The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
The Legend of Zelda
: Four Swords Adventures was released by Nintendo
in the United States
on June 7, 2004
for the Nintendo Gamecube
, each copy of the game coming packaged with a Gameboy Advance
to Gamecube Link cable
. It is unknown whether the implied pun of this inclusion was intentional or not.
A sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, a GBA game developed as a bonus on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past GBA release that allowed up to four players to control their own links in a uniquely cooperative (and competative) environment, Four Swords Adventures seeks to use the power of GBA to Gamecube connectivity in order to heighten the multiplayer experience. While the game does feature a single player mode for people who do not have friends geeky and wealthy enough to all own their own GBAs and link cables, the game's multiplayer mode is its real selling point.
The majority of gameplay takes place on the main television screen to which the Gamecube is attached, allowing the game to make use of that system's superior hardware for the rendering of explosions and other special effects. While a character is on this screen, the GBA acts as little more than a dumbed down Gamecube controller which is for the most part fine because the game works in the idiom of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where there's not much need for more than a few buttons and absolutely no need for one analog stick, much less the two offered by the Gamecube.
Whenever a character leaves the main world screen to go into a house, a cave, or the Dark World, for example, the action transfers to her own GBA's screen allowing her a degree of privacy and also cutting her off, to some extent, from the other three Links
-- another player usually won't be able to see her character unless that player's character is in the same cave and in view of the other character. There are a few exceptions to this: when a character is in the Dark World, a shadow image of her still shows up on the main screen. Also, if all the other links are trying to leave the current screen of the main world, an emulated GBA monitor pops up on the main screen and shows exactly what the lollygagger is up to.
Anywhere from one to four players can play the game at the same time. If four players are playing at the same time, each player takes control of one link. If one player is playing, she controls all four links, allowing them to shift formation at the touch of a button and to take off as one link, leaving the others behind for those tasks that require precision. If two or three players control the action, each player takes control of between one and three links in a manner functionally similar to the one player mode, able to move them in formation or to control an individual link and leave the other sleeping for a while.
In addition to the main game mode, where the characters comport themselves more or less in typical Link fashion and to which I will return in a moment, there is a Deathmatch mode, called Shadow Battle. In the Shadow Battle the links fight each other openly, throwing bombs, firing arrows, and unleashing dread flights of chickens upon the other characters in an effort to be the last link standing.
The main mode is, as stated above, similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past both aesthetically and in the nature of the puzzles. Characters push blocks, pull statues, step on switches, and light braziers in an effort to find their way to the boss. Of course, now many of the puzzles require the cooperation of multiple individuals to complete: one link may need to throw another over a chasm so that a switch may be activated, and many levers, blocks, and stones can only be manipulated by multiple lynx.
Unlike the continuous world of A Link to the Past, Four Swords Adventures is organized into discrete settings that cannot be walked between but rather are cleared in a specific order much like the levels of such venerable games as Super Mario Brothers. Nothing is persistent between these levels. Every heart container, fire wand, power bracelet, and pegasus boot obtained in one level is lost forever when the level is finished.
The final aspect of Four Swords Adventures that may seem alien to long-time fans of the Zelda dynasty is force gems. To understand force gems, you must understand that this is a game without a Master Sword. Rather, the players weild the magical four sword, a plot device which splits link into four seperate selves. It is the four-that-is-one. The only way to give this sword evil-fighting power comparable to that of the Master Sword is to infuse it force gems. Only when the links collect several hundred force gems will the sword's true power be unlocked. Force gems are, essentially, rupees. The appear in the same places, the same colors represent the same values. They are, however, triangular rather than gem shaped, the only thing that comes close to suggesting the presence of a triforce in the game aside from a few triforce visuals spread here and there.
Four Swords Adventures is peppered with moments of sublime novelty and brilliance. Several of the puzzles and the boss fights require a real understanding and ability to laterally think about the world. Some of the bosses make perfect use of the multiple-screen architecture, needing to be attacked with a great degree of coordination between players on the main screen and players on the sub screen, keeping action interesting for all players and not just making one player take the support role while another takes all the glory of hacking the enemy to death. There are some puzzles that demand an adventure gamer's ability to evaluate what she has and how she can use it on her environment. Solving these puzzles and beating these bosses rewards players some of the greatest gaming highs one could hope for.
Having said all this, it must now be said that the game suffers from some serious flaws that seem to indicate the game's developers trying to do too many things at once. While the competitive aspect of the game lends a certain edge to gameplay, when playing with more than two people who know each other very well, it is bound to create strife and dischord. Players rush to be the first to get Heart Containers, Fire rods, and force gems, and it is fairly easy for blame thrown around to create an attitude of uniform belligerence that makes the cooperative aspects of the game that much harder to get through.
If that weren't enough, at the end of each level of multiplayer you must endure a slow weighing of each link against his brothers, force gems piling in from the sky above interminably with no way to accelerate the endless torrent of triangles. If that were not bad enough, if playing with more than two players, each player must vote at the end of each level, secretly on her GBA, for both whom she thought was the most helpful link and who was the most sinister, a process that feels like an interrogation device designed to break the solidarity of an organized crime syndicate. At the end of it all the combination of force gems, popularity, and a few other factors are used as the measure of your soul, and one link alone comes out the victor. And, of course, it's usually the guy who was the machiavellian bastard who got enough force gems to negate any ill effects the voting may have on him.
This system can be tolerated, however. If you are playing with good friends and pay little attention to the scoring, you can still have a good time. What is inexcusable is the level design: while it is often good and can be brilliant it suffers from critical flaws. Firstly, it fairly easy at times for a player to put the game into an unwinnable state by doing something that seems, at the time, logical, such as throwing a link across a ravine. Secondly, when not playing in four player mode, there are several puzzles that can be avoided by kludging through them, employing some of the interface features that allow for different numbers of players to control four links to teleport characters crudely across ravines in ways that were designed to be intricately dealt with.
This level design problem can be understood: it is extremely complicated to create levels that can be successfully completed by any of one to four players, controlling four different links, without leaving holes. However many of the problems are obvious enough to suggest that either the developers did not subject the game to a rigorous testing process, or that upon seeing the problems decided to rush the product to market without fixing the problems, a paradigm that has worked at times for the computer game industry but just doesn't fly on the console, where a consumer can never get a patch for her game to correct the problems that were glossed over.
Overall the game is well worth playing if you keep its imperfection in mind. If you try to compare it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or any of its fine sequels you're going to come away cold. It uses the idiom of these games to create its own interesting world, but the quality assurance of that system is simply lacking from this game. Instead, view it as its own game, acknowledge its imperfection, and you will have a pretty damn good time playing it.