E3 2015: Zelda: Triforce Heroes hands-on: wee three Links

The Legend of Zelda series is getting another co-op adventure, this time with an emphasis on verticality that accents the 3DS capabilities. Plus, you can play dress-up.


The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes is a hodge-podge of different elements from the series--a sort of "every part of the buffalo" approach to game design. The easy analog is to Four Swords Adventures, the four-player cooperative game with multicolored Links running around the battlefield and solving puzzles. The comparison isn't quite that simple, however, and the blend of old and new pieces made my short time with it feel fresh and original.

The visual style is much more similar to A Link Between Worlds, the spectacular 3DS sequel to the classic SNES game. That game was meant to be a showpiece for the system's 3D capabilities, by introducing vertically-oriented dungeons that could be best managed by viewing it in 3D. That ultimately didn't amount to much, especially given that the 2DS forced Eiji Aonuma to tone it down, but Triforce Heroes brings back that emphasis.

The puzzles are centered around what representatives call the "totem" system: all three variations of Link stand on each other's shoulders, allowing them to hit high switches or engage with enemies in the air. (And, presumably, to throw on a long trenchcoat and sneak into an R-rated movie.) The conceit is silly, and naturally it looks pretty goofy, but the more cartoon aesthetic fits it well. 

It also divides up the responsibilities for puzzle-solving in a way that requires cooperation. The top totem piece can be in charge of attacking or accurately shooting an arrow, while the bottom-rung has to keep everyone safe and help put the top in a position to aim. The middle-totem is a placeholder without anything to do, at least in the examples I saw. The interplay between the top and bottom pieces can be difficult using only the provided emotes, so it's probably best suited for in-person co-op. Then again, being a little chaotic is part of the fun, since aiming while accounting for another player's own actions makes it more challenging.

Adding to the silliness are the addition of costumes, ranging from a Robin Hood-like bowman to pajamas nicknamed "Lucky Loungewear." It's a cute touch, and certainly helps differentiate between the Links beyond the simple color swaps. But it also has more utility than that. Different costumes come with different effects, which means some will be better suited to a particular puzzle or stage, and others will be utterly useless.

The bowman costume, for example, lets Link shoot three arrows. When it came to totem areas that required him to shoot a moving switch with precision, it made the task much easier by providing a wider coverage area. What I saw was only some minor working examples of this in action, but I could already see how in the full game teams would have to strategize their outfits and totem stacking choices accordingly.

Those kinds of cooperative choices make it feel like a very different kind of Zelda game. All the ingredients are in place, but they've been mixed together to bring out a new flavor. We'll have to see if the variety of puzzles and dungeon types can keep up with the originality of the gameplay when Triforce Heroes launches later this year.

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