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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past / Four Swords

Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1 to 4 Player Game | Release Date: 12/03/02 | Genre: Action/RPG

Recently Nintendo has made a great addition to the famed Zelda series. When rumors started to fly about the first Zelda game to include multiplayer support, many fans began getting nervous. I had doubts myself, but be assured – whether you’re a Zelda guru or completely new to the franchise (I’d say especially if you’re new), this title for the Game Boy Advance is a must have!

After the title screen you’ll be presented with three files to choose from. Each one is split in two – the left side shows the status of your Link to the Past adventure and the right side shows your Four Swords status. When you select a file, you’ll be given the option to play A Link to the Past or Four Swords. Of course, Four Swords is only playable with 2 or more people.

A Link To The Past
A Link to the Past (LttP) was third in the Zelda series, released in April 1992 on the SNES, and now re-released on the GBA. At first I didn’t know if it would be worth it to buy a game that I had beaten so many times before. With a little coaxing from a friend, though, I decided to chance it. I’m glad I did.

The story line is only worth mentioning briefly for those who have not played Zelda before. Pretty standard – basically, the princess Zelda is kidnapped and you (Link) have to save her. Of course the plot is more exciting than that, and it changes somewhat as you progress through the game, but rescuing Zelda is your primary task when you begin.

Originally I thought the controls would bother me a little, as LttP for the SNES had 4 buttons on the face of the game pad to use, while the GBA only has 2. Conveniently, though, LttP used only those four buttons, and not the L and R shoulder buttons, so with the 2 face buttons and 2 shoulder buttons of the GBA, we have enough to port this game without heavy modding of the controls. LttP/Four Swords uses the B button for your sword, A button for your selected item, L for the map, and R to grab and run – fairly intuitive. Occasionally I forget that R grabs and runs and I use A by instinct from the SNES, but it’s rare enough that it’s not a problem. And if you haven’t played LttP before, then you should have no trouble at all with the controls.

There have only been a few changes made to LttP and they are very minor, but do add slightly to the experience. The main one, I think, is that Link now yells when he swings his sword, very much like The Ocarina of Time (in fact, it sounds like they used the exact same sound clips). I thought it would be annoying at first, but grew accustomed very quickly. In fact, now I think it would seem a bit empty without all the little grunts and groans. Second, there is a different item select screen. Zelda veterans will probably remember the little hassle you had to go through to view or select the contents of one of your four bottles. Before, there was only one bottle initially visible on the select screen and when selected, a column showing your bottles appeared and you could use up and down to select the one you wanted. Careful, though! If you pressed right or left at this point, the bottle select column disappeared and a different item was selected. I found this a bit annoying, since you’d then have to re-select the bottle, and scroll down again to the one you want. I was glad to see that the sub-select screen for the bottles has been done away with and all four bottles are visible on the main item select screen. Another difference is a new “enemy,��? if I may call it that. Once in a while now, you’ll notice that one of those little 8-ball rocks is sparkling. Go ahead – whack it with your sword. You’ll be rewarded with rupees for each strike for a short time, after which your reward will be a barrage of bombs. I thought this was a pretty neat little addition. Also, the famed room of Chris Houlihan has been removed (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, search the LttP guides and FAQ’s out on the internet). I’ve also heard that a bit of the in-game text has been changed, but I didn’t notice it myself.

There is an addition to LttP which I’d like to mention separately from the other changes, as it is not really a change as much as it is a bonus for those who complete the Four Swords quest. That’s right – a new dungeon! The entrance to the dungeon is located on a ledge of the Pyramid in the Dark World near where you find one of the heart containers. To get there, climb up the bottom stairs, go to the left and climb up the next set of stairs, head to the right until you’re just past that big ugly statue below you, and jump down off the ledge. The entrance is there no matter what point you’re at in the game, but when you enter you are greeted by a little guy who tells you a “secret��? if you pay him 20 rupees. Don’t bother – I’ll tell you for free. He’ll only let you in if you’ve complete the Four Swords quest at least once (and yes, even then he still needs 20 rupees to grant you access). I won’t spoil the dungeon for you, but it’s more challenging than the other dungeons in LttP and well worth the effort.

Four Swords
This is the first multiplayer adventure in the Zelda series and I think Nintendo has discovered something good here! I found Four Swords to have the perfect amount of cooperation and competition between players. Whether you’ve got 2, 3 or 4 players, the puzzles are designed so that everyone must contribute to ensure success, but allows individuals the freedom to explore the currently accessible area at their own pace. To make sure that no one lags behind too much, though, incentives are given to speed everyone on their way.

The story line is simple and predictable. You guessed it – let’s go rescue Princess Zelda once again. The quest begins with Zelda explaining the legend of the Four Sword to you. Long ago an evil wind mage named Vaati terrorized the land of Hyrule. All who tried to stop him fell to his awesome power and the people began to lose hope. Then a young boy with little besides a small sword appeared, and declared that he would beat the sorcerer. The boy entered Vaati’s palace and mystically trapped him in the blade of his sword. Supposedly, with a swish of his sword, the boy’s body was shattered into four pieces, each of which then formed an exact copy of the boy. The four then worked together to defeat Vaati. Though the people didn’t believe the story, they called it the Four Sword and built a shrine to protect it anyway. Now, many years later, Zelda senses that something is not right at the shrine, and takes her most trusted friend, Link, to check it out. When they arrive, Vaati, released from the blade of the sword, snatches Zelda up and takes her away. It’s then up to Link to use the power of the Four Sword to defeat the evil wind mage once again and rescue the princess…

After the intro scene, players are presented with the world map from which they can initially choose four areas – the Chambers of Insight (a training area), the Sea of Trees, Talus Cave, or Death Mountain. Each is unique in both appearance and types of puzzles and enemies you’ll run into. Often I like to skip the training section of games because they’re usually not the most exciting places. But here, I promise you won’t get bored. Education has never been so entertaining. While in the training area, you’ll talk to many fairies who explain the way the game works, and you’ll get a chance to demo each of the usable items in the game. Training is set up almost exactly like the real adventure areas, so you’ll really get a feel for how all the different items can and will be used.

In order to get into Vaati’s palace, you must collect 3 keys – one in each level. You will be presented a key by a great fairy at the end of the level if she deems you worthy. The best way to prove yourself is, of course, to collect rupees along the way. While all the rupees you collect go into a community wallet (remember – all 4 players are really the same Link), the game keeps track of how many rupees each player has collected individually. You won’t be able to see your score until the end of the level when everything is being totaled, so things stay pretty competitive the whole way through. The player who collects the most rupees in the level is awarded a Medal of Courage and raised up on a pedestal to put the others to shame. At first it seems that acquiring these medals is meaningless, but wait until you get 10 of them…

Graphically, Four Swords is not extraordinary, but is far from bland. You’ll notice that Nintendo has gone with the cartoony theme and run with it. Some may object to Link’s childish look now, but I think it’s perfectly appropriate. After all, he is a child. And Zelda was never about realism. In LttP, notice how the guards kind of flounder around in the air for a second before falling to their doom if you knock them off a ledge. There has always been a bit of humor mingled with these epic tales. I don’t think we were ever meant to take Zelda too seriously. Anyway, back to the game… Four Swords is a 2D overhead adventure game just like LttP so there’s a familiar feel to it.

No matter how good the soundtrack may be, handheld systems have never been known for great sound quality, and for me this detracts slightly from the experience. Luckily, quality improves a hundred fold (or at least it seems) when you put on those magic things called headphones. I’ll say it now – GBA with no headphones is sacrilege. For those who have the ear bud style headphones, be careful that you put them in correctly (left in left ear, right in right… duh) because it’s a bit disorienting otherwise. (Somehow I always end up with them in wrong.) Four Swords has fairly memorable tunes that you’ll find yourself humming pretty quickly.

Controls are exactly the same as LttP, which is A for item, B for sword, R for grab/throw, and L for map. In this case, the map is nothing more than a display showing you where you are, relative to the other players and the end goal. Sword moves are the same as other Zelda games. Tap B to swing normally and hold B to charge up your spin attack. You even have the good old beam sword when your health is full.

You can only hold one item at a time, which makes things interesting. You must trade in your currently equipped item to pick up a new one. Some items include the shield, bow and arrows, boomerang, roc’s cape, magnetic glove, bombs, gnat hat, and pegasus shoes. Throughout the level you’ll find puzzles that require different items to solve. Somewhere in the level (usually near the puzzle in which it is needed) there is a stand with the item you need resting on it. Sometimes there are enough for everyone to grab one, but sometimes there aren’t. In the latter case, the person who takes the item first will be the only one who can solve the portion of the puzzle requiring that particular item. Sometimes this will allow that person to progress a little ways beyond the other players, allowing opportunities to collect a few extra rupees. Don’t worry, though – they usually can’t go very far before they get to a puzzle requiring more help, and they have to come back to let the rest of the gang catch up.

Many of the old collectibles are here as well - green, blue and red rupees (worth 1, 5 and 20 respectively), hearts and fairies. You’ll also come across razor seeds (increased attack power), armor seeds (increased defense power), and pegasus seeds (increased walking speed). Then there are the newcomers. Now you can collect big green, blue and red rupees, worth 50, 100, and 200. Rupee shards are yellow and worthless individually, but when 8 are collected they complete a special gem worth a whole lot of rupees. The occasional black rupee throws you off guard sometimes, as grabbing it will scatter your rupees all over the ground. When all players have full health, there is rupee fever, during which any rupee collected will be worth twice its normal value. The rupee wraith is another fun addition. Usually it will pop out of a chest and the one who opened it will be sorry. The rupee wraith follows you around for quite a while, scattering your rupees on the ground as you go along. You can stop to pick them up again, but it definitely slows you down. If you are being pursued by a rupee wraith, quickly touch another player to pass on the phantasmal thief.

You’ll find several old enemies along with quite a few new ones, which you’ll learn how to defeat as you come across them for the first time. Some can be defeated single-handedly, but others require a bit of teamwork. In addition, some require a certain item to beat them. For example, one enemy has a metal drill on his face and the only way to hurt him is to use the magnet glove to yank the drill off, then hit him with your sword. As always, there is a boss you must defeat at the end of the level. It requires quite a bit of teamwork to beat it, so don’t think you can just screw around while the other guys tackle the enemy. You’ve got to do your fair share, too. Communication is key in parts. This is pretty funny for onlookers, especially if you’ve got 4 people all using AC adapters, link cables and headphones. How often do you get a chance to see 4 geeks wired together to the hilt yelling at each other? "Hit the right side!" "No, YOU hit the right side. I’ve got the left side." "Watch out for that green blob!" "You dummy, why didn’t you use your shield?" Some parts actually require you to physically talk with your partners to overcome certian obstacles.

Comments by Andy Thivyanathan:
While Jared has already played the original Link to the Past so many years ago, here are few thoughts from someone who was new to the game. Without having any nostalgia to give me any bias, I can say that LttP is still an excellent game compared to our current generation of games. Newcomers should not be worried at all about playing an "old" game, because its age doesn't show at all. The key to this long, involving adventure is the incredible dungeon design. You can see that the clever use of items to solve puzzles has always been with the Zelda series. It is simply an incredible adventure that shouldn't be missed. As if that weren't enough, Four Swords really seals the deal and adds a lot of the value to this game. Do not think of Four Swords as just some kind of tacked on multiplayer game. Capcom has really outdone themselves with this one and has shown that they are worthy to make the next, brand-new Zelda game for the handheld. Four Swords is such a great mix of competition and cooperation. You'll be frustrated with your friends at one moment, and then next you'll all share that feeling of success when you overcome an obstacle together. The dungeon design in Four Swords is extremely clever. Both enemies and puzzles are designed so that two or more people have to work together to progress, and it's far from gimmicky. You'll keep on coming back for more too, because the dungeons are partially randomized and mixed, and it's done so in an intelligent way. You can play through the same area multiple times before you'll see repeated designs. There's plenty of incentive to play Four Swords many times too, because you'll unlock new sidequests in LttP. This game really is a great value. LttP is a true classic, with gameplay that is as good now as everyone else said it was over a decade ago. With Four Swords, they made the impossible come true; they turned the Legend of Zelda into an interesting multiplayer game with excellent results. This is a game that should not be missed, even if you've already played LttP on the SNES.

By Jared Cook - 03/30/03
ESRB Details: - Mild Violence -

Screenshots for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past / Four Swords

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