If we could pinpoint the precise point where the list gets difficult, it's right here. As of this moment we're in classic, ground-breaking, genre-defying, best games ever Zelda territory.
First – or technically last – we have Wind Waker, the GameCube's exclusive Zelda. Wind Waker shook up the formula by introducing cel-shaded visuals, which were much maligned at the time. It also didn't take place in Hyrule (technically), but instead on a collection of islands separated by a vast sea.
For the first time ever, Link would traverse the sea itself, with the help of the King of Red Lions, a talking boat that helped Link on his adventure. You'd use the Wind Waker to change the direction of the wind, allowing for travel across the ocean. There was treasure to find, enemies to fight off with your cannon, and loads of secrets to find on each individual island.
Aside from these changes, it was classic Zelda – with a lot of plot ties to Ocarina of Time. You'd traverse dungeons, battle bosses, and gather pieces of equipment that would help unlock new areas in the world.
Next up we have Skyward Sword, the game designed to take full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus peripheral. It's famous for introducing one-to-one motion controls, allowing you complete control over Link's sword movements. As you can expect, you'd use these to solve a variety of different puzzles. In fact, combat itself was a bit of a puzzle, as you had to use precise swings at key moments to take down opponents.
Skyward Sword also laid down the framework for Breath of the Wild, with a much vaster world than we'd seen previously. The sky setting was also new, allowing Link to soar the skies with the help of a gigantic blue bird. The story also serves as a prequel for Ocarina of Time, which is pretty cool.
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With Link's Awakening, Nintendo somehow managed to cram an entire Zelda adventure onto a Game Boy cartridge, and the result just so happened to be one of the finest Zeldas ever created – even by today's standards.
It also laid the foundation for so many Zelda mechanics we still see today, introducing flying on Cuccos, trading sequences, playing songs on an ocarina, fishing, and even mini-bosses. Link's Awakening introduced jumping to an overhead Zelda for the first time too, which allowed for 2D sections just like in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
For such a tiny game, Link's Awakening left enormous shockwaves in the Zelda franchise that we're still feeling today.
Boy, do we pine for the N64 era. The console got not one but a whopping two exclusive Zeldas, both of which still rank as many of your favourites of all time. The lesser of the two – at least, according to us – is Majora's Mask, which eschewed the traditional Zelda format for a bunch of unique features, like a limited amount of time to complete it and the Deku Mask, which tranforms Link into a Zora, Goron, or Deku Scrub.
The time limit is particularly interesting. Link has three days of in-game time to achieve as much as he can before – get this – the moon crash lands on Clock Town, destroying it and its inhabitants. Those three days translate to roughly 54 minutes in real time, which isn't very long at all to save the world. Thankfully, Link has his trusty Ocarina of Time, which allows him to play the Song of Time to rewind back to the first day. Everything he accomplishes during that time is saved though, so you're not really starting at the beginning.
If you're thinking Majora's Mask sounds a little darker than the rest of the Zeldas, you're bang on the money. But this makes it one of the more intriguing entries in the franchise.
We were just as surprised as you that A Link Between Worlds made it so high on the list, but after digging deeper it actually makes an awful lot of sense. It's pretty much a remake of the absolutely excellent A Link to the Past, after all.
Standing as the only exclusive Zelda on the 3DS, A Link Between Worlds reintroduced a non-linear order to the dungeons and the top-down perspective of classic Zeldas. New was the ability to rent the equipment you'd need to beat the various dungeons, and Link's ability to merge onto walls as a painting. You'd use this to solve puzzles and reach inaccessible areas of the world.
With beautiful visuals, unique mechanics leading to intricate puzzles, and that non-linear open world structure, A Link Between Worlds remains a high point in Zelda history.