Four Links Better Than One? Remembering Four Swords Adventures
As a franchise, The Legend of Zelda has made its name for having in-depth narratives that take you on an epic journey. The beautifully crafted stories and characters could keep you wrapped in the world of Hyrule for countless hours on end. But for a game that saw you traverse incredible environments, it was a solo experience for the most part—unless you wanted to share your controller around the room. Consoles came and went, and while other Nintendo titles like Mario Kart allowed for a shared experience, it wasn’t until the release of Four Swords Adventures on the GameCube that we saw the first push for Zelda into the multiplayer realm.
In terms of Four Swords Adventures‘ legacy, you would not be blamed for it slipping your memory. Marketed heavily as a multiplayer game, it really struggled to have the same impact that the likes of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess made that same decade. While both the aforementioned titles were able to make drastic changes to the series within their style and gameplay, Four Swords Adventures existed as a combination of other previously released titles. Unless you were lucky enough to own a Game Boy Player, an adapter that allows you to play your handheld console games through your GameCube, it is unlikely you saw the beauty of A Link to the Past on anything bigger than a 6-inch screen. Four Swords Adventures takes that familiar style while adding the beautiful flair of elements like the character and weapon designs from Wind Waker to form a game that is appreciative of its history while embracing modernity.
One of the game’s most exciting features was the ability to use your GameBoy as a controller. When connected using the cross-console cable, whenever your character entered an indoor location, such as a dungeon or building, you would have your gameplay move from the big screen down into your hands. No game was more effective at using this feature to its full effect. Just look through the games with the ability to cross platforms like this and we see a lot that were unable to reach the potential.
For those already accustomed to the controls of A Link to the Past, you would be picking up this title with little fuss. The major addition to this game is the change from controlling a singular Link to now having a whole squad of brightly coloured Links to control. In single-player, you wield them all with relative ease, using the c-stick to swap between formations allowing you to battle enemies from all sides. It makes Four Swords Adventures one of the most inventive entries from the franchise in terms of its style, and perhaps one of the most rewarding once you grasp the control format.
Another change from the usual Zelda format is the world. Famed for its incredible environments and game maps, it may seem strange to move down to a level-based system, in which you are more limited in your progression. This is perhaps the most restrictive a Zelda title has ever felt, in that exploration is limited. Gone are the side quests of Zelda games past—aside from the odd appearance from Tingle, the slightly horrifying elf/man in a green jumpsuit who loves to joke. It may not be the exact experience you are used to, but it provides all the action and exploration that you could want—and with the added new control and gameplay concepts, it provides a fulfilling playthrough.
My experience with Four Swords Adventures, however, never felt like a fully-lived one. While I was able to complete the story by myself, the dream was always to have that full, four-player multiplayer joy. To break down how difficult it would be to get a four-player game running, let’s look at just the technical aspects. One Gamecube with Four Swords Adventures, four GameBoy Advances, and four connection cables, which allow the link play between the two—a logistical and financial nightmare to say the least. Looking back at it now, I have come to appreciate more the availability of multiplayer on modern consoles. We now have the likes of Animal Crossing New Horizons and Splatoon 2, allowing you to instantly connect with others from across the globe. Comparatively, the chaos of having a group of four together, with all the right equipment and no arguments over who gets to be green Link, makes multiplayer gaming nearly 20 years later seem so quaint.
Sadly, I never got to experience the full four Links pure carnage that could have occurred. While my sister and I were firmly team Nintendo in our younger years, most of my friends were Playstation purists—which meant the closest I got was playing with two players. That didn’t stop me having an incredibly enjoyable time. I recently played Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity with my sister and had memories flood back. While the gameplay and graphics are vastly different, the ability to enjoy the world of Legend of Zelda in a multiplayer sense was once again being fulfilled. Four Swords Adventures will always a special place in my heart for how it opened my mind to share the experiences of Hyrule.