What are the best Zelda games? Following several 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 which released in September last year. And no, we haven't included the Philips CD-i ones (or the DS Tingle curios), but we have included a couple of significant spin-offs, including Cadence of Hyrule.
So, 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 33 years.
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!
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.