Gaming Confession Time:  I'm not above the occasional impulse purchase.  Every now and then, I sift through the Playstation Store or pass through the Electronic section of Target aimlessly searching for something new to play, and often come out with something I didn't intend on purchasing to begin with.  It's not a great habit to have, but it has exposed me to new franchises and games that I've fallen in love with that I probably wouldn't have played otherwise.

Yesterday, as I meandered about my local game store, I found a new copy of The Legend of Zelda:  Tri Force Heroes for the Nintendo 3DS.  Prior to that point, I was utterly apathetic to the new release.  It seemed merely like a stop-gap to keep Nintendo fans satisfied until the new open world Legend of Zelda inevitably releases on the Wii U (or NX!) late next year.  However, given my affinity for the series and some rather fun footage of the game I'd seen (like Game Informer's Test Chamber) I figured why not?  I walked out of the store with a new addition to my 3DS library.

Only to find myself returning it the next day.

While there is a lot to love about Tri Force Heroes, the game also suffers from flaws both small and large that seriously hinder the experience, and to ensure you don't suffer my same fate, I'd like to take a moment to discuss what clicked with me and what I loathed in Link's latest outing, to see if the newest addition to the almost 30 year-old beloved series is right for you.  So grab your nearest pointy-ended weapon and grab a stylish outfit!  For this blog, we're heading to The Drablands!

Just as Tri-Force Heroes stars three protagonists, this blog will have three parts...  Let's start on a positive note...

THE GOOD

It's the same ol' Legend of Zelda you know and (probably) love.

This may actually upset just as many people than it pleases, but despite its departure from the series' norm, Tri Force Heroes contains many of the elements fans have come to love about The Legend of Zelda; as you'd expect from a recent Nintendo release, Tri-Force Heroes does not aim to re-invent the foundation its series is founded upon.  Notably, the game uses the same engine as 2013's A Link Between Worlds.  While some may bemoan this potentially lazy design choice, I was rather pleased with it.  The visuals suit a handheld console well, the 3D effect is rather eye-pleasing, and most importantly, every action no matter how big or small feels very satisfying.  Even movement and sword swinging feels great because of how fluid the control scheme is.

Moreover, the game boasts clever puzzle solving, fun new weapons to try out, and a healthy dose of charm, with jokes about cosplay and corny fashion puns about.  It certainly can't stand among the series' best installments, but Tri Force Heroes delivers the same fun that Legend of Zelda games are known for almost three decades.

Tri-Force Heroes sports the same art style as A Link Between Worlds, a visual choice that I feel suits its handheld world well.

Sorry Link!  But your princess' style is in another castle!

Despite every title in the series featuring a similar, formulaic story, The Legend of Zelda games often have plots that take themselves very seriously, with a world always in danger, a princess' safety always at stake, and no shortage of lives that need to be saved.  Make no mistake, the stakes are always high for our plucky hero Link.  ...Except in Tri-Force Heroes that is.

Tri-Force Heroes stars the same incarnation of Link as A Link Between World, who, after defeating Yuga, travels to the nearby kingdom of Hytopia seeking a new adventure.  He answers a call for heroes as the land is in dire need of help!  The Princess of the Kingdom is in danger!  ...Sort of.  She was deemed "too stylish" by a nasty witch and cursed to wear a black leotard for the rest of her days, and now her father is seeking heroes with legendary sideburns to defeat the vile witch and undo the curse.

It's a really silly set-up, and a rather dumb impetus for starting an adventure, but Tri-Force Heroes relishes in its doofy premise.  The game's NPCs are obsessed with fashion, and their biggest fear is that they will be cursed to walk the world without style.  There never really feels like there's much at stake in this particular Legend of Zelda outing, but while purists may cry foul, I honestly thought Tri-Force Heroes' story was a refreshing departure from the norm.  Fans have been begging Nintendo to try something new with the storytelling set-up in The Legend of Zelda games for years, and it seems the company has finally listened...even if the final product isn't what most people expected.

Yikes!  That leotard really is ugly!  Maybe this is an important quest after all...

Fashion is your friend.

Hytopia is a vain land obsessed with style and fashion. But its NPCs don't just rant about it all the time - it actually has an effect on the gameplay too!  While Link dons his familiar and heroic green tunic once more in this outing, throughout the adventure players can collect materials and money which can then be used to build new garments for the hero to wear.  These aren't just for show though - they have various properties that change the entire way the game can be played, and it's important to pick a garb well-suited to the level you're tackling.  The Goron Garb for example, lets players swim in lava with no negative side effects, and the Big Bomb Suit increases the size of bombs players can throw drastically.  There's a fair number of silly outfits (Link can crossdress in a Zelda garb for example), but by and large these suits offer a number of welcome advantages that change up the gameplay in welcome ways.

That Tingle costume makes me very uncomfortable.  Even more than cross-dressing Link does...

Local multiplayer with three friends is a hoot!

In the next two section of this blog, I'm going to criticize this game rather harshly, but I need to emphasize that if you play this game as the developers intended - three people with their own system and Game Card working together - it can be a riotously good time.  I had two of my buddies over to play it yesterday, and the room was filled with laughs and shouting (and an unhealthy amount of profanity) for the hour we played.  Thankfully unlike previous multiplayer Zelda games, in Tri-Force Heroes, all three players share the same health meter ("sharing is caring!" according to the game).  This can be frustrating if you're playing with a woefully inept player, but for the most part it forces players to actually work together and not toss each other into pits the whole time, since if one team member goes down, the whole team goes down.

Moreover, the game boasts a rather cool "totem" mechanic where 2 or 3 players can pick each other up and extend skyward.  The person on top can use their sword or other weapons from a new height, the person on the bottom can move all three heroes at once, and if there's someone in the middle they can...relax?  The totem element adds verticality to the game's puzzles and combat, and is a suitable replacement for A Link Between Worlds' "wall-merging" ability.  

Nintendo doesn't seem to realize that this is no longer the age of the Game Boy.  Not everyone owns a Nintendo handheld these days, and I'd imagine it will be hard for many people to find two Zelda fanatic friends to enjoy Tri-Force Heroes with.  All the same, if the opportunity for three player local multiplayer arrives, don't pass up on it!  It's an experience you won't soon forget!

The totem mechanic is a rather cool one.  With it, puzzles can now extend skyward, and fights with enemies suddenly feel like games of chicken!

THE BAD

You can't play with one other friend locally without jumping through hoops.

If you've been reading up until now, you're probably wondering why I returned Tri-Force Heroes to the store, given my praise for it.  However, the game suffers from quite a few minor flaws that hamper the experience, and they're worth covering in this section of the blog.

The most notable is the omission of two-player local multiplayer.  As stated before, it's likely many will have trouble hunting down two friends to play Tri-Force Heroes with, but I'm sure that most people probably have at least one buddy willing to play with them.  Sadly, there is no option to play two player local multiplayer, and have the third character be controlled by the computer.

There is a work-around.  If the friend you want to play with is on your 3DS Friend List, you can play together online even if you're in the same room and then seek a stranger to play with you through the Internet.  It's cumbersome to have to set up a lobby this way, and it's impossible to do so if you don't have access to a quality Internet connection.  It also runs the risk of the third player, the stranger, derailing all your progress.  It's baffling why Nintendo wouldn't simply let two friends play together and have A.I. fill the void for the third player.  

I guess you could say the missing LINK in this game is 2 player local multiplayer!  Get it?!  Because there's a Link missing in... never mind.

A Nintendo game with no voice chat?!  Blasphemy!

True to Nintendo tradition, while Tri-Force Heroes boasts decent online gameplay in its campaign, it lacks voice chat to any capacity.  While I can appreciate Nintendo's family friendly disposition - there are a lot of naughty mouthed pre-teens plaguing the online community after all - they should at least let the option of voice chat exist for those over a certain age.  Tri-Force Heroes does boast a capable online mode, but it's severely hampered by the fact players can't directly communicate, which is essential for a game based around solving mentally taxing puzzles as a team.

The game does boast several emoticons that can indicate simple tasks like "come over here!" or "good job!" but these fail to prove useful in some of the game's more challenging puzzles.  I understand why a shooter such as Splatoon would lack voice chat, but its omission in a more cognitively complex game like Tri Force Heroes is much harder to justify.

Emoticons like these are cute, but they aren't an efficient substitute for voice chat.

THE UGLY

BUZZ BLOB CAVERN, BUZZ BLOB CAVERN, BUZZ BLOB CAVERN, BUZZ BLOB...

The aforementioned problems were more nitpicks than anything else.  But Tri-Force Heroes suffers from infuritating design choices that overpowered all the good to come from the game and drove me to sell it.  Easily the biggest problem the game suffers from is that it will force you to play the same 32 levels over and over again until you go mad before you'll be able to reach the final boss.  When playing online with strangers (which I imagine will be a popular way to play the game), after choosing one of the game's eight themed worlds, players will vote to play one of the four dungeons that comprise this world.

The problem lies in the fact that once you want to get to the latter (and more challenging) of these four levels, you'll often be paired with newer players who have yet to clear the earlier and easier levels, and thus said players vote for the earlier levels, ones you've likely already beaten..  And if you have rotten luck like me, that means you'll be stuck in a never-ending loop replaying the same two levels (for me it was Deku Forest and the dreaded Buzz Blob Cavern) over and over again until the latter levels finally get chosen in a vote. This wouldn't be an issue if the levels changed slightly each time you play them, but this isn't the case at all.  The puzzle solutions are always identical, meaning that some players will know the solutions well ahead of their teammates, and get impatient when their allies take longer than them to figure the answer out.  

The reverse of this scenario is equally destructive; if the more challenging levels are chosen, then the inexperienced players may falter in clearing them because they haven't been sufficiently eased into their high difficulty level.  Voting for stages is simply poor game design.  It would have been much better if you voted for a course first, and then the game paired you with players who want to play the same level.

There simply isn't anything fun about repeating the same content ad nauseam, especially when the rewards for doing so are minimal and team mates may grow to resent each other due to difference in skill levels.  This problem is made even worse when you consider...

The single-player mode is awful.

I know what some of you are thinking....  Why not just clear the harder levels by yourself if playing them with strangers is hard to accomplish?  I would do exactly that....if there were any fun to derive from playing the game by yourself.  In previous multiplayer Zelda games, there was a rather well-implemented single player mode where the player would assume the role of one Link, whom the other 3 would automatically follow.  There is no such feature in Tri Force Heroes' single player.

If you're playing by yourself in the world of Hytopia, you'll be accompanied by two eerie humanoid dolls known as "Doppels."  At the press of a button, you can assume control of a different Doppel, and only by constantly switching back and forth between them do you stand any chance of success in the Drablands.  However, because of how incessantly frequently you'll be switching between characters, Tri-Force Heroes' single player campaign is a woefully cumbersome affair that has no sense of flow.  Even if it's a straight path to the exit, you'll have to guide each character individually there, making even the simplest and quickest of affairs tediously long.  In Tri-Force Heroes, it's not just dangerous to go alone.  It's horrendously boring.

Just a few minutes of Tri-Force Heroes' tedious single-player mode left me as dull and lifeless as the Doppel figures you control in it.

This is not a game that begs to be played.

As I said before, there's a lot to like about Tri Force Heroes, but at the end of the day, this is not a game that is essential for anybody to play by any standard.  There are far better Legend of Zelda games out there.  There are infinitely better co-op games out there.  There are dozens of 3DS games better than this one.  Ultimately, you're far better off re-playing A Link Between Worlds or teaming up for a match of Destiny with friends than adventuring to Hytopia.  There's good fun to be had in three-player local multi-player, but if you're playing any other way - whether  by yourself, with friends online, or with strangers online, you're not getting the full experience.

Yeah yeah, you heard me Link.  Your latest game kind of sucks in my opinion.  Sorry!

At the end of the day, while I haven't beaten Tri-Force Heroes (and never will) I'd argue it's the worst of all The Legend of Zelda games I've played.  I was right in my initial impressions of it - it's a mere stopgap to tide fans over until the inevitable console Zelda next year - be it on NX or Wii U.  If you have two buddies you can consistently play this game the whole way through with, Hytopia may be worth a visit, but otherwise this is an adventure as drab as its antagonist in my personal opinion.

Have you played Tri-Force Heroes?  What are your thoughts on it?  Sound off in the comments below, and happy gaming!