I never had the chance to play Four Swords on the Game Boy Advance when it came out. It was a logistical nightmare of having to have multiple copies of A Link To The Past, the multiplayer link cable to connect systems – this was back before WiFi was common to every device in your household – and enough people to play it with. By the time Four Swords Adventures arrived for Gamecube a few years later, the console had already been packed away, and even then, the same requirements of having a GBA for each player and cables would have made it impossible for me to play co-operatively.
And yet, despite missing out on those two multiplayer adventures, I’ve always felt that there was space for more chaotic cooperative capers within the Legend of Zelda series. Tri Force Heroes goes a long way to proving that right, and though it can be played solo with the use of some paper doll Links, it’s oriented towards three player multiplayer and cooperation.
The most iconic new move is the ability to pick each other other and form a totem. It’s a recipe for messing about, that’s for sure, as you can pick up other players and throw them around, either for a bit of a laugh – just don’t throw each other off platforms, because you’re sharing lives and hearts between the three of you – or to throw them over a gap or to a higher point. On top of that, all three Links can be stacked to form a totem three Links high so that you can reach larger platforms, but let’s be honest, that’s not particularly tall.
However, the co-operative play goes quite a bit deeper than that. Items have often played a large role in the puzzle solving of the zelda series, from using arrows to spread fire from one brazier to the next to using the Gust Jar to send bombs back at your aggressor. In Tri Force Heroes the use of these is restricted only by a refilling energy gauge, but you can only carry one item at a time, and there’s often a split in who has what item.
It’s such a simple idea, but one that naturally fosters cooperation alongside the totem formation. In some areas, you’ll all be working with different abilities in turn to complete a particular puzzle, but bosses and puzzles often need you to use your attacks and items from different heights. The traditional three stage boss battles might be back in full force, but it puts on a slightly different spin when you need to rely on one person to do the running around and aiming and another to time the throwing of the bomb just right or shoot an arrow at a weak spot.
The wrinkle in this comes from each player potentially having different abilities, meaning you need to be sure the right player is at the top of the stack. The only real downside to this mechanic is that the player in the middle has nothing to do during a three player totem, though that can let you paper over the cracks with a less experienced or less adept coop partner.
Though co-operation is key, this has to all be achieved without voice chat when you’re not in the same room. Below buttons that show the status of each player and let you zoom your view to their location if you’re separated, the touch screen is dominated by eight emoticons that you can tap to bring up on the main screen for everyone, coloured to your specific Link. There’s the obvious ones like a thumbs up and a shrug of confusion, but there’s also more direct commands to tell the others to pick you up, throw you, use an item, and so on… but they all pale in comparison to the adorable pom-pom emote.
Whereas the others simply get bigger the more you press them, this one has the little image of Link flipping back and forth, giving the charming and beguiling illusion of our diminutive hero thrusting each arm into the air alternately. It quickly became the default reaction to most successes as well as simply tapping it for a bit of a giggle.
These emotes also tie into the cute cel shaded art style which has become such a staple of the mobile games series since The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. Now it’s cuter still, as you get to play dress up thanks to a whimsical story or a princess in a fashion-focussed land cursed to wear a particularly ugly outfit for the rest of her days.
The three Links aren’t so restricted, and instead of his traditional hero clothes, you pick from a selection of outfits that lend you bonus abilities. The Big Bomb outfit gives you, as one might have guessed, bigger bombs, the samurai-like Spin Attack Attire gives you a much larger spin attack, and so on. The main oddity is that, while you can’t play as a female Link, you can crossdress as Princess Zelda for a health bar bonus.
But above all, Tri Force Heroes is good humoured fun. As always, co-operative play adds a delightful twist on proceedings, with the totem formation, the clever combinations of items and various outfits all adding up to something pleasingly teamwork oriented, rather than a mad scramble for rupees and being first.