Now the list starts to get a little trickier. Next up we have Twilight Princess, which was simultaneously Zelda's swansong on the GameCube and its introduction on the Wii.
Twilight Princess remains an excellent action adventure in its own right, and one well worth playing for every single fan of Zelda. But that doesn't change the fact it has more than its fair share of problems.
It's biggest issue is that it did little to shake up the Zelda formula, which was feeling a little tired at this point; it plays a bit too similarly to Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. It also forced you to fight through a few dungeons multiple times, both as Wolf Link – who was questionably fun at best – and regular Link.
The Wii controls added little and that version of the game flipped the entire game world horizontally, which might upset die-hard fans familiar with Hyrule's geography from other games in the series. It did add widescreen, though and there's a lot to love. The HD version on Wii U restored the GameCube's orientation and is arguably the definitive version, but while it hits some brilliant highs, Twilight Princess didn't hit them as consistently as some other entries.
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This entry on our list includes both The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (GBA) and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GC). These were two separate titles that enabled up to four friends to battle through Hyrule together as four Links in differently coloured garb. The original game was an 'add-on' mode before becoming a limited-time (3)DS download, so we've bundled it in with its sequel rather than cracking it out into a separate entry.
That first Four Swords experience — originally included as part of the GBA port of Link to the Past — was multiplayer-only until an enhanced port added a single-player mode and was made available on DSiWare for a limited time in 2011 (and later very briefly on 3DS in 2014). The sequel on GameCube was a full retail release in its own right and catered for single players. The most genius feature of this entry was the fact that each of you could use a Link (ha!) Cable and control your character using a Game Boy Advance, and your Link would display on your GBA when he walked off the TV screen. This allowed each player to explore a dungeon at will without affecting their fellow adventurers, creating an impressive multi-screen asymmetric multiplayer experience long before Wii U was a twinkle in Nintendo's eye.
Even if you can play these single player, why would you want to? They were tailor-made for multiplayer, and really need other people to get the most out of them. If you've got the requisite willing participants (and consoles), thrilling adventures await in this quad-bladed pair.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was the first exclusive mainline Zelda game on the Nintendo DS, and one which aimed to take full advantage of the touch and dual screens. It achieved that with aplomb, allowing you to take notes, aim your boomerang and arrows, and solve puzzles directly using just the touchscreen.
It also allowed for intriguing boss battles, as certain parts of the enemy could be displayed on the upper or bottom screen. Combat was also a blast considering that you controlled it solely using the stylus.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was the direct follow-up to Phantom Hourglass, and traded sailing the high seas for choo-chooing across the kingdom by rail to an inspiring soundtrack. You'd plot a route, set the speed, and clear the path of enemies using the in-built cannon.
Also new was Link's Phantom companion, which he could take into dungeons with him. The phantom could carry Link across dangerous environments, block him from harm, or simply be used as a platform. Spirit Tracks also famously used the DS's microphone as a game mechanic. You could blow into it to use the Whirlwind and Spirit Pipes, among other items. A fun little idea in concept, although it obviously relied on audio to function, meaning that a noisy environment would interfere with your playing.
Ultimately, the game built on everything Phantom Hourglass achieved to create the ultimate Zelda on DS.
Ooo, the controversy! A spin-off title developed by indie outfit Brace Yourself Games (and winner of 'Most Unwieldy Game Title 2019'), Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda is an excellent game, but is it a Zelda game?
Short answer: absolutely. This isn't a case of swapping out the sprites of Crypt of the NecroDancer with Link and Zelda, this is a new take on Hyrule and the top-down Zelda mechanics we all know and love that freshens the formula while retaining all the hallmarks you'd expect in a Nintendo-developed Zelda title. You get the exploration, the discovery, the wonder, the items, the dungeons and - most of all - the music, all shot through with a rhythm-based gameplay twist that takes a while to get used to, but is immensely satisfying once you do.
It's also arguably the most replayable Zelda game ever. Each new game juggles the landscape and layout of the kingdom - playing with the notion of Hyrule's ever changing geography throughout the series - meaning no playthrough will be quite the same. It's a much shorter experience than most of the other games on this list; once you know what you're doing, what other Zelda game here could you blast through in an afternoon?
It won't click with everyone - and if you're after 80-hour epics, you'll want to look elsewhere - but as you can see from this selection, there are plenty of them already. Having a smaller experience on Switch that feels uniquely fresh and also completely 'Zelda' is a joy.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was the Game Boy Advance's exclusive Zelda, and carried on the trend of giving Link a talking piece of equipment. This time around, it was the Minish Cap, a hat named Ezlo that could shrink Link to microscopic proportions so he can locate the Kinstone fragments and save the Minish people.
Another Flagship-developed entry, this was a pretty traditional Zelda adventure that looked and sounded wonderful but didn't do an awful lot to shake up the formula. It introduced a few new items – Mole Mitts, Gust Jar, and Cane of Pacci – and allowed Link to learn new sword techniques throughout the game, as well as the ability to fuse elements to his sword.
If we could pinpoint the precise point where the list gets truly difficult, it's right here. As of this moment we're in classic, ground-breaking, genre-defying, best-games-ever Zelda territory.
This beautiful Switch remake of the classic Game Boy entry rebuilds everything from the ground up and therefore becomes the first game on this list to warrant two separate entries. On top of the beautiful new art style, it adds modern conveniences, a dungeon creator, amiibo support and lots of little quality of life improvements whilst infusing every single square inch of Koholint – every secret passage, Piranha, Pokey and Pig Warrior – with a level of detail and depth that totally reinvigorates both its timeless story and classic Zelda gameplay for a whole new generation of gamers.
If there's anything holding it back - and we're really digging for faults to help us get some sort of ranking with all these classics - some minor framerate issues might prove a little jarring for some players. Others might not even notice, but if you're sensitive to dropped frames you may find yourself distracted from the otherwise absorbing gameplay. It's a little thing and we've got our fingers crossed for patches to improve them, but with the heritage of technical wizardry behind the Game Boy original, it is a noticeable chink in this game's otherwise glistening armour.
If you're struggling with this game, check out our Zelda: Link's Awakening walkthrough guide.
The Wind Waker on GameCube shook up the formula by introducing cel-shaded visuals that still look fantastic today, although in some corners they 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.
The HD version on Wii U streamlined some of the original game's more laborious aspects. 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.