So many games, so little time. Despite not being active on the blog, there’s been no shortage of new games at home. There’ve been some hits and some misses, and thanks to my recent peripheral obsession I now possess a vast array of Gamecube accessories including a pair of bongos and a microphone on top of the Gamecube to GBA cables I got for this game! (Updates on those forthcoming.)
One big hit I’ve been dying to write about and get out of my system is the Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. Wow, does this game capitalise on the potential of the Gamecube-GBA connectivity. It makes for a startling contrast with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which has a basic 2D map on the GBA screen, much like Wind Waker’s Tingle Tuner. Four Swords Adventures moves the action to the GBA screen whenever you enter a house or cave, and not only are the graphics, sounds and gameplay the same but it moves between the two screens utterly seamlessly. It’s a pleasant change to Crystal Chronicles, which despite a simple display manages to feel like it’s brushing up against the limits of the connection.
Four Swords Adventures has tons of interplay going on between screens. There are a number of cool puzzles and bosses that take advantage of the feature. To give one example, there is a bird boss who hovers menacingly above two small huts. One player on the TV screen has to use bombs to hit the boss, at which point the beast will fly headfirst into a hut, getting its head stuck inside. Another player needs to be indoors (i.e. on the GBA screen) where they can hammer the birdie’s head. That’s a simple example, but factor in recurring light/dark world puzzles that force you to negotiate across dark/light/GBA/TV divides and the game becomes a veritable whirlwind of unique gameplay ideas upon ideas upon ideas. It’s complex but never confusing, and certainly anything but dull, but I have to acknowledge my limits here and admit that nothing I can say that will adequately get across the startling pace of the gameplay on offer here. The simple graphics, by Gamecube standards at least, lets the game throw 50 enemies at you at any given moment without the slightest drop in the frame rate. And it will throw 50 enemies at you, all the time.
The game draws heavily on its 2D Zelda forebears – especially Link’s Awakening and Link to the Past – but thanks to the episodic structure of the levels and the GC-GBA connectivity it’s very much its own game. Besides old Zelda references and tropes that have been repurposed for the multiplayer set up, there are plenty of new wrinkles such as the opportunity to level up any item for an additional ability. Some of these abilities are introduced as late as the final level! One that I especially enjoyed is the level up for the Pegasus Boots. Beyond simply allowing you to charge, levelled up shoes let you run safely across gorges. It’s cool enough in the context of the typical top-down perspective, but then the game introduces it in the Link’s Awakening-esque sidescrolling 2D sections (see pic above) which takes a cool ability and makes it mind-blowing. You’re dashing left to right from ladder to ladder, trying to time releasing the A button to land on a platform hovering in the middle of nowhere with a chest on it.
Which brings me nicely to the icing on an already luxurious cake: the competition. Competition in this game is fierce and devious, and the game (not the player) is to blame. This game encourages bad – no, terrible behaviour. It tempts you with ill-gotten gains when another player perishes; the person’s Force Gems (the game’s sole collectible) are scattered around their body for about ten seconds before Link regains consciousness, at which point the player can recollect any gems still left! “Necrophile”… the accusation burns in my throat, even now.
But I haven’t even mentioned the most contemptible part of this game: for all the various ways you can fuck your companions over – and you will want to try all of them at some point – you have to cooperate to proceed. No getting round it, it’s necessary to be on speaking terms with your partners, and that’s easier said than done with accusations flying back and forth. The necrophile “incident” provoked me to wreak revenge on Maya, which prompted her retaliation, until we were an utter shambles of a team, attacking each other exclusively rather than the enemies! It was tough but we were eventually able to return to our informal code of conduct that outlawed the necrophilic practice of stealing force gems from a vulnerable, deceased partner awaiting revival. But even several weeks later, a boundary was crossed that day that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over.
All told, Four Swords Adventures is an excellent if diabolical game. Completely charming, accessible, filled with great, unique ideas, it’s a great party game. It’s also a quintessential Nintendo game, and a wonderful showcase of their game design mantra: highly accessible, fun aesthetics and gameplay coupled with extremely deep, rich mechanics that reward mastery. The episodic level design is wonderful for short bursts of gaming: one level takes roughly 15-25 mins, the perfect length. The delightful chaos on-screen (both TV and GBA screens obviously) can get quite overwhelming and the game is genuinely tiring to play for more than one or two levels consecutively. It’s just too damn exhilarating to play for long sessions. But, I don’t consider 20 minute bites of action a negative at all. Really it just proves that this game really is diametrically opposed to Crystal Chronicles, which Maya described as “a desert“. If that game is a desert – and I have to agree, it really is – this is river rapids. BEST GAME EVA!!!!!*