The best Zelda games of all time, revealed
All these games (Hy)rule - from The Legend of Zelda to Tears of the Kingdom...
Mario will always be the king of Nintendo. But Link and his many adventures in The Legend of Zelda series aren't too far behind - as you can see in the following best Zelda games.
We first met Link, a green tunic-wearing elf-like boy (or young man, or both, depending on the game in question), in 1986’s The Legend of Zelda well over 35 years ago. Since then the courageous and famously unchatty Hylian hero has starred in at least one game on every Nintendo system to date. Many of these were regarded as not only the best titles on their respective consoles, but also among the best games ever made - full stop.
It isn’t hard to understand the enduring appeal of Zelda. Exploring a large fantastical land full of monsters, fairies, talking rock people and secrets, solving puzzles, saving princesses and conquering evil with your trusty magical sword. It’s all timeless stuff. And while most Zelda games tell a fairly straightforward story, every one evolves and sometimes totally reinvents the series in an interesting way, with the most significant entries changing video games forever.
With the release of the (so very) long-anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, we decided to look back at the best games in this truly legendary series. Be sure to vote for your favourites below.
The best The Legend of Zelda games of all time
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildView now (Amazon)
It might have come out in 2017, but in so many ways The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the spiritual successor to the very first Zelda game. Link is free to explore the sprawling land of Hyrule at his own pace, and go wherever the adventure happens to take him from pretty much the beginning of the game.
Still the best game on the Switch (for now at least), Nintendo’s epic masterpiece completely reinvented the open-world genre, which at the time was bogged down with map markers and busywork. Yes, there was a princess in peril and the looming presence of evil at all times, but Breath of the Wild didn’t push you in any direction. Instead, it gave you all the tools you needed from the outset and trusted you to find your own fun. And boy how we all found it.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TimeView now (Amazon)
Proud topper of more ‘best game of all time’ lists than perhaps any other game in history, Ocarina of Time was the first 3D Zelda, and remains an absolutely mindblowing accomplishment. Link’s jump into the third dimension was as successful as Mario’s, as the Hyrule we’d always imagined in the top-down Zeldas suddenly became an epic virtual world that felt bigger and more alive than anything we’d seen before.
Ocarina was also narratively powerful, introducing us to Link as a wide-eyed child and then thrusting him into adulthood to save the world. While most of us have never carried that sort of responsibility, we can all relate to the loss of innocence that growing up brings. 3D Zelda games since have built on Ocarina’s foundations so much that it doesn’t feel quite as good to play these days, but we doubt any game in the series will ever have quite the same impact.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the KingdomView now on the Nintendo Store
The latest Zelda game is another stunning entry into the world of Hyrule. It was never going to be a next-gen leap from Breath Of The Wild - although it is pushing the Nintendo Switch's powers to the absolute max - but it's a jaw-dropping open world adventure that both challenges and wows in equal measure.
Yes, the controls are sometimes frustrating and we would have loved a bit more dungeon hunting, but this is a game you can have fun with - whether you whizz through the main story or spend 50-plus hours devouring the thing.
4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Toon Link had the last laugh. Widely ridiculed by fans when first revealed for its childish visuals, it looked like Nintendo might have messed up with the feverishly anticipated GameCube entry. But not for the first time (and certainly not for the last) it turned out that Ninty knew what it was doing, and over 20 years on, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is one of the most beloved games in the series.
The cel-shaded visuals are as gorgeous now as they were back in the early 2000s, and there have been few better moments in gaming than the first time you set sail on The Great Sea. We wish there were more dungeons, and you could argue that it’s a bit too easy, but Wind Waker is a timeless adventure that we’ll never stop revisiting. Please just put it on Switch, Nintendo.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastView now (Nintendo)
There were two Zelda games before A Link to the Past, but it was the seminal SNES game that would act as a blueprint for pretty much every game in the series that followed, and you could make an argument that the classic Zelda formula has never been bettered.
A Link to the Past introduced us to items such as the Pegasus Boots, the Hookshot and, most importantly, the Master Sword, and conquering the game’s perfectly crafted dungeons with your expanding toolset was about as satisfying as 16-bit gaming ever got. Hyrule made the jump to 3D with style on the N64, but it’s a testament to A Link to the Past that its own overworld is as rich and dense with secrets as any that came after.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s AwakeningView now (Amazon)
The debate over the best 3D Zelda game often gets nasty, but if you grew up with a Game Boy in your backpack, it’s unlikely that any handheld entry has surpassed Link’s Awakening.
How Nintendo’s developer wizards were able to squeeze a game this big into something you held in your hands at the time is still beyond us. And as much as we love galloping a horse around Hyrule, the tropical island of Koholint remains one of the best locations in any Zelda. The original still looks and plays like a dream, but we also love the gloriously colourful Switch remake. Either way you’re guaranteed a great time.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
While Wind Waker was a massive critical hit, Nintendo decided to abandon the Saturday morning cartoon art style for a moodier, more adult look in the Wii’s Twilight Princess. Some Zelda fans swear by this entry, while the detractors think it’s too similar to Ocarina of Time and not as good where it matters. And like most early Wii games, you either hated or just about tolerated the wonky motion controls.
Still, we have only fond memories of Twilight Princess. The dungeons are arguably among the strongest in the whole series, the characters were weird, and playing as a wolf was just cool.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s MaskView now (Amazon)
How do you follow a game as big and successful as Ocarina of Time? How about a horror-tinged fantasy version of Groundhog Day with a creepy moon looming over you at all times? That was Nintendo’s idea with Majora’s Mask, perhaps the boldest Zelda ever made - and all the better for it.
Repeating the same three-day cycle over and over sounds like a chore, and it was certainly stress-inducing, but learning to manipulate time to your advantage and progress the story was what gave the game its unique personality, alongside some of the most memorable side quests and characters in the history of the series. There were no games like Majora’s Mask before it, and there have been very few since.
9. The Legend of ZeldaView now (Nintendo)
When Shigeru Miyamoto created The Legend of Zelda in 1986, he surely couldn’t have known the series would last as long as it has done. And while Link’s debut 8-bit adventure feels pretty basic in 2023, with its overhead perspective and rudimentary overworld, every Hyrule we’ve explored to date owes a debt to the game that started it all.
At the time, The Legend of Zelda felt as epic as Breath of the Wild does today. Once you have your sword, you can tackle the game’s eight dungeons in any order you like, allowing players to experience an adventure that feels truly their own.
10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsView now (Amazon)
Link had several dual-screened adventures during the Nintendo DS and 3DS eras, but the best one looked backwards to move the handheld series forwards. A spiritual sequel to A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds had virtually the same map, with Lorule standing in for Link to the Past’s Dark World, and it tells a similar tale to its SNES counterpart. But it is the ways in which the 3DS entry deviated from the game that inspired it that made it so memorable.
You were free to tackle the dungeons in any order you liked, and rather than discovering equipment in the world, you could simply rent whatever you needed from a shopkeeper. It was a refreshing spin on the tried-and-tested formula, while fantastic use of the 3DS’s signature 3D effect helped secure A Link Between Worlds’s status as an all-timer.
11. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is probably the least well remembered of the games on this list. It didn’t do anything dramatically different with the 2D Zelda template, and there were no big surprises. The game wasn’t even developed by Nintendo, with Capcom being handed the keys to Hyrule. But The Minish Cap has a loyal following for a reason.
Its main hook, the titular magic cap that lets Link shrink to the size of a bug, led to some fantastic gameplay scenarios. Small objects transformed into screen-filling obstacles. And like most Game Boy Advance games, the sprite work has aged extremely well.
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