The next Zelda game isn't quite what people expected. Announced last week during Nintendo's E3 presentation, Zelda: Triforce Heroes is a co-op dungeon crawler designed to be played by a party of three -- not your average setup for a Zelda game.
Last week in Los Angeles, I got to spend a few minutes with Zelda: Triforce Heroes, which is out this fall for 3DS. And although I came in sceptical -- I like my Zeldas solo and never really got into Four Swords -- I left convinced that this could be really cool. It's slick, like 2013's Link Between Worlds, and the co-op has all sorts of potential: a lot of the puzzles involve figuring out how to get everyone on the same page and doing things in the right order, or at the same time, which is surprisingly satisfying to pull off.
The basic premise is this: you and two other Links go through a series of dungeons, one at a time. Each of you gets to pick one of three items, which vary based on the dungeon: some levels might equip you all with bombs; others might give you a bow, a boomerang, and a wind-spitting gust jar. Once you're equipped, the three of you have to descend through each level, solving puzzles and fighting enemies to progress.
You might have questions. I did too. So I threw them all at director Hiromasa Shikata (who also directed the stellar Link Between Worlds). Thanks to Nintendo Treehouse translator Tim O'Leary, here are some answers.
Where did this whole thing come from?
"It starts with [Zelda producer Eiji] Aonuma," Shikata said. "Once he did Four Swords, he wanted to revisit multiplayer at some point."
Shikata had also worked on the DS game Zelda: Spirit Tracks, he explained, and he took some inspiration from the parts where Link has to work in tandem with Phantom Zelda to solve puzzles.
"I thought, 'wow, this multiplayer thing has appeal to it,'" he said. "And then of course when we were working on Link Between Worlds, Mr. Aonuma and I were both commenting on how we both wanted to experiment with some multiplayer action, and that's really where this project gets its start."
Did they ever consider putting this multiplayer in Link Between Worlds?
No. "We never thought about that," Shikata said.
Is there a story?
There sure is. "The story takes place in a kingdom that is obsessed with fashion," Shikata said, "and within the kingdom there's a happening, an event, and as a result of that the king sends out a notification asking for heroes to assemble."
That's the gist of it: the three Links are heroes who have gathered at this kingdom to help save the world by hitting orb switches with boomerangs. (Also, they can make totems by standing on top of one another. Triforce Heroes is big on puzzles involving height.)
Why do three different people all look like Link?
"That's a pretty deep question," Shikata said, laughing.
"The king is a firm believer in this legend, in this prophecy that exists within their kingdom, of three heroes that come together to form a totem. The king understands from this legend that describes the true hero as someone with these long sideburns and this particular hair style and these long ears. So the king from amongst these people is able to find the correct ones. The people who meet his conditions are the true heroes."
Hence: Links everywhere.
Can you play by yourself?
Yes! If you're alone, the two non-player Links will turn into "dolls" that you can control by switching around on the touchscreen, which will presumably make the game feel way different.
"One thing that stands out," said Shikata, "when you're playing single-player, even though it's the same course, when you're playing as one person, because of the gameplay style, it's inherently more puzzle-like."
Can you play with two people?
Nah. In fact, if one person leaves mid-game, you'll be booted.
We know three people can play locally, but can you also play the whole game online?
Is there voice chat?
Nope. "We did actually think about some simple voice chat implementation, actually," Shikata said. "One thing we supposed would happen is that you'd highlight a gap between the experience levels of players. For example, if you're playing with me and you've been playing Zelda forever and you're very experienced, we'd get on and it'd be a case of pretty soon you'd be like, 'Go do this, don't do this, pick up this, don't do this.'
"And as the inexperienced guy, I'd be like, 'OK I guess I'll do whatever you're telling me to.' And really for both of us the enjoyment level drops dramatically."
So how can people communicate if they're playing online?
Skype is an option. Also, the game gives you eight touchscreen icons that can be used to send messages to other players. Look at the bottom screen here:
If you're sceptical that you'll be able to effectively solve puzzles with just these icons, at least read Shikata's surprisingly compelling explanation for them:
"I think with these, for example, you can just be sitting there hitting the one icon that you want: 'Hey, we have to get in a totem here, totem here,' or 'Use that item, use that item, use that item,' or 'Hey, come here, come here,' whatever it is. For those people who are in the mood to do so, they will cooperate, and sometimes maybe they're not going to be listening to you, no matter how many times you send out the same message.
"I think we're seeing a really unique form of communication in that because it can be a little difficult using just eight icons to communicate some complicated ideas. When you're able to -- through your choice, and which panel, and what timing, and what order you're selecting them in -- be like, 'Wow, I actually made my point,' you feel pretty happy when the person does what you just asked them to do.
"But on the other side, the person who's like watching you hit all these different icons and goes, 'Oh wait, I think he wants me to come over here, use this thing to do that thing,' and you go over and you do it and it works, there's a sense of satisfaction on both sides that you're not gonna see in a game that has maybe a regular voice-chat implementation.
"I really think, again, that satisfaction you get time and time again when you're able to communicate effectively on both sides, from conveying the information and receiving the information, the more you are able to succeed at doing that, and as you progress in the game based on that, it really really heightens that sense of satisfaction, and really matches the sense of cooperation we're trying to focus on in this game."
Well. I'm sold.
Is there an overworld map?
No, but there will be a castle, a town, and a colisseum battle mode, Shikata says.
Why is the health bar shared across all three Links?
"Because it's better," Shikata said. (Also because you need all three players to beat each level, so if one person could die and leave the others alive, you'd all be screwed.)
What happens if one person has to leave?
You've gotta stop, save, and quit.
Can you save at any time?
Yeah, and the game will automatically save if someone drops out, Shikata says.
How long is the game?
"I think it's a little difficult to answer," Shikata said. "I could probably say if it's one person just on their own sitting down we might be able to calculate it out, but when you have three people, the way they play [and] how they play makes a difference.
"Myself I'd like to say maybe an hour a day, an hour and a half to two hours a day, with three people playing together, there's probably about a month's worth of gameplay there.
"But there are a lot of extra elements and things you can do in this game. If you're a completionist, you're gonna be playing for a long time."