When I wrote about The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes previously I was pretty hard on it. I stand by that. Fortunately, the single player experience that I wrote about last time is a pale shadow of an absolutely delightful multiplayer mode. If you can play this game with others then you’re in for a treat.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is not the first time Nintendo has toyed with multiplayer Zelda games, there have been three iterations of the four swords franchise previous to this and also an online versus mode in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for all that anyone remembers it. Every single one of these has been fun. The problem for these games has only ever been accessibility. GBA link cables, Gamecube adapters, the Nintendo DS Nintendo Wi-Fi connection experience… heck, even the Four Swords adaptation for the 3DS download was limited release! I could hardly fault someone for never experiencing the joy of multiplayer Zelda.
…until now that is. This is the game. Finally, the joys, betrayals, and goofiness of multiplayer Zelda have been made accessible to the point that I can recommend them without hesitation. Lobbies are still entirely more convoluted than they should be (you can’t play through the game with a friend locally, you’ll need to both go online and invite a third stranger to join you) but it is possible to enjoy multiplayer Zelda at last for the cost of only a single game cart. It only took you a decade Nintendo.
If you’re one of the select crowd that has somehow managed to scrape together the apparatus and players to experience multiplayer Zelda before now, you don’t even need to read this. You know how fun this is and you probably already own the game. For everyone else though, let me give you the skinny on why this traditionally single player franchise translates to multiplayer so well.
It’s madness. Where single player Zelda games task the player with slowly and methodically putting together puzzle solutions, multiplayer Zelda gives similar challenges to groups of uncoordinated players. You know that satisfying click of “Oh, NOW I get it” when you figure out how to progress in a Zelda dungeon? Once you achieve that, you’re pretty much done. Multiplayer Zelda takes the focus off of the realization and focuses more on the execution. Sure it’s pretty obvious what to do when there’s a bomb wall on the other side of the pool and everyone has rods that make bridges across water… but can you actually build a seamless bridge for a bomb carrier to walk over? Can you do it when you only have the ability to build half of the bridge yourself?
The level design that has always elevated Zelda above its peers is just as sharp in multiplayer as single player, but multiplayer design necessitates that the game become more of an action game. And it is an excellent action game. It is hard enough to punish sloppy play while forgiving enough to allow experimentation. It is clever enough to justify heavy use of the included charming emotes while simple enough to be entirely possible to decipher with three random people on the internet. It’s complex enough to feel rewarding while also being accessible enough not to alienate the uninitiated.
There are still issues with how Nintendo packages their multiplayer Zelda experience. You can only vote for the stage that will be played which leads to unfortunate repetition when other folks win the level select raffle and send you back to a stage you just played. The servers struggled to hold up during launch (although I’ve suffered nary a hitch in the last few days). There are no tools available to prevent trolls from intentionally ruining your experience. These are all legitimate issues that need to be addressed. But finally the good outweighs the bad.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes lets you play Zelda with friends and strangers all over the world whenever you want. Everything else is peripheral to that simple achievement. If there’s a Tri Force Heroes 2 that will be the time to demand meaningful improvements that resolve this game’s issues. This game certainly doesn’t represent the best possible multiplayer Zelda experience. But it presents a multiplayer Zelda experience that is functional and accessible. For now, for me, that is enough. I’ve been having a blast. See you online.