The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Plus Impressions

We check out Link's latest adventures on the GameCube.

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The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Plus is the upcoming GameCube title that offers Zelda fans three games in one. We got our first look at the games included at last year's E3, where we were able to briefly try them out. Four Swords Plus will bundle three games on one GameCube disc, including Hyrule Adventure, a one- to four-player game in the same vein as the four swords minigame included in this year's Game Boy Advance release; Shadow Battle, a two- to four-player versus-game; and Navi Trackers, a one- to four-player game that has you searching for treasure. We picked up the import version of the game and put it through its paces to see how the unique title has come together.

Four Swords Plus combines the previously announced Tetra's Trackers and Four Swords games that Nintendo showed at E3 last year.
Four Swords Plus combines the previously announced Tetra's Trackers and Four Swords games that Nintendo showed at E3 last year.

When you first start the game, you'll come to a menu that will let you choose which of the three games you want to play and how many players each game supports. While a GBA is optional for the single-player version of Hyrule Adventure, it's essential for the multiplayer. The GBA is also a must-have for Shadow Battle and Navi Trackers. The portable hardware is used to control your character, manage items, and display certain action sequences while you play--depending on the game.

Hyrule Adventure is a standard Zelda-style quest that assigns you with the task of rescuing a pack of ladies who've been "maiden-napped." The game reinforces Hyrule's now-legendary reputation as a hazardous place for anyone wearing poofy, multicolored dresses. The game opens with a brief cinema that shows the entire kidnapping and sets up Link's attempt to rescue everyone. In addition to rescuing the gaggle of girls, it appears that you'll also have to dispatch of a shadowy rival with an annoying--yet familiar--laugh who appears to share Link's stylist. The game's structure and gameplay represent equal parts classic Zelda and Four Swords GBA.

You'll set out to rescue the incarcerated lasses, who all happen to be locked up tightly in specific locales you'll have to visit. Before you can do this, you'll have to make your way to their prison, which leads to a good dose of exploration, dungeon-crawling, and puzzle-solving either by yourself or with up to three other friends. Nintendo has managed to find a good middle ground for the single- and multiplayer experience. When playing with friends, who will use GBAs, everyone controls a different-colored Link, which forces you to cooperate with everyone else, much like in GBA Four Swords. The single-player game offers a calmer experience, because you'll be in control of the other three Links in your troupe. The Y button, left trigger, or C stick will let you configure your group into one of four formations on the fly. The control method is far more precise than the multiplayer's verbal command method, which runs something like, "Dude, get over here. No, now. Stop fighting. Come on! We need you!" The control is responsive and laid out well. You'll move Link with the analog stick, use the B Button to attack, and use the A button to use your collected items. You'll find a historical assortment of weapons and accessories for Link to use, which includes his trusty bow and arrow, a boomerang, a slingshot, and hammers, bombs, and torches, to name a few. The right trigger will let you grab an item, and you can either pick it up or hold it so that you can push or pull it. The X button lets you cycle through each of the Links so that you can directly control a specific one, which can be essential for solving a puzzle when you're on your own.

Shadow Battle's two- to four-player gameplay is a somewhat hectic but fun experience that's basically a competition to get the most loot. The twist on the experience is that you'll have to work in tandem with the competition to access new areas. Finally, Navi Trackers (called Tetra's Trackers when we saw it at E3) is an involved loot-hunt wherein commentary is provided by Tetra the sassy pirate from Wind Waker.

The graphics in the three games are all sharply detailed on both the GameCube and Game Boy Advance. The core graphics for all three games are on par with the recent Four Swords on the GBA. Link and the gang are all nicely detailed and animate well. The environments are large and feature a host of familiar faces to dispatch. However, there are some swank GameCube-specific effects on hand as well. Navi Trackers benefits from a nice 3D front end that uses a modified version of the Wind Waker engine, which runs a little faster than last year's GC opus. The rest of the games feature eye-catching flourishes, such as transparencies (the nicely ornate smoke that pops up so often in Wind Waker when you dispatch enemies) and some cool water effects. The nicest touch is probably the buttery smooth scrolling that zooms the camera in and out, depending on the situation. There are a few rough spots, such as when the camera zooms in really closely, that show off some less-than-stellar color banding, but all the games look good overall.

The audio in the game still takes the minimalist approach the franchise has been using since the days of the Nintendo 64, which is a good and bad thing. The upside is that the game has all the auditory hallmarks you'd expect to hear from a Zelda game these days. You'll hear Link's battle cries and grunting, many of the same sound effects, and more than a few familiar tunes. The downside is that we've heard all this before--several times over. The one refreshing component to the audio package is the plethora of voice in Navi Trackers as Tetra guides you about your business.

Tetra guides you about your business in the Tetra's Trackers section of the game.
Tetra guides you about your business in the Tetra's Trackers section of the game.

The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Plus is a unique entry in the GameCube library that serves as another example of how the connectivity between the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance lends itself to some new experience. While you won't find anything that's going to change the face of gaming forever, there's a lot to appreciate, thanks to tight game design and rock-solid gameplay. Fans of the franchise will definitely want to check the game out. However, they'll probably want to wait for the US version. While (for the most part) Hyrule Adventure and Shadow Battle are both pretty user-friendly, Navi Trackers is pretty Japanese-intensive and will leave anyone who's not familiar with the language in the dust.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Plus is currently slated for release in the US sometime this year, so look for more on the game in the coming months.

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