I can taste the rainbow, and it tastes good.
As you’ve probably heard, it’s Zelda’s 25th anniversary, and Nintendo is rolling out the red carpet for the series in a big way. We’ve already got Link’s Awakening DX on the Virtual Console, Skyward Sword is hitting shelves next month, and I don’t think that Zelda concert is done touring the country. From September 28, 2011 to February 20, 2012, 3DS and DSi owners have access to a free version of Four Swords, originally a multiplayer game included as a bonus mode in the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past. Far from being a straight port, however, Four Swords Anniversary Edition is basically a whole new ballgame. Unlike the original, you can play this version solo. Unlike the original, this has wireless multiplayer. Unlike the original, there are six levels instead of three (not including the large training area and three versions of Vaati’s Castle, and even a secret unlockable bonus level). Even the three original levels are randomly selected from a larger set, so you get different ones each time you play through. This is an impressive remake, changing the original at the fundamental level to make it more fun and more accessible, and the three new levels are pure, unadulterated fan service. You need this game.
If, like me, you have both a 3DS and a DSi (or DSi XL), you instantly have a way to play multiplayer, which is stupid fun. Though I was never able to get more than one other person playing with me, I can assure you that two-player is just about as chaotic as I need a Four Swords game to be—I had Four Swords Adventures on the GameCube and found myself going insane when three other people were playing with me. Despite that, I recommend getting as many people as you can (up to four) in a room together with this game and going hog wild. It’s worth trying, just for the insanity of it. Solo gamers can switch between two Links with the L and R buttons to multitask, though this does get a little tiresome later in the game, when more multitasking becomes necessary. It is nice, however, that you can just tap X and your partner pops up right behind you (so you’re not traversing the same areas twice).
If you’ve never played a Four Swords game before, you should know that it’s a different beast from your typical Zelda game. Each level is essentially a series of puzzle rooms as you simultaneously hit switches, stand on panels together, raise a bridge so your buddy can get across, etc. In order to get through these levels, you need to cooperate. However, there’s also a bit of competitiveness to even things out: you both compete for rupees. While rupees are stored in a common pot, the end of the stage tallies everybody’s individual hauls, and a “winner” is decided. That winner doesn’t win anything, but it’s fun to see who was the greediest. Kill rooms and interesting boss fights round out the experience. The game has a wealth of items—you can each carry only one at a time—and they include such favorites as the Fairy Bow, Boomerang, Roc’s Cape, and the Gnat Hat.
The initial levels are pretty standard fare (the paths through them are randomized, which is cool). Then it’s off to Vaati’s cloud city. After you beat him, you get to access the bulk of the game’s new content: the Realm of Memories. Holy crap, it just gets better and better. These three surprisingly large levels take their assets from three different, classic, Zelda games. I almost wet my pants when I got to the second of these new levels (and it was by far the most fun). The only disappointment with these new levels is that none of them have boss fights. These levels are also quite a bit tougher than the initial three levels—maybe it was because I was playing with an experienced friend, but we were both dropping dead (and being revived—for an increasingly costly rupee penalty) pretty often towards the end. So the Realm of Memories might best be experienced by more players just to even out the inevitable slaughters.
While the game is, overall, perfectly wonderful, I do have a few minor grievances. It seems like bottomless pits suck you in a little too effectively—you can be on the edge of a platform and somehow get magnetically dragged into a pit. Crossing tiny platforms in Gnat Hat mode leads to unexpected troubles—we found ourselves being shoved off the platform (into a pit) by some invisible blockade many times. There are also times, like in any Zelda game, where the solution to a puzzle took a bit too long to figure out, almost to the point of frustration. I hate any puzzle involving directed springboards, but the one in the final Hall of Memories dungeon had me on the brink of a second brain abscess.
Despite these minor faults, Four Swords Anniversary Collection is an amazing game. I’m shocked that Nintendo put any effort—much less this amount of effort—into a free downloadable title. But good for them. Everybody with a 3DS or DSi/XL needs to download this immediately and start playing it. And if you’ve got some friends, it’s a fantastic group title.