Anyone who has ever played a Zelda game knows the adage “it’s dangerous to go alone,” which is why one of Nintendo’s latest for the 3DS, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, is such a neat idea. You don’t have to be alone anymore. I recently got to try it out thanks to a free demo code (actually three free codes, so I could conscript some pals) that enabled me to play local or online co-op in an available dungeon. I ended up jumping online and was pleasantly surprised with a game that used some simple concepts to deliver an experience with surprising depth.
Connecting with others was a snap, and surprisingly stable for what was essentially a beta test for the servers. Within a few seconds of selecting the online play option, I was engaged in a game with two random people located elsewhere on the planet. Nintendo has been ramping up its online support in recent years, and it’s paying off with the ease of the connection in Tri Force Heroes.
The premise of the game is simple: you make your way through dungeons with your companions while solving puzzles and collecting goodies along the way. Before each adventure, players don different outfits and equip different tools that grant various abilities and bonuses, and the idea is that your tools should be complimentary. Once in a dungeon, the orthographic view allows you to see the surrounding areas and keep track of your friends when they’re nearby. The gameplay is similar to other Zelda games, allowing players to strike, run, and perform ranged attacks.
What’s interesting is that not all targets and hazards are on the same plane, forcing players to stack themselves on top of one another to complete certain tasks. (The player on the bottom has control of movement and the player on top is in control of attacks.) It’s a fun system that takes some getting used to, but when you gel with your companions it’s a satisfying way to progress through the game.
Puzzles are challenging enough to be fun, though the bulk of the difficulty comes from the coordination (or lack thereof) between you and your friends. The health meter is a shared resource, so a wrong move from one may spell disaster for the rest (griefing your buddies by tossing them into harm’s way is not the best way to finish a level). Furthermore, there is no voice chat, so communications are limited to a few emote buttons on the touch-screen, though it’s a more effective way of communicating than you’d think. Each emote increases in size when pressed repeatedly, allowing you to emphasize a specific command or request.
I played a few rounds and enjoyed myself immensely. The animation quality is fantastic (the 3D option looks great, especially on the newer 3DS XL), and the controls are responsive and precise (which is amazing considering that I was playing online). I never had an issue with any of the aesthetics or the manipulation of my character. Load times were also swift. The only real issue that I found was that you can’t play with only two people. You either play on your own (with AI, I presume, as I didn’t get to play single-player mode) or with two other friends. It’s too bad, because it limits local play opportunities if you don’t have friends with 3DS units or if you have schedules that don’t get along.
Tri Force Heroes releases later this week, and if this online demo is any indication, it should be very enjoyable. I had a lot of fun playing the demo with strangers and can only imagine that the other modes will be just as fun to play. In many respects, Tri Force Heroes takes the basic essence of what it is to play a Zelda game and allows you to share the experience with others, which is really what online gaming is all about.