Rewind Review - The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (GBA)

Four Swords on the Gameboy Advance has potential... but that's about all it has.

Week 8 of the Legend of Zelda Rewind Review is here, and that means it's time to visit the 8th game in the Legend of Zelda series:  Four Swords for the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo 3DS!

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords was a game that was bundled together with A Link to the Past. An anniversary edition of the game was also released for the DSi and 3DS in 2011. This was the first multiplayer Legend of Zelda experience, and with Triforce Heroes coming to the 3DS later this month, what better time to review one of the previous multiplayer Legend of Zelda installments?

As with all Rewind Reviews, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords will undergo a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse this game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect to see in the genre today.

With that said, let's have a personality crisis and split into four heroes in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords for the Gameboy Advance, DSi, and 3DS!

The Plot

Unlike every other Legend of Zelda game to date, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords doesn't really have a fleshed out story. Instead, the game focuses on a competitive-cooperative multiplayer experience surrounding a blade known simply as the "Four Sword".

What little story we do get from Four Swords can be summarized in as follows:

  • A Wind Sorcerer named Vaati once terrorized Hyrule before a hero came and sealed him within the Four Sword.
  • The Four Sword was then placed in a sanctuary to prevent it from being released.
  • Zelda senses the seal of the Four Sword is breaking, and after she and Link arrive at the altar the seal breaks.
  • Zelda is kidnapped (big surprise).
  • Link then takes up the Four Sword - effectively separating into four Links - and proceeds to hunt after Vaati.
  • Hillarity ensues...

Okay, so the last part was my addition to the story. However, I would imagine it to be a valid plot-point considering 99% of Four Swords playthroughs have have two or four friends effectively trolling the life out of one another while scavenging rupees and solving puzzles.

Other than these plot points there's really nothing to add, since the game itself doesn't really have a story outside of the opening and closing cutscenes. It's not that the story premise is bad, it's just that it's... there. And it really doesn't need to be.

The Gameplay

The Bad:

I'm going straight to the bad. I know. You'd think that since there's an anniversary edition of the game it would be somewhat decent. However, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords is a terrible game for multiple reasons...

The first is that it plays just like one would expect a multiplayer Legend of Zelda would play. While this might seem like a good thing at first, the issues is that it has very little strategy or puzzle-solving involved. Thanks to the fact that there are two Links involved - and that the puzzles aren't exactly difficult to compensate for this - many of the puzzles feel like early dungeons in a regular Legend of Zelda title. Instead of making proper use of the multiple Links at your disposal, many times you feel like you are just doing the same thing you would do in a regular game. The catch is that this time, you need to wait for your incompetent friend to catch up.

Get ready for classic Legend of Zelda puzzles like pushing obstacles, but this time you get to do it cooperatively with 3 friends!

The second problem is that the game itself is not particularly difficult at all. Many of the puzzles - as previously stated - have been simplified to compensate for the multiplayer aspect. It makes the game feel oddly unsatisfying, even at its most difficult sections. Even the game's final boss - Vaati - is fairly easy to defeat. It's a disappointment, and although I must keep in mind that this is the first experiment with multiplayer Legend of Zelda gameplay, it lacks any redeeming features.

Vaati's boss battle is comprised of two parts: throwing bombs at his tornadoes, and playing ping-pong with your allies until you smack him silly in his color-coded weak points with the right character...

The third is the competitive nature of the game. While you need to cooperate to progress through Four Swords, the game rates you at the end of each stage (yes, stage, not dungeon) based on how many rupees you collected. While this can be fun, it detracts from the focus on puzzle solving and combat that the series is known for.

The last problem is a physical one. Regardless of whether you are playing the GBA, DSi, or 3DS versions of the game, you will come across one major issue: finding other players who have the game. Unlike its successor Four Swords Adventures on the Gamecube, Four Swords has no single player mode. As a result, the game is literally unplayable without friends. Furthermore, the game is most enjoyable when there are at least 4 players present, as the puzzles adapt to the number of players, and 4 player puzzles are much more challenging.

As such, you need at least 3 other people with either the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past cartridges for the Gameboy Advance (and enough link cables to link 4 Gameboys) or 4 3DS or DSis with the game installed in order to fully enjoy the game. It's just not a reasonable effort for a game that is barely 3 hours long.

The Presentation

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords suffers in terms of art style. While other GBA Legend of Zelda games have looked great on the handheld, for some reason the art direction seems a bit off with this game. I suppose I shouldn't hold it to the same standard as Minish Cap, which came out two years later, but there's just... something... about this art design that irks me. Maybe it's the flatness of the textures? Something odd about the sprites against the perspective? I have no clue. It's just wrong, and I don't know why.

As for the sound design... it's... alright? It's by no means the greatest in the Legend of Zelda lineup, but it's listenable.  It probably didn't help that the sound is compressed because this title shared a game cart with A Link to the Past. Being a 4-player real time game didn't much help my enjoyment of the music either. At least the Link sword-swing shrieks aren't as bad.

The Verdict

The game isn't broken. That's about all I can say that's positive about The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. It's playable, but it's not enjoyable in the least. Even with three friends, the game is not difficult at all, and most of the enjoyment comes from making the gameplay into a living hell for your friends. The music isn't memorable, the gameplay is not innovative in the least, and it's just... not good.

If you have this game - and three friends who have it as well - give it a shot. Otherwise, don't go out of your way to play it. It's not worth your time. I'm usually the first guy to say Legend of Zelda games are great, but there's just no redeeming qualities to this Legend of Zelda spin-off.

I'm closing Week 8 of the Legend of Zelda Rewind Review early with this one. There's nothing good I can say about Four Swords on the GBA. Maybe I'm wrong, but if I am it's up to you - the readers - to prove it! What do you think of this game? Is there good qualities I missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Also, be sure to check back on this article or the GameSkinny front page for future reviews, as well as swords and sorcery action as we make our way from the original 1986 release of The Legend of Zelda on the NES to the 2013 release of A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS!


Reviews in this Series:

Our Rating
Four Swords on the Gameboy Advance has potential... but that's about all it has.
Reviewed On: Gameboy
Published Oct. 5th 2015
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