"Long ago, in the beautiful kingdom of Hyrule surrounded by mountains and forests… legends told of an omnipotent and omniscient Golden Power that resided in a hidden land."
With these words, a new chapter in the Zelda saga began. In 1991, gamers were finally able to get their hands on a new Zelda game with amazing graphics (at the time) and classic gameplay inspired by the first title on the NES. A Link to the Past embodied all of the now-classic features of the series: puzzles, strategic battles and a continually advancing plot; aspects that the previous games mostly lacked. To this day, the game remains a favorite of many. With the recent influx of classic Nintendo games being brought to the Game Boy Advance, A Link to the Past was destined to be revisited. Now, those who never got to play the game on the SNES will have another chance and the rest will get to play again. Of course, this version is more than a straight port of the original, Nintendo has added an addictive multiplayer mode to an already engrossing game.
The story starts during a stormy night in Hyrule as young Link is awakened by a telepathic message from Princess Zelda. Imprisoned in Hyrule Castle, the maiden’s mental cry for help is also heard by Link’s uncle. When Link awakens, he finds his uncle preparing to investigate. Telling the boy to wait at home, he sets out into the storm towards the castle. But, like any other adventurous youth, Link doesn’t follow directions. Armed with nothing but his courage and determination, Link heads to the castle to aid the princess. Link soon learns that the evil wizard, Agahnim, was behind Zelda's capture; but the mage's true motives remain unclear. To save Princess Zelda, Link will journey to the Lost Woods in search of the legendary Master Sword. To save Hyrule, he will journey to a hidden land and discover the secret of the Tri-Force before the true evil is revealed.
Graphically, A Link to the Past is a beautiful game, but not overly detailed. Released years before the graphical powerhouses of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and Seiken Densetsu 3, Zelda still manages to hold its own. The simplistic visuals lend an almost cartoonish look to the game. In addition, the character animation is handled nicely and complements the imagery. A Link to the Past is played from an overhead perspective like the original Legend of Zelda and as an action-RPG, has an overworld populated with enemies, allies, dungeons and towns. Combat is engaged in real-time as Link swings his sword or casts spells at his foes. A very basic map is available to aid in navigating the mainland while each of the game’s 12 dungeons will feature their own detailed cartography.
Players will be spending a majority of their time in catacombs overflowing with enemies to defeat and puzzles to solve. Some puzzles are as simple as lighting torches, while others will require players to use more thought. Each of A Link to the Past’s dungeons have a standard set of items: the map, the compass (for locating the boss and chests) and the Big Key (used to enter the boss room and open the large treasure chest). There is also an assortment of small keys hidden about which unlock regular doors. The large chest houses each specific dungeon's special treasure, which is usually required to complete the area. Most of Link’s secondary items and weapons such as the Bow & Arrow, the Magic Hammer and the Mirror Shield are found in these special caches. When a dungeon is completed, aside from a sense of satisfaction, Link will receive an extra heart container, increasing his maximum life energy.
Following series tradition, battles in A Link to the Past will require a certain amount of strategy as techniques that may work on one enemy won't always work on another. While many enemies can be easily destroyed with simple sword attacks, some may prove trickier to defeat. Knights, for example, are invulnerable to frontal assaults because of their shields but are vulnerable to attack from the side or back. There are more than a few enemies that can only be damaged in a certain area or with a specific item. Players will have to decide what will work best in any given situation.
The Zelda games have always been a single-player affair and many thought that would never change. In an unexpected move, Nintendo announced at this year's E3 that the GBA A Link to the Past would also feature a multiplayer mode titled The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. This bonus game will allow up to four people to link up their GBA systems and play together. Each player will control their own uniquely colored Link through a dungeon with their friends. Four Swords is unique in that a combination of cooperation and competition is needed to complete the game. The goal of Four Swords is to collect as many Rupees as possible before the other players do. At the same time, players will need to cooperate in certain areas to solve puzzles. Some of these group challenges can be as simple as pushing a large block or as complex as tossing each other over gaps to reach objects and items.
A Link to the Past’s gameplay is fairly simple and should easily allow novice players to get into the game. The A button will swing the sword, while a secondary item is used with the B button. Four Swords will feature regenerating item pedestals that offer one or two different items which alternate as players pick them up. Certain pedestals will only offer specific objects such as the Pegasus Boots from A Link to the Past and the Magnetic Gloves from Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons. Some of the more complex puzzles will require players to find and utilize these special items to progress. By finding out what items are useful where, players can proceed to collect their Rupees in hopes of beating their rivals. Greedy gamers will have to be careful though because the competition can always knock them off a cliff to slow them down. Though turnabout is always fair play. This degree of collaborative competition can easily cause any game to become frenzied.
While the main draw of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the ability to play the SNES classic on the go, Four Swords might make the game worth a purchase alone. Even though the adventure is a carbon copy of the original, who can argue against what remains a great game. The inclusion of an all-new multiplayer mode is just icing on the cake. If you've never played the game before on the SNES, now is your chance to live the legend. For everyone else, the multiplayer Four Swords may just be the most fun you can have with your friends this December.
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