I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out "The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes" was going to have a single-player mode.
I haven’t played it yet.
Nintendo tricked me into jumping into online play by dangling a demo in front of me, so I teamed up with two strangers, struck off into the Drablands and haven’t looked back.
The plot of the new handheld entry is more of a premise. Princess Styla has been cursed with a drab onesie by a witch, so the fashion-conscious inhabitants of Hytopia are living a life of couture terror. In a "Four Swords" vein, three Links team up to save the day; with local or online play, that’s you and two other people, but single-player lets you transfer control between Link and two dummies.
The key mechanic of the game is the ability of the Links to pick each other up, stacking into a two- or three-tall totem. The bottom player does the movement while the top player does the action. (Sorry, middle guy, you’re just added height. Grab a quick nap.)
The stacking allows enemies and switches of varying heights. With each hero equipped with one item — sometimes the same, sometimes different, depending on the spread offered at the beginning of each outing — creating the correct stack becomes part of the puzzle. Got a switch that needs hitting? You’ll probably want your bow-user up top. Torch that needs lighting? Fire gloves time!
The height creates a thought challenge in the same way the wall-merging mechanic did in "A Link Between Worlds" (whose engine "Tri Force Heroes" is based on). The "Zelda" tropes are so well-established that it can take a few seconds to remember that oh, yeah, I can pick up that other Link and throw him up to that ledge or across a gap.
I’m glad "Tri Force Heroes" doesn’t have voice chat. Given that the game encourages frequent replay of each course — eight worlds broken into four levels each — the experienced player in a group would boss around the n00bs, and it wouldn’t be fun.
Instead, the game provides eight emoji to signal your comrades, so communicating the answer to a puzzle can become a complex game in and of itself. Depending on how you feel about charades, your mileage may vary, but it’s right up my alley. And the feeling of solving a puzzle through those antics is boss.
The best part of the game, though, is playing dress up. Totally serious. Treasures received at the end of each level can be turned into new outfits that grant bonuses when worn. Your trio may sport a Zelda dress, a cheerleading skirt and samurai armor. And that is awesome.
There are some struggles. Picking a stage and an optional extra challenge is done by majority vote. While this is surely done so you don’t sit waiting for others looking to do the exact configuration you’re after, it feels like the match-making could drill down to the stage level, at least.
But that’s online play for you. As long as you don’t get paired with overbearing micromanagers, I recommend it. Strength in numbers, after all!