The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures Nintendo GameCube Developed by Nintendo Released in 2004
We don’t review multiplayer games on this website as per our policy. There are a lot of reasons for this, but our primary concern is that we want our reviews to be relatively timeless and unless a game enjoys remarkable popularity, a multiplayer game will simply cease to be over time as players move on. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Four Swords Adventures, where even if you did find three people willing to tackle a 15-hour action-adventure with you, those people would also need to round up a GameCube with a copy of the game, four Game Boy Advances, and four Game Boy Advance to GameCube adapter cables to play. Oh yeah, and those cables don’t charge the GBA either, so bring a lot of batteries.
Hyrule is in trouble (again)!
Four Swords Adventures isn’t very concerned with its plot. You play as Link and Hyrule is in trouble, so you report to the castle. Eight maidens are keeping the evil wind mage Vaati sealed away, but a shadowy copy of Link appears and the maidens, including Zelda, are whisked away. Left with no other choice, Link draws the legendary “four sword” that splits him into four pieces and unleashes Vaati on the land.
You control all four Links as you set out on a quest to free all the maidens and put Vaati back in a seal. Rather than exploring a big overworld with dungeons on it, the game is split up in stages that have you traverse a smaller bit of land, solve a few puzzles and beat up some enemies. Each of the eight worlds has three of these stages with a boss battle at the end, making this the most linear game in the series unless you count Link’s Crossbow Training.
The fact that the game was designed for a more laid-back multiplayer adventure shines through in how shallow it plays. Puzzles are so easy I barely notice them and rather than creating interesting combat encounters the game throws large hordes at you that go down fast. And, its most fatal flaw, Four Sword Adventures simply doesn’t feel adventurous and completely lacks that hard-to-define Zelda vibe or feel. You make your way through soulless stages that feel rushed and simple, and in place of writing lovable characters the game opts to rehash most of the Wind Waker cast for brief cameos.
To be fair, the game has an admirable control scheme for a title that asks you to control four characters at once. You usually only move the Link in the front with others following in a line behind him, but you can hit a button to make all Link’s except for one stationary and pressing it again swaps to the next Link, which comes into play for some puzzles. You can, for example, switch to controlling just one Link to pick up another and throw him over a gap, so that you can then switch to that one and press a switch to make a bridge appear. Another option is to press the shoulder button to create a formation that all Links will adhere to. This can be straight lines of the horizontal or vertical variety, as well as a square block or putting them back-to-back.
Using these formations you can make all Links attack at once, whereas otherwise only the one in front will be attacking. When you use items like the bow, all Links will fire them while in a formation, but a downside here is that you become a massive target when using this tactic. Whereas enemies can only hurt the Link you actually control during normal play, in a formation the whole thing is a hitbox that enemies and bosses can hit.
In a way the gameplay feels like a mix between A Link to the Past and Wind Waker, but where this marriage between two great games falls apart is the level design and the way items work. When you find an item all Links will have that item and leave whatever you had before behind, meaning your arsenal is limited and temporary. This is particularly frustrating because the game still expects you to deal with traditional Zelda obstacles like walls that must be bombed or switches that must be hit at range. Often I would be given the option to swap out my item, only for the game to throw one of these obstacles in my face and force me to backtrack to switch again.
It’s kind of cool that you can play this game that was intended for multiple players alone through the use of the interesting formation system, but Four Swords Adventures is lacking in spirit and the game’s attempt at recreating Zelda gameplay results in a particularly amateur game. Because it reuses the A Link to the Past graphics, the simplicity of the game’s puzzles and tendency to just spawn mindless hordes of foes almost make this feel like a romhack.
Gameplay score: 3/10
6th generation characters in a 4th generation game
Visually the game is a 16-bit title that uses assets like music and the menu from Wind Waker, but otherwise takes heavily after A Link to the Past. In fact, most of the levels are crafted exactly like they would be in the third Zelda game and use the same sprites. I said it then and I’ll say it now: A Link to the Past is a beautiful game that would struggle to find a meaningful competitor on its home system, but this botched attempt at recreating it leaves the excellent sprites devoid of the fantastic atmosphere we know from A Link to the Past.
The levels are simplistic in their nature with nothing really special to them and beyond moving through them and solving the basic puzzles the player has no interesting interaction with any of it. The music is nowhere near as pronounced as it was in ALttP and Nintendo’s attempts to fit in sprites that pay homage to Wind Waker, including entire boss fights that are lifted straight from that game, results in an ugly mess of clashing styles. Even worse are visual hiccups where the layers of sprites get mixed up and you find a Link partially disappearing under a bit of floor.
I called the game soulless earlier in this review and that is exactly how it feels to me. The way the game looks really suggests it was just cobbled together as an easy multiplayer sell, and maybe it could have worked if the game either looked like a 16-bit classic or a cel-shaded title. Trying to do both at the same time is akin to not being able to pick in a restaurant and requesting the chef just mixes two flavors of soup together.
Presentation score: 2/10
While I would dedicate a segment to the game’s extras to discuss the multiplayer potential, there really is little point to it since few people will have the hardware, cables, and game needed to pull it off, on top of also finding enough players who actually want to sit down and tackle the whole thing. As a solo experience, then, there really is not much good to be said about Four Swords Adventures. It’s the bare minimum it needs to be to look like a Zelda game, but you can’t really look at it and see that a big, triple-A developer worked on this. Beyond the ability to control four Links, which does work well but ends up being a gimmick rather than anything else, this could have been made by one level designer and maybe somebody to make a few new sprites.