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Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

'Defenders of the Triforce' is a fun but tedious adventure.
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Anyone who grew up playing the Legend of Zelda series has found themselves daydreaming about adventures on the plains of Hyrule. What would it really be like to traverse the lands of Zelda's kingdom, travel through time to solve puzzles and defeat an evil overlord with nothing but your own wit and bravery? It's an exciting fantasy, but temper your expectations. If escape room designer SCRAP's Defenders of the Triforce experience is any indication, the reality of a real-life Zelda adventure involves a lot of paperwork.

Defenders of the Triforce is an escape room game, but there's no locked door and escaping isn't the end game goal. Instead, SCRAP uses the real-life puzzle format to retell the story of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the space of one hour. The twist: The game's heroes have already lost, and it's up to your team to solve puzzles and break the seal on the Master Sword to defeat Ganondorf. It's a solid idea and meshes well with the Legend of Zelda series' history of puzzles -- but you won't be pushing blocks or lighting torches here. Instead, you'll be doing math, deciphering glyphs and turning in worksheets to a cast of Zelda-themed taskmasters. It's fun, but it's not exactly the adventure you might have expected.

Arithmetic, word games and brain teasers are a key part of any escape room experience, but in Defenders of the Triforce, they take center stage. This is partially because SCRAP's Zelda game breaks from the typical escape game in one major way: Instead of being a small, intimate experience hosting just half a dozen players, Defenders of the Triforce takes place in a ballroom where teams of six square off against dozens of other groups. This means most of the gameplay amounts to fetching puzzles from various places throughout the game experience and bringing them back to your group's table to solve. One puzzle had my team decoding the words from a series of brain teasers and then solving a puzzle composed of answers to decipher our next instruction, which amounted to "turn in this worksheet to the Zora's Domain station." It works, but it feels a little sloppy. My team wound up wasting a lot of time waiting in lines to turn in homework.

Still, the game's organizers put a lot of work into making that queuing experience fun. Each taskmaster was dressed as a Zelda character. There was a shy but polite Zora princess to guide us through the tasks of the water kingdom, a joyous dancing Goron to enthusiastically dole out puzzles and a giggling Kokiri elf to guard the Deku tree station. To get access to their areas, players had to abide by specific rules: Players can't start the second Zora's domain quest unless they carry an accessory gained from a previous puzzle, for instance, and they can't access the Temple of Time area unless they have unlocked the chest containing a key item. Defenders of the Triforce may feel a little like grade-school homework, but the cast's enthusiastic role-playing wraps the pen-and-paper puzzles in an air of excitement.

Defenders of the Triforce turned out to be a fun evening, but it wasn't quite what our group expected. As we left the venue, my friend turned to me, slightly exasperated. "We had to do tedious paperwork. We were under the gun," he said, noting the tension of the game's 60-minute time limit. "I felt like I was at work!" If it was a day on the job, at least it was a good day. We left with smiles, joking about how if we had just figured out that one clue a little sooner, we would have triumphed over Ganondorf in the end. We didn't. And that's OK.

Images courtesy of Nintendo

Sean has a nasty habit of disassembling nearby gadgets. Although he usually gets everything reassembled in adequate working order, you probably shouldn't lend him your phone. He's a lifelong gamer, a comic-book nerd and an Eagle Boy Scout. A fortune cookie promised him he would one day work at Engadget. What else is there to know?
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