[Editor's Note: Since Tri Force Heroes is a primarily multiplayer game, this review was originally posted as a two-page review-in-progress. If you'd like to read my final thoughts on the game, you can always skip straight to the third page.]
After The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword broke my heart, 2013's A Link Between Worlds let the healing begin. True, portable installments of this series typically go for a more experimental approach, but Nintendo's willingness to toss aside tradition more than ever before restored my faith in a series that seemed to be spinning its wheels for quite some time.
So it probably doesn't need to be said that I've been excited for Tri Force Heroes since its first reveal; as a fan of the GameCube's great Four Swords Adventures, I know from experience how well The Legend of Zelda lends itself to multiplayer fun—and I've been mystified as to why Nintendo didn't revisit this idea earlier. Tri Force Heroes is a bit different from FSA, though, and not just because it drops the number of Links from four to three. While Four Swords Adventures felt more like a brawler with some switch-stepping and torch-lighting thrown in for good measure, Tri Force Heroes takes the form of a more puzzle-heavy experience, where enemies mostly exist as things to slash between figuring out how to successfully move your Links from Point A to Point B. A worthwhile idea in theory, but in practice, Tri Force Heroes feels like the prototype for what could have been a much better game.
On the bright side, this may be the most irreverent take on Zelda yet, one that often feels like it's playfully thumbing its nose at people with any investment in the series' timeline. In the land of Hytopia, it only takes a certain kind of look to be regarded as The Chosen One, and some of the funnier moments of TFH involve a pink-haired Link to the Past Link bemoaning the fact it isn't him who's been asked to save the Kingdom. The Legend of Zelda has never been too self-serious, but, at times, Tri Force Heroes feels like an outright comedy, right down to the numerous goofy costumes you can have link don, from full-body Zora suits to Zelda dresses to cheerleader outfits. It's a shame that, with the presence of Wind Waker Link (at least in terms of design), TFH doesn't apply the same art style to the rest of the game—or even a visually consistent one, at that—but it's still since to see so much thought put into making the player smile.
Tri Force Heroes differs from your typical Legend of Zelda in that there's no real overworld or formal dungeons; instead, you're given a list of levels to choose from, which each one tasking your team of Links to make it to the Triforce symbol that lies beyond an assortment of environmental puzzles. Each one of these 32 areas offers a specific set of Legend of Zelda tools, though one Link will usually be forced to pick up a different one just to make things interesting. And this could be the first Zelda game to focus primarily on loot, because once you finish an area, you're not necessarily done with it: TFH encourages diving into levels over and over again in the hopes that the one random reward at the end will be just the thing you need to craft the next ridiculous costume you've been eyeing. It's a smart choice, and one that will likely keep TFH's online community active long after most players have reached the end.
In theory, the fundamental outline of Tri Force Heroes stands as an excellent idea, but, in practice, it can often be a nightmare. This may sound like hyperbole, but if you have any notions of even touching the single-player aspect TFH, remove them from your mind immediately. Nintendo came up with the most perfunctory attempt to transform the multiplayer action into something manageable by a single human being, which ranges from tedious at best to horrifyingly demanding at worst. If you go with single-player mode, you're essentially doing the work of three different people by switching between different Links on the fly using the touchpad—the two you aren't controlling revert to lifeless husks. The biggest problem, though, is that TFH apparently doesn't make any alterations if you're playing alone, which can lead to some maddening moments when you reach puzzles that require simultaneous action from two Links at once. At times, I had no choice but to simply exit a level after my nth attempt at a puzzle that was ostensibly possible to finish, but required split-second timing more appropriate for a team of two brains and four hands.
My limited time with TFH's multiplayer mode amounted to local, download play—see Jeremy's Second Opinion on the next page for an account of his online experience—and could have been just fine if not for the lag and constant pauses as the game desperately tried to keep all of our 3DSes in sync. Our session took place in the same room with all three participants sitting roughly five feet from each other, yet this experience soon devolved into us throwing back our heads and laughing at just how frequently Tri Force Heroes threw the brakes on what could have been a fun time. Now, I've spoken with other reviewers who claimed to have none of these problems, and the fact that Nintendo could easily patch them out on the first day makes me a little wary of giving a low score to a version of Tri Force Heroes that essentially doesn't exist. So, until I'm able to play more in the post-release period, check out Jeremy's thoughts on the game.