Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Four Swords

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Second Part:
A Link to the Past - Four Swords

This was the first real multiplayer game in the series and gameplay-wise it's still the best. After creating the interesting twin games for the GameBoy Color, Capcom experimented more and created the first Zelda multiplayer game. They called it Four Swords and it came as an addition to an edited version of A Link to the Past, re-released on the GameBoy Advance. Two games on one cartridge, which is just fair, after they basically split up one game on two cartridges with Oracles.

Both games interact with each other, so your achievements in one game may influence the other. Sword techniques learned in A Link to the Past can be used in Four Swords and if you beat both final bosses, Ganon and Vaati, the new secret dungeon opens in A Link to the Past, the Palace of the Four Sword, which is host to some of the most difficult boss fights in the entire series. (Well, you can enter this dungeon by using some glitches, but officially you can't without playing Four Swords.) Also, collecting ten Medals of Courage in Four Swords allows you to participate in the new Riddle Quest, where you can learn the Great Spin Attack. So, most of the new features in A Link to the Past aren't accessible without playing Four Swords. Which means there's a reason, a proper motivation, to do so. This can be important. See, most Zelda fans want to get everything in their Zelda games, find every little secret there is. So, they're motivated to play the multiplayer and to earn ten medals on their way. But the disadvantage of course is, that when they simply can't play the multiplayer for whatever reason, they miss out even more than just the multiplayer. And this makes Zelda fans pissed.

Four Swords is divided into four levels not counting the tutorial one, a forest area, fire caves, ice caves and a sky temple. The interesting thing here is, that the levels are randomized. There are certain pre-built parts, but how they are mixed up together is different all the time. So, every time you play the same level, you will get a different expierence. Also, the game offers three different difficulty levels with the help of the keys, that are gotten from the fairies at the end of the dungeons for collecting a certain amount of rupees. To enter Vaati's Palace you need the three silver keys from the dungeons. If all players already have the silver key from a certain dungeon and play this dungeon again, the difficulty increases and they have to collect more rupees, but they will get a golden key at the end. Repeat this again for the Hero's Keys. If you have golden keys or Hero's Keys from all the dungeons, you can choose to enter Vaati's Palace for harder versions, too. The random level creation and the difficulty levels really add something to the replay value of the game, even though there are just four levels. And replay value is very important for a multiplayer game.

The gameplay is overall that of a normal 2D Zelda game, so as a Zelda fan you will instantly feel at home. The main difference is, that you only keep one item next to your sword and that there are other players around. What makes this game so unique, is a mix between co-operation and competition. This is where the medals come in. To win a Medal of Courage, you must be the player, who has collected the most rupees at the end of the level. So, every player wants to be first place, which leads to some fierce fighting for treasure chests and alike. Throwing other players into pits just because you want to get to the rupees before them? A normal situation in this game. On the other hand you have to cooperate in order to solve puzzles, beat enemies and bosses and so on. This can get really interesting. If you played the Coin Battle Mode in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you pretty much already know, how crazy this type of multiplayer gameplay can be. You also get quite some freedom as a individual player. A level is divided into two or more "floors", but on a floor you can basically go wherever you want and try to find hidden treasures on your own. Of course there are points, where you need the other players to progress, but there's always some free roaming. Additionally there are different upgrades to find for a player like Heart Containers and seeds. The seeds are inspired by the Oracle games, can be found under grass, bushes, rocks and alike and include the Razor Seeds, the Armor Seeds and the Pegasus Seeds, which increase your sword power, defense and speed. Of course you want to get them, before any of the other players does.

The game features the graphics and sounds from The Minish Cap, so it feels and looks very familiar. However, it's more the other way around, The Minish Cap was based on this one. After this game was released, there was a lot of fan demand for a real new Zelda singleplayer game on the GameBoy Advance, so Capcom decided to create a singleplayer game based on what they had with Four Swords. They basically took all of the graphics, as well as most of the enemy sprites and items and made a solid singleplayer Zelda game out of it. The innovative Gnat Hat item turned into the main item and idea of the game, the Minish Cap. (But as a side note, the Gnat Hat in Four Swords is basically more powerful, since you can shrink and grow back to normal everywhere and not just on portals.) But overall The Minish Cap is just Four Swords turned into a singleplayer game. Which is okay, because otherwise it would have been a waste of beautiful graphics and nice ideas.

So, classic 2D Zelda gameplay, unlockables for A Link to the Past, random level generation, difficulty levels, backstabbing and co-operation mix, The Minish Cap style? Sounds really good, doesn't it? But there's one big problem. How many Zelda fans out there were actually able to play this game once? I thought so, not very much. How many were able to finish it or even get ten or more Medals of Courage and all the Hero's Keys? Even less. Four Swords is probably the least played and least known game in the Zelda series. For me personally it's the only Zelda game, I couldn't finish, I only had the chance to play it once. The problem is, that in order to play this game you need at least a second GameBoy Advance, a second copy of the game, a GameBoy Advance Link Cable and a second player, who is actually interested in playing this too. The last requirement is probably the most troublesome. See, I have two GBAs and I even bought a second copy of the game on ebay, which is enough to test the game a little, but not enough to really play it. You need a Zelda fan, who wants as badly to finish the game as you do. And that's not so easy to find. Zelda forums are so popular for a reason, if I knew Zelda fans personally, I wouldn't spent so much time talking about Zelda on the internet and writing this blog. None of my friends are interested in Zelda and I'm already happy, that I could get them to play Mario Kart and Wii Sports. But Zelda? Not a chance. And since the GameBoy Advance doesn't support online, there's no way to play it. The game was basically released a couple of years too early, on the Nintendo DS it wouldn't have been a problem thanks to online gaming. The only solution at this time would have been to make this game playable alone. The levels were generated randomly and they adapt themselves to the number of players, so they basically could have added one player versions, though many of the puzzles and enemies then couldn't be used anymore. Still better than nothing. But overall I don't know, what they were thinking, when they made this game. Zelda always has been a singleplayer game and the only reason, why this sold, was because it came bundled with A Link to the Past.

Overall Four Swords is a picture of a Zelda multiplayer game, but the requirement of a second player, who also wants to play this game, made it unplayable for most Zelda fans out there including myself. It's worthless.

Next part: Four Swords Adventures

No comments: