When you start a new Zelda game, there are a few things you expect to see: a hero in green, a fantasy realm in danger, cleverly designed dungeons that end with a giant boss battle. You’ll wield a sword, boomerang, bomb, and a bow, and if you chop down grass, money will come out. All of these aspects are present in The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, which launches this week on the Nintendo 3DS. But the experience isn’t your typical Zelda. Instead of an epic, realm-spanning adventure, it’s more of a cooperative puzzle game, where you work together with two other players to complete bite-sized dungeons. It's a streamlined take on the Zelda formula — one where you can dress Link up in a frilly blue dress.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the game is its silliness. While some Zelda adventures can be a bit dour, Tri Force Heroes is the opposite. It’s a game where you are literally restoring a town’s fashion sense. A witch has cursed the princess so that she can no longer wear pretty dresses, and her subjects are weary of dressing too fancy, lest they be cursed as well. To save them, you venture through a series of dungeons, called the Drablands, in order to bring back precious materials and make awesome new outfits. It’s incredibly goofy, and in a lot of ways very un-Zelda. At one point Link says "adorbs."
The game itself is a similar departure. Tri Force Heroes is most reminiscent of the Gamecube cult classic Four Swords Adventures, a game that not enough people played because it required a ridiculous amount of hardware to enjoy with friends. Tri Force Heroes remedies this problem, letting you play with other people either online or locally. Each player takes on the role of one of three different-colored Links — get it, Tri Force Heroes? — and you need to work together in different ways to navigate dungeons.
For starters, the three characters can be stacked on top of each other, like a totem pole, letting you reach higher areas or fight especially tall enemies. Most of the dungeons also revolve around items, just like in a standard Zelda game, which gives them a puzzle-like feel; all three Links often wield different items, and they need to work together in a particular way so that everyone can get to the end of a stage. You might use a gust of wind to blow your friend across a gap, and once they make it safely across they use a boomerang to bring you over.
There’s a wide range of items — there’s even a Super Mario-like fireball — and it’s really satisfying when you figure out how they’re supposed to be used in a particular puzzle. The bosses are a highlight, as the way you need to cooperate often changes over the course of the fight as the monster evolves into new forms. The structure is pretty open, so you can tackle many of the stages in whatever order you like, and they’re also relatively short, a good fit for a portable game. Tri Force Heroes is Zelda stripped to its basics, and then packaged in a way you can enjoy in short bursts.
In keeping with the fashion theme, you’ll gather supplies out in the Drablands, which you can bring back to create new clothes with helpful powers. An outfit might increase the chances of getting healing hearts, or improve your ability to use a bomb. But they’re also adorable; you can dress Link up in a gorgeous pink princess dress, or make him look like a stony Goron giant. It’s a side diversion, but the dress-up aspect of Tri Force Heroes is one of my favorite parts of the game.
Tri Force Heroes is billed as a multiplayer experience, and that’s how it’s best enjoyed, but it’s also surprisingly great if you play solo. This mode lets you venture into a dungeon with Link and two dummies — called doppels — who serve in place of player-controlled allies. You’re in charge of all three of them; at any point you can swap between the three characters, and those not in use simply sit idle, waiting for your command. Certain moments can be more tedious when you’re playing by yourself, forcing you to constantly swap back and forth between characters, and anything requiring fast reflexes is very challenging (thankfully, the game gives you the option to skip troublesome puzzles). That said, I played the majority of the game by myself, and it was a lot of fun — it’s just a bit more work.
Even though Tri Force Heroes is very different from the standard Zelda adventure, it scratches the same itch. You still get the cleverly designed dungeons and bosses, but instead of huge quests, they’re stripped down to smaller levels you can play with friends. It’s a Zelda you can enjoy in small chunks, instead of one that requires your utmost attention for hours. It might just be the perfect game to hold you off until Link’s next big adventure.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes launches October 23rd on the Nintendo 3DS