Zelda is a series where everybody disagrees which game is the “black sheep” of the series. People generally argue for Adventure of Link with its sidescrolling gameplay or Majora’s Mask’s dark themes and hit-or-miss three day mechanic. Fewer, but still a noticeable section of the fanbase, argue for Breath of the Wild being based more on the physics engine, and its drastically different take on dungeons. Then there’s people who think like me, that Tri Force Heroes stands out as the game that changes nearly every convention of Zelda while somehow still managing to keep the elements that make it a great series.

Changing from a single-player to multiplayer focused title is not unique to this title, but the 2.5D perspective and the totem mechanic opened twice again as many unique puzzle opportunities as Four Swords Adventures. Creating a level-based system instead of a traditional overworld capitalized on the online functionality while levels were intricate enough that you still got your exploration itch scratched.

At the very least, this game was different, and I think that usually came across well. Let’s examine further to see just how it stacks up to the competition.

Graphics

It is obvious from the get-go that this game borrows much from A Link Between Worlds, but that’s not necessarily bad. The official art was a little more cartoony, but ingame it was very similar. Simple but noticeable aesthetic changes were made, and of course Link had three colors of hair and a ton of fashionable new getups, but the base model is the same. Both games run on the same engine, so the asset reuse was a fairly obvious idea, and it gave us a new game in a relatively quick timeframe, so who’s to complain?

I feel personally that the official art for this game had a very minimal effect on my perception of the game. That’s not horrible either, but definitely different from other games. Usually I feel that ingame graphics are supplemented by official art in advertisements, instruction books, manuals, and other publications of the like. In Tri Force Heroes, there were fewer officially published art pieces, and most of what was available was just art of Link in funny costumes. I cannot recall seeing any official art relating to any enemy or boss besides Lady Maud. This meant that the ingame sprite work and 3D models had to be spot on to carry across the vision of the artists and designers who conceptualized the battles. That’s a lot of stress to put on a game for a handheld system, but the good folks over at Nintendo and Grezzo punched that challenge in the face. Not for a single second did I lose my immersion from a strangely designed boss, and I never thought the game to be uninteresting due to lackluster visuals. There was always something to look at in the little details, and the big details were moving at a fast enough pace that you rarely had a chance to be bored.

The only complaint I have is just as it was with A Link Between Worlds. Ocarina of Time 3D looked better on the same console, so why can’t this? Just the smoother textures go a long way, and as long as the console is capable, why does this have a small downgrade? It’ll rack up a nine out of ten just like its singleplayer predecessor.

Sound

Asset reuse abounds in this title, and certainly not the least of these is within the score, as well as the sound effects. Much was borrowed from A Link Between Worlds, and oddly, this was the most memorable music from the game. I say oddly because the original tunes were actually incredibly written and performed and if the rest of the score matched this calibur of composition, the original music could easily have matched its predecessor.

The music in this game has a few oddities, however, and so even though much is reused, it can seem new, yet… old. Wearing the 8-bit tunic in game will turn Link into a Minecraft-esque 8-bit block character, and in addition to the retro look, it will also change the entire game’s soundtrack to 8-bit chiptune versions of the same tracks. This is a hilarious throwback to old 8-bit composers, and to actually make all these chiptunes come to life must have been no small workload. This feature is unique to this game, and I think it’s a fun enough concept that I’d love to see it in more Zelda games going forward.

The final note I have on the soundtrack (hehehe, note) is regarding some more original mixes of classic Zelda tunes which appear in a minigame you can play while waiting for other players to join in the online lobby. A ball drops from the ceiling, and it will bounce again and again as long as you can hit it with your sword. While the ball is bouncing, it will play tunes from all across the series that have been newly mixed for this minigame. This is a small addition, and many players probably skipped over it, especially those who went through the game on singleplayer. Still, it is a nice throwback, and a good way to kill time while you wait for that third player.

Honestly I wish the soundtrack overall was a little more memorable, but I cannot complain about how well it was produced. It might have ranked a little higher if it included less reused tunes from A Link Between Worlds, but an eight out of ten is not too shabby.

Gameplay

With the engine copied and pasted from A Link Between Worlds, this game ought to play about the same, right? Not so much. The controls are essentially the same, but the level design and world interaction are worlds apart. Being based around having a party of three characters, the puzzles often utilized the totem mechanic; the ability to stack up to three Links in order to reach new places, hit switches with particular items, or attack a boss that was otherwise unreachable. As fun as the puzzles were in Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, this was a new layer that piled on the puzzle potential. There were many similarities between the Four Sword games and this, but bringing it into the third dimension really capitalized on the concepts in a way that its 2D predecessors were unable to.

The other signature mechanic of this title was quite a shock to many series veterans. Never thought Link would steal Zelda’s dress to go adventuring in, did you? The costumes were wacky, original, and useful. Beyond just the aesthetic value of seeing Link wear the skin of a Goron or the Sword Master Suit, every armor came with a powerup that could really change the flow of any given level. On tough levels, you could equip the Queen of Hearts costume to give your allies a health boost. If you like being “Wicked O-P” (as the kids say these days) with omnidirectional sword beams, the Fierce Deity’s gear is for you. And of course, there is also one suit per item that powers up that item when you use it, giving you more powerful hammer attacks, oversized bombs and boomerangs, or the ability to shoot 3 arrows at once. Put together, the strategy of choosing your costume before each level makes this among the most masterfully integrated metagame mechanics in the series.

This was only one of the elephants in the room, however. Multiplayer was a big issue here, and it’s make or break on this game for many players. I know people who unfortunately had terrible experiences online and never wanted to pick up the game again. I was quite the opposite. While I did still run into the occasional troll who wanted nothing more than to throw bombs at you until you fell off a cliff, my online experiences were generally problem-free. I got in the lobby, a couple players joined, and we had a jolly old time. The online was not a major issue for me, but the singleplayer really irked me. While many found the task of toting Doppels around the whole level to be tedious, I found that their inherent utility made up for this in game-breaking ways.

As an example, when the Den of Trials DLC was released for the game, I downloaded the patch day one and made my way with a group to the very last level before somebody finally had to call it quits. Before we gave in, we had played for hours to get past some of the more difficult challenges, and had wiped on the final level upwards of fifteen times, but the time had come. Going forward with online groups, I never found a group again that was as far along as me, and try as I might, I could not find a group who could even come within three stages of my achievement, so just to see, I booted it up in singleplayer to attempt to finally obtain my Fierce Deity costume.

I beat the level I had wiped on fifteen times on my first try. Why? The Doppels are a broken mechanic which you can use to your advantage and basically avoid damage one hundred percent of the time if you get good. When an enemy is about to hit you, simply switch your position with another Doppel, and now the guy standing where you were is invincible, and you can backstab the foolish foe who was trying to take him out. Using this to my advantage, I completed the most difficult combat challenge in the game without taking a single heart worth of damage. I got my Fierce Deity costume, but I felt gypped by the experience.

This is a great game that’s only downfall is that it was designed as a multiplayer experience, and the last-minute singleplayer addition simply did not stack up to what it needed to be by making the game too easy. I want to give it a perfect score, but this one thing holding it back leaves me with only a nine out of ten for it.

Story

Gosh. I have no idea where to start. Do I start at the plot point? Or do I just spoil the ending that everybody guessed mere seconds after watching the opening cutscene? Well basically, Link shows up in a new town where the princess is cursed to not be able to wear fancy dresses like she likes, so he has to team up with two other guys with sideburns to beat up a witch. That’s it. That is literally the entire story.

I can’t even make fun of it because the story simply doesn’t have enough meat to make fun of. There are more fully animated cutscenes in this than the original Legend of Zelda, but somehow less story. Even if you had to read the instruction manual to get most of the story, this original NES classic still makes Tri Force Heroes look like a joke. I don’t have anything bad to say, but I don’t have anything good to say either. The complete lack of any substantial story leaves a sad score of zero out of ten. I cannot review what is not there.

Overall

Tri Force Heroes is an incredible game to binge with your buddies, though at times the online could be tedious, and nowadays the servers are pretty much dead. The last few times I tried to play, I sadly sat for half an hour before a single person showed up in my lobby, and shortly thereafter, he left me stranded once more. I still adore the charm of the level design, the small but satisfying score, and the wackiness of the whole game. If only it had a story, it would stand out among some of the greats, but instead it walks out the door with a sorry twenty-six out of forty.

What’s your opinion, though? Did you hate carrying the Doppels because your friends are lame? Do you think Lady Maud is the deepest villain in the series? Did I give too much credit to a game that was half copied from A Link Between Worlds? Shout out in the comments or on Twitter, or give me a mention on the TGPZ Discord server, and we can keep the conversation climbing!

Current Rankings:

Link’s Awakening: 40/40
Ocarina of Time: 40/40
Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons: 40/40
A Link to the Past: 39/40
Wind Waker: 39/40
Twilight Princess: 37/40
A Link Between Worlds: 35/40
Majora’s Mask: 33/40
Minish Cap: 31/40
Phantom Hourglass: 30/40
The Legend of Zelda: 30/40
Skyward Sword: 29/40
Four Swords: 28/40
Four Swords Adventures: 26/40
Spirit Tracks: 26/40
Tri Force Heroes: 26/40
The Adventure of Link: 19/40