Hiromasa Shitaka, the director of Tri Force Heroes, spoke on Miiverse about why Nintendo decided to go with three playable characters for Tri Force Heroes as opposed to four, which is featured in the Four Swords games. Ultimately it came down to two things: teamwork and the new Totem mechanic. As Tri Force Heroes is all about cooperation, the development team found that when using four players, teams tended to split into groups of two and that the “spirit of cooperation” wasn’t as prevalent. They also found that the new Totem mechanic, which is integral to the title’s gameplay, was much less complicated to form with three players, so these are the reasons that Nintendo decided to use three players instead of four.
“So, why did we decide on three players rather than four this time around? When three players are split up and, say, two players have to catch up with the third player or one player gets lost and the other two have to work together to try and find them, all three players naturally develop a sense of cooperation. Four players divide evenly into two teams, and I think that they might sometimes lose touch with the spirit of cooperation.
We knew we wanted to focus on cooperation in Tri Force Heroes, and the concept of a triangular relationship between three players was something we talked about a lot. The core gameplay mechanic is that players can lift one another to form a totem and work together to solve puzzles, which means that vertical puzzles become a part of the fun. These totems are less complicated to form with three people than with four, so it was perfect.”