The Zelda franchise has had its fair share of games and, for the most part, each of them has displayed a level of excellence that resonates throughout the series.  Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is a departure from the classic Zelda genre due to a focus on multiplayer play adding in GBA-required connectivity for 2 or more players (single player doesn’t require a GBA).  This labels Four Swords as a bit of a risk but also a possible opening for another great series of games with the Zelda name. 

Four Swords’ graphics look like smoothed out GBA or SuperNES graphics touched up with some Cube effects.  This is likely due to the fact that many places in the game require you to use the GBA to navigate, so the graphical difference can’t be too different between the TV screen and the GBA screen.  The style definitely reminds me of the classic Link to the Past on SuperNES.  This made for a very nice nostalgic feel that never seemed to get old.  You’ll notice right away that some of Wind Waker’s graphical nuances have been included like the black swirly explosions and bomb clouds.


There are plenty of unique environments so you’ll not be wanting for more variety.  The outside environments include forests, deserts, towns, beaches and plenty of other unique areas each with their own style and look.  Underground areas, castles and dungeons are also greatly varied and unique.  I was impressed with the amount of effort put into environmental uniqueness in the game.


In the end though, the graphics are very dated no matter how nostalgic they make you feel.  Being an older gamer I actually applaud substance over flash so this didn’t bother me at all, but if you’re newer to gaming or absolutely must have glitz, you may be sorely disappointed in Four Swords’ graphical ability.
 

The sounds and music for Zelda: Four Swords, like the graphics, has a very nostalgic feel but also has a refreshing new touch.  The music will bring you back to the old school NES and SuperNES Zelda games and also tosses in some new pieces that are enjoyable.  Almost all the classic Zelda pieces are there, each fitting into a specific level and/or area.  The music overall wasn’t “the best thing since sliced bread” but it will make almost every Zelda fan extremely content.


The sounds for the game were also very good and nostalgic (I use that word a lot!).  Link’s voice echoes in dungeons as he attacks enemy monsters.  Sword clanks, swishes and combat sounds are reminiscent of the older classics.  Again, the sounds here aren’t super fantastic but they fit the bill well.

The controls here are fairly simple and intuitive except for a few things that take a little practice.  All of the controls are handled using the GBA (unless you are playing alone) so there really isn’t room for a whole lot of confusion given the limited button options available.  Attack is performed with B, and the sub-weapon is used with A.  The L button is used to change formations if you are playing with less than four players.  R is the lift/push button and select lets you separate teams of Links and control them separately for use in switches and other puzzles.  Not much to it.  Everything is straight forward except when you get into some of the quick formation shortcuts that take a little practice to master.  Other than that, easy deal!

When it is all boiled down, Zelda: Four Swords is a lot like A Link to the Past dumbed down with 3 more players, some added rules, less of a storyline and a new battle mode, but don’t let that fool you, this game is a lot of fun to play.  The plot centers on an evil force that has taken control over 8 hostage maidens that need to be rescued in order to protect Hyrule.  In order to begin his journey Link is required to draw the Force Sword which then splits him into four Links. 


There are eight levels each split into three stages that must be completed.  As stated in the graphics section, I was blown away by the attention paid to keeping the game diverse and each of the levels varied.  Each of the eight areas has its own unique features and environments.  To progress through the game, Link must get through each of the stages by doing a large variety of things including hacking monsters, talking to the locals and solving puzzles.  The attention to diversity and variety doesn’t end at locales, as there are plenty of puzzles to figure out, each being a good amount different than the last.  In fact, if you don’t have a strategy guide or access to some type of walkthrough you may even get stuck scratching your head at times!  This was a great factor of the game.  The puzzles weren’t so challenging that you wanted to break your GBA over your friend’s head but they weren’t so easy that you could do it sucking your thumb.  There was a perfect balance of difficulty here and a decent mix of combat vs. puzzles.


The game relies heavily on multiplayer play but doesn’t lose much luster as a single player game.  The game is most fun with four players hacking their way and doing the puzzles together but is still a great play with less.  If the game is played with less than four players, one or two people will have control over more than one Link.  Formations can be set up for combat or puzzles depending on how many Links are under a single player’s control.  Sometimes all four Links are required to step on different switches or push massive boulders and some places require a single Link to be in a certain area while all the others proceed.  The variation in requirements for the puzzles is amazing.  If you’re playing by yourself there are controls to split formations and control each Link separately.


Four Swords doesn’t have any sort of complex inventory system like Zeldas of past.  Each Link carries his sword and one sub-weapon.  Sub-weapons include items like the Boomerang, Bow and Arrow, Fire Wand and Pegasus Boots.  Each of the sub-weapons has a level 2 variant that it can power up to which makes it more useful and powerful.  Depending on the level, different sub-weapons will be required to proceed so each Link will have a different role in solving puzzles and completing a level. 


In order to make the game more interesting as a multiplayer game in story mode, a sort of competition variable was added in the form of Force Gems.  Not only is collecting Force Gems required to complete a level, but there is an element of competition between players to collect as many as possible.  The problem is that winning the Force Gem battle doesn’t earn you anything.  You basically just get a screen that announces who performed the best in that level with no other reward.  Since all weapons and power-ups are lost between levels, a nice touch would have been to give the winner a sub-weapon to start with on the next level or something along those lines.  I found that trying to collect more force gems than the other guys I was playing with was more for bragging rights and after a few levels I really didn’t care who won. 
There is a neat multiplayer addition to each stage, however.  After progressing through the first couple of levels in a stage, Tingle’s tower will appear and give you the opportunity to play some fun mini-games.  The mini-games are all very different and fun to play.  Have a few REALLY competitive friends?  The game still works well when you have buddies that aren’t very cooperative.  Even if you’re constantly being tossed over a cliff for your force gems the game can progress and the battle continues and more fun is had by all!


The element most fun for me in Four Swords was the Battle Mode.  In Battle Mode you and other players enter a single screen map with a few underground GBA passages and duke it out.  Of all the games that I’ve played that have a mode like this, this one is absolutely amazing.  The multiplayer battle maps have been created by geniuses that know exactly how to create multiplayer meyhem.  It is pure chaos and it is so much fun you may spend more time on this mode than Story Mode.  An absolute BLAST!


In the end, Zelda: Four Swords is a great game, even as a single player experience.  The multiplayer element could use a few tweaks, but is a lot of fun. Battle mode alone is almost enough to warrant purchase of this little gem.

Although there is no random dungeon generation and playing through story mode is the same every time, the multiplayer element makes the replay value for Four Swords high.  After making it through the story mode, you’ll find endless hours of great fun in Battle mode.


Four Swords is a premium cost title at $50.  A little surprising considering the dated and recycled graphics, but still worth the price for the multiplayer experience.

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