The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is a multiplayer-focused action adventure game for the Nintendo GameCube. It can be played alone with a single GameCube controller or cooperatively with up to four players using Game Boy Advance systems and special cables to connect them to the GameCube. There’s a loose plot to give you a motive to play through the game, but I honestly forget what it is exactly and it doesn’t really matter anyway. You do a lot of Zelda-type things in this game such as explore maps, fight monsters, solve puzzles, and defeat bosses. The interesting thing is that you have four Links to control. You’ll need them to work independently for some tasks and together for others. Now, I can imagine that having more players would make some things easier and others harder, but I got this game long after it came out and didn’t have the cables besides so I played it alone. The review will reflect this.
Playing alone has you controlling all of the Links. You can control a main one as the others follow in a line. You can also switch between individual ones and split them up. You can even control all four at the same time in a few preset formations. This can be a lot to wrap your head around, but you’ll be eased into it as you try to figure out what each puzzle and boss requires. You select levels from an overworld map that goes in a linear fashion, rather than being dropped into a big playable overworld like most Zelda games. Each level has its own decently sized map to explore. There are Triforce pieces to collect in each level. Collecting a certain amount of these will power up your swords, making combat easier. There are pedestals around the levels that carry different secondary weapons. You’ll often need to switch them out to complete the levels, and sometimes having a certain one can be very beneficial to fighting the level’s boss. Going into caves and houses will change the visual style to that of the GBA, which I’ll get into more later on. The main visual style looks like a mix between Wind Waker and A Link to the Past. It has almost a crayon-esque style to it, possibly similar to the original Four Swords on the GBA port of A Link to the Past that I never got to try out either. So basically each level consists of exploring, solving puzzles, getting items to progress, and fighting a boss. The bite-sized portions of these fun Zelda elements make for good multiplayer. You might not have hours at a time to play so playing in short, contained levels makes it easier to pick up and put down. You can even pick up a game with a different number of players than you started with and keep going without them if you need. The new thing to keep in mind here is color. Each Link has their own color. There’s green, red, blue, and purple. Some puzzles and bosses require certain players to take action rather than just anyone, which gives everyone their time to shine rather than one player carrying the team on their shoulders. Or if you’re by yourself you’ll just need to add the extra layer of color coordination to your puzzles and combat.
I want to at least address the little I know about the multiplayer. Of course the pros and cons are that some puzzles and fights will be easier with the larger variety of formations and coordination possible, while other times these things will be more difficult due to the split in responsibilities, thought processes, and skills. When you go into caves and houses in this mode the game will be transferred to your GBA screen. This allows some players to cover more ground if there’s not much on the main screen for them. Though I believe you will still move to the other screen if the lead player moves on. This split also allows you to have more variety in the secondary weapons as each character gets their own.
Speaking of this, the fact that in single player you’re forced to use four of the same secondary weapon regardless of which Link picks up makes this mode a little less interesting. Working some of the puzzles and boss fights can be a pain when continually trying to switch between different formations and individual Links. Not to mention that if you have trouble distinguishing the colors, as I did with the blue and purple, the color-specific sections will often end up in some trial and error gameplay for you. Maybe a better choice of colors would’ve helped. The lack of true Zelda exploration is understandable, but it’s still disappointing. The need for GBAs and cables to connect them for multiplayer purposes also really limits the game’s enjoyment. I never knew anyone with this specific cable, and unless we both had a GBA and a cable it wouldn’t work anyway. It’s just generally a bad idea to make a mode, designed for more players, that has a bunch of extra obscure accessories to limit its broad appeal. I think the main reason the game isn’t even talked about much is because not many people wanted to put up with all of that fuss just to play a game with friends. It seems like, with some simple tweaking, this game could’ve been made to support four regular controllers and just make the GBA connectivity a nice little bonus for players that wanted it.
Even with the obvious pros and cons of multiplayer versus single player modes and the resulting design for the multiplayer focus, Four Swords Adventures is a lot of fun. If you want a simpler Zelda game with easy pick up and put down sections, or if you’re just looking for a lighter Zelda experience without all that open ended exploration, then The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is for you. Even if you’re a big Zelda fan you’ll probably still enjoy the cool combat, puzzles, and unique experiences from single player or multiplayer play. If you’re not interested in the idea of separate levels and not much exploration then maybe give it a pass. However, if you’re on the fence about it, I’d say give it a shot. It’s a pretty fun, well-polished experience that not enough people talk about. Check it out.