Competitive Co-Op at Its Finest
The game is truly best described as a SNES game that somehow got locked in a time capsule only to be released when the world was ready for it. The game looks and feels like 1991's A Link to the Past but Link himself has the same style as seen in 2003's The Wind Waker. Nintendo seems to have pulled some of the most memorable scenes and characters from the entire Legend of Zelda series to make an appearance. The game begins much like LttP with Zelda calling you telepathically in the middle of a cold, rainy night. Zelda informs Link that she fears the seal that keeps Vaati the Wind Sorcerer imprisoned is weakening. You may remember Vaati from the GBA Four Swords game, where Link (from LttP) successfully sealed Vaati away with the power of the Four Sword. Anyway, the six maidens who maintain watch over the seal join Zelda in an attempt to strengthen the seal. As they begin their magic, Shadow Link appears and captures all 7 of them. With no weapon in-hand, Link must pull the legendary Four Sword from its resting place to defend himself against his own shadow.
By wielding the Four Sword, Link is divided into 4 separate clones of himself and simultaneously released Vaati from his prison. The four Link's must work together to solve the mystery of Shadow Link, rescue the 6 maidens & Zelda, and ultimately eliminate Vaati from Hyrule forever.
They're not trying to hide it; the game is 2D...sprites and all. But the kicker is that all of the special effects (i.e. bursts of light, fire, particles, curly-Q smoke effects, etc) are anything but SNES-like. Without being eye-poppingly gorgeous, the game looks great thanks to these detailed additions. The only real drawback is if you're playing single-player and don't have a GBA, the pop-up window that emulates the GBA isn't exactly sharp, and could be considered blurry at times. But otherwise, the graphics are a perfect mix of nostalgia and contemporary style.
As you would expect, the game plays much in the same way as Link to the Past. B swings your sword, A uses secondary weapons, and R performs a roll attack rather than dashing. But this is just the tip of the iceberg because Nintendo has mixed in a ton of new features as it pertains to the combat. Link can now perform combos using different combinations of B and the D-Pad; dash across gaps with a fierce stabbing attack, moving hurricane spins, stab foes behind him without turning around, and more. Another feature is that you can rack up combos by killing enemies without being hit. The more you kill untouched, the more Force Gems the deaths will yield. To someone who hasn't played this game, and only remembers enemies as they were in LttP, this combo system may seem extraneous, but the SNES couldn't handle 113 knights on screen at once...the GameCube can...and will...and does. You're going to be fighting against hordes of enemies at times, so racking up combos is a huge factor in determining the true Hero. By the way, Force Gems fuel the power of the Four Sword. The puzzles are great and involve everyone playing. At no point will one player be waiting around. Whether in single-player with battle formations at your disposal or multi-player where everyone has to work together, the gameplay in this game is addicting and competitive.
The music is a wonderful melding of tracks that any Zelda fan would recognize, some of which have been given slight remixes to give them a new feel. But honestly, most of them are only slightly above midi quality, which is charming and nostalgic, but not what one would expect from a GameCube game. The thing about the sound that one would expect are the sound effects which are great. Most of slashes, yelps, and chimes seem to be taken straight from The Wind Waker. They could've shown more effort on the soundtrack, but it fits the style of the game.
I mentioned before that it was addicting. Addicting might be an understatement. The game is unlike any other Zelda game in the way that the world of Hyrule is presented. Instead of an expansive overworld map, the game is divided into episodes, 8 levels with 3 stages each to be exact. Each level presents its own weapons, enemies, bosses, and puzzles that all the players must figure out together. The twist is that in multiplayer, all players are competing against each other while they simultaneously try to complete the quest. At the end of each level, the players are ranked and only one player can become the true Hero of Light by the end of the game. You can go back to any level after you've beaten it if you have one of those friends that demands "do-overs." The game also comes packed with extra mini-games. The first of which is Shadow Battle, which could best be described as a 2D Power Stone in the Zelda universe. Other mini-games can be unlocked by playing through the story mode. One thing I really like is that each time you load your saved game, you have the option of going solo or adding your friends to the mix. The core of the game is good enough for single-player, but the replay value shines brightest when you throw in a few GBA's and a friend or three.
For a Zelda fanboy such as myself, this game is a real treat. Long-time Zelda fans will recognize all types of items including Power Bracelets, Fire Rods, Quake Medallions, Bombos Medallions, Shovels, Moon Pearls, and many returning characters like Tingle and the seemingly omnipotent owl. Crystal Chronicles got the ball rolling, but it's no surprise that it took Nintendo to get the whole "connectivity" thing 100% right. The team/competition aspect of the game is tremendous. Working together, solving puzzles, literally picking up your dead friend and throwing him across the room to help revive him faster; it's all a blast. But if you want to be a greedy asshole, beware because along with the rankings at the end of each level, your friends can influence the ranking with votes and permanently deem you as the Hero of Darkness. The single-player feels like a long-lost sequel to Link to the Past, while the multi-player is a carousing riot.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***