Tri Force Heroes is probably not the Zelda game many wanted. In fact, with its release taking place not even two years removed from the last handheld installment of the franchise, the fantastic A Link Between Worlds, it is probably not the Zelda game we needed either. However, by neglecting those two facts, which are indeed completely irrelevant when what is most important about gaming – sheer fun – is considered, Tri Force Heroes emerges as an excellent little detour on the way towards a bigger destination.
There are indeed criticisms to be made. The plot is decidedly bad, and if it was indeed attempting to be purposely silly it fails in the most important aspect when one is crafting a storyline of the kind, which is letting your target audience know you are not taking any piece of it remotely seriously. It is also questionable whether the single-player campaign should have been released as it is when its general clunkiness is so evident. Finally, as a sequel to A Link Between Worlds, it inherits the game’s core flaw, which is its absolutely bland art style.
With those stones, and a few other nitpicks, out of the way, Tri Force Heroes has – in its first few hours – revealed itself as an absurdly fun game. This is the weird merging point between Nintendo’s knack for producing easy-to-love-and-digest party entertainment and the fully engaging, immerssive, brain-teasing, and exciting journey of going through a dungeon of the Zelda universe. The thirty-two available maps are each divided into four segments, which gives the titular trio checkpoints along the way to the finish, and can be cleared in times ranging from ten to twenty minutes depending on players’ expertise and general difficulty.
There is a formerly untapped sense of joy in connecting to people from around the globe and then watching as three differently colored Links desperately run across the screen while cooperatively killing enemies, solving puzzles, making mistakes, trying to help one another, getting mad at each other, and sometimes having no clue whatsoever as to what needs to be done in order to clear a particular portion of the level. It produces an intriguing level of simultaneous cluelessness, struggle, and discovery that is satisfying and, sometimes, absolutely hilarious.
The dungeons contribute to that by presenting a careful balance between combat, action, and puzzle-solving. Therefore, at one moment the heroes will be fighting for survival against a horde of enemies; one minute later they might be running for their lives amidst a series of traps; only to them be stopped on their feet by a tricky riddle. The fact that, either through the combined use of the items acquired at the beginning of each dungeon or through the totem technique that has the Links piling on top of one another, the game often demands that players work together is the beautiful icing on top of the design goodness.
There are barely any moments or dangers that can be surpassed without cooperation, and so Tri Force Heroes has its players working together at all times. Some might rightfully complain there is no voice chat, an element that would certainly facilitate the team’s organization, but truth is the buttons Nintendo offers for communication are expressive, straightforward, and effective enough to help people through their troubles.
At the end of the day, Tri Force Heroes will likely not win any awards or go down in history as one of the greatest and most impressive Zelda games ever. However, it does its job as an exercise in cooperative multiplayer action extremely well, for it checks the boxes that are important for that kind of experience with room to spare. It is simple, easy to pick-up and play, can be consumed in short bursts, and – most importantly – it is fun, satisfying, and laugh-out-loud hilarious in a way that is hard to describe, all of that covered with the Zelda charm and the franchise’s high quality standards for level design.