Imagine yourself walking into your favorite videogame store and seeing a new Zelda game has been released. Imagine that the year is 2004 (shouldn’t be too hard) and that, even though most game companies are trying to have the best graphics possible, the game is in 2D. Depending on what kind of gamer you are, you’ll either think the game sucks because it’s in 2D, or you’ll think it’s the best thing ever and buy it immediately. Unfortunately, I think most gamers these days are the ones who buy games only for graphics, or for violence, and that many people will miss what could be one of the GameCube’s best games and the one that fully uses the potential of the GBA to GC connectivity.
The story is quite simple, and old time Zelda fans won’t be too surprised, but this game is more about gameplay anyway. But since you probably want to know what’s going on: An evil character called Shadow Link makes the good Link remove the legendary Four Sword from its seal and, by doing so, releases a great evil. Yes, the evil sorcerer Vaati is back (once again) and he has captured 7 young and beautiful maidens (including, of course, Zelda) and he wants to bring darkness all over Hyrule, so it is Link’s job to get rid of him and bring light back to the wonderful land of Hyrule. To do so, he uses the power of the Four Sword and splits himself into 4 Links. That means you’ll be controlling four Links at the same time. I don’t want to reveal too much of what happens during the game, but if you’ve played Zelda in the past, you will probably have a good idea of what is really going on. Vaati isn’t acting alone, unfortunately, and there is someone even more evil behind all of this. I won’t tell you who he is [cough]Ganon[/cough], but there are clues during the story that will make you find out that he is back at it again.
Since I was only able to play this game in single player, this will be a single player review. I’ll try to mention some of the multiplayer aspects of it, even though I haven’t tried them just to give you a good idea of what to expect from this game if you are playing with friends. So first of all, the game takes place in Hyrule, with some elements from both A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. There are places from the SNES game that you’ll recognize, and characters from the N64 game that have been placed there. The map isn’t exactly like the ALTTP map though, but it does look a little like it. We could also say that it is linked a little to Wind Waker since it uses some special effects from that game, and it also has lots of elements from the GBA version of Four Swords. You’ll be visiting Hyrule castle, Death Mountain, the desert, Kakariko Village, and some other places from around Hyrule. There are even stages set in the sky and in a tower. And for the hardcore fans, the one who played the NES version to death, you’ll recognize some bosses and enemies from that game in FSA and it’s just awesome! Even that owl that got on people’s nerves in OOT is back to give you some advice.
One thing that makes this Zelda game so different from the others is that you don’t go anywhere you want on the map. Instead, you go from region to region, and in each of those regions there are 3 stages. So you’ll be going through small stages, and each is linked to the others, but each of them is kind of like its own little adventure. What I mean by that is that each time you start a new stage, you start with nothing. No items, 3 hearts, nothing else. You also don’t have an inventory screen with all your items like in previous Zelda games. You only have a status screen with all of the maidens you’ve saved and gems you collected. Items are handled differently in this game. You can only have 1 at a time. That means that when you need another one, you have to leave it and pick the other one, then come back if you need it again and then trade it again. When playing multiplayer though, each one can have his own item so everyone can pick one and do specific things to help the others. It might seem like an advantage, but some of the puzzles are a little different from the single player and multi player so that they are all possible. When you are playing alone you control all 4 Links and you can have them move in different formations to help you battle and solve puzzles. In multiplayer, everyone will have to cooperate to be able to advance.
Since I mentioned the items, maybe we should go into more details about them. First of all, there is a lot of stuff you’ll be using: from bracelets that reduce damage or give you more power, to hammers and boots, shovels, feathers, lamps, boomerangs, fire rods, bows, bombs… there are a lot to use and all of them are upgradeable. In some levels there are fairy fountains where you can throw in your item, just like in ALTTP, and your items will level up to level 2. When they are level 2, they will have more features. For example, you’ll be able to run in the air with the boots, or throw lager bombs, or make blocks with the fire rod. The shovel will make a sound when close to secret stuff. These are the basic items you’ll use, but there are others. Force fairies, for example, will bring you back to life when you die, heart containers will add one heart to your current health. And for those that liked horseback riding, the carrots are back in one of the stages. You’ll be on your horse and have to run through guards and pick more carrots in order to stay on your horse and get to the end. Another very important item is the moon stone. They are used to create portals in certain places to go to the dark world and they are extremely useful in a lot of stages in the game. Finally, the most known item in Zelda, you’ll be using lots of keys and a few boss keys to open chests or doors.
Something else that is very special with this game is the necessity to have a GBA to play mutli-player, the same as if you were playing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. Using the GBA is incredibly fun, and you’ll want to use it even when you’ll be playing alone. The way it works is that every time you go in caves, houses, fall in holes, or go into the dark world, your character will appear on your GBA screen and that’s where you’ll be playing until you go back outside and reappear on your TV screen. You can also, at some points, shoot arrows from the GBA and they’ll appear on the TV screen, so you might have to shoot switches that way. It might seem simple, but it is necessary in order for the game to work when playing multiplayer. Some people might be outside fighting enemies while you’re inside a house stealing gems on your GBA screen and nobody can see you! This might be a cooperative game, but there is also a lot of competition since at the end of each level they say who has the most gems and all of the players can vote for who was the best player, who was the worst and it makes the game extremely fun. It’s a great game when alone, but it really shines when played with friends.
Now, one of the main points of the game is that you have to collect gems. They are kind of like rupees, except they are triangular and they are not money. They work in the same way though since they come in different colors and some of them are worth more than others. The objective of the game is to collect 2000 in each of the stages, and at the end of each, there is a shadow barrier that you have to destroy in order to advance to the next level. The way it works is that when you reach 2000 gems, your sword is charged with the “power to repel evil”, and that means that you have the power to destroy those barriers. But you’re not the only one after those gems since the now famous Tingle wants them too and sometimes, when you leave gems there, he’ll come and steal them! Gems are also important at the end of each stage since for each thousand gems you have, you get a force fairy, and each one of them is a life and they can come in handy later in the game.
You’ll also be fighting bosses in order to save the 7 maidens in the game, and each of them will help you get to the next area and tell you more about what’s happening. There are also Hyrule guards in some of the stages that have been “turned to the dark side” by the evil Vaati and you have to defeat them to free them. When you do, they’ll give you some crystals that will be useful later in the game.
To make things more difficult, the evil shadow Link will fight with you in order to stop you. He is able to travel from the light world to the dark one as much as he wants, while you’ll need moon pearls or fall in certain places to get there. Sometimes, shadow Link will only want to fight you like you’d fight a normal guard, except he can also become 4. You can stun him and hit him, and than sometimes he’ll change colors and you have to hit him with the Link of the same color. He’ll also sometimes appear in some areas with gigantic bombs that he’ll throw around endlessly and you’ll have to enter caves to get out in another place to leave the area without getting killed since those bombs kill you with only 1 explosion.
Colors play a huge role in this game’s puzzles. From beginning to end you’ll have puzzles where you’ll need to use one of your characters with the same color in order to kill enemies, push blocks, walk in some places, etc. You’ll also be using your formations in order to activate some switches fast enough or to walk on switches that are on the ground at the same time. Sometimes, you’ll even have to break your group of Links and move them all at different places within an area in order to complete puzzles. In one of the stages, you have to find thieves and bring them all behind a fence in order to capture them all and exit a village. In another stage you’ll be saving children that are trapped in the dark world by finding clues. You’ll even be looking for items and bringing them back to characters in order for them to help you. And, for old-school Zelda fans, you’ll be using your shovel a lot to uncover gems and secret entrances to underground places. There is a lot of variety in the puzzles, but they aren’t that difficult, so some expert gamers won’t really have a challenge. I have to admit though, that I was stuck for a few minutes in some areas. Nothing big, but I still had to use my brains a little!
Link also has some new abilities. He can roll, he can charge his sword and spin for a few seconds while charging enemies, he can attack forward, backward, he can lift other Links, he can go underwater, he can do a lot of stuff. There are also some new sword combos that you can perform and dash into enemies.
I could go on forever about this game, but I have to stop at some point, so let’s now talk about the most shocking aspect of this game: the graphics. It might seem funny, but I thought this game was gorgeous. Sure, some of it looks a little blurry when viewed up close, but it was probably to have some kind of continuity with the GBA, so that when you’d get on your GBA screen, it’d look similar. There are still huge differences between the two, like some textures are a lot better. There are some very cool Wind Waker-type effects like swirling smoke, fire and explosions. There’s also some small 3D effects used in there, not a lot, but it makes a difference. At some moments in the game there are dozens of enemies onscreen at the same time, and even though it’s only 2D, it would probably not have been possible to do on N64. There are also little details that make a difference, like Link’s breath in snow levels, or footsteps left in the snow. When you run into a tree some leaves will fall. When you are over fire there’s a heat distortion effect to make it look more realistic. When you run into a wall, you will see it get deformed and then get back to its original flat form. There are also interesting effects like when you smash the ground with your hammer, there might be some bumps that will appear to show you where items are hidden. The shockwaves will also make people jump in the air, and it works even when you are in the dark world, which I though was pretty funny.
On the sound side, some of the old ALTTP songs were used, sometimes even remixed in order to make the game sound different. Some of the music even goes back to the first Zelda game on the NES. I remember entering a dungeon and then remembering the music, and I kind of wondered where it came from, until I realized it was the same music from the last dungeon in the NES Zelda, except it was remixed to sound more like what it would have been on the SNES. The sound effects all seem to come from the SNES version and a little I think also comes from Wind Waker. They used old sounds in this game and even though Nintendo re-uses many sounds in their games, they still sound great!
Overall, this is a wonderful game, worth at least a rental. It might be a little difficult for some to get 4 people with GBAs to play this game in multiplayer, but it’s worth it. There’s also a battle mode where you can fight it out in different areas, which is a nice addition to the game. The main adventure isn’t as long as other Zelda games. It took me a little less than 15 hours to complete it. Since the single and multiplayer experiences are different, than we could say that the game lasts for maybe 20-25 hours. It offers something new, and like I said, it uses the full potential of the GBA to GC connectivity and it might be reason enough to buy a GBA if you don’t already own one. I just hope it receives enough recognition to warrant a sequel as I think 2D games, even on next-generation consoles, should never die. It’s kind of difficult to give this game a mark since I was extremely nostalgic when playing this game, so I might be overrating it a bit, but believe me, once you try it, you’ll be hooked to it and will experience one of the best games this generation. No game is perfect, but this one, in my opinion, was close to it.