The Legend of Zelda series is inarguably classic. Born in the heyday of the original NES, the first game and most of its sequels are wildly popular, and for good reason. The Zelda series delivers a solid adventure almost every time. However, we aren't concerned with single player games here at Co-Optimus, so why do we bring up Zelda? It's a bit obscure, but there has been a version (or two, depending on how you look at it) of The Legend Zelda that was meant for co-op play. Four Swords for the Game Boy Advance, and its big brother Four Swords Adventures for the Gamecube, are the focus of this week's Co-op Classics.
You might be wondering why we are discussing such a recent game here. Both the GBA and the Gamecube are fairly recent systems, to be sure, but as long as it isn't from the current generation, we consider it fair game for inclusion in Co-Op Classics. Four Swords for the GBA was included with the port of A Link to the Past way back in 2002. Four Swords Adventures was released just a hair over four years ago, back in 2004. That's practically ancient in videogame terms! In addition, there were some strange hardware requirements to play the game. This means that many gamers might be unaware of Four Swords, and that is really a shame, particularly for fans of cooperative play.
My own experience with the game comes from the Gamecube version, Four Swords Adventures. I had a copy of A Link to the Past, but never linked up with anyone else who had it, so the Four Swords was totally new to me. I mentioned earlier those odd hardware requirements. To play Four Swords Adventures with your buddies, you needed a Gamecube, the game disc, one GBA for each player, and one GBA/GC link cable for each player as well. The GBA served as your controller for the game. As you can imagine, it was difficult to get a game going. Even in our "Nintendo Fanboy" home, we only had two GBAs, and one of those was an original, which was hard to use indoors due to the lack of a backlight. A relative who owned a GBA stayed with us for a week, and we got to play then, but still, that was just three players, which was disappointing, especially when it was your turn to sit and watch. The GBA/GC linkup was a great idea, for reasons we'll discuss later, but it was a real headache to get set up just right. (Incidentally, this same pain in the neck setup killed another great title, Pacman Vs., though that title is available, with single cartridge multiplayer, for the DS.) That's a serious investment in extra cables just to play one game, especially in the pre Guitar Hero era.
Once you got past the hassle though, Four Swords Adventures was a lot of fun. The graphics were in glorious 2D, very similar to the SNES/GBA iterations of the Zelda series. However, effects like bombs and the like were quite similar to the Wind Waker, and looked quite sharp, if a bit out of place. In the game, Link is divided into four bodies by the forces of evil, which when you think about it, isn't a very good plan. Players controlled their Link by using the GBA. For the most part, players stayed on the same screen on your TV, but whenever a Link walked in a building or took a warp, the action swapped to the GBA screen. As you can imagine, this led to some interesting events. One Link might run into a building while his partners were busy fighting a horde of enemies. Rupees and items galore for the sneaky player! But you had to cooperate with each other in order to advance. Besides the simple "each Link stands on a platform" situations, there were some real tricky puzzles that required actions to take place simultaneously in places far from each other. A Shadow World figured prominently into the plot, and here the puzzles really got interesting. (A similar system was featured in Metroid Prime 2.) Events in the Shadow World affected the Overworld, and vice versa. The puzzles and gameplay were very well designed, and boss battles were memorable, as in most Zelda titles. Adding in the multiplayer aspect, especially the co-op, was the delicious icing on an already tasty cake.
It's unfortunate that Four Swords Adventures had such outlandish hardware requirements. Most gamers have not had the opportunity to play it, and that's a shame. For fans of co-op, it really is worth checking out. The game is supposed to be compatible with the Wii, but I doubt many people have four GBAs laying around these days, much less the special cables. For a long while, Four Swords was rumored to be in development for the Nintendo DS, which made perfect sense, given the wireless capabilities of that system. However, that project was abandoned in favor of The Phantom Hourglass for DS. Hopefully, the Four Swords project will be revived, so others can have a chance to check out this fine co-op title. Imagine if a Four Swords title for the DS featured single cart local multiplayer, online co-op, or even both! The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures certainly deserves a higher profile release, given the popularity of co-op games these days. If there is one series that could really bring co-op to the forefront of gaming, Zelda would surely be it. Nintendo, are you listening?