Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

There are a few things that distinguish a Legend of Zelda game as part of a long legacy that now stretches back over 30 years. Chief among them is a sense of exploration: these games create the feeling of wandering through a vast, diverse world, working your way up from an almost defenseless elfin kid to a well-equipped badass who can overcome any obstacles and face any challenges that come your way .

In this sense, Triforce heroes hardly counts as a Zelda game. Here, that vast world has been replaced by a single perfunctory city, serving as a glorified warp path to a long series of puzzle-packed dungeons. If you have the guts to try to leave that town, the game simply ends your play session and sends you back to the title screen, a tacit acknowledgment of how limited your exploration really is.

There is little of the epic, slowly building story of world salvation that characterizes the usual Zelda don’t play either. Instead, we get a ridiculous and worn-out plot about a fashion-conscious princess who is cursed to wear an unremovable plain brown shawl, sending her into a downward spiral of depression that brings down the entire kingdom. There’s a certain tongue-in-cheek self-consciousness in the presentation of this silly plot, sure, but it’s more than a little unsatisfying for those expecting a standard Zelda adventure.

Anyway, to help the princess you have to make your way through those aforementioned dungeons to find magical Macguffins that will help you lift her curse. Along the way you will also find special items that can be used to create various special outfits in a shop in town. Each outfit grants a special ability that is useful, but never critical to completing the game; bigger bombs, tripled arrows, more life, etc. In addition, the game does an instant appeal to the fashion conscious by focusing on how cute Link looks in these outfits, encouraging you to take in-game photos of him looking his best .

A dungeon built for three

As the name of the game somewhat implies, Triforce heroes32 dungeons (each divided into four small areas) are designed to be tackled by three heroes at a time. Any identical Link clones can lift and throw the others, totem pole style, to reach higher items and plateaus. While the character at the bottom of the totem is the only one that can move, the one at the top is the only one that can attack or use items. In a three-person stack, the middle person is mainly used as a filler.

This stack-and-throw mechanic is stretched and abused in every possible way throughout the game. After a while it starts to feel like a very repetitive take on those logic puzzles where you have to get a man, a wolf and a sheep across a river. Only you can’t leave the hungry wolf alone with the man or the sheep or things will get messy. And you can’t leave the hero alone on the other side of the river without a hookshot, because he has no way of dragging himself across. And the hero with the water wand must go ahead of the one with the bomb to create an elevated walkway to that cracked block. You get the idea.

To its designers’ credit, the game finds some clever twists in this simple hero-juggling gameplay, and the puzzles themselves can get pretty complicated. While I raced through the easy, early room puzzles in four or five minutes, I spent almost half an hour in the second half of the game with some of the more involved areas.

However, complexity doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with difficulty. Each dungeon gives players three (and only three) specific special items at the start, which can be used to hit switches or send characters across gaps and onto higher platforms. In most cases there are only a limited number of ways to use these items in combination, so the solution to each puzzle is obvious (sometimes with a bit of guessing and checking on some item interactions). Usually the only trick is going through the sometimes tedious motions of performing the many steps.

Mixed in with these instant puzzles are occasional rooms focused on combat. The game doesn’t mess around in these cases, filling rooms with enemies willing to attack your heroes in concert and often requiring special tactics to defeat. The frequent boss fights can get particularly difficult, often requiring careful movement and hero stacking strategies to avoid attacks and hit briefly exposed weak points. And since all three heroes share a single nine-heart health bar (with three backup fairies per dungeon), there’s a real thrill of losing progress in these battles.

It’s dangerous to go alone…

While Triforce heroes is designed to be played with three people, it can be played alone. In that situation, you control only one hero at a time and switch between them by tapping the touchscreen. The other two heroes become invulnerable, immovable statues while you control the third, which is a blessing and a curse. In some situations, it’s nice to know that you don’t have to worry about your companions getting into trouble without you. In others, it’s difficult (but never impossible) to juggle the controls back and forth fast enough to tackle some tight timing puzzles or fast-paced bosses.

There’s online support to let you play with friends and strangers, but as is normal for Nintendo games, there’s no built-in ability to voice chat. Instead, you can send a few preset messages with a tap on the touch screen, telling your partners to come over or pick you up or throw you. It’s a rudimentary system, but it’s good enough to get you through some basic communication (assuming you don’t get paired with a total idiot, as I did a few times during testing).

You better hope your partners have a solid Wi-Fi connection. If not, the game slows the frame rate down to a crawl to make sure everyone stays in sync at all times. There were times in my testing when I could literally count the frames per second with one hand as the game chugged and buffered almost unplayably. It’s hard to say how much Nintendo’s own server infrastructure is responsible for this kind of performance, but I hope the game can handle a likely influx of players after release.

I wasn’t able to get three 3DS systems together in one room to test the local playback options, but this seems like the ideal way to play given the ability to talk freely and not worry about internet issues. There’s even a relatively robust download option, so only one person needs to own a copy of the game. Make sure you have exactly two friends nearby. While you can play as a single adventurer or a trio, there is no option for two people to play together.

Despite the Zelda name, Triforce heroes feels more like an uneven spin-off than a core part of the franchise’s storied legacy. The frequent back and forth between difficult combat and relatively simple three-person puzzles feels a bit disjointed and empty without the series’ usual sense of adventure and progression. But if you’ve got some friends who want to get out and about with their 3DS systems, you could do worse.

The good

  • An inventive puzzle design makes the most of the multiplayer concept.
  • Challenging battles that aren’t afraid to push players

The bad

  • Little of the usual Zelda Sense of adventure.
  • Puzzles can get a little easy.
  • Online play often slows down to a crawl.

The ugly one

  • Being able to play with one or three people, but not exactly two.

Verdict: Buy it if you have two friends in mind who want to play it with you. Otherwise, try it.

By akfire1

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