The Game Boy Advance (GBA) lives a schizophrenic existence. One hand, it's hailed as the successor to the old Game Boy, a technologically advanced piece of equipment that has already brought us some true handheld classics (Advance Wars, the new Castlevanias, etc.). But at the same time, it's reviled for being a dumping ground for Nintendo's older offerings, as Super NES (SNES) title after SNES title has been ported over to the GBA. The tough question to answer is whether these ported titles are a "good" or "bad" thing. Pretty much all of these titles are still good games in the sense that what made them enjoyable at first remains enjoyable at a later date. But does the production of these games preclude production of new games and the possibility of creating new paradigms in games based in 2-dimensional graphics?
The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past is fondly remembered as one of the classic entries in the Zelda series and one of the strongest SNES titles. As such, it's no surprise that it was ported to the GBA. I'm not going to spend much time talking about the details of Link To The Past here. It's a solid and competent port, complete with even many of the secret bugs that enamored hardcore fans of the original. Anybody interested in the title for historical or other purposes can approach it with a clear conscience.
Taken entirely on its own, it would be a tough call to make as to whether Link To The Past is worth the time that was put into making it. But that question is overshadowed by the inclusion of an entirely new piece of Zelda adventuring in the form of Capcom's The Legend Of Zelda: The Four Swords, packaged together with Link To The Past. It's because of this new content that I'm pretty much willing to give the cart a pass when it comes to the issue of recycling material.
Granted, Four Swords is driven entirely by GBA connectivity, and if someone who buys this game doesn't know another person with a GBA, Link To The Past and a link cable, the GBA cart quickly becomes a smaller SNES cart, only in this version Link yells when he swings his sword. But if the hypothetical game purchaser is riding on the connectivity train, Four Swords is a potent reason to purchase the cartridge.
Four Swords is Zelda torn down to its mechanical foundations. In other words, there's little or no story here, and in addition, there's no coherent world or even coherency to the design. Rather, the game's levels are some of the goofiest dungeon-style constructions seen in any Zelda, barring perhaps Majora's Mask, presented with no sort of artifice or logic used to excuse their existence. As such, the player will need to be able to let go of their desire for a consistent back story and indulge in Zelda-style gameplay in order to enjoy themselves.
Thankfully, I found that the mechanics of The Four Swords are enough to provide all the enjoyment I needed. As a friend pointed out, playing The Four Swords immediately turns friends into a cadre of squabbling siblings. Veering wildly between cooperation and competition, it's not uncommon to see people screaming about getting together to kill a boss just seconds after threatening the other players with hot melty death regarding certain sneaky acquisitions of rupees. The best part is that the developers obviously encourage this sort of activity, adding in gameplay mechanics that are specifically designed to allow players to not only conquer the game, but mess with other players in the process. (Two of my personal favorites: 1. You can pick up and fling other players around like the proverbial Zelda pots, and 2. A deliciously evil power-up, the magnet, which can be used to pull around the other players like a puppy on a leash-a very unhappy puppy, that is.)
If connectivity is an option, then Link to the Past offers up the best of both worlds, one being a dusty old tome that's still great fun to rediscover; the other being a new adventure that takes great advantage of the multi-user videogame experience. If it's not, Link To The Past quickly becomes just another SNES archive brought over to a fresh platform. Not that that's inherently bad, it's just there.