Do More Links Equal More Fun?
Back in late 2002, a port of one of my favorite titles from The Legend of Zelda series, A Link to the Past, was released on the Game Boy Advance. Not only did it possess new features in the solo campaign, but it additionally had a completely new multi-player adventure known as Four Swords. The only downside to this fresh journey was that one couldn't play this part of the game alone. One needed at least another friend with a GBA and link cable. For my younger self this was easier said than done. Now, nearly a decade later, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition strikes and slashes onto DSiWare for free and for a limited time (February 2012). With a single-player piece as well as the multi-player mode that fans have grown to love, is this celebration of Zelda's 25th anniversary worth your time?
Our story begins with Zelda taking our hero in the form of Link to the Four Sword Shrine. It's here where an ungodly beast awakens from the Four Sword known as Vaati. The monster grabs hold of Zelda and plans nothing more than to marry her. Talk about a match made in Hell! Link, with guidance from faeries, pulls the Four Sword from its mantle, splitting up into four colored Links: one green, one red, one blue, and one purple. It's time to once again rescue the always in trouble Zelda and restore order to the land of Hyrule.
Players start out in a tutorial level where they can access various zones which have Link specializing in a specific weapon or item depending on the room chosen. One room might have to do with bombs while another contains puzzles all surrounding the Gnat Hat which shrinks Link to the size of an insect to fit through small holes and ride little platforms otherwise too tiny for Link to hitch a ride on. Other items include the Magnetic Gloves which can be used to push and pull Links across gaps and chasms and the Bow and Arrows. Each Link in your party can only hold one special item at a time, so a bit of strategy is involved when playing Four Swords.
After the tutorial stage is completed, the land of Hyrule opens up to the player or players. One can select between three areas: The Sea of Trees (a forest), Talus Cave (an icy cavern), and Death Mountain (a red hot volcano). Each area is divided up between three expansive rooms filled with treasure, rupees, and sub-rooms to explore and solve simplistic puzzles in. The main goal of the game is to get through to the final room of the area to face off against the boss, but there is a competition aspect to Four Swords. For instance, rupees infest levels like locusts. They're everywhere from chests to secret rooms that spawn dozens of Hyrule's currency, and dropped by the myriad of monsters lurking about the lands. The player with the most rupees at the end of each area is declared the victor. However, one can't just attempt to mess one another out of rupees. Teamwork is required in the way of stepping on buttons at the same time, taking out rooms of enemies, and pushing or lifting heavy blocks out of the way. Each area ends with a set of portals and a heart container to increase the vitality of the Links. Depending on how quickly the brigade of heroes pass through a given room, a substantial rupee bonus is awarded. It can be anywhere from a mere fifty to a mighty thousand rupees.
There's a cavalcade of enemies to contend with in Four Swords from spear or bow and arrow-wielding Moblins to bone-throwing Stalfos to slimy Chu-Chus. Each enemy has a weakness. One needs a sole Link to hit it once to make it stationery, then another Link to grab it on one side while another Link pulls it from the other to defeat the tricky foe. Rooms where monsters spawn repeatedly and where a player or players must beat them all to a pulp before being allowed to move on are commonplace in Four Swords. Things get especially tricky in later stages where one is not only worrying about the baddies, but they're also combating them atop an icy platform surrounded by holes.
The third room in The Sea of Trees, Talus Cave, and Death Mountain contains a boss to battle against. Again, teamwork is key here. One boss has you using the Pegasus Boots to ram into the big bad against a sheet of ice, freezing it. Then the Links rush swords first into the frozen boss. Another has the Links deflecting a colored orb back and forth between themselves. The color of the ball signals which Link should attack it.
There's approximately twenty-six rooms in total to visit and explore in Four Swords Anniversary Edition. Rooms in The Sea of Trees, Talus Cave, and Death Mountain are oftentimes randomized, so one seldom has the same playing experience. After playing through the game and defeating the wind mage Vaati, a new challenge appears, the Realm of Memories. This is a three part area that is Four Swords gone retro. It takes place in the realms of A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, and the original Legend of Zelda. Completing this unlocks the Master Sword and a beam attack when a player has full health. Once 30,000 rupees have been accumulated in total, a new trial opens up, the Hero's Trial, an ultra-difficult three room area that puts all players' skills to the ultimate test.
Even with all areas completed, there's still the matter of keys to collect. Depending on how many rupees every Link gathers, they'll be awarded with either a Silver, Golden, or Hero key. One must earn a Silver key before they can achieve a Golden key and so forth. These keys unlock new rooms to Vaati's floating palace, adding even more longevity to this seemingly and deceptively meatless game. In fact, six hours in, and I've still not experience everything the anniversary edition of Four Swords has to offer. That's mighty impressive for a free download!
Besides the new levels added that refer back to Zelda games past, the newest addition to the game is the ability to play it solo. A player can control two Links at once, press R to select one at a time, and switch between the two at their leisure. One Link can chuck another to the opposite side of a chasm, two can use differing items, and one Link uses AI when it's necessary (such as when a foe needs to be pulled by two heroes to be vanquished). Both Links share the same health meter, but when a Link is not being controlled, they are invincible while the other moves around. If one has a friend with a Nintendo DSi or 3DS (they're cross-compatible), they can join in for some multi-player fun. These maps are completely changed from the single-player experience.
Presentation-wise, Four Swords Anniversary Edition looks simply the same as it did in 2002. Of course, the new areas are totally different in that they appear like their SNES, Game Boy, and NES counterparts. Even with numerous bad guys and Links on screen there's nary a bit of slowdown to be found. On the sound side of the spectrum, Link's grunts as he swipes and slashes with his sword can get grating after a while, but it isn't too terribly annoying. Additionally, the soundtrack is your standard Zelda fare. It fits the areas of the game well, and my personal favorite song would have to be the boss battle theme. All-in-all and for a downloadable title, one couldn't ask for anything more. Four Swords Anniversary Edition delivers and delivers in spades.
Without a doubt if one has a DSi or 3DS and they're on the fence about downloading The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition, I'd ask them what they were waiting for. It's not as if they'd lose anything but space on their handheld as the game is absolutely free. There's plenty of fun to be had whether one is playing alone or with a group of buddies, taunting each other as they rummage for rupees and the outright lead. While not better than the Gamecube's Four Swords Adventures, this downloadable delight is still worthy of any action-adventure fan's attention. Suit up, get well-equipped, and be ready to take down the villainous Vaati!
[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]