It had been a long time since I had played the original The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords—the Game Boy Advance game that came with A Link to the Past, not the connectivity-based GameCube followup Four Swords Adventures. But as my Dragon Quest IX group was breaking up for the night a few weeks back, trying to figure out what we'd do next (as it was becoming painfully obvious we'd never get Greygnarl to drop the Dragonlord map without resorting to, ah, less honorable methods), my somewhat worn copy of Four Swords called out to us...

I was the only one in the group who had actually played Four Swords before, in a vaguely cooperative fashion with my wife, years ago, in the interests of cross-unlocking everything with A Link to the Past. You had to play it with at least two players, you see. Nobody else in our group had ever been able to rustle up the required link cable(s) and friends with Game Boy Advances and their own copies of Four Swords. But thanks to some scavenging on everyone's part and my box of old gaming equipment, with just the right bits from which to construct a 3-way frankencable, that was about to change.

Four Swords starts off borrowing heavily from the other Zelda games in its era. The visual style was inspired by The Wind Waker. Basic gameplay mechanics come from the included remake of A Link to the Past, and there are a few items making their return from the excellent Game Boy Color Oracle games. Four Swords was also the game where the Gnat Hat debuted; it would go on to later star in Minish Cap as, well, the Minish Cap.

But Four Swords takes the formula a little farther than just having a few new items to play with. Rather than building up inventory, players swap their currently-held item for another one at item pedestals. The lightly-randomized game worlds are timed; you can grab Rupee bonuses for finishing them quickly. It rapidly becomes clear that this game isn't just about saving Princess Zelda (though, don't worry, you'll get your chance soon enough), but also about skillfully walking the line between competition and cooperation.

Depending on how many players you have in Four Swords, the levels will be designed so that you have to cooperate in many places to proceed. Some pushable blocks will be three Links wide in a three-player game, for example, and you'll need to all be pushing in the same direction to get it out of your way. Large switches will ask for your entire party to stand on them. Colored tiles that only one of you can cross, or other colored tiles that anyone can cross, but only one can see, lead the way to treasure. Some enemies can only be tackled by two or more, with bosses playing heavily off the color-codedness of each Link's tunic. Moving platforms with directional switches on them require you to really synchronize the heck out of your movements, lest you bump someone off the side.

Then there's this unassuming little thing called Rupee Fever. You won't need it the first time you go into Four Swords, but when you're hunting for the Hero Keys everyone needs to gain access to the epic final area, you'll need to finish with a huge stack of Rupees in your collective pockets. Rupee Fever is the key to that, by doubling your acquisitions—but it's only active while everyone's life bars are full. Any kind of injury, from accidentally bumping a teammate into the lava to falling into a hole due to overzealous deforestation efforts by a spinning Link, kills your Fever and maybe your chance at collecting enough to get that Hero Key. To keep Rupee Fever is to protect and share life-giving drops, and lambaste your cohorts for taking stupid hits.

But there's also a heavy competition angle. Every chest spawns a race to grab its contents first; every time an enemy drops a large Rupee, you can count on all present players trying to grab it for themselves. The level design often encourages this, too, with things like a little Rupee-shaped room that floods over with wealth—but only after two out of our three Links stepped inside and pressed the switches, leaving the third outside in the cold to watch the capitalist frenzy. If you complete your outing on top, you'll get awarded a medallion; ten of them are necessary to unlock an optional quest in A Link to the Past.

As I write this, we've been through two lengthy nights of Four Swords, and we're ready to take on the epic final area next time we get together. For those of you who never had the chance of you who never had the chance, there's no time like the present—a used GBA SP and a used copy of A Link to the Past (which is also definitely worth playing) can be had for around the price of one new game. Get some friends in on the deal and acquire yourself a link cable, and you're ready to go.

It strikes me that Four Swords would have been a perfect title to revive on the DS, without the need for cumbersome link cables. I hope Nintendo considers bringing another entry in this fantastic series sometime soon—maybe online, for the 3DS? Four Swords Adventures was a great followup, and of course I'd take either style of adventure, but I'm particularly taken with the purity of Four Swords and would love to see it come back on the DS or 3DS. Let's make it happen, Nintendo!