[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/fourswords/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Four Swords has been much maligned because, like Crystal Chronicles, it requires a Gamecube, 4 links cables, and 4 GBAs (and you’ll want to use SPs, too, unless you are playing outside in broad daylight). Many people would argue that they cannot afford the cost of all this gear. I somewhat sympathize with these people, but god forbid they should ever try to set up a LAN party or something of that sort. Suffice to say, to really play this game, you will need a bunch of friends with GBAs. The game itself comes with a link cable and they seem to be pretty cheap.
But enough about that, lets get to the game itself. It can be played single player, and even without a GBA (single player only), and it is even bearably fun this way. However, to really get the full value out of the game you need more than 1 person playing. It is obviously optimal with 4 players, but it is even pretty decent with 2.
The graphics in this game were made using an interesting technique. All of the “sprites” are actually flat polygons being manipulated by the Gamecube’s 3d system. The graphic you see is actually an animated texture painted onto these polygons. The GBA screens are obviously not that impressive, but the Gamecube occasionally treats you to a really nice visual effect here and there. The graphics are standard 2d Zelda fare for the most part, but the occasional flexing of the ‘Cube’s muscle is a nice touch.
If you have played Four Swords from the GBA version of a Link to the Past, you will know a lot of what to expect. The game controls pretty much like Zelda should, but you can only carry one item at a time. Although this can lead to some annoying backtracking, as long as you make sure everyone carries a different item, you can solve most of the puzzles. Also the items are usually only one or two areas away from where they need to be used. Unlike the Link to the Past version of Four Swords, the dungeons in this game are static and will not change between playings. Although this might somewhat limit the replay value, there are quite a few levels and the game isn’t just about beating the levels. A replay with different friends could be very interesting, especially if you know where all the money is…
The money in this game, no longer rupees but force gems, is where the main competitive element of the game comes in. Who ever has the most force gems at the end of the level wins, but the game also factors monsters killed, hearts left, and deaths into your score. This leads to a lot of racing for gems, and a great deal of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) backstabbing. In a 3 or 4 player game, players can even vote for a Link of Darkness (bad) and a Link of Light (good) to modify those players scores. This anonymous vote allows players a very minimal defense against “griefing” and also serves as an amusing way to mess with people. The contest for high score is really where a lot of the fun of the game is, provided people stay on track enough to finish the level.
All four players share the primary screen most of the time, but the Gameboy screen is used whenever players enter a cave or building within the main screen, or when they travel to Dark World. This gives them a good opportunity to loot these areas without letting anyone else know what’s going on. Although it sounds gimmicky, I found it far more enjoyable and sensible than the GBA use in Crystal Chronicles.
The levels were mostly fun, but occasionally a little puzzle heavy. Sometimes you have to convince everyone to calm down and stop worrying about who has the most gems so you can just struggle through a level. Although some of the puzzles were fairly non-obvious, very few actually totally stopped the game for us. The boss fights were often excellent, and usually made great use of four player co-operation. I would have preferred more combat and some less obscure puzzles, but it was pretty enjoyable overall. When you tire of adventuring, you are usually able to access the Tingle’s Tower bonus stage, which is filled with a bunch of amusing competitive mini-games. These are a nice change of pace, and they also teach you some techniques that will be helpful later in the game.
Aside from just the main game (called Hyrulian Adventure), there is a deathmatch mode called Shadow Battle. This actually turned out to be very fun provided you have at least 3 and preferably four players. If you have learned the mechanics of the game well, you can really use it to your advantage here, and many of the levels have deliberate traps and a good balance of item spots. The ability to hide in a room on your GBA and not be visible to anyone else can also be a huge tactical consideration. I was really expecting this to be very mediocre, but it is almost to the level of Bomberman in its quality.
If you have access to a ‘Cube and some GBAs and a few friends, you’d almost have to be crazy not to pick this game up. It’s really fun, and has a great mix of competitive and co-operative gameplay. If you get bored of the main game or just want to warp up, Shadow Battle is also a great vs. game. As a single player game, it might be worth picking up just because of the low price, but once you realize what you are missing out on, you won’t want to play it solo again.