Thanks to a chronic shortage of funds the number of new games I’ve bought this year has been dismally small. Among the titles released this year that I plan to get I’ve still yet to lay my hands on Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Okamiden and Star Fox 64 3D and I still haven’t got round to getting Sin and Punishment – Successor of the Skies, which came out last year. As we approach the Christmas period and the release schedule is starting to get a bit busy I’m finally bringing in some cash and just starting to catch up with purchases. The first piece of news regards Xenoblade Chronicles, the critically acclaimed Wii JRPG, which I got for my birthday. A combination of my drawn-out and difficult house move and working long hours has prevented me from playing it that much and I must say that my first impressions of what I have played haven’t been that good. Then again I had a similar experience with Fire Emblem – Radiant Dawn, which I ended up absolutely loving. That game has had to be shelved in light of a rather important new release.
Nearly five years after the release of its predecessor, Twilight Princess, the next core game in The Legend of Zelda series, Skyward Sword is finally out and I wasn’t planning on waiting to get it. There is nothing I look forward to more than a new main Zelda title and when I come to review the game, which I’m happily playing through, it will be the most significant post I’ll have made for this blog, a status it will retain until the first Wii U Zelda game comes out.
First, though, there’s the not insignificant matter of another Zelda release. The Legend of Zelda – Four Swords was originally released as an extra alongside the GBA port of A Link to the Past. The multiplayer only game required two to four players, each with a GBA and a game cart to work and I only ever had the chance of playing it once with one other person and we didn’t complete it. Since then it’s always felt like the Zelda game that got away, a misfit that I couldn’t rate properly not being able to play it in the depth I would like. As part of the series’ 25th anniversary celebrations, however, Nintendo have given the game a new lease of life and made it available to download for free with DSiWare as The Legend of Zelda – Four Swords Anniversary Edition with a new one-player mode and some extra content. It’s hard to think of a better warm up act for the main event.
The story of Four Swords is pretty simple. Link and Zelda pay a visit to the Temple of the Four Sword where Vaati the Wind Mage has been kept imprisoned for generations (since the events of Minish Cap, the villain’s origin story and, it is commonly agreed, the first game chronologically in the series). Before you know it Vaati has broken free and grabbed Zelda meaning it’s up to Link to take the Four Sword and create three copies of himself who set off together to rescue the princess.
Since it was originally conceived a multiplayer only title the game is deliberately on the short side with three main themed regions of Hyrule to tackle, each with three stages presented in linear fashion. You can try each set of levels in any order you choose and upon completing them you will be rewarded with keys to Vaati’s Palace, the final set of levels. It’s a compact little arrangement that suits the concept well. The levels are designed with multiplayer in mind, players must work together to overcome enemies and obstacles utilising the various items and equipment they come across. The basic 2D Zelda gameplay is intact with its top-down perspective and swordplay but the handling of secondary weapons is different. By default each player starts with a shield which they can swap out for any item they come across on any of the strategically placed pedestals. The usual bombs, boomerang and bow are all present alongside some new creations such as the Roc’s Cape which allows you to jump a great distance and the Gnat’s Hat which shrinks you down to miniscule size, allowing you to fit through small gaps, both concepts reused in greater depth in Minish Cap.
In addition to the basic objective of progress the game features a competitive twist. Each level is abundant in rupees of many values, many to be found in the frequent treasure chests and the game tracks how much each Link accumulates. It can make for some frantic contests as each player tries to beat his opponents to the best haul of rupees. It’s even possible to pick up and throw other Links, a feature used for both co-operative and competitive purposes.
Four Swords was given a much more fleshed-out follow-up for the Gamecube called Four Swords Adventures which featured a much lengthier quest, better designed levels, Gamecube – GBA link cable support and a fully functioning one-player mode and the one-player game for this reissue takes a cue from that game. When playing alone you can control two Links, one following the other and press a button to separate and take control of one at a time and this allows you to get round the various moments in the game that require two players. It works well enough but it’s ultimately not as fun without someone to take the journey with.
So is it any good? Of course it is, it’s a Zelda game, the gameplay is solid, the combat clean and fun and the overall presentation strong. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not as good as any of the full releases in the series, including Four Swords Adventures. The levels work well enough but given the series’ rich tradition of delivering fiendish and clever dungeons the overall design is very forgetable particularly compared to the much more engaging level design in Four Swords Adventures. The bosses are more interesting and make good use of the multiple character concept. The graphics are colourfully reminiscent of A Link to the Past without ever electrifying and the soundtrack is functional but not a classic.
The best thing about Four Swords Adventures Anniversary Edition is the new content. After completing the game you open up a new area called the Realm of memories which presents you with a triumvirate of new levels based on old games in the series. Revisiting old locations such as Hyrule Castle from A Link to the Past and Tal Tal Heights from Link’s Awakening is a real treat especially given the retro graphics and sound. The levels feature redesigned puzzles and concepts that make things feel fresh even for veterans.
While it might not be the deep, rewarding and lasting experience of most Zelda titles, Four Swords Anniversary Edition is still an enjoyable little package at a price no-one can argue with. With Ocarina of Time 3D, the 3DS Virtual Console port of Link’s Awakening DX and Skyward Sword it’s been a busy year for the series and this freebie is a worthwhile part of it that helps celebrate a quarter of a century of great games.
Feeling more like a basic spin-off than a true entry in the illustrious series, Four Swords Anniversary Edition is nonetheless a fun little title made all the better for the new levels and one-player mode and with no price tag you’ve no excuse not to get it.