Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #3: Legend Of Zelda: Four Swords

In Gamecube on September 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Title: Legend Of Zelda: Four Swords

Format: Gamecube

Released: 7th June, 2004 (US)

Us_box_image

I have a friend called Jay. He is a dick. But then, so am I, so I guess that’s why we get along so well. I first met him at Prep School when we were both 7, and despite him being cool (and me being not), and despite us having wildly different interests, (he was into football, I used to go around pinching people on the ass. I wish I was joking) we bonded over ones we did share – and the biggest was video games.

As I mentioned when writing about Super Mario 64, I used to play a lot of games round Jay’s house; he had a monstrously powerful PC (133 MHZ – if you can believe it) not to mention a SNES, and many a glorious sunny afternoon was utterly ignored as we sat indoors and played our way through Jurassic Park, Super Mario World, Theme Park and many other fantastic and not so fantastic games, to the chagrin of our despairing parents.

Super_mario_world_image

When senior school rolled around, we parted ways for a while; he was still pretty cool, and I was still pretty not, but despite spending a good couple of years “seeing other people”, video games never stopped being a unifying force; Paperboy and Gravity Power-fuelled Amiga sessions of old morphed into Lylat Wars and Mario Kart 64, and then we moved further into the next generation and exchanged the occasional anecdote about our holiday plans in Vice City.

Then came the dawn of the Xbox and Halo, and we parted ways again; I had another solid group of mates who, like me, enjoyed spending a Friday night shooting the shit out of each other instead of talking to girls, who were, and often still are, far scarier than any alien race I have yet encountered. Those days recalled glorious memories of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. Days of friends around a TV, the pitch black of the darkened room lit only by the flickering glow of the quartered screen, every new session a conspiracy of uneasy alliances, disastrous betrayals, and sniping Gerry Tang clean in the face from halfway across the level.

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And then came the 6th form. All of a sudden, we were allowed out of school at lunchtimes, and the quad or the field weren’t the only places you could pass the time. After a number of attempts at my driving theory test that frankly should have categorised me as “special needs”, I learnt to drive, and my world got that bit bigger again.

Then suddenly it’s Upper 6th, and friendship groups became that bit more fluid. Borders that partitioned the neat little cliques of our year into numerous tranches of teenager began to crumble. My mates were always a combination of lots of groups anyway; never into the clothes of grungers (though we all agreed their music was pretty good) never into the clubbing of the cool ones (still the case); and quite shit at sport, (though that was possibly just me) we had lots of mates that we hung around with outside our core group, and one of them, over time, was my old friend Jay.

Zelda_house

He lived very close to school – about a ten minute walk – and when I was having a bad day at school, or was depressed about something, or I’d bollocksed things up with my then-girlfriend, it used to give me no end of pleasure to take a walk with Jay back to his place during our lunch break and play video games. I was reading a lot of Roald Dahl at the time, and there was this little stone-walled lane you had to walk down to get there that was utterly unlike anywhere else in Essex, in that it felt like you were all of a sudden in a small rural village in some golden, arable, pre-war period of England that never even existed. It felt out of time, somehow. Reminded me uncannily of Danny, The Champion Of The World. So to walk down this country lane with my old mate made new again to play video games once more was often the highlight of my week. Sometimes we’d watch Family Guy, back when it was fresh and new and genuinely funny, and one summer we bought an Amiga on eBay and slowly collected some nostalgia-tinged classics from back when we were really young. But, best of all, we played Four Swords.

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It’s not a long game, it wasn’t a particularly difficult game, and the graphics were functional, if occasionally surprisingly pretty, but Legend Of Zelda: Four Swords, played that summer, ranks amongst the funniest, most joyous multiplayer experiences I have ever had.

The premise is simple: it’s Zelda, but with four Links. You race around levels solving puzzles, slaying monsters, and finding new weapons and tools. But there are four of you. Long before Valve rocked the Xbox 360 with Left 4 Dead, Nintendo pioneered this beautiful bit of design where co-operation wasn’t encouraged; it was mandatory. If you wanted to get across that gap and press the switch that would lower the bridge to get you to where you were both needed to open that door, you would have to pick up your friend, and lob him across, get him to press the switch and lower that bridge, and then follow yourself. But this is Nintendo, remember. They made Mario Kart.

So, the game makes the tiniest of alterations which changes everything: you must collect Force Gems to complete levels. However, your totals are individually tracked. Whoever gets the most, wins. So now, when you throw your friend across, before he presses that switch to lower the bridge that will let you across, he goes around smashing every pot, stealing all the Force Gems, taking every item, before begrudgingly allowing you access to the next part of the level. So what do you do? You pick him up and throw him off the bridge, taking all the Force Gems he drops in the process. And now he reappears, pissed off as all hell, and chases you around the level, all the while your mate to the side of you punches you in the arm and you both laugh your ridiculous heads off at the sheer treachery of it all.

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I mentioned before that me and Jay were both dicks. Never was this more apparent that playing Four Swords; the game practically begged you to betray each other. For two friends with videogame alliances that existed on a knife edge at the best of times, the game was utter chaos. We were constantly stabbing each other in the back, always keeping the other alive just for long enough to access the next section, whereby whoever was in front would tear into the lead and steal everything that wasn’t nailed down, before picking the enraged pursuer up and throwing them down the nearest hole just to make them howl with annoyance. It was beautiful.

And me and Jay became good friends again. I’m sure there were all sorts of other stuff we did – parties we went to, nights out we got pissed together, but in my memory this is the clincher. The game must have only lasted us a week or so, but it was a kind of amalgamation of everything that had come before; the 2D graphics and gameplay spoke loudly of A Link To The Past, an old favourite of ours from the SNES days, but the technical trickery required to set it up (I bought an American version, as it came out a year earlier, and it required an Action Replay to play the disc, plus you needed Game Boy Advances and a set of cables per player) and the physical effort required to meet up and play it made it special and of its own moment.

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It came at a time when everything was changing; in the summer of 2004 we were leaving school, and both had jobs over the summer doing awful menial desk-work for HSBC. Everything we were used to was coming to an end; I was going travelling in December, Jay was off to university in September, and it’s that time when no one knows what’s going to happen to anyone, and then along comes this game which takes everything we loved about videogames and kind of draws a big fucking great line under it, as if to say: done – what’s next? It seemed apt, somehow.

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I went out for Jay’s 26th birthday last Friday. He’s still a dick. So am I. Some things shouldn’t change.

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  1. […] position, sweating and wheezing like a tubby Gollum? Short answer: because I’m a dick (see GTR #3). But to give a fuller, more complicated answer, we need to look at the enabler of my dickery, the […]

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