Release Date: June 7, 2004
Buy 'LEGEND OF ZELDA: Four Swords Adventures': GameCube
If you don’t have three friends with four GBAs between you, you might as well stop reading. Four Swords Adventures is a great party game, but like Crystal Chronicles, it’s aimed squarely at small groups of seriously geared-up Nintendo fans.
For the rest of you, Four Swords Adventures can be described simply: it’s a slightly simplified The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It’s sprite-based 2D action for up to four players, and frankly, you need at least two.
It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not terrifically complex, it isn’t as mindless as Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, it allows you to chase your friends around with explosives in a socially acceptable format, and it’s in glorious 2D.
(Yes, I’m one of those people. Go count your polygons or something.)
Set in the same Hyrule of A Link to the Past (you even visit the courtyard of the same castle), Four Swords Adventures starts when Shadow Link shows up and – all together now – kidnaps Princess Zelda. While he’s at it, he tricks Link into drawing the Four Sword, the ancient relic which seals the prison of the evil sorceress Vaati. Link is thusly cursed, split into four identical bodies which can’t stray too far away from each other. He’s got to work together with himself if he wants to reimprison Vaati, reclaim the jewels of Hyrule, defeat about sixty thousand monsters, free six maidens, and once again rescue Zelda.
Now, you can ostensibly play Four Swords Adventures in singleplayer, but there’s no point to it. The game is designed to be a chaotic four-player melee, with each character taking control of a Link and wreaking havoc across twenty-eight levels. In each level, you’ll encounter a wide variety of puzzles, monsters, and obstacles. You can also collect Force Gems to power up your sword, unearth fairies, dig for treasure, or any of a dozen other things.
When you find a cave, house, or tunnel, or talk to someone, the action shifts to the screen on your Game Boy Advance. Not only does this let you keep secrets from the other players, but it lets you get out of the line of fire if the overworld’s exploding. That actually happens a lot.
(A word of warning: if anyone’s GBA runs out of power during gameplay, you’ll get unceremoniously dumped back to the title screen. Charge it up before you start.)
The stated goal of all of this is to work together to overcome all enemies and obstacles. Most of the time, you’ll need at least two Links to lift a block or trigger a switch or what-have-you. Each Link can also only carry one special item, such as a boomerang, bow, bomb, or Roc’s Feather, and you’ll often need to coordinate your efforts with them. For instance, if there are only two feathers and there’s a pit you need to cross, you’ll probably have to pick the other Links up and jump over it with them.
That’s how it works in theory. In practice, you spend most of Four Swords Adventures in a mad race to collect Force Gems and keep one step ahead of the three other Links. The game doesn’t exactly reward you for injuring your fellow players, but it doesn’t prohibit you from doing it, either, and it really is a lot of fun. Teamwork’s one thing, and it is a beautiful thing; ten thousand Saturday morning cartoons taught me that. It is just as beautiful a thing, however, to set your friends on fire, or toss them shrieking into pits full of lava.
Link’s going to have some issues after this game, I think.
After each round, you’ll be scored depending on your friends’ votes, how many monsters you killed, how often you died, and how many Force Gems you collected.
If you find yourself doing too much of that and not actually fighting monsters, there’s a handy Shadow Battle minigame which lets you battle your friends in a random arena. It works a little like Smash Brothers, with random item drops and environmental hazards complicating each match. It’s not as much fun as the main game, but it’s a nice distraction now and again.
Sadly, you’ll probably have a lot more fun in Tingle’s Tower, which appears occasionally as you clear out stages. Tingle himself figures prominently in several of my more surreal nightmares, and he’s an annoying Force-Gem-stealing ponce in Four Swords, but his tower hosts some amazingly entertaining games. I’m particularly fond of Hammer Tag, which is exactly what you think it is, but you can unlock up to eight games in the Tower, like monster hunts, Whack-A-Mole, and a sort of volleyball match called Volley By Golly. You’ll be given Force Gems depending on how well you play each game, and Tingle will reward high scorers with Force Fairies, which are essentially extra lives.
None of these can really hold a candle to the main game, though, which is great for all sorts of reasons. It’s got a variety of puzzles, from time-honored key hunts to bizarre switch-flipping contests. You’ll even revisit the Dark World from time to time, dropping from the TV screen to your GBA via dimensional warps. Classic backgrounds and locations from both A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time are blended with equally classic monsters and music. It’s as much a16-bit nostalgia trip, with countless little things you’ll remember from other Nintendo games, as it is a frenetic competition.
You have to have some serious hardware to play Four Swords Adventures the way it’s supposed to be played, but if you can manage that, you’ll find it’s one of the better reasons to own both a Gamecube and a GBA. It’s unfortunate that because of that, most players won’t get the chance to check out one of the best party games on either system.