Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (Review)

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (logo) Review with an artwork of Link and his doppels giving a thumbs up

This review was originally published on ZeldaChronicles (formerly known as ZeldaEurope) and got translated for this blog in 2022 by the same author. A second copy of the game was provided by Nintendo for testing purposes.

On October 23rd Nintendo has released the newest multiplayer adventure of the Zelda series – The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. After spending lots of time with other Zelda fans in the depths of the Drablands and completing (almost) everything in both multi- and singleplayer, it's time a for a final review. What is offered? What was done wrong? Come find out!

Tri Force Heroes is the sequel to A Link Between Worlds on the Nintendo 3DS, but follows the level-based multiplayer gameplay of Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, where this time it allows for playing with others online. The new game was made by Aonuma's handheld team, who have previously worked on A Link Between Worlds, and GREZZO, who are known for Ocarina of Time 3D, Four Swords Anniversary Edition, and Majora's Mask 3D.



With the previous multiplayer installment, Four Swords Adventures, the team was quite ambitious: they wanted to tell the Imprisoning War and with it the back story of A Link to the Past. However, this turned out to be too complex for a multiplayer title, where as a result it got changed into the simpler and more independent story that we know today. You might say that Nintendo has learned from their mistakes, where they now followed the opposite approach with Tri Force Heroes. But let's just say that as a result this isn't a game you want to play for its story...

It takes place in the kingdom Hytopia, where everything revolves around fashion. The Princess Styla was cursed by a witch to wear some ugly full-body tights and King Tuft is now looking for heroes to scout the Drablands for said witch. However, not any hero will do, but it has to be three with Link's typical appearance, who have the ability to form a totem, based on a legend... The witch's sister, the famous tailor Madame Couture, will also provide you with magical clothes for your journey.

Princess Styla reigning over her people

The whole thing is rather silly and equally shallow. While there is potential to teach some morals about inner values and friendship, you will have to look for it and it all ends as clownishly as it begins. The story only serves the purpose of supporting the gameplay, where you play in teams of three and make use of different costumes. And this all was packed with quirky Japanese humor, which isn't for everyone.

Still, it's certainly refreshing to get a Zelda game that takes place far away from Hyrule, Princess Zelda, Ganon, and the Triforce for a change. Yes, even the Triforce doesn't play a role here, even though the game's title lets to believe otherwise. It only serves as a symbol for the portals into the Drablands, but the story itself is about the "Tri Force", the team of three heroes.

What's interesting here is that Link isn't the only hero on his journey to save the princess. Following the call of the king there is a great number of heroes coming to Hytopia. This way it even explains griefers from a story perspective – they are simply "false heroes". However, only the real Link plays a role in the main story, where his allies never even get mentioned. Also, it never gets explained why Link has blonde hair in Hytopia, while the three Links in the Drablands have different hair colors. The devil is in the details and all of this just doesn't let the game's story appear to be really thought-out.

The antagonist is equally disappointing. While it's nice to have a female adversary for a change who isn't sitting in the shadow of Ganon(dorf), it's hard to take the Lady Maud seriously with her fashion craze. Be prepared for the silliest and most unepic final battle in the entire Zelda series.

By the way, the parts where you meet her offer the only cutscenes during the online play / the campaign. The rest of the story gets explored on your own in Hytopia Castle and the town in front of it. But this way you don't get interrupted by cutscenes all the time during online play, which would have been especially annoying on repeat playthroughs of the levels.

Graphics & Sound

Tri Force Heroes re-uses the engine for A Link Between Worlds and with it some assets of that game, while also offering the smooth 3D in 60FPS. If you directly compare the two games, however, then you will notice a shift in perspective. In A Link Between Worlds you were looking down from above, while in Tri Force Heroes the view is slightly angled. This offers a better overview of the environment, but at the same time the 3D effect isn't as impressive as in the predecessor. You won't get the same feeling of depth inside the dungeons for example. In return, people and objects in the environment didn't have to be weirdly tilted just so you can see their fronts, like it was the case in A Link Between Worlds, so everything looks a lot more natural now.

the end of a forest stage with a stone pillar bridge over a river and a Triforce pedestal above it

However, the game also took some small steps backwards with the graphics. For example, the water isn't translucent any longer and items from chests are rendered as 2D sprites, which don't look as nicely as modeled objects.

While the graphics are based on the previous title, the music is completely new, where composer Ryo Nagamatsu has surpassed himself once more. In A Link Between Worlds he was mainly re-arranging classic themes from A Link to the Past and other Zelda games, but this time he really could work on some compositions of his own. In fact, past Zelda tunes only appear via the "Lucky Lobby Ball" – a juggling mini-game to play some music. The actual soundtrack, though, is made entirely out of new tracks, like the melancholic melodies of the Riverside and Ice Cavern, the crazy Hinox battle beats, or the catchy title theme. Some of it also has a French ambience to it, which is a great fit for Hytopia. A big part of the music was recorded live from a small band, similar to the music in Mario Kart 8, which also makes it more distinct from the rest of the series.


Essentially, it's another Four Swords game, except that everything is based on having exactly three players, instead of two to four. But the core principles are the same, where you are going together through individual levels, instead of exploring an open world on your own, and where you can only carry one item at a time.

One major difference to Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures is that this time it's solely about cooperation. It doesn't have the same mix of cooperation and competition, which made the original Four Swords on the GameBoy Advance so unique. You were working together to defeat enemies, solve puzzle, and clear obstacles, but at the same time it was all about who collects the most Rupees. So, you were kind of doing you own thing at times and fighting with the other players over treasure chests. The latter only happens at the end of a level in Tri Force Heroes, but during the missions you are strictly pulling together.

This is feels disappointing at first, but it does make sense, because this time the game allows you to play with strangers online, where this type of competition wouldn't have worked well. It's all about cooperation now. And when it doesn't matter which players gets to a treasure chest first, it allows for completely new ways of having the players work together to get to these chests in the first place.

Green Link firing an arrow at a crystal switch from the top of a totem

A core aspect of the cooperation is the "totem". In Four Swords you were already able to pick up other players to thrown them over gaps (or prevent them from opening a chest). But this time the player on top can still use items, hold things, and throw them. This lets the three Links create a tower, where the player at the bottom steers, while the one on top takes action.

The totem is as essential as the wall merge in A Link Between Worlds and therefore gets utilized throughout the entire game, but it's not as fun. It feels natural to do and makes good use of the 3D effects of the Nintendo 3DS, but it's always an inconvenience to stack each other in the right order. Also, the player in the middle can't really do anything except for throwing the player on top, so you're left to watch and cheer. But luckily you don't need the totem for longer periods of time, usually only to reach higher up places.

The Outfits

Another unique feature of Tri Force Heroes are the costumes with abilities, where you can collect 36 different pieces. And it's one of the most worthwhile collectibles in the Zelda series. The idea is simple: before each level you can select an outfit, where the right abilities can give you an advantage. At the end of each level you will obtain materials, which can be used to craft new costumes.

These outfits feel similar to the masks in Majora's Mask, but they are actually closer to the Magic Rings from Oracle of Ages & Seasons, where you also could only select one to obtain certain abilities. Some of these abilities return with the outfits, even for the first time, e.g »No sliding on ice« and »No sinking in quicksand«. But there are also stronger swords, faster walking speed, or different upgrades for the items to be found in the lovingly designed costumes. A couple of the outfits even offer perks for the whole team, not just the player wearing it.

artwork of the Goron Garbs

This also adds a strategic element to the game, where the choice of your outfit can give you a specific role. It feels good to support your team with the right outfit and it's fun to try all the different abilities. There is a lot of variety and little left to desire. However, it's disappointing that there are about three costumes that become obsolete because of superior versions. Especially the Lady's Esemble, which combines the Legendary Dress with the Jack of Hearts, really should have gotten something else to make it shine.

Speaking of dresses, for the most part the outfits look fantastic. For example, there is the Zora Costume, where Link's head is coming out of the mouth of a classic River Zora. Or the Dapper Spinner makes Link look like a musketeer. But in some cases they really overdid it with Link's androgyny, where he wears different fashion for women, which should have gone to a playable Zelda instead. Still, it's part of the game's humor and most of it suits Toon Link surprisingly well.

And the costumes are something that was truly missing in the two Four Swords titles. There you were able to find some upgrades inside the stages, like the Razor Seeds or the Power Bracelet, but they always got lost at the end of a level, so you were starting from scratch in the next. The outfits in Tri Force Heroes offer you some personal progress other than just clearing levels and something like that should really part of a Zelda game. At the same time they also work nicely for a multiplayer-focused title, because it essentially offers different classes for your Link.

Materials & Rupees

To obtain the valuable outfits you need to collect materials, which are found at the end of each level. There you will stand before three chests, where one of them has a rare material. However, what may be rare for one level can already be the common material in the next. Each area in the game has its own set of eight different materials and of each Drabland material you will only need one or two to complete your costume collection. That's much more pleasant than collecting all the train cars in Spirit Tracks, where the system was similar, but you were forced to farm some of the required treasures in a high number.

Only the Friendly Tokens, which are required for two of the outfits, could be a problem. Those are acquired via local play or Download Play, where you can only get one Friendly Token from the same Nintendo 3DS system (unless it gets formatted). Friends from online play don't count, which makes things unnecessarily hard. You'll need eight of these tokens in total, where it may be tough for some to find as many different players in real life, where this feels like a step backwards from the novelty of playing a Zelda game online in the first place. (Update: Nintendo has realized this problem themselves, where version 2.0.0 of the game let's you purchase Friendly Tokens from the merchant.)

The outfits also cost Rupees in addition and often in the quadruple digits, where it's worthwhile to collect them and go for the treasure chests inside the levels. At least at first. Once you have obtained the Rupee Regalia, you can just quickly farm all the Rupees you need by cutting the grass and destroying the pots all around the town of Hytopia. While this can be fun, it makes going for any Rupees inside the levels completely obsolete, because those are now trifle amounts. And this removes any real reason to fully explore the Drablands for secrets, where there is nothing else to find inside the levels.

So, it probably would have been more interesting if the materials were found inside chests all around the levels, instead of being this glorified end-level reward.

Game Progression & Length

There is a total of 32 levels in Tri Force Heroes, which are grouped by eight thematically different areas. In comparison, Four Swords Adventures also had eight areas, but only with three levels each, meaning a total of 24. However, those levels were usually a bit longer, so overall these two games should be more or less the same in this aspect.

the map screen with four areas uncovered

Unlike Four Swords Adventures you can play the levels in any order. You don't even have to play all of them, because you can choose any of the four levels inside an area right from the get-go and you only have to beat the last one in order to proceed to the next area(s). This final level is almost always a "temple" with a boss at the end. So, in order to beat the game and see the credits roll you will only have to play a fourth of all the levels...

The rest of them is mainly there to collect the materials in order to craft the coveted costumes, which can be helpful with the more difficult levels. If you defeat the final boss of an area, it also unlocks three challenges per level, so that the game has a total of 128 missions to complete. These so called "Drabland Challenges" are somewhat reminiscent of the Prankster Comets from Super Mario Galaxy, where you will replay the level under special conditions. These include:

  • Clear within the time limit!
  • Transport the orb quickly!
  • Pop all balloons!
  • Defeat all foes sans sword!
  • Clear using only bombs!
  • Fewer Heart Containers!
  • Halved attack and defense!
  • Adventure in the dark!
  • Evade the Wallmaster!
  • Don't fall at all!
  • Don't drop the pot!

And many more... Some of this can be a lot of fun, e.g. the missions where you have to search and destroy a number of balloons on each stage. The challenges where everything gets shrouded in darkness are also quite atmospheric. And other challenges are simply interesting, like the ones where you have to transport an orb, which creates a circle that protects the players from a poisonous fog all over the level. This forces you to stay together, where this type of challenge often gets chosen for levels that try to split you up. And the missions with less hearts or doubled damage are your typical Zelda challenges, like the Hero Modes.

Other Drabland Challenges may not be for every Zelda fan or may even offer some levels of frustration, especially the ones that cause a Game Over on a small mistake. This includes missions where you are not allowed to pop any balloons, which requires perfect precision and high attention. It's make or break, where even the best teams can fail. The Wallmasters are even scarier than ever, because they will take all your hearts on a single hit. It's not particularly hard to dodge them, but it slows down the pacing unnecessarily. Plus, sometimes the Wallmaster is above your field of view, so that it's hard to see when it's going to attack.

Everything with a time limit may also be daunting for some, but with a few exceptions these limits are actually quite generous. You can find hourglasses in the environment, which will add more time, and as long as you don't miss the large ones you should have more than enough time to clear the level. Curiously, one of the exceptions is the very first level, the Deku Forest, where the time limit is so strict that it may lead to a photo finish. And this can scare you off, but with most of the other time limits it wasn't as bad.

In the earlier Challenges more and stronger monsters will also appear, which is an excellent idea and something that they already should have done with the Hero Mode in A Link Between Worlds. However, this dies down in the later levels, where the challenges usually don't offer any difference with the enemies. Too bad.

One incentive to play all the challenges, other than for the checkmarks, are better materials. These can be used to make more outfits, which then make certain challenges easier in return. For example, there is the Light Armor, which illuminates dark areas, or the Cheetah Costumes, which lets you go faster. Clearing all challenges of an area will score a special material, which otherwise can only be obtained from the Coliseum. There is no larger goal behind the challenges, however, where it's more a loop of clearing and getting, something Zelda fans may be familiar with by now thanks to the Adventure Mode in Hyrule Warriors. The game mainly stays motivating for those who want to complete everything, including all the challenges.

But after clearing all 128 missions and collecting all 36 outfits, the game will run out of steam, because there will be nothing left to do. Either you play with friends just for fun or in order to help them out. Or you restart from the beginning, but Tri Force Heroes is the first Zelda game with only one save file, which means that you will have to delete all your progress. And that's not so appealing, while it also means that you can't just borrow the game to someone else.

Until getting to the point of 100% completion it can take up to 60 hours, which isn't bad, especially for a Nintendo game. So, the game has enough to do, but it's still problematic for a multiplayer game that it can run out of things to do. And this will make it very difficult to find other players after a while, because at some point most players will have cleared everything eventually and then will grow bored of the game.

Level Design & Items

As already mentioned, the Drablands are divided into eight areas, which come in the usual Nintendo / video game flavors: there are the Woodlands, the Riverside, the Volcano, the Ice Cavern, and so on. You shouldn't expect anything out of the ordinary, but at least the individual levels try to make the most out of the themes, even though some ideas and concepts are repeated throughout the areas.

Green Link on a totem shooting fireballs at a wall behind spiked floors in an ice level

The levels all follow a clear pattern (with one exception), unlike the stages in Four Swords Adventures, which could be very different from each other. Each level is divided into four stages, which are separate floors all ending on a Triforce Gateway, where the last stage either features a boss or a battle against multiple foes. And the first stage offers you exactly three items – one for each player. You won't find any other items later in the level, so you pick one item and stick to it. The three items are even shown in the level selection screen upfront, because it may affect your choice of costume, where some outfits can upgrade certain items.

The items include the bow, bombs, boomerang, hammer, the Gripshot, the Gust Jar, the Fire Gloves, and the Water Rod. Only the last two are really new, where the Fire Gloves create a bouncing fire ball, just like in the Super Mario games (even with the same sound effects). This makes using them a lot trickier than the overpowered Fire Rod in A Link Between Worlds. The Water Rod on the other hand replaces the Sand Rod and can be used anywhere to create a water pillar, which lets you ascend to the same height of a full totem. If used correctly, this is one of the most helpful items in the game.

What remains should be familiar to every diehard fan, but the boomerang comes with a new function, where it can bring the other players to you, which is also very useful. Likewise, the Gripshot can be used to move yourself towards another player. This is also the first Zelda game without a shield, which raises the difficulty quite a bit in many places, because you can't just simply block enemy attacks. You will have to dodge skillfully.

The levels are mostly linear, where you won't get any larger fields and floors, like in Four Swords, where every player could just do their own thing for a while. There are some more open stages, but those are rare and it's always necessary to work together to overcome obstacles and solve puzzles. The latter aren't any brain teasers, where it's more about coordination between the players, which was the right decision. Pure puzzles don't really offer any replay value, because they can become trivial once solved. But with their focus on the right teamwork, the obstacles stay interesting even on repeat playthroughs of the levels.

There is also some replay value thanks to the different items and outfits. Especially the levels which offer different items at the beginning will offer a different experience later on if you go for a different items and therefore take over different tasks.

What's completely absent from most of the levels is something to explore. Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures invited you to turn every stone in order to find hidden treasure chests, Heart Containers, and other useful items. Here it's only some occasional Rupees at the wayside, which can and will often be ignored for reasons already mentioned. Since you can run into very contrasting player types during online play, where someone who wants to go through the levels as quickly as possible may be stuck with someone cutting all the grass, Nintendo may have wanted to find a middle way in the level design, but this was really at the cost of those who love to discover secrets and so on.

In addition, the levels are all quite short and simple, where one takes around ten to fifteen minutes on average. Don't expect any complex and interwoven stages like in the Hero's Trial, which were also made by GREZZO and could take over an hour to complete. But again, this works well for the online play, because they have just the right length, so it never gets tiring. You always feel like you can play one more level and that's the type of energy such a game needs.

Difficulty & Enemies

It also helps that the levels aren't too long in case you see the "Game Over" screen. And this may happen more often than you think, or at least more often than what you would expect from a modern Zelda game, where diehard fans may not even know how said screen looks like in games such as Spirit Tracks or Twilight Princess... But you will certainly experience it in Tri Force Heroes. And that's because the entire team shares one heart meter of nine Heart Containers, while there are no quarter or even half hearts. For the first time in Zelda, the damage is always at least one heart or the multiple of a heart. If the entire team gets hit by one attack, one third of your life energy will already be gone. And that's how you keep staring death in the face and desperately break pots for more hearts.

Luckily, some of the outfits help you out by either letting hearts appear more often, giving you additional Heart Containers, or both. Depending on the costume choices your team can have between six and eighteen Heart Containers, where no additional ones can be found within the levels.

There are also fairies to revive you, like in Four Swords Adventures, but this time you can't just collect 99 of them to keep you alive forever. Instead, you only get three per level. You also won't be revived right on the spot, so you will have to restart the current stage / floor of the level. This means that bosses are also fully healed on each try – either you can beat it under the given circumstances or you can't. And this adds a very satisfying difficulty level to the game, where it feels never too easy, but also never too hard. But it also very much depends on the team, of course, where experienced players operating well together will have a much easier time than when there are unskilled players involved. A chain is only as strong as its weakest Link.

Don't worry about failing, though, because there is no counter for defeats, like there was in A Link Between Worlds for example. And that's great, because otherwise you would have gotten a lot of players who quit once things get hairy.

Margoma - a spiked pillar with an eye on top

And especially those bosses can get quite hairy, where there is one every second level. So, there is a total of sixteen different bosses in the game, all awaiting you with different concepts. Some of them are returning from A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds, like Moldorm, Arrgus, or Margoma, but this time you will need to make good use of the totem to defeat them.

Fortunately, not every boss asks for some "totem time", where especially the new bosses require the right combination of items or good cooperation of your team. For example, there is a battle on minecarts, where two Hinox try to fill yours with bombs, which you have to throw back to them. If you don't coordinate and get in each other's way, this will end in a disaster.

But even the normal enemies are good for some surprises. While most of them got taken over from A Link Between Worlds, they can be much more aggressive or defensive. The Ropes will now jump into the air and drop on you, Helmasaurs will chase you with high speed, Stalfos will dodge more quickly, and even the simple soldiers will block all frontal attacks with their swords, so that you will need the support of other players or the right items.

Multiplayer Options

Lots of levels, enemies, and challenges are nice and all, but worth only little without two other players, where it's a deciding factor whether you can find other people in order to play this game or not. And it has to be exactly two, because Tri Force Heroes was designed with three players in mind from start to finish without any flexibility. There are no variable player counts like in Four Swords, where the game even adjusted its puzzles and levels based on the total. And one player can't just control two Links at once, like it was possible in Four Swords Adventures. You are either three players or you are on your own.

At least the game offers all conceivable options to find other players. You can play online together or via a local wireless connection. There you can even use Download Play, where you will only need one copy of the game. You can actually play through the entire game like that and it even lets you save your personal progress to the SD card, so that you can transfer it to the main game should you decide to purchase it for yourself later on. That's quite nice and surprisingly generous. Only the outfits give you a limit, because you can make two of them and then that's it. So, there is still an important incentive to actually buy the game... Download Play can also be combined with the normal local play, so there can be two players with the game and one without.

swimming through a river

But... not everyone has friends with Nintendo 3DS systems around who also want to play Zelda, where similar to Four Swords you may have troubles to find someone at all, let alone two people. Luckily, Tri Force Heroes also can be played online, with both friends and randoms. You can even play with one friend and one randomly matched person. For playing with random people you will select the area that you want to play, as well as whether you want to play with Drabland Challenges or not. It's basically this game's "match making" and doesn't really go any further. Afterwards the players will vote for the exact level and challenge, where the winner gets decided randomly, unless it's unanimous.

Ideally, based on your given choices, you would be able to find someone who either wants to play through the same area for the first time or someone who already knows the levels and now wants to clear challenges, whatever it is you're going for yourself. But in reality things don't always look like that and might end in a game of luck, where you're stuck looking for the right players to continue.

In case of troublemakers you have the Blacklist, which lets you register up to 100 players that you never want to see again. From experiencing the game after launch in Europe, real "trolls" with only mischief in mind were a rare sight, which speaks for the community. However, the real problem were people who simply quit when they don't get what they want, whether that's the level, the challenge, or even the item that they were hoping for. Then all you get is a goodbye message and at that moment it's already not possible any longer to put the player on your Blacklist, despite them still being shown on the touchscreen. It would already help a lot, if you could just ban selfish players like that. (Update: this feature got added in version 2.0.0.)

But for the most part the online experience was quite positive, where teams of strangers were coming together and managed to cooperate just fine. One time it was necessary to replace a friend in our team, where the game had just the right match for us. A dream. And in such cases it would have been great to have a "Whitelist" for players that you don't necessarily want to have on your friend list, but where you would prefer to be matched with them again, if the situation allows for it.

Another factor is the internet connection itself. Just like in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U, the Nintendo servers will only match you with other players, but they won't handle the connection between the players. That's all peer-to-peer, where each player needs to have a fast and stable connection to everyone. Otherwise Tri Force Heroes will turn into a catastrophe. Once one of the player has a slow internet connection, the game will run in slow motion for all players in his team. Sometimes there are even loading pauses, where the game becomes borderline unplayable.

And if the connection fails for anyone, all three players will receive an error message and have to restart the entire level from the beginning. It's a good thing that the levels aren't so long, so that you will still find the motivation to try again in such a case. But of course you don't want this to happen often and if you don't have a reliable internet connection, then you won't have much fun with Tri Force Heroes. If the connection of all players is solid, then the game runs perfectly fine, though.

And this may be a reason why playing with randoms was limited to your own region, where it's hard to say anything against this decision under the circumstances. However, this restriction even persists with friends, where there currently is no way to lift it. But in case you want to play with a friend from the US or Australia, then this should have been possible, despite the longer distances. Maybe the game could have offered a warning that playing with people from other regions isn't recommended, but it shouldn't have prevented it altogether.

The main game also lacks any way of playing two by two, not even locally. Online you can always try to find a random player, but if you're sitting with a friend in the park or on a train, then the game simply won't be playable together (except for the Coliseum). That's a huge step backwards from the Four Swords games, where Four Swords Adventures already had offered a solution for this problem. They simply could have made it so that there is one of the Doppels from the singleplayer mode, where one of the two players can swap to it. This should have worked and it's a shame that this wasn't implemented in any form.


When playing online together it's important to have a good way of communicating. The game doesn't come with a (voice) chat, but Nintendo / GREZZO have found a very charming solution in the form of eight different Communication Icons on your touchscreen. And those are totally awesome.

artworks of the cheer and thumbs up communication icons

Not only is it fun to cheer at your teammates with pompoms or thumbs up, it overcomes all barriers. One of those is the language barrier, which is most relevant in Europe. With the Communication Icons it shouldn't be a problem for someone in Germany to play with others from the neighbored countries, like France or the Netherlands. But it also makes it possible for less experienced players to play together with people who already know the levels like the back of their hands. You can't simply spoil the solution of a puzzle, but you will have to use the given emoticons to give directions. And this can be like a small puzzle in itself, where you have to find a way to convey what you want to tell with only eight icons. But for the most part these icons are actually sufficient and can also be used in combination, e.g. "Item!", "Throw!", and "Over here!" to tell someone to throw his bombs over to your location.

Some of them can also be ambiguous, depending on the situation, where the most popular one is probably using the thumbs up sarcastically. But the system works so well that you might not even want to use any external voice chat when playing with your friends, because it's fun to just use the icons.


If you can't find anyone to play with, then Tri Force Heroes also offers the possibility to scout the Drablands on your own in company of so called "Doppels" – soulless puppets, where Link can switch to them. This is done via the touchscreen, where the three Links are positioned on the right side and can be quickly accessed via a press of your thumb. This system somehow works, but not all that great.

And that's disappointing, especially when you consider that GREZZO has managed to add a very solid singleplayer experience to Four Swords with its Anniversary Edition four years ago, where you were controlling two Links at once. There you weren't just able to swap between the two Links, but there were many automatic actions performed by the other Link not in control. But this level of comfort is not present in Tri Force Heroes.

The Hall of Doppels with the Doppel Master and two of the Link statues

Only the totem lets you control two Links at the same time, so you can steer the totem while swinging your sword on top. This was strictly necessary to make the singleplayer mode halfway playable, but there really should have been more measures to avoid needless swapping between the three Links. It already starts with the totem, which can only be steered by the selecting the Link at the bottom. Why not any of them? It also would have been good to have some automatic "follow" command (with the free R button), as long as there are no obstacles. The way it is you either have to stack the other Links and take them with you or walk the same way three times. And juggling the three Links can get especially annoying in the challenges with a time limit.

However, there is one major advantage over the multiplayer: the Doppels will only take damage should they fall into an abyss. They are otherwise invulnerable to attacks, which makes many of the bosses seem a lot easier in singleplayer, because one mistake doesn't instantly cost you three hearts. You can even exploit the invulnerability for new strategies, like throwing a bomb on one of the Doppels, which will then hold it up to damage elevated targets without any risk to yourself.

But the Doppel system also has two major drawbacks. One has to do with the outfits, where you can only pick the one for the green Link. Red and blue will always wear the default Hero's Tunic without any effects. And that's a huge disadvantage with some challenges, where the right combination of costumes can be the key to victory. You essentially have two millstones around your neck which you have to drag along.

The other drawback is that the three Links not only share their Heart Containers, but also the Energy Gauge for the items, which slows you down unnecessarily. In A Link Between Worlds the Energy Gauge seemed mostly balanced, but Tri Force Heroes was designed with three players in mind, who all can use their items at the same time. And this lets you run out of energy rather quickly, which can get frustrating.

Despite all these problems, all 128 missions are completely doable in the singleplayer mode. Certain sections and especially some of the bosses seem poorly optimized, so that you might have to find completely different solutions. So, Nintendo and GREZZO didn't really bother with adjusting the levels or enemies for this mode, where instead you can simply skip difficult stages with the use of one of your fairies. This lets you progress in the game, but it won't count towards completion and for each skipped stage one of the treasures at the end will be replaced by 20 Rupees.

Overall the singleplayer mode is about as soulless as the Doppels, which serve as a vessel for Link. The game simply feels empty without two other players running around. The appeal comes from the interaction and without it's just a series of linear levels. Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures had more to offer for the solo adventurer, because there was more to discover inside the levels and it was also more comfortable to play. So, if you plan on playing this game on your own, keep this in mind.

It's also worth mentioning that your main progress doesn't differentiate between single- and multiplayer, both gets added up. However, both modes have a board with the individual progress, which shows what levels and challenges you have cleared in the respective mode. So, thorough players will have to complete the entire game both solo and with other players in order to achieve true 100%.

Hytopia Castle & Castle Town

Between your trips into the Drablands you find yourself in the kingdom of Hytopia, which serves as some sort of hub world. That's far more charming than simply going through some menus and also does its job really well.

The castle has different halls serving as lobbies for finding other players. In the main lobby (which is also featured in the demo) you can talk to an old man, the Match Master, to start a local or online multiplayer session. In the meantime you can kill some time by playing with the Lucky Lobby Ball – which plays music as long as you keep juggling it with your sword –, reading some books, or go through your list of outfits and materials via Madame Couture's apprentice.

Ordering new outfits from the lobby only works in Download Play, however, which is unfortunate, because you will have to leave your current party in order to obtain important outfits. And there is no good reason why the apprentice couldn't do the same job in the normal game. But otherwise the lobby works great and even offers a unique set of Communication Icons for saying hello, goodbye, and more.

Two more lobbies are found within the castle: one is the Hall of the Doppels, where you start the singleplayer mode, and the other is for the Coliseum, which gets discussed in its own review. There is also the throne room for audiences with King Tuft, where generally most of the story takes place inside the castle and town of Hytopia, because this is where you can interact with persons and explore some small secrets completely on your own. But don't expect too much.

The layout is quite similar to Hyrule Castle and Castle Town in Spirit Tracks, but Hytopia was clearly inspired by France, which fits the fashion theme of the game really well. And next to the king there is a variety of other quirky characters, which add some more charm to it all. For example, the stylish woman from A Link Between Worlds returns, where she gets flirty about each of Link's costumes in a different way.

At the town's center you will find a a statue of the Totem Heroes, where you can save your game (the game also saves after each level automatically), and four different shops around it. The most important one is Madame Couture's, where you can order new outfits and where you can change your current outfit at any time to use them around the town and castle. Some of them even reveal a secret or two.

Otherwise there are the Street Merchant and the Daily Riches, where you can sell, buy, and win materials. The merchant's offers change every day in real time and may even provide you with materials that you have missed. And you can sell him any excess materials, though he seems to be one of the biggest rip-off merchants in the Zelda universe with his purchasing.

At the Daily Riches you can open one of four treasure chests on a daily basis, until you have found the hidden treasure. Curiously, the consolation prizes, the "Freebies", are more valuable than the actual prizes early on, which means that you may even want to lose in this variant of the classic treasure chest game. Both this minigame and the merchant also add a daily component, where it's worthwhile to boot up the game once per day, at least as long as you don't have all the outfits yet.

Last but not least, there is the Miiverse Gallery, which – as the name suggests – is your access point into the Miiverse. You can't just swap to Miiverse during online play, of course, which is why this game offers a camera function via the X button, where you can take one photo per level. The gallery then lets you browse up to 100 photos, manage them, and post them retroactively to the Miiverse. It's a well-made Miiverse integration and fully optional for all those who don't care about Nintendo's little social network.

But together with different books, which you can find all around Hytopia, this is also the starting point of a scavenger hunt, where each of the 32 levels has a hidden secret to be photographed. There is no reward for doing so, but searching for all these secrets can be fun and a nice singleplayer activity.

a Miiverse screenshot showing the princess in the cursed tights on a balcony above the town

You can also discover some random events all around the town, where you get encouraged to post those on Miiverse as well. For example, there is a rare blue bird that may appear from time to time, just like in Skyward Sword. Again, there is nothing to obtain from this, but don't be surprised about to see lots of posts with blue birds in Miiverse.

Other Features

Unlike A Link Between Worlds, StreetPass is not supported by Tri Force Heroes, but instead it features SpotPass next to the Miiverse. There is a clown in town, the Great Tripini, who will tell you about news about the game, where it looks like there may be free updates or even paid DLC in the future.

Link in the 8-Bit Timeless Tunic next to a blue bird and a scary clown

It's actually surprising that the game doesn't make use of amiibo, where there could have been exclusive outfits. But you've got to hand it to Nintendo that they didn't go for this, where it would have been bad if you had to scout for certain amiibo just to complete your costume collection. The way it is they are all nicely integrated into the game and you can earn them via challenges just at the right time.


Tri Force Heroes is for everyone who had fun with Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, but always wanted to play such a multiplayer Zelda game online with other fans. A lot of things have been streamlined in order to achieve this, but it works quite well and can be a lot of fun, especially the communication via icons.

However, if you want to play this alone or with only one more person in private, then it's hard to recommend this game. There is no real two-player mode and the singleplayer is a lot more inconvenient compared to previous titles. The Coliseum battle mode also feels like an afterthought and wasn't well designed, but more about that in a small separate review.

The Good:
  • Solid online multiplayer Zelda game
  • Focus on cooperation and coordination
  • Fun communication icons
  • Outfits with abilities
  • Good difficulty
  • 32 levels with three additional challenges each
  • Download Play support for all levels
  • Nice lobby system
  • Lots of bosses
  • Fresh soundtrack
The Bad:
  • Inconvenient singleplayer mode
  • No two-player mode
  • Lackluster online experience
  • No long-time motivation
  • Silly and superficial story
  • Flawed Coliseum mode
  • Only one save file

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