The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's most powerful and iconic brands, a franchise capable of exciting a legion of fans with little more than a subtle hint of a teaser. In pure sales numbers it doesn't always match up to the mighty Mario, but its impact has arguably been as great as the plumber's in terms of integral games that have forged Nintendo's reputation for excellence.
Nintendo has become adept at delivering something Zelda-related most years, even if occasionally we're limited to a solitary retro download that was previously unavailable — 2013, however, has delivered plenty of excitement for fans of the franchise with two major retail releases and some eagerly anticipated handheld titles from generations long gone. First up we had the popular release of Game Boy Color titles The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages on the 3DS eShop; these are still capable of earning critical acclaim and seem to have been a hit with the Nintendo Life community. At a reasonable price these arguably provide some of the best download value this year, especially as top-down 2D Zelda gameplay is far from being a mere relic of the past.
One of the most hyped releases of the year would follow a few months later, but was announced way back in January. Nintendo's reveal-heavy January Nintendo Direct this year brought the news some fans — particularly GameCube veterans — had been hoping to hear; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD went from being a fan fantasy to reality. Its late September / early October release not only delivered the much-loved adventure in crisp HD and with some other visual tweaks, but also brought adjustments to the campaign — including assistance to cut-down the maligned backtracking of the original — and controls that nicely utilised the GamePad. It's a wonderfully executed remaster and earned praise from critics and gamers alike.
Wind Waker HD also delivered what is still, to date, the only physically unique Wii U hardware bundle. There are lots of bundles out there, of course, but this offering (pictured above) included a special GamePad design with golden patterns. The system itself also features a digital copy of Hyrule Historia, broadening the audience that can view the official timeline and then argue over its accuracy.
As the year's drawn to a close the Zelda bandwagon hasn't slowed down, however, with the arrival of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS prompting critical acclaim and plenty of positive feedback from fans online and on Miiverse. Also officially unveiled just this year — a moment that humorously prompted one of Nintendo Life's most senior figures to briefly lose his ability to complete sentences — it created huge buzz once confirmed that it was set in the same world as the iconic Link to the Past; it's fun to speculate that it did begin as a 3D remaster of that SNES classic (which Shigeru Miyamoto had suggested was a possibility) before becoming something new. What it's not, as most would surely agree, is a quick copy of old ideas. Quite the opposite, in fact, as its item rental system and wall merge move open up new ideas and allow the player greater freedom in choosing which dungeon to tackle at any given time. It also runs at 60 frames-per-second in full 3D, which truly shows what Nintendo's handheld can do.
Nintendo didn't miss the opportunity to release a rather attractive 3DS XL model, either, which is pictured above. It's an extravagant design, and some pre-orders also included a musical chest that hold 3DS / DS game carts. We mention this purely so we have an excuse to include the now-Legendary Vine, below.
Beyond these new releases we have had more Zelda Symphony concerts in North America, while fans of the franchise are often producing videos and soundtracks in honour of the franchise. Indie games such as Ittle Dew show their appreciation for the series with little hesitation — the developer even pitched it as a Zelda game to Nintendo — while any teases for Majora's Mask still grab fans' attention. European Wii U fans can also pick up A Link to the Past on the latest home console, though it's not arrived in North America at the time of writing.
Overall, then, we'd surely have to consider this to have been a terrific year for Zelda fans. We've had retro games make their download début, limited edition hardware, a HD remaster and an all-new portable adventure. Perhaps 2014 will bring us our first glimpse of the Wii U's current work in progress, and we can all lose our heads (and ability to type coherent sentences) once again.