Majora’s Mask, its Zelda-meets-Groundhog’s Day theme is wholly dependent on the player’s tolerance for time-wasting bullshit. Considering how popular Majora’s Mask is, Zelda fans have a lot of patience for bullshit. I’m glad to have a break from it.
“I can’t concentrate in flats.” — Victoria Beckham
Even though I’ve been playing Tri Force Heroes since its release in October, I’m just now getting around to organizing my thoughts about it. I’ve also seen how poorly received it is, especially for a Zelda game.
Many reviewers and commenters fault the game simply for being multiplayer. Others point to some frustrating issues with the online system, and some complaints – like not being able to switch areas with a team of strangers – are valid issues. One of the lowest reviews is entirely off-base. I have to wonder if Erik Fredner from KillScreen even played a Zelda game. In his review he criticizes it because of its “its violation of a Zelda tradition since time immemorial (i.e. 1986): Link can’t jump.” Um, Link couldn’t jump in The Legend Zelda. Or A Link to the Past. And he needs an item, the feather, to do it in Link’s Awakening. The Zelda series didn’t add the autojump until Ocarina of Time in 1998. Perhaps Fredner believes “time immemorial” is synonymous with “since I was born.”
Other people complain about lack of voice chat, something I’m grateful for. The game features eight big emoticons for a variety of emotions and commands. “Item!” is self-explanatory. So is “over here!” A thumbs up shows you approve of your teammate’s actions. Cheerleader Link, with pom-poms, is a favorite to encourage the team. And cheering with a teammate to the beat of the theme song is particularly fun. Plus there are emoticons to say, “Whoops! Sorry about that!” when you screw up, or to tell people “NO! Stop doing that!”
I’m not saying the game is perfect. With the way the loot system works, many times you don’t unlock an outfit until it is no longer useful. And due to the nature of the level select system, it can be repetitive, although a recent free update rewards you for playing dungeons you’ve already played before.
Ultimately, the major problems with Tri Force Heroes aren’t the fault of the game. They’re the fault of the players. Perhaps Nintendo and Grezzo, the developer, were being optimistic that players wouldn’t be dicks, but it would be cynical to develop a game in which players were expected to be assholes.
“I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.” — Coco Chanel
Tri Force Heroes is a game that relies on a valuable life skill that most people don’t have: teamwork. Guess what? Not everyone communicates the same way, so having to adapt your communication style to the team is part of the fun. The most rewarding moments are beating a dungeon with a team of randos, then later meeting the same people again. Celebrations ensue. Little Links run around in circles and cheer with their pom-poms.
Tri Force Heroes is about being clever within limitations, and that’s where its true brilliance shines. You can explore this world with friends, and you can make new ones in this strange, ephemeral, digital world.