Multiplayer mayhem with Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (Gamecube)

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.

zelda four swords adventures 3

Your teammates can spy on your GBA display if they walk to the limits of the TV screen. Nifty.

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.

zelda four swords adventures 1

Fun, fun, fun fun fun fun. And more fun. Does this not look fun?

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.

zelda four swords adventures 2

A little push into the fire, a little stab in the back, what’s a little theft between friends?

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!!!!!*

Me with three other Links. Drenched in the rapids, aka Four Swords Adventures.

* best ever game featuring GBA-GC connectivity.†
† in my opinion
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12 comments

  1. Particlebit

    Nice review! Underrated game. Awhile ago I had actually forgotten I had it. Managed to find a Gamecube at Goodwill for $5(!) and popped it in. Good times (I am also partial to the nostalgic Zelda look a la Link to the Past)

    • veryverygaming

      Thanks for commenting! Underrated? Definitely. The multiplayer GBA-GC stuff was/is a barrier to entry, but it’s completely worth the effort. I can imagine four players playing together being absolutely amazing. Most of the game I played two player and thought it was great, but I was surprised at how doable and fun the game can be even playing solo on the Gamecube controller. And yes, I love the look of the game too. The classic style with added Wind Waker-esque graphical effects is really whimsical and charming.

  2. Sir Gaulian

    GBA-GCN link cable is the greatest curio of recent video game history. Barely used in a functional way – but wow did Four Swords get it absolutely right. If you think about Nintendo as a company, and it’s dual screen preference in recent times, it makes the link cable a slightly more significant (and telling) relic of its history.

    • veryverygaming

      Have to agree, curio is the word! If it weren’t for this game, I would definitely consider the link cable a failure. The vast majority of the games that had “connectivity” used it to gate content – the original Metroid in Metroid Prime? Bonus maps in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance? Snore. (I really wanted NES Metroid at the time but I wasn’t willing to shell out for a cable.) I did have fun with Crystal Chronicles, but I always felt the “connectivity” in that game could’ve been handled entirely on the TV like Secret of Mana and it would’ve been just as good. In Four Swords though those dual screens are really integral and basically justify the whole project.

  3. themancalledscott

    Welcome back! I was beginning to think you guys were dead.

    I sadly never gave Four Swords Adventures the time it deserved. I don’t know if I ever beat the second dungeon! Maybe one of these days I’ll give it the proper attention…but I’d have to track down new GBA cables. >_<

    • veryverygaming

      Aw, we really appreciate you noticing our absence! I hate it when blogs/websites/whatever stop updating without a word, so there shouldn’t be any danger of that going forward. Been very busy I’m afraid, hence the lack of updates. But all back to normal now.

      As you can probably guess, I definitely recommend going back to Four Swords. It’s really rekindled my interest in the series. Lately I’ve often justified my dislike of more recent Zelda games by thinking that perhaps the Zelda formula is just a bit stale for me. But no, playing this amazing game for the first time recently made it blindingly obvious that the Zelda formula is great, but actually implementation is everything. Four Swords contains all the classic Zelda conventions and yet it feels utterly fresh and timeless.

      I can definitely sympathise though, the cables are a hassle. Shame it’s the only way to play this. Singleplayer isn’t terrible, but it’s hardly ideal. To play this game I was short one GBA and link cable, thankfully I was able to get them both together at a brick and mortar shop for a reasonable price. Really those cables were the clunkiest part of connectivity, that’s why it’s so strange Nintendo have barely touched it since everything went wireless.

  4. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game. I am interested to see a Legend of Zelda game that allows more than one player to complete a cooperative game, I always felt the single player aspect of the series prevented the games being enjoyed socially. I remember the Tingle Turner being introduced in Wind Waker, but I did not see how a second player could interact with the game and it seemed like they had a support role. I like the way the game needs the players to cooperate to complete the game, while allowing each player to hinder their allies. I think a lot of cooperative games have this strange dynamic.
    I heard this game was part of a re-release of Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. Is there a main story for the game? Or does it consist of a series of challenges? How does the use of the main screen and individual Game Boy Advance screen function? Is the action played on a screen connected to the Gamecube, but transfers to the Game Boy Advance screens during individual moments? I am surprised to see the Pegasus Boots, they were not used much in the game unless the player also used the feather.

    • veryverygaming

      The way this game works, it takes tons of features, items and scenarios from Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, and then adapts them for multiplayer. It’s really amazing that the game works as well as it does in multiplayer, it’s so good that if you didn’t know better you would honestly think that the whole Zelda series was built from the start with cooperative play in mind.

      So to clarify, Four Swords Adventures is actually a full blown Gamecube-only sequel to a mode called Four Swords included in the Link to the Past remake on the GBA. That was only for the GBA and you could play multiplayer with multiple GBAs using link cables. I’ve not played that but I believe it was recently re-released on the 3DS for free?

      Story-wise, Adventures has its own very simple story, with most of the story content at the start and end of the game. It’s basic save the princess stuff. The structure is kind of like a Mario game, you go through eight or so worlds, made up of three stages each. The first two stages of each world are usually outdoor places (Gerudo Valley and Kakariko Village are two for example) and the third stage for each world is a dungeon. You also bump into Tingle, who’s creepier than ever in this game, and you can play minigames in his tower… :/

      As for GBA/GC screens and the way the game moves between them, it’s one of those things that makes perfect sense when you see it in action but is rather hard to describe in words. Most of the time the Links are on the TV screen, but any time you go indoors or underground, Link goes off the TV screen and onto the GBA display. Anyone looking at the TV screen will just see the outdoor scene, even if no one is in it. If my description isn’t doing it for you, I’m sure there must be something on Youtube that demonstrates it!

      • moresleepneeded

        I saw this game on Youtube and it seems like all the players control a character on the TV screen using the Game Boy Advance controls. When the characters enter an area that requires the characters to become individuals, the TV screen pauses, with the four characters shown to be moving in little circles, and the game is shown on the Game Boy Advance display. Is that how it works?
        It seems like this game takes place in Hyrule. Is the story related to any of the other games?
        By the way, what has happened to Tingle? He seems to have started as an eccentric addition to the Majora’s Mask game, a slightly unusual person with a tendency to overcharge Link for maps. In Wind Waker, he seems to look less human and overcharge Link to translate maps. He also has a function as a second player and there are two other Tingles. From what I can tell for this game, he seems to have a tower and produces mini-games. How is he creepy? What does he do? The video I saw did not seem to interact with him.
        I am not sure if this game was re-released on the 3DS.

        • veryverygaming

          That’s a good description of the game, yes. I forgot to mention that the GBA controls the game all the time. The controls are actually one of the best things about the game, they’re super simple but there’s a lot of depth to it – there are special sword moves, you can roll like in Wind Waker to go fast, you can pick up your teammates and even attack enemies with them… there’s a lot of cool stuff. The story is vaguely related to other Zeldas, it kind of borrows things from other games – without spoiling anything there’s stuff reminiscent of Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past and Wind Waker.

          Tingle? TINGGGGGLLLLLEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! He’s just creepy all-round! In this game he’s doing his middle-aged man wannabe fairy act, and there are signs in various levels where he gives you his version of “local news”. And turns out the only thing going on in Hyrule is Tingle needing force gems in order to become a fairy so he can be attractive to women. And to that end, if you leave a force gem on the ground for too long, Tingle floats in on a balloon and steals it. Anyway at least the minigames in his tower are fun.

          • moresleepneeded

            I was actually going to wonder if Tingle was supposed to be a stereotypical homosexual, until I read about his desire to be attractive to women. In Majora’s Mask, he clearly states his wish to become a “Fairy”, dresses in a tight green and red outfit, dances in a circle and makes singing noises. It is a also possible to blackmail Tingle’s father, who seems like an extremely masculine character (with his large build, hairy chest and job as a boat captain) and complains about his son’s lifestyle, with a picture of Tingle dressed as a fairy. In Wind Waker, he lives on an isolated tower in the Great Sea with a pair of people who resemble him, all are dressed in tight outfits (either light green, pink or white). The fact he steals items seems to make him more annoying in this game.
            I am aware of the ability of the players to pick up other team members. I watched a video where the team members used this skill to throw each other into a pit.

  5. Pingback: Rolling balls and shouting orders in Odama (Gamecube) | Very Very Gaming

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