What are the best Zelda games? Following decades of adventures across Nintendo consoles, ranking The Legend of Zelda series is one heck of an undertaking. Bar a couple of exceptions, each entry is pretty much a classic, and even the 'lesser' ones are really rather good. Many remain fixed as among the very best games on the consoles that parented them, so assembling them in order is no small task.
With a good old fashioned combination of grit and determination, we've done just that, though, and after much arguing and infighting in Nintendo Life Towers, we've settled on this order which includes the lovely remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for Switch. And no, we haven't included the Philips CD-i ones (or the DS Tingle curios), but we have included some significant spin-offs, including Cadence of Hyrule and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
Don't think spin-offs or remakes should be included? We've got a solution for you: mentally remove the offending games from the list and — voilà — a svelte, sparkling ranking without any of those blithering pretenders to the Hylian throne.
We've now updated this list, of course, with information on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, which at the time of writing has just landed on the Switch. You may also be wondering 'why can't we have a list based on reader votes, like other recent rankings?' Well, good point, when the dust settles and people have enjoyed a bit of Skyward Sword HD maybe we'll do just that...
In the meantime, let's grab the Master Sword and our Hylian Shield and head out on an adventure. Here is the Legend of Zelda series, ranked in order from worst to best...
An introduction to the little-used plastic Wii Zapper peripheral, Link's Crossbow Training sneaks in at the very bottom of the list. It's a little nine-level high-score shooting game which uses various assets and areas from Twilight Princess as Link attempts to improve his crossbow skills using the Wii Remote's pointer functionality.
As a short side game in the Legend of Zelda-verse, it's not unenjoyable, and you can pick the disc up for next to nothing these days. While there are sections where you can control Link in a first/third-person perspective, it should not be confused with a full-fledged Zelda game in any way, shape or form, though. It is, however, a fun little aside.
It's unlikely that any of you will be overly shocked to see Tri Force Heroes down this end of the list. While not a bad game in its own right, it pales in comparison to the rest of the Zeldas (and the Four Swords games in particular).
Tri Force Heroes is a multiplayer take on Zelda, and provides a variety of dungeons to battle through with two of your 3DS-wielding friends. You'll play as Blue, Green, and Red Link, and work together to battle bosses, solve puzzles, and gather loot.
The big new feature was the Totem mechanic, which allowed you to stack three Links on top of each other to solve puzzles and reach higher ground. Sadly, it just wasn't enough to elevate this entry.
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To Zelda II: The Adventure of Link's credit, it tried to shake up the formula created by the original by introducing mechanics from other Nintendo franchises at the time, and there were was one success. A deeper combat system with RPG levelling elements and side-on platforming villages and dungeons made this a very different game from the original.
It's just a little too inscrutable, though, sacrificing its sense of adventure and 'wonder' to frustration. Its reputation has improved in recent times, no-doubt helped by the resurgence of 'hardcore' difficulty in modern games like Dark Souls. Now available with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, with modern aids like save states, it's never been more approachable, but you'll still need a healthy dollop of historical context to get the most out of it.
This hack and slash take on the Zelda universe originally released on the Wii U before receiving a 3DS port and eventually the Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition on Switch. Again, you shouldn't come to this expecting a traditional Zelda, but rather a Dynasty Warriors game that's been rifling through Zelda's wardrobe.
That makes it sound like an impostor, which is unfair because Omega Force and Team Ninja did an excellent job of cramming the game with affectionate nods to the wider series, with characters from throughout the franchise and the first (and hopefully not last) appearance of Linkle, a girl who believes she is the reincarnation of the series' hero.
As crossover entries in Koei Tecmo's hack and slash series go, Hyrule Warriors is one of the most accessible so far and there's plenty for Zelda fans to enjoy if you fancy giving the grey matter a rest and whooping the behinds of hundreds of moblins at a time.
Let's get one thing straight: the fact that the original The Legend of Zelda is so low on this list speaks more to the quality of the rest of the series than to the negatives of this one. In fact, the only real downside is that it hasn't really aged brilliantly.
The Legend of Zelda was a very unique prospect when it originally launched, offering an unparalleled sense of adventure, clever combat mechanics, and a world ripe for exploration. It was so progressive that even today we see Breath of the Wild liberally borrowing from it.
Let's also not forget the classic line "It's dangerous to go alone. Take this." You can easily check the original game out yourself if you've got a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but be aware that a lot has changed in three-and-a-half decades.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Ages was Nintendo's effort to force the Pokémon-style dual releases onto the Zelda franchise. Ultimately, it didn't work quite as well, but the two games remain excellent examples of classic Zelda in their own right.
Developed by Capcom subsidiary Flagship and notably directed by Hidemaro Fujibayashi, director of several later games including Breath of the Wild and its upcoming sequel, Seasons was most notable for allowing you to use the Rod of Seasons to shift the world's climate. That helped you solve a variety of puzzles, from freezing lakes to growing Deku Flowers. It was a smart system that would later be revisited in various other Zelda entries.
Oracle of Ages, on the other hand, gave you the Harp of Ages, which you could use to travel through time. Again, this was primarily used to solve puzzles, by moving a stone in the past to redirect the flow of water in the future or planting seeds that will grow into trees and vines.
Owning both Oracle of Ages and Seasons allowed you to unlock additional content in each game that couldn't be accessed any other way. Neat!
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity uses Omega Force's Dynasty Warriors format just as the team's first foray into the Zelda universe did, but borrows a layer of Breath of the Wild's polished presentation and story which elevates it in our eyes. Boasting a large cast of familiar characters — each with their own movesets and weapons — it gives you the chance to fight the Calamity 100 years before the events of BOWT.
Performance could be better in some parts (dramatically better on occasion), but framerate drops didn't affect our enjoyment of this Hyrule-based hack-and-slasher. It's a treat to spend some quality time with the Four Champions, and while Age of Calamity is obviously riding on the coattails of Breath of the Wild, we certainly enjoyed our time with this prequel adventure.