The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was one of the greatest games to be released for Nintendo's 16-bit SNES. The game brought the classic NES series up to the standards of the day, adding plenty of new gameplay elements while still maintaining the same basic feel of the original action adventure game. In keeping with the recent trend of bringing such classics to the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo has released a port of the game for its handheld system, bringing a fantastic version of A Link to the Past both to new players and those interested in playing through it one more time. Additionally, a new multiplayer game, called The Four Swords, has been added for link-game players.
The story in A Link to the Past is roughly what you'd come to expect from the series. Princess Zelda has been kidnapped and, along with several other girls, is going to be used in a ritual that will give an evil wizard supreme power. It's up to the player, as young Link, to stop the wizard's insidious scheme, rescuing Zelda in the process. The game features a very large overworld with a town, a desert, a lake, and, of course, tons of dungeons. After the first act, the game opens up even further by adding a "dark side" of the overworld to the mix. You'll use items to travel back and forth between the normal, light world and the evil, dungeon-filled dark world. Players familiar with the time travel elements in the N64 Zelda game Ocarina of Time will have a basic idea of how this works, as some of the game's minor puzzles require you to work with objects on both sides.
The entire quest is incredibly well-constructed, with plenty of required tasks and quite a few optional ones, most of which will help you get a larger life meter. The game isn't exactly long on story, but the existing plot is more than enough to drive you from one dungeon to the next. The early dungeons are pretty straightforward, but as you progress, they become more and more puzzle-filled, forcing you to really think as you try to find the right path through each dungeon's labyrinthine design. The game's bosses are also well done, making for some exciting encounters.
This classic Link adventure is seen from the typical top-down perspective. You'll have access to a map screen and a subscreen where you can manage your inventory and choose from any items you may have collected. Each dungeon contains a new item to add to your repertoire, and eventually you'll have all the standard Zelda items, including a boomerang, bombs, a bow, a hammer, jars to catch fairies in, the grappling-hook-like hookshot, and more.
As mentioned, there is also an all-new multiplayer game included on the cartridge. The Four Swords opens with a brief intro discussing the legend of a boy split into four pieces by the power of a sword known as the four sword. This sets up the four-player adventure, with each player controlling a different Link on a series of randomly-generated playfields. The levels are, in many ways, a mad dash for rupees, the game's currency, but along the way you'll also find a collection of secondary items. You can only carry one secondary item at a time, so you'll have to decide if you want to, for example, keep your boomerang or trade it in for the ability to jump.
Four Swords puts an equal emphasis on cooperation and competition. You'll find a lot of blocks and boulders that require all players to help with the pushing and lifting, but you'll also be able to pick up one of the other Links and throw him out of your way, if you're so inclined. The game has a handful of boss fights in it as well, and those also benefit from a cooperative spirit. The dungeons scale depending on the number of players, so the game is equally playable by two or four players. Each player is required to have his or her own copy of the cartridge, though. As you progress in A Link to the Past, you'll unlock additional features in The Four Swords--one such upgrade gives you the master sword's firepower in the multiplayer game. If you're surrounded by GBA owners, then The Four Swords is a fantastic addition to an already spectacular package.
Graphically, A Link to the Past matches the SNES-quality graphics of the original. There are a few bits here and there that aren't quite as flashy as they are in the SNES original, but they're very minor. The soundtrack is also fantastic, and the game has some great sound effects. Like Nintendo's other SNES-to-GBA ports, some speech has been added in some areas--in this case, Link now screams and yelps as he attacks. Some players may find the addition annoying, but it's really not that big a deal. It's certainly not close to the annoyance of, say, Toad's voice in Super Mario Advance.
In this new release, you get a great handheld port of one of the greatest games ever released for Nintendo's 16-bit system. That should be enough right there, but fans of link-cable action will also find an exciting, replayable multiplayer experience here, too. The requisite GBA improvements--the addition of contrast control and a sleep mode--have been made, making it that much easier to carry this great game around in your pocket. While we'd still love to see an all-new Zelda adventure on the GBA, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a cartridge that any Game Boy Advance owner would love.