One of gaming’s most beloved franchises comes back in one of its strangest forms yet in The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. The multiplayer-focused 3DS game puts a twist on the series’ puzzle-laden dungeon layouts for something that replicates a small-scale MMO. Also new is a current-gen remaster of Darksiders II, and the wrestling sim WWE 2K16. Also, we catch up with the super-expensive, endlessly fun toys-to-life contender, Lego Dimensions.
Publishers provided review copies.
Darksiders II: Deathfinitive Edition
(Xbox One, PS4, $30, Mature)
Like so many games released in the last half of 2012, Darksiders II had its legacy cut short when the Xbox One and PS4 made their debuts the year after. Now getting another coming-out party with the remaster dubbed the Deathfinitive Edition, the game plays like a fresh take on the old God of War trope. Playing as Death — one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, you flail your way through disposable, combo-friendly warriors. Going back and forth from horseback to traveling by foot, you rage through the grisly linear environments of heaven, hell and points in between, building up to taxing battles against massive bosses.
The re-release rounds up all previously-released DLC, pushing the playtime past the 30 hour mark. Developers went back and touched up the graphics, adding more detail to the lighting and shadows, and improved the character models. The fact that you barely notice the changes shows how smoothly integrated they are into the new game, which boasts a current-gen sheen. Loot distribution also gets a makeover, with items that make more sense to where you’re at in the game trickling out at a faster rate. If you’ve still got an older system, there’s not much of a reason to spring for the remake, since used copies of the game are available for less than $10. But if you missed out on Darksiders II the first time around and game on a new system, it’s tough to find better value for your $30.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
(3DS, $40, Everyone)
Breaking away from the traditional Zelda solo saga, Tri Force Heroes is built around quick-hit, raid-based multiplayer levels. You team up with two other players, either online or locally, and advance through a series of levels stacked with environmental puzzles and occasional bosses. At the end, you share a loot drop that gives you resources you can use to buy powered-up suits in the hub village. There’s also an option to control all three Links in a single-player mode, which seems like a throwaway nowhere near as engaging as the main game.
Fast and frenetic — with each stream of levels conquerable in less than 10 minutes — the level and loot loop is addictive enough to keep you engaged for hours at a time. If co-op isn’t your thing, you can head to an arena to take on one or two other players in hand-to-hand combat. Gameplay is smooth and well designed, but is limited by NIntendo’s refusal to add voice or text chat. You’re forced to communicate with a series of vague emojis that often lead to frustration and rage quits if you’re teamed with dense players. The overall package also feels a little thin for players accustomed to the deep storytelling and exploration in most Zelda games. Thankfully, every bit of Tri Force Heroes is infused with the trademark Zelda feel.
(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, $100, Everyone 10+)
Among other competitors in the toys-to-games market, Lego Dimensions is by far the most expensive. To its credit, the package also packs the most challenge, inventiveness and sheer volume of things to see or do. The starter pack is loaded up with bags of Lego pieces you use to build window dressing for the portal base, as well as vehicles and characters in the game that you alter to go along with the theme. You can ignore all the building instructions, slap the bases on the portal and power through the missions, but going that route robs you of much of the entertainment value.
In the manner of the Lego Movie, the well-written story hilariously mashes up tons of unrelated franchises, including the Wizard of Oz, DC superheroes and villains, and Back to the Future. Frustratingly, there are a bunch of characters and level packs stocked on store shelves that are required to explore even more of the game, but there’s added value to the add-ons if you happen to be a Lego freak. You can breeze through the main storyline in a weekend or two, but there are enough collectibles and buried secrets in the massive world to keep you exploring for months.
An ideal purchase if you’ve got elementary school kids or nephews, Lego Dimensions shows up the more established Skylanders and Disney Infinity franchises by pushing the boundaries of what toys-to-life games can be.
(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, $60, Teen)
After a rough debut on current-generation consoles, WWE grabs more of a foothold in the ring. Boasting the brashness and barely-bridled rage of its coverboy, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the game rounds up authentic likenesses and moves of most of WWE’s current roster — as well as a hefty serving of past legends 00 to let you live out your fantasies in the virtual realm.
The story mode lets you take control of Austin as you relive highlights of a story loosely based on his career storylines. There’s also beefy online play, ample quck-play offerings and a create-a-wrestler mode that lets you design every detail of your ring warrior, from face stubble to uniform design, ring entrance music and finishing moves. Some of the in-ring wrestling can devolve into stodgy, inauthentic grapple-fests more reminiscent of unmemorable UFC matches, but once you learn the movesets, you can reasonably replicate the flow of matches you see on TV. There is still room to grow from the franchise, but WWE 2K16 is a step in the right direction.