When it comes to Nintendo’s impressive array of first-party franchises, The Legend of Zelda is always one that has constantly reinvented itself. It’s able to retain the same core elements with every new release but also brings in enough new features to give each title their own unique feel. I’ve already discussed this in detail with The Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask, and A Link to the Past. Honestly, the fact that I can whip up three articles about different games in the same franchise is undeniable proof of The Legend of Zelda’s versatility. It’s also undeniable that the three aforementioned games are favorites among fans. But what about the other titles that very rarely jump to people’s minds when they think of the many adventures of Link and Zelda? There are plenty of them out there and this week an innovative but overlooked subseries is back for a limited time with The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition.
Four Swords has always been a different Legend of Zelda title. Well, more different than the others. Bundled with the Game Boy Advance remake of the incredible A Link to the Past, Four Swords first came to be in 2002. It was basically an extra addition to a game that Nintendo knew was going to sell well. It followed Link on a journey to stop the dark sorcerer Vaati from destroying Hyrule and reseal him in the Four Sword. When Link first picks up the Four Sword, he’s broken up into four different Links each boasting their own color. You had your typical green Link but also had a red, blue, and purple Link. Each Link is controlled by a single GBA system and teamwork is absolutely necessary to complete the game. You actually couldn’t play through it alone. The popularity of this extra feature led to the Four Swords story continuing in Four Swords Adventures on the Game Cube and the prequel Minish Cap on the Game Boy Advance, both in 2004.
There are a lot of reasons why Four Swords stands out from the rest of the franchise, but one of the most notable is the fact that it didn’t start off as its own game. It was basically an add-on that very easy could have been a one and done deal. Yet the massive fanbase was extremely receptive to the idea. Fans obviously jumped at the chance to play A Link to the Past again but bringing multiplayer in was something else entirely. Four Swords was actually the very first Legend of Zelda game to have multiplayer. The franchise has always been a single player endeavor so fans found this simple addition to be a refreshing change of pace. It was also proof that after 16 years there was still unbroken ground in one of the most popular franchises in history.
The unfortunate truth though was that multiplayer on Four Swords was extremely cumbersome. The gameplay was innovative and incredibly fun, but actually playing the game was a bit of a hassle. In order to successfully play with your friends on Four Swords, each person needed their own A Link to the Past & Four Swords cartridge, their own GBA, and connector cables. This already made it more difficult than simply playing multiplayer on a home console. The issues didn’t go away with Four Swords Adventures either despite it being on the Game Cube. GBA connectivity was necessary in order to play with friends. While the idea had its merits (action was transferred to the GBA when you’re off screen), it was another unnecessary step. Trying to play with friends wasn’t as easy as simply inviting them over and turning on the system. Either you or they needed a GBA and a GBA to Game Cube connector which required actual planning if you wanted to play Four Swords Adventures together. At the very least, Four Swords Adventures had a more in-depth single player story.
While the Four Swords Anniversary Edition originally came out in 2011 as part of The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary, it’s back on DSiWare for free until February 2nd. Reviews for the Anniversary Edition were much better than for the original game. New areas were introduced, there was a greater single player focus, and even a Hero’s Trial feature which gives the game a harder difficulty. Hero’s Trial has become a staple of the franchise in recent years so its introduction wasn’t a surprise. What made the Anniversary Edition so great though was how it completely erased the issues that plagued Four Swords in its past iterations. The game was free so anyone with a DSi, DSi XL, and a 3DS were able to pick it up with ease, and the wireless connectivity made physical cables obsolete. Now anyone with a corresponding system could play Four Swords whenever and wherever. It almost entirely removed the cumbersome planning and brought back the spontaneity. People were more likely to have a DS based system handy than random connector cables.
I have always been a big fan of the Four Swords subseries. I loved its first iteration of Four Swords on the GBA, picked up Four Swords Adventures the moment it came out, and have played Minish Cap many times. I honestly didn’t even know that the Minish Cap story was connected to the other games which made the Four Sword inclusion an amazing surprise. If I had the proper DS system, I would pick up the Anniversary Edition immediately. I mean, it’s a top notch Legend of Zelda multiplayer game for free. That’s right up my ally. In all honesty though, my actual multiplayer experience with any game in the Four Swords subseries is very limited. The extra steps needed to play multiplayer on the GBA or Game Cube made it so difficult I rarely actually got it to happen. This is such a shame too because my time with a Four Swords game was always fun.
It took Nintendo 16 years to give The Legend of Zelda franchise a true multiplayer game. Then it took them an extra 9 to actually give it the treatment it deserved. Four Swords was such a brilliant concept when it first came out but was simply held back by its own technological limitations. The Anniversary Edition did away with those limitations and gave fans a truly compelling multiplayer experience. It’s only free on DSiWare until tomorrow so anyone who wants to pick it up should do it quickly. Hopefully this is a sign that Nintendo is thinking of bringing Four Swords back again too with a new title. Considering the way the Wii U functions with screen based controllers, this is basically a no-brainer. Throw in someone online functionality and Nintendo can have a real goldmine on their hands.