Review by EOrizzonte

Reviewed: 12/02/02 | Updated: 12/02/02

A Link to the Past is a must. This cartridge, however, is not.

Nintendo is clever. They know perfectly that even if their ports of old games to the somewhat ''modern'' hardware of the Game Boy Advance are apparently aimed at new gamers generations who couldn't experience the games when they originally came out, it's just those who bought the original version and now miss those days of joy and depth of gameplay that wait for such conversions with the highest expectations. Because they know exactly what they'll get, and are prepared to separate from their cash just to see what's new and improved. What they see and hear they usually don't like, but in the end, they will play, and like what they play because they love it.

However, Nintendo this time overestimated that love. They have ported what is thought to be the greatest title in their greatest franchise, so among fans, expectations were higher than usual. Because it was obvious that this was the perfect game to add something really new and exciting to, something that would go beyond a lazy port of an even older game than the cartridge's main feature. Unfortunately, they fell victim to one of the worst instincts - greed. Something that shouldn't be necessary in a time when the company is getting back its glory, little by little, with good, original games.

And so, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has finally come to the tiny screen. The port meets the quality standards that were to expect from NCL after the conversion of Yoshi's Island: although small, the screen faithfully reproduces what Super Nintendo users saw on their screens eleven years ago. The lack of definition doesn't affect the charm of those graphics a little bit, because the colors, the sprites, the lighting, and the proportions are just as they were on NCL's biggest game machine to date. The sprites may be very slightly thinner, and in some areas the highest portion of the screen is not accessible, but this is barely noticeable. Some walls can't be fully seen, and that's all that's gone. Speed is also excellent, as is the frame rate, and those used to play the PAL version of the Super Nintendo game will be surprised when they'll realize how slow their game was back in the day.

And the game will also bring to many gamers fond memories of a time when music wasn't just an unaudible and expendable background noise, but an unmissable part of the experience. Although the sound quality is not up to par with the original, Koji Kondo's score keeps its magic intact. After the various remixes of the Game Boy and Nintendo 64 games, hearing the original Zelda overworld theme is an aural threat. It's the music of a legend, and it fits every moment of the game so perfectly. There's nothing out of place here, from the eerie dungeon music to the brief, yet epic, tunes that accompany the game's magic moments. And those sound effects do their work too. Rain has never sounded any more real, not even in the overzealous Grand Theft Auto III, and there are many chances that Link's footsteps in the water may have inspired the different noises modern game heroes produce when they step on a different terrain. And then there are the explosions, and the satisfactory moaning of a dying boss monster, and the sound of a boy crashing against a concrete wall at full speed, with the whole screen shaking as if it was really hit. Nice touches that were innovative in 1991, but can still bring smiles to anyone's mouth this very day. The only drawback is the addition of some voice samples for Link, taken straight from the Nintendo 64 games. Incredibly, in the heat of the action, they're even less noticeable than Yoshi's groans in Super Mario Advance 3. If you're a newcomer here, you may not notice at all.

One of the biggest concerns about complex Super Nintendo games is how the six-button control system will be fixed to fit the four buttons of the GBA. Here things are a little less brilliant than expected. There's nothing wrong in making the R button the action button, and in assigning the secondary weapon/item to the A button - after a while, it's second nature. The map has been cleverly assigned to the less used button, L, so that it doesn't get in the way of gameplay. Still, having to press Select instead of the more natural and accessible Start button feels very unnatural, and it's likely to get on someone's nerves after a while. There are few things that practice can't correct, and that's the use of Select as the menu button. In that particular case, the habit is just too strong to be obliterated so swiftly.

Another clever addition is the ability to continue the game from the point you saved at. In the Super Nintendo version, there were stable checkpoints from where you would start anytime, no matter where you quitted playing. This saves a lot of time, which is just what's to be expected from a portable game. It's the perfect adventure for the tiny Game Boy Advance, more so than any RPG available for the system. And for those who are sick of the rumours about the famous ''Zelda is your...'' line, there's a slightly different translation that can make things just that little bit better. It's not a mere rehash, after all.

But you're not here for that. Not for A Link to the Past. What fans have been waiting for is the brand-new adventure featured in the cartridge - The Four Swords. And here's where Nintendo overestimated the love of old gamers for Zelda, and for old games in general. Because differently from the Mario Bros. game included in every old Mario adventure rereleased on GBA, The Four Swords can only be played if every player has his copy of the game. Yes, the games' presentation is very promising, with a nice adaptation of the Gamecube Zelda graphical style and character design - but how many will get the chance to have a go at it, to find a friend that has a GBA and actually cares anything about a game that can be emulated at any time, and ultimately, to experience the very reason why an easily estimated 50% of those who were expecting the game were so excited about this particular port? Why preclude what is probably one of the most enjoyable multiplayers for Game Boy Advance by making it multi-cart only? Technical limitations, you may say. Yes, that's an obvious answer. But ''greed'' will surely sound better to the many and many who felt cheated when the news first emerged. They know it won't be easy to find someone to play with.

But the worst thing about The Four Swords is that it's completion is intimately connected to the single-player game, with which it shares the same save file. There's a new dungeon to be found in A Link to the Past, and a new sub-quest for those who've gone beyond the simple completion of the multiplayer game. Only, you have to finish The Four Swords in order to savour this new dungeon. Again, this may prove hard to many. And they won't be happy when they find out that the game will give you a hint about this, but at the price of 20 Rupees. Talk about bad irony.

So, how to evaluate the return of the third Zelda on Nintendo's new handheld? Fortunately, the sheer quality of A Link to the Past is enough to assure those who don't know it a good period of healthy fun. Even more, if they can find someone to play The Four Swords with. But if you've already played the game on the Super Nintendo, and you know that multiplayer is not an easy option for you, then this time, it's best to leave it. There's absolutely nothing new for you here. It's a shame, because this was easily the most expected NCL port until now, and the news of a new game had thousands of old-school fans on their toes. To its fullest extent, GBA Zelda is one of the greatest games for the console - an unmissable classic, and a totally new game to enjoy with your friends for the first time in the saga. For those who can't find a friend, it's still an excellent game, but falls slightly short of expectations. As such, it's a recommended buy for those who liked the brand on the Nintendo 64 and the GB Color. But we were expecting another must-buy - for everyone.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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