It’s so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of Mario when celebrating all that is Nintendo. He has parties, races go-karts, plays sports, teaches typing, and he once even had a time machine. When people talk about Nintendo after we celebrate the joy and fun of Super Mario we start to get hungry for adventure. Bite-sized stages of jumping and bopping are a wonderful time, but what’s past that? We want to see what’s out there in the world. There are forests, and mountains, oceans, and sometimes there are dragons too. If Mario represents the heart and innocence of Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda is its soul. Always a bit more mature than the mustachioed plumber, Link is Nintendo’s true hero. He’s one part Peter Pan, one part Robin Hood, and one part Legolas. Few video game series have been able to capture the undying quest that is The Legend of Zelda. It’s a Nintendo classic and deserves just as much praise and respect than Super Mario. It was hard to choose the best five, but I think I’ve done my best.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS, 2013)
As I’ve stated earlier, the Nintendo 3DS is quite possibly the best system on the market. It felt a little strange to put the newest Zelda game on this list, but it really is that good. Link Between Worlds picks up after the events of A Link to the Past as the true sequel of the SNES classic. What makes A Link Between Worlds stand out is that it brings Zelda back to basics. Just like in The Legend of Zelda (NES) you don’t have a set path. As later Zelda games have held the players’ hands throughout the story, ALBW doesn’t do that. It wants the player to choose their own path. You’re encouraged to explore and happen upon dungeons when you get to them. Because of this, you can rent and buy most of the special Zelda-style items from the very beginning of the game. Zelda hasn’t felt this open and free in quite some time, especially since the 3D era. The worlds, Hyrule and Lorule, are mirrors of one another where one is a “dark” world and another is a “light” world. This is a common trend in Zelda games, but it doesn’t make ALBW feel any less original. Add in “painted” Link and you find yourself figuring out new ways to solve puzzles and experience the amazing locales of Hyrule. A Link Between Worlds was both new and classic in the same sentence. Proving that you can still do quite a bit with 2D games. This game should go down as one of the finest Zelda titles, and it deserves all of its praise.
4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
This will be my unpopular pick. I’m not sure what issues people have with the Gamecube but anytime I bring up games like The Wind Waker or Super Mario Sunshine I immediately get shot down. The Gamecube represents Nintendo’s experimental period. All of its major titles went through some kind of mechanic shift that brought fresh new experiences to tired, old series. Wind Waker takes one half of the cake, with the other half belonging to Retro’s Metroid Prime. There was a time when Nintendo had a convention called: Space World. At Space World 2000 Nintendo showed off a tech demo for a new Zelda.
People lost their minds. They then lost their minds again when they saw this a year later.
Enter the Wind Waker a game that so quickly dashed all Zelda fan’s hopes and dreams with a two minute tech demo. What they didn’t understand in 2001, and what some still don’t understand; is that this game gave us a TRUE adventure. Wind Waker is unlike anything else in the Zelda series. While it still follows a young boy named Link, there is no Hyrule and the game had been transformed into a high seas adventure. Outside of A Link Between Worlds no other Zelda game has been able to challenge the brilliance of Wind Waker since it came out in 2002. It is a seamless adventure game. Link can traverse from town to town, island to island across the great sea without every having to deal with a load screen. That’s a concept giant adventure games like Elder Scrolls are still trying to figure out. I typically compare Wink Waker to, Elder Scrolls, because while there is a set path to take, Wind Waker wants the player to explore and complete their sea chart. The world is so big and so very expansive that it’s both beautiful and intimidating. Just look at that art style, it’s gorgeous. Wind Waker looks like a cartoon that you can play; a fun, gigantic cartoon with tens of hours of gameplay and a brilliant story. It’s nice to see that time has been kind to this game as fans have come more willing to accept it. It’s also on the WiiU now in HD, and boy is it pretty.
3. The Legend of Zelda
I fought with myself as where to put The Legend of Zelda. While it’s the first game in the series, I never quite felt as thought it was nearly as good as the future installments. LOZ is a bare bones style of game. You start in an open space, you get a sword (if you go into the cave) and you’re left with an open world to explore. Looking back, it was very much ahead of its time. While story focus was a bit nonexistent, gameplay reigned supreme. Zelda’s classic control scheme has been emulated and rebranded for decades. What’s refreshing about LOZ is that you have a real open world, something A Link Between Worlds was desperately trying to bring back to the series. It feels like an adventure and challenges the player to explore. That’s why Miyamoto made it back in 1986, because as a child he liked to explore in caves. In a way Link is any kid who wanted to go on an adventure and explore the world around them. This game introduced us to the Triforce one of the undying symbols in video games. Nowadays The Legend of Zelda does feel a bit tedious and dated, which is probably why it doesn’t break into the top 2, but it’s the first and for some the best.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Yes I put Ocarina at #2. Why? Because it’s not the best. Ocarina of Time is in this spot more for its importance and significance than anything else. I actually prefer both Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker to Ocarina, I just know that neither would exist without this game. I remember the Christmas Eve when my parents allowed me to open up this game just one day early. It was glorious. As the Great Deku Tree summons link from his treetop house to the moments of saving Rupees to purchase a shield, the opening of Ocarina of time has stayed with me for years. Watching Link in 3D was fantastic and felt unreal. Only a few short years earlier I was playing Zelda from a top-down viewpoint and now I can see this world head on. Taking the first steps onto Hyrule Field was mesmerizing and very few games have been able to be that awesome from the get go. While OOT did borrow elements of “two worlds” from A Link to the Past, the gameplay, story, and visuals were so tight that they didn’t feel nearly as similar as they are. Some will complain about Ocarina and how it turned an adventure game into a combat game, there’s merit to that argument, but it tries to cheapen the impact this title had made. I often like to compare Ocarina of Time to Final Fantasy VII. People champion this game because it is quite often the first game in the series that they had played, so it makes perfect sense for them to have the best memories of it. OOT isn’t perfect, but it’s a near-perfect rendition of everything Zelda was, just in 3D. I cannot cheapen the jump to 3D for any game series, as it’s a big deal to make that level of detail work on a third plane. I just feel that Ocarina gets a little bit too much praise as other games in the series are forgotten. That all being said, this game is a classic and will be for generations, it deserves all the respect it has earned.
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Now this is a ZELDA game. A Link to the Past was the only Zelda title to hit the SNES and it was magical. It took full advantage of the SNES’ bright color palate and brilliant 16-bit music. There are few games that represent the Super Nintendo like LTTP does. The opening moments are some of the most memorable in gaming history as Link runs to Hyrule Castle in a terrible rain storm setting off a chain of events that turns him into the hero. A Link to the Past was also one of the first games to utilize a “two-world” system. The ability to change one world by your actions in the other has become a popular concept, but this was the first time I remember seeing it in a game. Nintendo has gone on to use it in future Zelda games like the Twilight Realm in Twilight Princess (eck) and the Seven Year Gap in Ocarina of Time. In 1993 being able to traverse between two mirrored worlds was such a fun and different concept. The dark world also had some excellent music and a perfect shift in tone.
The Dark World felt more tragic, arduous and encapsulated more of a dark fantasy feel. It was such a unique experience to travel the same world from two different sides. It was brilliant then and still remains brilliant today. I guess that’s why Nintendo tends to use that theme quite a bit (See: Metroid Prime 2: Echoes). A Link to the Past still feels new to me each and every time I play it. It is such a wonderful experience and represents an era where Nintendo had established itself and was just having a great time with its titles.
A Link to the Past feels like the complete package to me. After the travesty of Zelda II (NES), this game came along and brought back what Zelda was about: Exploration, fantasy, and good gameplay. It was able to build upon what the original Zelda had done and perfect it. It is one of the shining moments of the SNES’ heyday and along with Super Metroid is one of the greatest things Nintendo has ever done. It has a lasting impact, and is easily the greatest Zelda experience you can have as a gamer.