Fashion faux pas

When a new Legend of Zelda game comes out, it’s damned near impossible for me to stop playing it until I see the end credits roll. Ever since that first golden cartridge hit my NES when I was a little kid, those initial playthroughs spurred marathons that likely contribute to my insomnia today. While most of them were worth it, there have been a couple of misses along the way—and it seems that The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes falls into that category. While I hate to see most Zelda titles end, I couldn’t wait until Tri Force Heroes was mercifully over.

Tri Force Heroes does not take place in Hyrule, but instead the world of Hytopia, a land where all the people are fixated on fashion. When this realm’s Princess Styla, the most fashionable person in Hytopia, is stricken with a witch’s curse that traps her in a black body stocking, the king sends out a decree searching for heroes to strike down the witch and bring peace (and high fashion) back to his kingdom. And, according to Hytopian legend, three fated heroes who look alarmingly alike will have to come together to break this curse—with you destined to be one of those heroes.

Since Hytopia is such a fashion-obsessed society, a big element of Tri Force Heroes is that what Link wears plays a large part of being a hero there. After grinding for different crafting materials by repeatedly beating dungeons, he can have the local seamstress put together new costumes that give him subtle benefits while out battling in the Drablands—Hytopia’s fashionless equivalent to Hyrule’s Dark World and where most of the action in the game takes place. For example, the Kokiri Suit allows Link to fire three arrows from his bow in a spread formation, while the Big Bomb Suit increases the size and strength of your bombs.

As ridiculous as it all may sound, it’s not the first time the Zelda franchise has made it so that Link wasn’t saving Zelda, doing work in a realm outside Hyrule, or even teaming up with duplicates of himself. It’s also not the first time we’ve seen unique gameplay elements added to the series, with games even as recent as 2013’s A Link Between Worlds immediately coming to mind. So, while I may have been hesitant upon first hearing the premise, I put my misgivings aside and tried to look at Tri Force Heroes as I would any other Legend of Zelda title.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really have problems adjusting to life in Hytopia or the garb-centric gameplay. Instead, it was everything else involving gameplay that ended up preventing me from enjoying this experience.


The biggest disappointment with Tri Force Heroes is that there is no exploration in the game whatsoever. Hytopia acts as a small hub world before Link sets off in a linear adventure where he must beat four levels in each of eight different worlds, as Link looks to collect the parts of a dress that will allow him to break the princess’s curse. The levels are broken down into four mini-stages with each requiring you to solve a puzzle, usually oriented around the three heroes of the story working together.

In fact, the levels are so puzzle focused that Link doesn’t have an item inventory. After selecting your costume from your wardrobe, each area then starts you with the items you’ll need to beat each stage. For example, you never have to worry about finding the bow in a dungeon because it’s gifted to you in certain levels, but then taken away and replaced by the boomerang (or other classic Zelda item) in others, depending on the level design and puzzle parameters. It simplifies the gameplay to a point there is minimal challenge because there are so few variables when all you have is your sword and a single item. Plus, this removes the fun of discovery that most Legend of Zelda titles have, and only compounds the game’s linearity since there’s no opportunity to backtrack and unlock the secrets of an ever-expanding world. Unlike the magical garments that populate the game, what you see is what you get with Tri Force Heroes.

To try to replace some of this lost replayability, each level has three optional challenges that you can complete. Beating a level within a certain time limit or completing it without having used your sword are just a couple of the numerous challenge variations you’ll come across. This means that the 32 levels the game touts actually can turn into 128 if you are patient enough to try and beat each and every challenge. It works well, but it feels out of place being the sole focus for something in The Legend of Zelda series.

Another misstep for Tri Force Heroes comes in the form of the heavily touted co-op. As the title and plot imply, you can play with two friends and tackle the levels as a group, but the option to play with two people and with one AI is oddly missing outside of a tacked on versus mode. You can even play locally with only one cartridge per three 3DSs. And trust me, the local option is the preferred route. Although playing online with people over great distances is all well and good, the communication system in Tri Force Heroes is limited to eight emojis that translate to “Hello”, “Good Job”, “Go Over There” and other simple phrases that really handcuff your team when trying to solve the game’s puzzles—making the already limited core gameplay even more difficult to enjoy. Playing with people in the same room, whether with one or three cartridges, is really the only way to go because communication is key when working with others towards a common goal.


With so many of the puzzles revolving around three Links needing to solve them, the issue then arises of what do you do when playing by yourself. Luckily, much like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, players going it solo can control the trio of Links. Unfortunately, however, Tri Force Heroes’ system of control is far less efficient than that Gamecube classic.

Instead of allowing players to control all the Links at once and put them in formations like in Four Swords Adventures, you have to switch between each one manually. As the story goes, Link is actually traveling with two “doppels”— enchanted dolls that he can pass his soul between. This means that many times you’ll have to backtrack in order to drag the sometimes-left-behind doppels to the end of a stage after clearing the path, because you can only beat a stage when all three characters are on a Triforce symbol. (Which makes no sense, really, when you consider Hytopia is a world without Zelda, Ganon, the Triforce, etc.). This repetition only adds to the inherent grind the game already provides if you try to collect all the items necessary for the various outfits Link can wear.

All that being said, let me be clear, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes isn’t a horrible game. Hytopia and its people are as charming as those found in any other Zelda title, and the fashion gimmick is an interesting gameplay twist. If you like the idea of solving simple puzzles with a Legend of Zelda flair, and small, quick levels for short bursts of gameplay, then this game delivers.

For those of us who have grown up with Zelda, and who can’t help but be sucked into nearly each and every one of Link’s subsequent adventures, though, I can’t get past the sense that this could’ve been any other adventure game minus the Legend of Zelda coat of paint. Tri Force Heroes just comes off as too one-dimensional in its focus for diehards of the series to get into it—but it might make a decent time sink for more casual fans who can chip away at the levels and their challenge variations on their daily commute.


Developer: Grezzo, Nintendo • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone  • Release Date: 10.23.15
Tri Force Heroes is a Zelda game in name only. When you dig just past the surface, poor gameplay mechanics and key missing elements for a Zelda title tarnish what is otherwise a serviceable adventure game.
The Good Tons of content. Puzzles are good in short doses.
The Bad The grind for unnecessary gear. Difficult to complete without friends who are in the same room as you.
The Ugly Anyone who has wanted to see Link in a dress for an entire game can now get their wish.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes  is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.