The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Insanity Prevails' The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures Review
The Legend of Zelda has always been a quality series. Each entry in the series I've played has always been an enjoyable experience. But yet, despite this history of success, I was still a bit worried. Four Sword Adventures was a 2D Zelda on a console perfectly capable of 3D. Even worse, I'd heard stories, and they weren't exactly of the positive nature. Nevertheless, I got this game as a gift, and was determined to give it a go.
The first thing to strike you is how the game is presented graphically. Those expecting a vast 3D world to explore or rich textures covering the lands are no doubt in for a massive disappointment. No, FSA instead opts for a 2D appearance, resembling the GBA Zelda games in this respect. On a console clearly capable of much more it feels somewhat disheartening at first to have a game that doesn't try to push the boundaries. The reasoning seems pretty apparent (after all, the GBA itself wouldn't be able to keep up) but that does little to make things any better.
Once the initial disappointment is past players may come to appreciate the charm of these 2D visuals from a completely different perspective. It seems Nintendo are happy with the cel shaded style, as this game continues in the same style. Indeed, everything seems very colourful, and the brightness of the environment tends to match the setting. Grassy meadows are bright and cheerful while the dungeons are dark and dreary. There are also some very nice effects included, some of which look like they were taken straight out of Wind Waker such as the colourful swirls resulting from explosions. Animations have also been done well, so everything moves naturally with no stuttering.
It is well worth noting the extra touches Nintendo have added that go beyond the norm. Setting a bomb down and watching the explosion cause a fire that incinerates the nearby vegetation is a cool concept, and somewhat saddening when you go play another Zelda that the same doesn't happen. Or witnessing a massive amount of force gems rain down on an area is also quite another sight. It's stuff like this that pushes the game even further, and I'm sure any player would appreciate these extras. FSA may lack a visual presentation to push the Gamecube hardware, but nevertheless does a very good job of presenting the game to the player.
The soundtrack included in the game will be very familiar to long term fans of the series. Fortunately the Zelda series music has always been excellent, so hearing such similar tunes again is a welcome addition. The tracks work well to inspire players to move onward, with suitable choices for the situation. The beginning of the quest is accompanied by the classic Zelda sweeping score, while dungeons have a more subdued tone to them. This makes it a much more enjoyable experience.
Audio doesn't stop with music though, and FSA also delivers in the sound effect department. The Links are very vocal in the game. They scream out war cries whenever they launch an attack, and cry out in pain when hit. The long fade-out scream that accompanies falling down a pit that has been in the series for a long time has also made its return here. You can be sure if Link does something you'll be alerted to it, and it's nice to see that, despite lacking actual dialogue, Link can be very vocal. You also get the usual catalogue of sounds, such as bomb blasts, burning grass and smashing of rocks. While nothing special FSA does still deliver what is needed in this department.
Four Sword Adventures offers two game modes to play: Hyrulian Adventure and Shadow Battle. First let's look at the former one. Hyrulian Adventure is best summed up as the game's story mode. Link is summoned to the castle to protect the maidens while they open the gate to the four sword sanctuary. Unfortunately, when the portal is opened Shadow Link appears and kidnaps the maidens. Link pursues this dark version of himself into the sanctuary, but when he pulls the four sword from its resting place Vaati us freed. Using the power of the four sword Link separates into 4 Links, and must set out to rescue the maidens and defeat Vaati. Generally speaking, the story itself doesn't really cover new ground. It's still damsels in distress. What is perhaps more unfortunate is that little is done to flesh out Vaati's character. Overall you can't help feel he is in fact nothing more than just another boss in the game. I'd go so far as to say the sub boss Shadow Link has more character than Vaati does, which is rather disappointing.
This mode can be played by 1-4 players. The single player experience is notably different than the multiplayer quest. Unlike multiplayer, a solo player has control over all 4 Links, to a degree. Generally, the other 3 Links follow the green Link. Formations can be made with button presses for different situations, such as forming a line or a cross formation. Links can also be sent around separately, although this function tends to not extend far beyond holding down switches or positioning Links in certain spots. Multiplayer, on the other hand, has every player controlling a Link (with leftover Links once again fulfilling the roles of "follows the leader"). Formation options are either limited or non-existent. The idea of formations may sound complicated but it's actually really simple to do. You may mess up early on and switch to a formation you didn't want but that won't last long, and the application of such formations are apparent. Whether it be puzzle solving or combat, you may find yourself using this often, and it is implemented well.
The goal of each level, aside from making it from point A to point B, is to collect force gems. Looking like triangle variants of the classic rupee, these can be obtained from many sources. Defeat enemies, destroy terrain, press switches, open chests or just find them sitting around. But it's not so simple. You have competition in the form of Tingle. Yes, the guy gunning for the most bizarre character ever conceived is back and is actually causing trouble for you. Whenever there are decent amounts of force gems onscreen this guy floats in on his balloon to steal some for himself. You know when he's coming as he signals his arrival with his trademark cry. As well as grabbing the gems before him Tingle can also be knocked out of the air by virtually any attack. Somewhat satisfying seeing him drop into the water of the first level, and even better hearing the cry of disappointment as you snatch the gems before him. A nice competition addition to the game to encourage fast movement.
In multiplayer games Tingle isn't the only competition for games. Your other Links want them too! Unlike solo play the game encourages competition in multiplayer for the most gems. So while working together to progress through stages players also have to watch out for the opportunist backstab from players hoping to snatch force gems for themselves. It's this mix of co-operation and competition that tends to set the multiplayer experience apart from other games. When will your fellow friends turn on you? Such is the joy of playing.
A key selling point of FSA is how the game uses the Gameboy Advance linkup. "Overworld" action occurs on the television screen, but moving a Link into a place such as a house or cave causes the action to switch to the relevant Gameboy Advance screen (for solo players using a Gamecube controller a screen insert appears on-screen as a Gameboy Advance substitute). This means that players can wander away from the main action to do their own thing while said main action will continue on. This is a well executed concept that allows for such varied gameplans. It also extends itself to safety plans. One such situation is when a massive bomb is thrown onto the overworld (often by your nemesis Shadow Link). Any Link in the overworld when it explodes is instantly killed, so players have to escape to a GBA area. Being able to check when the way is clear is excellent.
Puzzle solving has always been a key component of a Zelda game, and Four Swords brings it in as well. Classic puzzles such as find the key, press switches or move objects are included. The concept of using items to progress is also present, although sometimes this can actually be a little frustrating in a solo player game. Unlike multiplayer games, a single player can only have one type of item with them at any given time (for some reason when one Link grabs an item they all get it). This can result in some unwanted backtracking if you happen to have the wrong item with you. It doesn't happen often but enough to matter. Multiplayer games allow different Links to possess different items, removing this frustration from the game.
Combat is also an important element in Zelda. FSA takes it to a whole new level. There are plenty of areas with the typical Zelda enemy forces, but at times the action steps up a gear with the 4 Links system specifically in mind. Sometimes you'll find yourself overrun with enemies, forcing all Links to work together to tackle the enemies. Other enemies possess weak spots or general vulnerabilities to a specific colour Link. This adds some much needed challenge that has largely been missing from the recent games of the series and sometimes causes a think before you slash mentality to form. The bosses generally aren't quite on the level one would expect though. There just tends to be a lack of an "epic feeling" bosses should give it, and the difficulty of them also doesn't seem to match up. It's almost like every boss is a sub boss and they forgot to put actual boss enemies in. Fortunately this doesn't harm the difficulty too much so players should still find a suitable challenge here.
Speaking of sub bosses, Shadow Link should be considered the game's biggest threat. He's a reoccurring enemy that appears in pretty much every level. In many levels he just tries a few moves before fleeing (such as slamming the ground with a shockwave). While letting him flee is an option players can also attack him for force gems. Doing so tends to be tricky as he loves to jump out of the way, forcing clever use of multiple Links to catch him as he lands. Sometimes he takes more drastic measures, like dropping huge bombs on the screen. Finally are the actual battles against him. He is as happy to swing his sword as you are to swing yours, and he also drops bombs to get in your way. He's also capable of splitting up, making these battles very challenging. He even changes his appearance to a Link the same colour as one of yours, and thereby becoming vulnarable only to that colour Link. Shadow Link is a challenging sub boss that even proves more challenging than the regular bosses!
The single player game is quite lengthy, encompassing 24 different stages. The actual setup of this may feel strange for Zelda gamers since you don't get an open world to explore, instead accessing each stage through a form of level select. Still, being different isn't automatically a bad thing, and this system allows fast access to the different stages. Other entries in the series, such as Wind Waker, suffered from a boring large "hub", causing travelling between areas to be a chore. Previous Zelda games also prevented replaying of cleared dungeons in their full versions outside of starting a new game, while FSA's levels reset to allow for full replayability of them.
Shadow Battle is the multiplayer game mode, where no Gamecube controllers are allowed. Hopefully you are already accustomed to the elements FSA uses from the Hyrulian Adventure mode, because many are reused in the core gameplay found here. Action is once again split between the overworld on the main screen and the underworld displayed on the Gameboy Advance screens. This ability to disappear from the main screen can produce some excellent plans and battles. Stages themselves are split between the top-down and side-on perspectives, and this adds a level of variety one would expect.
The goal is pretty simple - to be the last Link standing. To accomplish this players make use of basically everything to hand. The sword is a fine weapon but you also get a variety of items to use and it's advised to make good use of the environment. But players need to watch out for stage hazards, like giant bombs appearing out of nowhere, which adds further depth to proceedings.
Don't come into this game mode expected things to be as complex as the single player. Shadow Battle is essentially simple combat fun. In this respect it's not on the level as Smash Brothers (though strangely familiar in some respects) but offers an excellent diversion from the main game with the same cool concepts found there. It's fast and frantic, and really encourages all out competition with your friends.
Four Sword's biggest problem should be pretty apparent by now. In order to get the most out of this game you need four Gameboy Advance systems and four link-up cables (and I suppose three friends to play with wouldn't hurt either). Such a setup can be difficult to put together, but it's a real treat if it can be managed.
Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by this game. Despite appearances this is an excellent game that does the series justice. It's a different take on the series but the elements found within are very enjoyable. A joy in solo play, and a blast in multiplayer if you can manage to put the necessary requirements together. Well worth checking out.
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