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Most Popular: Breath of the Wild at Amazon
"The possibilities are seemingly endless."
Best Overall: Ocarina of Time 3D at Amazon
"Takes the formula established in A Link to the Past and almost flawlessly transitions it into the 3D space."
Best 2D Game: A Link to the Past at Amazon
"One of the most influential adventure games to date."
Most Charming: Wind Waker HD at Amazon
"The most charming, lighthearted game in the Zelda series."
Most Underrated: Twilight Princess at Amazon
"A solid entry in the Zelda series that is often overlooked."
Best Sequel: A Link Between Worlds at atlas.dotdash.com
"The first Zelda game to truly challenge the franchise’s conventions."
Best 3D: Majora’s Mask 3D at Amazon
"The tone and somber story make it stand out among the crowd of Zelda adventures."
Best Remake: Link’s Awakening (2019) at Amazon
"One of the finest top-down Zelda games."
Best Multiplayer: TriForce Heroes at Amazon
"Smart, satisfying puzzles that require great communication skills."
A fresh start for the franchise
Incredible sense of freedom and exploration
Dungeons are a weak point
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild completely shook up the conventions of the franchise when it launched alongside the Nintendo Switch back in 2017. Rather than sending you along a mostly linear quest through a series of dungeons, Breath of the Wild set players loose, allowing them to go anywhere and climb virtually anything in a massive open world.
Playing Breath of the Wild? Check out these essential tips.
Breath of the Wild is a deeply personal experience, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s so special. Since you can go any direction you choose very early on in the game, the journey you experience in Breath of the Wild is uniquely yours, and the stories you’ll share with your friends will likely be completely different from theirs. The possibilities are seemingly endless in Breath of the Wild, and unlike the rest of the series, there are several ways to solve each puzzle in the game’s 120 shrines, allowing you to really flex your creativity.
Unfortunately, the dungeons don’t reach the heights of other games in the franchise, but they’re clearly not the focus in Breath of the Wild. This game sets a new benchmark for exploration and freedom, and it’s a direction the series should continue to pursue moving forward.
One of the most iconic Zelda adventures
Combat still feels good today
Ocarina of Time was a revolutionary game back in 1998, and Link’s first adventure in three dimensions still largely holds up today. The game takes the formula established in A Link to the Past and almost flawlessly transitions it into the 3D space, resulting in one of the most memorable adventures in all of gaming.
From your first steps in the Kokiri Forest to drawing the Master Sword, Ocarina of Time is filled with iconic moments that define the franchise. Plus, Ocarina of Time has some of the best music, dungeons, and locations in the franchise, so it still stands as the greatest adventure in the whole series. Where Breath of the Wild sets players loose, Ocarina of Time brings you along for the ride on one of the most perfectly-paced adventures in the medium.
3D games were still coming into their own when Ocarina of Time released, and it is rightfully remembered for pioneering engaging combat and traversal in 3D. The lock-on target system is still used today, and its combat still feels good in the original version.
The best way to play Ocarina today is in the 3DS remake, which faithfully recaptures the sense of wonder from the original while updating the graphics and making some of the game (looking at you, Water Temple), more accessible. Ocarina of Time is a must-play for Zelda fans, and gamers looking to appreciate one of the all-time classics.
Influential adventure game
The Dark World is still fun to explore
Can be very difficult at times
A Link to the Past is Link’s first and only adventure in the 16-bit era, and it’s still remembered as one of the most influential adventure games to date. The fully-realized overworld, fleshed-out story, and well-designed dungeons are all remarkable improvements over the first two Zelda games, and it was pretty mind-blowing when it first came out.
Not only that, after you progress through about a third of the game, you travel to the Dark World, a redesigned version of the game’s overworld. This is a pretty common feature today, but it was novel at the time, and traveling to the Dark World in A Link to the Past is just as fun today as it was over 20 years ago. Today, the easiest way to experience A Link to the Past is on Nintendo Switch Online, where you can use save states to make your way through some of the game’s more challenging sections.
Gorgeous art direction
Sailing can get repetitive later on
Lengthy late-game fetch quest
Wind Waker is the most charming, lighthearted game in the Zelda series. The cel-shaded art style was initially controversial among fans, but it looks gorgeous today, especially in the HD remake on Wii U. Wind Waker’s many islands separated by miles of ocean was Nintendo’s first crack at a larger, open world for the Zelda series. Sailing from island to island is intriguing, as you never know if you’ll encounter pirates, sea monsters, or tornadoes. Plus, the beautifully composed score fits the world perfectly, making the adventure charming from start to finish.
Find out the difference between 1080p and 720p on Wii U.
The art style leads to extremely expressive, memorable characters, which add to the charming tone of the entire game. When you visit a town, you truly feel like the NPCs you meet live there, and it’s impressive to see how Nintendo was able to create a believable world spread across so many islands. Wind Waker is a bit on the easier side, and sailing can get repetitive in the second half of the game, specifically during a lengthy late-game fetch quest. Still, Wind Waker is an enthralling experience that’s joyous and fulfilling practically the whole way through.
Large, epic Zelda adventure
HD version polishes the visuals
Can feel bloated at times
Slow pacing, especially early on
Twilight Princess is viewed by some as the black sheep of the franchise, but its enormous dungeons, epic story, and memorable characters are still worth experiencing today.
Fans begged for a dark, gritty Zelda game for years after Wind Waker’s cartoony adventure, and Nintendo finally delivered with the grim world of Twilight Princess, which launched as both a swan song for the GameCube and a launch title for the Wii. Now, the best way to play the game is the 2016 Wii U HD remake, which ditches the motion controls from the Wii version and polishes the visuals.
In many ways, Twilight Princess is a follow-up to Ocarina of Time, taking place in a similar overworld with towns, characters, and dungeons that evoke memories of the 1998 classic. But, everything in Twilight Princess is much bigger, which can both help and hurt it at times.
The enormous dungeons and grand story give the game an epic feel, but the disconnected segments of the overworld and occasionally slow pacing can make the game feel bloated. Still, these shortcomings don’t change the fact that Twilight Princess is a solid entry in the Zelda series that is often overlooked.
A nostalgic trip to a familiar world
New mechanics break down franchise conventions
Two decades after A Link to the Past amazed Zelda fans on the SNES, Nintendo returned to the classic’s iconic world for a sequel in the 2013 3DS title, A Link Between Worlds. The game features a fully reconstructed polygonal version of A Link to the Past’s sprite-based landscape, and the result feels new, while still evoking nostalgia for one of Link’s best adventures.
The Zelda team decided to shake up the franchise in A Link Between Worlds. For example, it allows you to tackle dungeons in any order you choose, and gives you the option to rent items you’ll need at a shop in the center of the world. Plus, Link can turn into a two-dimensional drawing and slide along walls, which will completely change the way you think about puzzles. These changes make A Link Between Worlds feel unique, even though it takes place in a world many of us are already familiar with.
A Link Between Worlds laid the foundation for the openness and freedom Breath of the Wild would run with a few years later, and it’s fun to experience the first Zelda game to truly challenge the franchise’s conventions.
Somber, haunting tone
Time limit is a unique hook
Some may find the time limit off-putting
Sub-par dungeon design
Majora’s Mask’s tone and somber story make it stand out among the crowd of Zelda adventures, and there’s a vocal group of fans that believe it’s the best game in the over 30-year-old series.
This time, Link journeys out of Hyrule to Termina: a strange land that’s going to be obliterated by the falling moon in three days. This game is definitely haunting. To save the town, Link must complete the four dungeons scattered across Termina. Unfortunately, the dungeon design is a weak point in Majora’s Mask, especially when compared to its predecessor, Ocarina of Time.
The three-day time limit in Majora’s Mask completely changes the way you approach your main mission and the many sidequests the game has to offer. You can take your time in other Zelda games, but in Majora’s Mask, you have to carefully decide how to spend each three-day cycle before resetting the clock to start the process again. It adds a sense of urgency to the gameplay that’s off-putting at first, but perfectly matches the sense of impending doom that hangs over the entirety of Majora’s Mask.
Faithful remake of the original
Wacky world with memorable characters
Fun cameos from Super Mario
Some framerate issues
Link’s Awakening is one of the finest top-down Zelda games, and it looks better than ever with a new toy-like aesthetic in the 2019 remake on Nintendo Switch. This is one of the quirkier Zelda games, featuring 2D platforming sections, cameos from Mario characters like Chain Chomps and Goombas, and more. The Switch version is gorgeous, and despite a few framerate issues, it’s the most colorful, complete way to experience this game.
Need help? Check out our Link’s Awakening tips.
Like Majora’s Mask, Link’s Awakening is remembered for its wacky tone. However, instead of the world ending, Link is just trying to figure out how to escape the mysterious Koholint Island. The colorful cast of characters you meet along the way will stick with you after the credits have rolled, as will the solid dungeon design and memorable music. Link’s Awakening doesn’t reinvent the series, but it’s just charming enough to stand out among the 2D titles.
Totem system introduces unique puzzles
Costumes are a nice addition
Linear levels take away exploration
TriForce Heroes is by no means a traditional Zelda game. Rather than a solitary, sweeping adventure through a large overworld and sequence of dungeons, this 3DS offering has players work together in teams of three to make their way through clever, linear levels filled with enemies and puzzles. The game’s totem mechanic, which involves stacking three Links on top of each other, leads to some smart, satisfying puzzles that require great communication skills.
Additionally, TriForce Heroes’ costume system adds to the fun and replayability factor. At the end of each level, you’ll earn a random material used for crafting one of Link’s many alternate costumes. Most of the costumes are adorable, and they're all paired with a unique ability, like shooting three arrows instead of one, or being able to swim through lava without getting hurt. Collecting costumes is fun, and there’s an element of strategy in deciding what costume each team member will wear. If you’re looking to experience Zelda-quality levels with your friends, don’t ignore TriForce Heroes.