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.
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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.
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.
The Skyloft setting was new, allowing Link to soar the skies with the help of a gigantic red bird. The story also serves as a prequel for Ocarina of Time and the series as a whole, which is pretty cool.
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 - so much so that Nintendo remade it for Switch.
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 similar to 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 our all-time favourites. 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 a mask-wearing mechanic which transforms 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. Most things he accomplishes during that time is saved though, so you're not really starting at the beginning.
The brilliant 3DS remake brought a fresh lick of paint and some quality of life improvements. 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.