2015 was set to be a fantastic year for Zelda fans, but with Wii U’s The Legend Of Zelda delayed until at least 2016 the festive schedule looked bereft of any Link based action. However, stepping into the breach is the 3DS exclusive Tri Force Heroes. Announced at this year’s E3, the multiplayer title channels the visual style of previous handheld entries such as Spirit Tracks and A Link Between Worlds into a co-operative adventure for three players.
Any concerns that this isn’t a fully fledged Zelda experience should be dispelled by the involvement of legendary producer Eiji Aonuma and A Link Between Worlds’ director Hiromasa Shikata, both of whom have worked on the franchise for many years.
Set in the kingdom of Hytopia, a stylish place where its residents loved fashion, all except a witch who lived in the Drablands. She sends a magical package to the kingdom’s Princess Styla, which diabolically causes a permanent wardrobe malfunction and clads her in clothes she wouldn’t be seen dead in, forcing her into hiding. Her father, King Tuft, sends out envoys looking for Totem Heroes – essential criteria of course featuring pointy ears, thick sideburns and a side parting – who can enter the Drablands and defeat the witch, which is where you come in. As with the classic Four Swords, players have to work together to solve puzzles and dispatch enemies, and as Totem Heroes you have the ability to stack on top of one another.
Upon arriving in Hytopia you’re immediately introduced to Madame Couture and her tailor shop, and the magical clothing she creates there. In keeping with the fashionista setting, acquiring different outfits is one of the core aspects of the game, with each successful quest rewarding you with an item that you can put towards a new set of clothes, with a steadily increasing number needed for the more powerful outfits. With seventy different items, and a growing number of attires there’s definitely plenty to keep you occupied.
Sir Combsly, leader of the Witch-Hunting Brigade, sets you on your way to the Drablands, whereupon you can set off either in a team of three, or as a lonesome adventurer – though you’re advised against riding solo. You can join up with your friends, either online or in local co-op, with a local-play download option allowing those without the game to assist you. You can of course team up online with random players as well, and on the whole the lobby system was stable, with a minimal number of disconnections so far.
You can communicate with your fellow adventurers via a series of emoticons located on the touchscreen, which broadly cover the necessary messages you need to send to each other such as “use you item” or “pick me up”. It is however a somewhat vague system, that leaves plenty of room for (mis)interpretation and confusion, while you shout at your 3DS’ screen as you watch your fellow players do the exact opposite from what you need them to. Playing with friends can alleviate some of these problems, as you can text or use something like Facebook messenger to stay in touch, though this also requires you to look away from the screen. However, this isn’t possible when playing with unknowns and only time will tell whether this is a problem or something you’ll become accustomed to.
Playing alone sees you accompanied by two doppelgängers, empty shells that you can take control of by tapping on their icon on the touchscreen. It reminds me of the Lego games, switching between teammates in order to solve puzzles, though sadly they don’t follow you meaning that it can feel like you’re covering the same ground with them. It does however mean you can progress with the game when you’re bereft of friends or an internet connection, with the added advantage of avoiding any communication problems.
The first level finds you in the Deku Forest, and your task, as in every level, is simply to reach the end of each area with the entirety of your team. The way is barred by various puzzles, with the first area requiring you to lift and throw your teammates to higher platforms so that they can reach switches. You’re armed with a sword with which to dispatch enemies as well as a special item that you pick up at the opening of a level such as a bow, bombs, or a water staff that creates pillars of foam that you can walk on. Subsequent levels provide differing numbers of these items, with you and your teammates often taking on a particular role based on your choice of item, which adds some nice variety to proceedings.
Each area ends in a boss battle, which again relies on teamwork and the use of your special items in order to persevere. Multiple height levels are often a key in the earlier encounters, stacking your team on top of one another in order to take the boss down. The difficulty is definitely dialled towards the easier end of the spectrum at this early stage, but both puzzles and enemies look to ramp up quite considerably as you progress further, and with all three players sharing a heart meter you will really have to pull together to succeed.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the full game pans out, with the multiplayer aspect working very well from a technical point of view, but a few questions remain over how extensive the communication tools will be as you encounter more complicated puzzles. As the only remaining Zelda release of 2015 though, one can only hope that it lives up to its storied legacy.