At the end of my visit with Nintendo this week, we were given some DSi XLs and set loose on The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition. (Good god, that title is a mouthful.) For those who haven't heard, it's an upgraded take on the classic GBA game, which was itself a portable version of Four Swords Adventures for GameCube.
It will be available as free DsiWare for both the DSi and 3DS, and will cross-compatible between the two systems. Like the original, it's a four-player game, but it will also be playable solo. I had a chance to try both modes in a recent visit with Nintendo.
I never had a chance to play the Game Boy Advance version of Legend of Zelda: Four Swords - Four Swords Anniversary Edition is both a port of that game, and an upgrade. Playing solo wasn't possible in the original GBA game (Well, it was possible if you're this guy and you use a GBA emulator on PC.)
For a little while, I messed around with Four Swords' single-player. It turns out, Nintendo addressed the problem of turning a game that is multiplayer by design by giving players two Links to control -- I could switch between the two of them with the press of a button. The puzzles are designed around the same kind of teamwork from the full four-player campaign, but simplified somewhat to be solvable with only two.
The solo level I played through was a simple situation -- a series of separated islands the navigation of which required that I alternate between controlling my green "canon" Link and a second, Blue Link. One Link grabbed a magnet, which would be the cause of much problem-solving (and horseplay besides). The magnet allowed me to pull my way across each pit, then turn around and grab my blue counterpart and pull him across as well.
The Nintendo representative on hand said that the level I played was a tutorial of sorts, and couldn't elaborate on how different the solo levels would be from the ones designed for four-player, but it does look as though Four Swords Anniversary Edition will be playable by those without any DS-owning friends.
At this point, I dove into the meat of Four Swords: four-player co-op. I was joined by our Nintendo rep, along with a couple of my peers from an esteemed gaming publication that rhymes with "Sames Maydar". I was given a DSi XL -- which, after several months of playing only 3DS, felt comically large. I made a crack about how this thing felt big enough to fit not one but two circle-sticks! Nobody really laughed. Well, I laughed.
We started out in a level that was similar to the one I had just played -- it wasn't immediately clear where we should be going, but I hadn't become familiar with the nomenclature of the game quite yet. The world-map and general feel are very reminiscent of the GBA game, and it was confirmed that despite seeing release on the 3DS, Four Swords Anniversary Edition won't be playable in 3D.
For those unfamiliar with Four Swords, the general idea behind the game is that four Links, each controlled by a different player, must work together to navigate the obstacles in each level. They can do that by picking up and throwing one another, using magnets and other tools to move each other about remotely, and teaming up to lift and throw boulders and other objects that are too large to be moved alone.
But really, this game is as much about pantsing around as it is about teamwork. After a bit of that, we made our way to the first big challenge -- a large, square level, laid out like a maze -- from the entry point, we'd have to navigate around the map and back to the start, figuring out a way to find a key in the process. A few of us grabbed those aforementioned magnets, which allowed us to push and pull one another over drops and onto platforms. There was also ice underfoot in this level, which made things even trickier -- like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the various Links cannot occupy the same physical space as one another, so many a young man was knocked from solid ground into the chasm beyond.
It took us a while to stop throwing each other around and start actually working together, but that was part of the fun -- in fact, the design seems more geared towards screwing around than it does towards working together with any sort of precision. We climbed, pushed, tossed, and magnetised our way through the first level, occasionally having to pause at a particularly tricky juncture and work out how to progress. "Okay, I have to go back and get a magnet, and then you throw me over there, and I'll pull you over, then he can pull me through the wall…"
The precision of planning that is required to solve the various puzzles is offset by the imprecise nature of the controls. It's a bit like bumper cars, which can get a bit annoying in a level where it is possible to tumble into a pit at every turn. It became even more of an issue in the next level we tackled, which was an ice level.
Has anyone, ever, in the history of the world, liked the Ice level? I think not. Maybe there's an Ice level that I'm not thinking of. OK, let's say this: an "Ice Level" is a level in which the floor becomes slick, and so you must account for your character sliding farther than you told him or her to go. By that definition, I believe there has never been a fun Ice level in the history of gaming.
That said, this Ice level was OK, as these things go. We each fell a dozen or more times each, but we did manage to stumble our way through, unlocking the door and moving on to the final level. Another short puzzle later and we came up against a boss, an Ice Monster that required us to use our newfound charge ability to knock it into an Ice wall, which froze it and then rendered it vulnerable to our attacks. Of course, the whole thing was rendered imprecise by the slippery nature of the ground beneath our feet, but such is the nature of the Ice Level.
After beating the boss, our time with the game ended. At the end of the level, we were shown a results screen, which tallied and ranked us by our performance. I… didn't do so hot. I was basically the blue Link in this screenshot here. Oh, well.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition is shaping up to be a fun port, and the fact that it is playable solo is good news as well. But it feels like less of a "proper" Zelda story (like the Gamecube Four Swords) and more of a fun opportunity to mess around with three friends, solving puzzles and throwing one another about. There was no sense of a mysterious quest, and the game lacked that sense of exploration that makes Zelda games magical. That's OK, of course, particularly given that the game will be free for all DSi and 3Ds owners. Those waiting for a true Zelda game will have to wait for Skyward Sword to be released later this year; Four Swords will be a perfectly good diversion in the meantime.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition will be available as DSiWare on September 28th, which is also the 25th anniversary of the original Legend of Zelda.
Slip and slide along can't progress; falling to death stupid ice level