It’s been over two years since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launched and we first ventured out onto the great plains of a truly open Hyrule. In that time, we’ve found all the shrines, defeated Calamity Ganon and scoured the kingdom for every last item and Korok seed. We’ve seen it all – and we went back to see it again in Labo VR – and now we’re looking for something else to scratch that Zelda itch.
We’re sure many of you can sympathise. A Zelda game is an event to savour, and the wait for the next entry can be tough. Breath of the Wild’s open world lasted us longer than most, but we’re getting anxious for another action-RPG fix. Therefore, we’ve assembled a selection of games which have been influenced – to one extent or another – by the Zelda series in the hope of satisfying your cravings, at least until the next entry. Some of the following titles concentrate on one specific aspect and drill down on that – the dungeons, for example – while others take a more holistic approach and have a stab at building entire kingdoms of items and puzzles in two or three dimensions.
The bar set by games such as Breath of the Wild, Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past is exceptionally high, though. The franchise boasts some of the highest-rated, most polished and best-loved video games ever made, games that left a mark on our consciousness, games now so revered they’ve arguably become a bland shorthand to rally against. Even fans can get bored of seeing the usual suspects topping a list. Ocarina’s at number one, is it? How very predictable. The coolkids go for Majora’s Mask or The Adventure of Link, of course, while 'purists' usually cite the NES original or A Link to the Past. Wind Waker and Minish Cap have devout followings, as do the Game Boy entries and all the rest, and there’s always one wag championing Wand of Gamelon. Well excuuuse me, Princess.
These stereotypes are a load of rubbish, of course – we like what we like – but the fact that we recognise them is evidence of Zelda's branching tributaries of fandom. It takes a particularly brave, bold developer to evoke the series and expect to benefit favourably from the comparison. For years there was very little that came close to Zelda’s particular mix of wonder, exploration and puzzle solving – certainly nothing that wasn’t a full-blooded, number-filled RPG. Eventually other companies would strike upon Zelda’s winning formula, though; playing Okami for the first time in 2006, it was obvious that Clover Studio for one had mastered the 3D Zelda template and Nintendo would have to up its game.
Of course, not all developers were as successful as Clover and Capcom, but steadily more and more games that take obvious inspiration from Hyrule have appeared. You’ll frequently find many of the games below referred to as ‘Zelda clones’, which is somewhat uncharitable – especially when Breath of the Wild is so heavily inspired by other open world games. The term ‘Zelda clone’ is very often inaccurate, too, implying slavish duplication when many of the similarities come from the fact that Zelda pioneered the genre. Is Forza a clone of Gran Turismo, for example? Is Rayman a Mario clone? Is Fortnite…
You take our point. While some might ape an art style or a mechanic, these games generally bring plenty of their own ideas to the table and offer a different spin on 2D or 3D Zelda. If there’s something missing, it’s often the patented level of polish that takes Nintendo’s games to the next level, and that’s possibly a contributing factor to ‘clone’ designation. A lack of refinement or innovation mean some of these alternative adventures have trouble escaping the shadow of their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean they don’t merit attention.
There are plenty of Zelda games to get through if you’re after an ‘authentic’ fix, of course, but they’re not all on Switch. At the end of the year we’ll be treated to the remaster of Link’s Awakening, but until then we’ve cast our net wide to find a broad selection of games that should appeal to players who have exhausted every last inch of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule.
So, put down that Hylian shield, set the Master Sword back in its plinth and come with us on a journey to explore – in no particular order – the links between worlds…
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Okami HD is an utterly fantastic piece of software, a 40-hour adventure that emulates Zelda wonderfully. Arguably one of the first games to really master the style that Zelda pioneered, it adds in plenty of memorable mechanics, features one of the most memorable art styles in gaming, and is now completely playable on the go, to boot. Though it may be showing its age a bit visually and its combat is sometimes a little on the easy side, Okami is a notable landmark in gaming history — and one of the easiest recommendations we can make for your Switch library. If you’re after something in the classic 3D Zelda mould – an Ocarina or Twilight Princess – this is up there with those games.
Darksiders: Warmastered Edition is a faithful port of the original 2010 game that brings every slash of Chaoseaster and every bloody execution to Nintendo Switch in all its glory. It’s Zelda with an extra portion of hack and slash, and while it’s the inferior entry in the Darksiders trilogy (its sequel is rumoured to be arriving on Switch soon), this first outing is still a robust action-platformer full of satisfying melee combos, open-ended levels and a suitably over-the-top story. Easily one of the most underrated franchises to appear in the previous generation, Darksiders is a solid port that finally unleashes the Apocalypse in handheld form and a decent option if you’re after a slightly darker Ocarina-style experience.
Developer Castle Pixel has intentionally crafted Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King with a sense of love and admiration of classic top-down Zelda games. While it’s not as flawlessly executed as the series it draws inspiration from, and it doesn’t add anything particularly ground-breaking, it's a heartfelt tribute to the earlier entries in Nintendo’s long-running series. Critics might get hung up on just how much it borrows, but it does enough right to be worth investigating if you simply can’t wait until the Link’s Awakening remaster comes to Switch later this year (or if you want a fresh 2D adventure that you haven’t played before).
Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition puts Heart Machine’s obtuse yet engaging throwback where it belongs – in portable Nintendo form – and it makes for the definitive version. With a handful of exclusive features, the game suddenly feels new and fresh on Switch. It takes the Zelda template and deemphasises puzzles to produce something wonderful in its own right. With a silky smooth frame rate, loads of bosses, secrets and upgrades to experience, it’s one of the finest indies on a platform jam packed with fine indies, and an excellent alternative for Zelda fans.
Ansimuz Games takes some of the best elements from various inspirations and presents them almost as successfully in this side-scrolling platformer. Its dungeon-crawling RPG and exploration elements are a pleasure to play through. Unfortunately, a lack of clarity in the game’s direction (both plot-wise, and literally for the player) leave the game falling short of the greatness it could have achieved, but anybody who’s are after something like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link will be used to slightly obtuse design, so should feel at home with Elliot Quest. Those players will undoubtedly get some fun out of this game; if you’ve never quite got into Link’s second adventure, it might be better to start with something else on this list.
Coming from Swedish studio Ludocity, Ittle Dew 2+ is a fantastic game. On a console with a library full of wonderful indies, it stands among the best of them and it’s channelling the best aspects of 2D Zelda games like A Link to the Past and Minish Cap. The Switch version came out a year after the original and adds five extra dungeons (thus, the ‘+’), making it the pick of the bunch. Ittle and Tippsie's adventure is charming, funny and embraces the spirit of exploration from the series to which it pays homage. Definitely worth a look.
Something of an anomaly on this list, Crystalis is actually one of the games contained on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. This was one of the best Zelda-eqsue games on the NES back in the day. It’s a more linear experience than the original Zelda, but it features a cracking soundtrack and mixes the faux-medieval fantasy of Hyrule with a dose of sci-fi. It’s not the most demanding game, but it still benefits from a handy rewind feature in this collection which makes any NES game a far less gruelling endeavour – old school gamers who want the pure retro challenge can simply ignore it. If you’re after some authentically 8-bit action RPG adventuring, this is an excellent option, and you get a whole bunch of classic (and some not-so-classic) SNK games, too. Get in.
If you want to play a top-down Legend of Zelda game as a rogue-lite while also taking shifts as a shopkeeper then, hey, Moonlighter is about to scratch a distinctive itch for you. It hits a sweet spot somewhere between satisfying swordplay and nitty-gritty economic sim, although some players may feel it gets ‘grindy’ after a while. Nonetheless, Digital Sun Games has produced a lush work it can be proud of; one that even touches on our humanity in an optimistic way, and a dash of optimism is rarely a bad thing.