Review by ConfusedGuy
"Quadruple your pleasure, quadruple your fun."
Back in December 2002, Flagship - a development studio of Capcom - remade Nintendo's seminal SNES adventure The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Game Boy Advance. This alone would have been enough to ensure the game's success, but Flagship decided to add in a little experiment it had designed: Four Swords, a multiplayer Zelda.
That Four Swords was more of a bonus feature than an independent game; its story was simple, and there were only four stages to play. But the concept was too good to let go. Nintendo themselves ran with it, and created a full-fledged multiplayer Zelda for the Gamecube, promoting their GBA connectivity concept at the same time. Thus was born Four Swords Adventures.
Four Swords Adventures is, story-wise, sequel to the GBA Four Swords. As the legend goes, long ago, the wind sorcerer Vaati appeared and kidnapped the maidens of Hyrule. A mysterious wanderer used a magic sword to quadruplicate himself, then sealed Vaati away with the blade, in what became known as the Realm of the Four Sword. Ages later (Four Swords), Vaati broke free and kidnapped the princess Zelda. Zelda's childhood friend, Link, took up the Four Sword and came to the rescue, once again binding Vaati within the sword. But this seal, too, would not last forever.
The semi-cinematic introduction of Four Swords Adventures shows Link being called to the castle by Zelda, one dark, stormy night. She and the other six maidens of Hyrule are concerned that Vaati's seal may be weakening, so they mean to strengthen it. But when they begin to go about their work, a strange doppleganger - Shadow Link - leaps through the portal to the Realm of the Four Sword and spirits the maidens of Hyrule (including Zelda) away, before disappearing back into the portal. Link gives chase, but he has no weapon handy, so the only way to attack Shadow Link is to draw the Four Sword from its pedestal. Unfortunately, doing so unleashes Vaati once again; and while Link chases his dark imposter to rescue the maidens, Vaati spreads darkness all throughout Hyrule.
It appears like a fairly rudimentary plot, and for the most part, it is. But as the game develops, you'll find a slightly darker story behind it, hinting at what's to come - FSA posits itself as a direct prequel to Link to the Past. And the game is rife with Zelda-series cameos: Tingle, Malon and Talon, the bug-catching kid, several classic and newer bosses (Arrghus and Moldorm to Jalhalla and the Helmaroc King), even the King of Darkness himself.
There are two gameplay modes in Four Swords Adventures: Hyrulean Adventure (the main game), and Shadow Battle. Shadow Battle is a multiplayer-only battle mode, covered further down in this review, but Hyrulean Adventure can be played with anywhere from 1-4 players. The controller scheme is just like Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - if more than one person is playing, every player needs a Game Boy Advance and a GBA-GC link cable (the game comes packaged with one), but if only one person is playing, you can use a standard Gamecube controller. In single-player, the GBA screen is emulated on the television when necessary, but doing this for 2-4 people at once would make the interface far too messy and interfere with the game. The multiple-screen concept is integral to the game: while some Links are in caves or houses on their GBAs, the rest of the group can be outside on the TV screen doing other stuff.
Hyrulean Adventure is, in a dramatic change from the Zelda norm, episodic - there are eight "levels" (areas of Hyrule), and each level has three stages. Again like Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, this episodic nature allows players to jump into or out of the game at any time, and any save file can be played with any number of players regardless of how it was played before. While the lengths of stages vary slightly, most of them should take between 20 and 40 minutes each, making the entire game round out to a very respectable length. While some stages are more difficult without friends to help you out, nothing requires you to have more than one player.
Each stage is, aside from its relative linearity (distinct beginnings and ends - again to go along with the episodic nature of the game), extremely reminiscent of Link to the Past. Solve switch puzzles, defeat enemies, push things around. However, there are a few fundamental changes to the LttP formula, namely new moves and the fact that there are four Links. Link has some new techniques, apparently gleaned from Super Smash Bros. - a forward dash-slash, and a downward stab you can do while in midair (either shot from a cannon or while jumping). Yeah, jumping - FSA brings a number of cool Zelda items into the mix, including Roc's Feather, the Fire Rod, the Magic Hammer, and Pegasus Boots, in addition to the ones you'd expect (like a Boomerang, Bow, Slingshot, and Bombs). Again episodically, these items don't stick - each player can only hold one at a time, and they vanish at the end of a stage. The only consistent items are Force Fairies (free lives). This may sound like a hindrance, but the one-item mechanism opens up a whole new world of puzzles, too.
The multiple-Link dynamic is perhaps the game's greatest success. Not only does it enable new kinds of puzzles (pressing multiple switches at once, being in different places at once), but, while it's a deeply complex system, the game makes it as easy as cake. In multiplayer, every player will have a "leader" Link, and extra Links will be split up among them (with two players, for instance, each will get a leader and a follower). There are three types of formation, loose, tight, and individual. In loose formation, the leader acts on the player's controls and the follower(s) just follow(s) behind. In tight formation (which can be made either vertically or horizontally in a line), every Link a player has will move and act with the player's controls simultaneously. Individually, each Link can split apart from the group with the press of a button, and the rest of that player's Links will fall asleep - the individual Link can be controlled separately, and individual control can be switched to any of the other Links on the fly.
With two or three players, though, it's not definite that the Links will be even - extra, non-leader Links, can be stolen from a player when another player picks them up. Then the extra Link will follow in tow of its new leader (well, until someone else takes him, anyway). This embodies the spirit of simultaneous cooperation and competition that makes multiplayer Four Swords Adventures the genius that it is. In single-player, of course, you'll have all four Links under your control, and there are two additional tight formations: Box, a 2x2 Link square, and Cross, which is basically Box on a 45-degree tilt.
Beyond getting through screens by solving puzzles and defeating enemies, the goal of each stage is to gather Force Gems, which restore the Four Sword's power to repel evil. Each player has his own collection of Force Gems, and though the only requirement is that everyone has a collective 2000 Gems by the end of the stage, competition can arise between players with the ability to knock someone down and steal their Gems. Don't worry about not having enough - Force Gems are found in chests, dropped by enemies, even hiding in bushes and grass, and in all but the rarest instances, more than plenty of Gems will be right in front of you.
The stages themselves are both a nostalgia trip and successful examples of level design. There are a number of throwbacks to previous Zeldas, with stages in the Lost Woods, Kakariko Village, a graveyard, Lake Hylia, Hyrule Castle (twice - one of which more resembles the infiltration of Forbidden Fortress in Wind Waker), Gerudo Desert, even the Eastern Temple. While faithfully warming the hearts of Zelda veterans, the stages are at the same time a joy to play regardless.
Four Swords Adventures uses a rather unique visual style. The game itself is 2-D overhead, like the original Zelda games of yore, using the new, more energetic character sprites Flagship created for LttP/FS. But the Gamecube's power isn't wasted; environments are gorgeously detailed, and effects from explosions to fires and everything inbetween are taken straight from The Wind Waker. There are also some occasional side-scrolling sections, which are a gameplay mechanic in and of themselves, but the same basics of the game's graphics stand. If you've seen FSA, you might be worried that the newer-looking effects clash with the old-school graphical style; but it works, and wonderfully at that.
FSA is in a similar situation sound- and music-wise. Some sound effects are taken from Link to the Past, some are taken from newer adventures (like Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker), but they all sound great. Most of the music is slightly-remixed Link to the Past fare, though a select few tracks are entirely original creations. All the game's music is a joy to listen to.
Aside from dynamic player switching, another of the key advantages to FSA's episodic structure is replay value. Any stage of any level can be returned to at any time to play again. You can try to beat your Force Gem score from last time, you can try to earn more Force Fairies, or you can just do it again for the fun of it.
There are also two types of multiplayer minigame: Tingle's Tower, and the Shadow Battle mode. Tingle's Tower appears in the Hyrulean Adventure mode when you're playing with any number of friends. A Tower can be unlocked in each of the adventure's eight levels, and each time you unlock a tower a new minigame comes with it - so there are eight of Tingle's minigames, which range from horse-racing to hammer-tag to trying to defeat as many enemies as possible.
Shadow Battle brings out the worst in Link. Whereas Hyrulean Adventure tries to foster a semi-competitive but still cooperative spirit when playing with friends, Shadow Battle throws all that aside in a battle royale: last Link standing wins. There are ten battle stages (five are unlocked when you beat Hyrulean Adventure), and each one is loaded with hidden traps, including some you can manually trigger to pull the rug out from under your 'pals.' You can hide in caves and houses, you can trick your comrades into killing each other, you can even throw cuccos; one of the cleverer moves is to unleash a cucco, slash it up, then hide in a cave while the hapless Links outside are marauded by cucco rage.
Four Swords Adventures isn't just a multiplayer Link to the Past, nor is it just another Zelda. With such massive combinations of old and new, FSA has more nostalgia than you can shake a Cane of Somaria at, and at the same time is just a really good game. Alone, it's a great Zelda revival with brand new twists; with friends, it's one of the most fun games you'll ever play. It's no epic like Wind Waker, but despite its humble appearances, Four Swords Adventures is one of the Zelda series' greatest triumphs - and that's saying a lot.
Overall arbitrary rating: 10.0/10
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/03/04, Updated 07/03/04
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