Your eyes do not deceive you. This is indeed a Zelda game and it most certainly is free. Free games are always nice - especially when they're of the calibre of Flipnote Studio, Pokédex 3D and so on - but a free Zelda game is something else entirely (unless it's one of those abhorrent CD-i creations, in which case don't get it unless someone actually pays you to).
A fitting tribute to one of the world's greatest video game series, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords - first released in 2003 alongside the Game Boy Advance version of A Link to the Past - has been given the once-over in honour of the series' 25th anniversary and has been released on Nintendo DSiWare, meaning Nintendo DSi, Nintendo DSi XL and Nintendo 3DS owners alike can pick up the title for absolutely nothing and have some fun with it, potentially for the first time.
Four Swords has quite a simple story, being only quite a small game due to its multiplayer-only nature: Princess Zelda has been captured by the evil wind mage Vaati (his debut appearance back in 2003) and, in order to save her, Link takes control of a mythical sword called the Four Sword. However, by wielding the sword, it splits Link into four beings, meaning there can be four Links to control during the game.
There won't always be four Links: the game simply assigns one Link to each player, meaning if there are only two players, there will only be two Links, and there will only be three if three people are playing. In the original game, this was the only way you could play the game: no single-player mode was really required since Four Swords came with every copy of A Link to the Past, an incredible single-player experience in its own right.
This isn't just a simple port, though: Four Swords Anniversary Edition, to give it its full subtitle, now includes its own full-blown single-player mode. This is exactly the same as the multiplayer mode - it includes the same areas, the same map layouts and so on - except that, instead of each player controlling one Link, you control two Links on your own.
As per usual, A is the action button and B is the attack button for using your sword. You can also carry one other item at a time (such as a shield or bombs), which is used with the Y button. The X button is used to call one Link to whichever Link you are currently controlling and L or R are used to switch between the two. In multiplayer mode, L and R are not needed and the X button is used to alert other players with a whistle if you need help or are stuck. While this all sounds simple enough, you might find yourself hitting the wrong buttons in single-player mode, especially at tough times (such as during a big fight or a boss battle) when you least need to be doing things like that. Using one shoulder button to call players and another to switch between them could have been a better control scheme.
It also seems Nintendo hasn't acknowledged the fact that one player controlling two Links is inevitably going to take longer to finish a stage than multiple players each with their own Link. Where stages are concerned, most stages are made of three different parts. At the end of each part, you'll be awarded a number of rupees depending on how long it took you to complete the section: however, in single-player mode, you'll almost always find yourself being awarded the fewest rupees possible. When one of the aims of each stage is to collect as many rupees as possible, this isn't entirely helpful.
That said, Four Swords is predominantly a multiplayer title and, in multiplayer, these problems just vanish. Playing with friends is an awful lot of fun, whether you're trying to beat them to the finish or cooperate in order to get the best end result for everyone. You've no need of the shoulder buttons to swap players and you won't often find yourself needing the X button to use your whistle. You also won't need to worry about making sure your two Links have the right items equipped to the Y button as you'll only have one Link to look after. You'll also find boss battles a little easier with some cooperation from friends.
In celebration of The Legend of Zelda's 25th anniversary, this special anniversary edition of Four Swords has also been updated with a number of extra stages, all paying homage to the history of the Zelda series. The game is fairly short, so it won't be long before you find yourself in some classic areas, including Hyrule Castle from A Link to the Past and Hyrule itself from the original The Legend of Zelda game. Another special level has you seeking out the legendary Master Sword, notably absent from Four Swords and The Minish Cap due to the inclusion of the Four Sword itself in those games.
So many players missed out on the opportunity to play Four Swords back in 2003 and it's a fitting tribute to The Legend of Zelda that it can now be played by anyone with access to the Nintendo DSi Shop or Nintendo eShop. The astonishing fact that it's a free download means that, despite its flaws in the single-player mode, there's no reason not to download this. It's available until February 20, 2012 - what are you waiting for?