by Marty Demarest

Unlike Sony or Microsoft, Nintendo has been with the video game industry since it started. It's true that games have changed drastically since then, but even the most "ground-breaking" gameplay on the Playstation 2 and Xbox still owes a big debt to Nintendo's restless creative spirit.

Back in the old days of gaming, the old Atari 2600 ruled home entertainment as a joystick-based system. But Nintendo patented a little cross-shaped piece of plastic that fit perfectly under a player's thumb, and the ubiquitous D-Pad -- now found on almost every controller on every system -- was born. The same is true with shoulder triggers. And who remembers playing a truly 3D game -- with solid graphics and free movement -- before Mario 64 arrived? Even a failed Nintendo experiment -- the Virtua Boy, which was an unwieldy set of goggles that allowed for headache-inducing 3D gaming -- led to advancements in how 3D graphics could be programmed.

Now Nintendo is testing some new technology with one of the company's flagship franchises. Four Sword Adventures (rated 'E') should satisfy anyone who played the original, with its skewed overhead perspective and sword-swinging, block-pushing play. The graphics are resoundingly old-school, with a few GameCube touches for special effects, and it's refreshing to realize that new, high-resolution graphics really add nothing to a bad game, while low-tech images don't matter when the gameplay is good.

The real reason for Four Sword Adventures' simplistic look, however, becomes apparent the first time you play it multiplayer. In that scenario -- which is the way the game is most fun -- each player needs to connect a GameBoy Advance unit to the GameCube. Each player controls at least one of four Link characters onscreen. Working together to solve puzzles, players are nonetheless free to compete with each other for power-ups and treasure, entering mini-levels where the gameplay jumps to the GameBoy Advance screen. The use of the small, individual monitors makes this Zelda remarkably different. For some players, the party-style gameplay might undermine Zelda's role-playing aspect. But the setup still has the feel of true innovation. It's worth investigating if only because Nintendo's little experiments have a way of changing the way we play games.

Publication date: 06/17/04

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