Ever since its initial release 26 (!) years ago, The Legend of Zelda has struck its way into our hearts as a memorable video game franchise. Link has grown in a number of ways since then, from scrunched down and cel-shaded to fully mature, but never forgetting who he is and where his loyalties lie.
We've seen a lot of great games over the past few years, including this week's release of A Link Between Worlds for Nintendo 3DS, and it's really tough nailing down an elite top ten. Still, we managed to do it, and though some favorites barely missed making it onto the list (sorry, The Adventures of Link fans), we believe these are novel choices if you want to play the best of Legend of Zelda. Let the countdown commence!
10.) The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Game Boy)
While the Game Boy was practical for smaller, worthwhile game experiences, no one thought that Nintendo could make a quality Legend of Zelda game for it. Alas, they were proven wrong with the enchanting Link's Awakening, which takes the pint-sized hero to a mysterious island to battle new enemies and awaken a mythical creature. Not only did the game make suitable use of the system's capabilities, but it also introduced fishing – a staple that would stick with the series for years to come.
9.) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance)
Just as Link's Awakening did for the Game Boy, The Minish Cap defined how well a Zelda game experience can work on a handheld. This time, the Game Boy Advance got its due, with an epic adventure that gave Link the ability to shrink down when the situation called for it. Despite his miniscule size, the game offered a lengthy quest, as well as striking visuals that made it one of the ideal demo games for the system.
8.) The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Of course, the game that started the series deserves a fair amount of praise. Although it's rather simplistic by today's standards, The Legend of Zelda packs in quality gameplay throughout, whether you're battling enemies in a dungeon or picking up new items to assist you on your quest. On top of that, the classic Legend of Zelda theme just sounds like it's right at home on the NES, doesn't it? Plus, that gold cartridge…
7.) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64)
Nintendo followed up the exquisite Ocarina of Time with an equally worthy adventure, one that took advantage of the Nintendo 64's Expansion Pak capabilities. As a result, Majora's Mask looked better, and introduced cool game techniques involving great weapons (like the Fairy Sword) and all new puzzles to solve. It's also noteworthy for introducing us to Tingle, a character who's both annoying and delightful in his own little way. What?! He is.
When Twilight Princess came out for the Wii, fans got a kick out of it, though it was really tailor made for the GameCube at the time of its release. Skyward Sword, on the other hand, was developed for Wii right from the start, and it certainly feels like it. With gameplay that takes advantage of Nintendo's motion control set-up, colorful graphics that bring out the most in Link's quest, and flying sequences that captured the imagination – even if they did take a while – Skyward simply soars.
You probably remember where you were when Nintendo announced this game at E3, followed by Shigeru Miyamoto running out with sword and shield in hand. It was an epic moment – and several more came with the game itself. Twilight Princess returned Link back to his "mature" roots after Wind Waker, and fans couldn't get enough of it, with an adventure that lasted several hours, the return of classic hack-and-slash and exploration gameplay, and graphics that were as good as the GameCube got. (The Wii version wasn't half bad, either.)
The game actually arrives this week, but from what we've played (and it's a LOT), the latest entry in the series has no problem fitting into the greatest Zelda adventures. This time around, Link battles a heinous sorcerer who's trapping descendants in paintings – but he also provides our hero with a slick new ability to travel along walls as a living mural. The end result is a deep and thought-provoking quest that's as much fun as Link To the Past – and one you'll be enjoying well throughout the holiday season.
3.) The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past (SNES)
Following the release of Zelda II: The Adventures of Link – which wasn't a bad game, but was so different from the original that preceded it – some fans were left wondering if the series would find its footing again. Indeed it did with A Link To the Past, a game that revamped the old-school gameplay to a new 16-bit standard – and how. With awesome dungeon exploration, cool weapons to use, and, of course, the ability to beat up chickens until they couldn't take it anymore and fought back, this Link would become the template for future Zelda games to come. Without the chickens, mind you.
When Wind Waker initially came out for the GameCube, many were worried that Nintendo was losing its touch, with its overhauled cel-shaded appearance and shrunken down Link character. It turned out, though, that the company knew exactly what it was doing. Wind Waker stands as one of the quintessential Zelda experiences, with its vivid visuals, its magnificent gameplay, and its surprising game length. It was a treat on the GameCube, and Nintendo recently made the wise decision to re-release it on the Wii U, for a new generation of gamers to enjoy. Don't miss it.
This may be an argument point for those who believe that Wind Waker is the greatest Zelda adventure – a couple of guys in this office, for example – but there's no question that Ocarina of Time was a huge turning point for Link. Featuring a wonderfully vitalized 3D layout that few games – even to this day – can match, deep gameplay with plenty of combat and puzzle solving, and the pure joy of playing music on an ocarina, it can't be beat. The resurrection of the game on the 3DS made it that much sweeter, really adding a level of depth to the world of Hyrule. This is the best Zelda to date, and how.
On a side note, if you're a fan of the Zelda series, be sure to check out Prima's awesome box set. It features gold-bounded books and a collector's box. It's a perfect holiday gift, especially to dedicated Zelda fans. You know who you are.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds arrives tomorrow, November 22nd, on Nintendo 3DS.