The Legend of Zelda: Retrospective

A special look back on one of the most groundbreaking videogame series of all time.

3rd November 2011

The Legend Of Zelda is, in my opinion, the greatest series of videogames ever to grace this world. I am so hyped for Skyward Sword it is unreal. In this special I will give a brief overview of each game in the main series.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA (1986, NES)

The game that more or less invented the action adventure genre. Almost every mechanic used in modern day AA gaming originated here. The sprawling overworld littered with baddies and secret caves, the dungeon-based system, the puzzles and obstacles that require you to use specific items before you can overcome them - here. Granted, storyline wise it''s a bit flat, and its successors improve vastly on the mechanics introduced here so going back to it makes it seem a little dated, but it is 25 years old. If you cut it a little slack, you''ll find that it''s still an immersive and incredibly enjoyable adventure.

ZELDA II: THE ADVENTURE OF LINK (1987, NES)

The only game in the entire series that I would call weak. This is because it departs radically from the standards set by its predecessor and adopts a side-scrolling view that makes the world feel flatter (no pun intended) and limited the game mechanics too.

Of course, this isn''t the only reason that the game wasn''t as successful. I mean, around the same time, the Metroid games were proving that the side-on view could produce brilliant worlds, fantastic puzzles and superb action to boot. For some reason, Zelda II just failed to capture the world''d imagination in the same way as the first.

A LINK TO THE PAST (1991, SNES)

Thankfully, Nintendo realised that their experiment hadn''t quite worked and reverted to the style of the original Zelda, but suddenly the world was bigger, more vibrant, full of NPCs and the story a lot more driven and detailed.

ALTTP was the first game in the series to implement the ''Dual World'' gameplay, which would become a major factor in several of the later games. Perhaps the best part was when you got to what you thought was the last dungeon, only to realise that you weren''t even halfway through. The Dark World may have been a mirror of the Light World, but the differences were significant enough for you to carry on playing to the very end without getting bored once.

LINK''S AWAKENING (1993, Game Boy)

My personal favourite of the 2D Zelda Games, Link''s Awakening follows directly from A Link To The Past as Link sets off for an adventure across the seas. On his voyage he gets shipwrecked and washes up on a mysterious island, although the storyline strongly implies that the whole thing is merely a figment of his imagination. Link''s Awaening is the first of many Zelda games to use music as one of its main themes, and it''s pretty awesome in every way.

OCARINA OF TIME (1998, Nintendo 64)

There was a five year gap between Link''s Awakening and the next game, but the next one would be the definitive game in the series. Ocarina of Time was the first 3D Zelda game, and it made the transition perfectly. It took into account everything that had been successful about the previous four outings - the music, the dual world, the characters and dungeons and storyline themes - set the story before all of the others, and introduced a huge amount of features that would change not only the series, but gaming in general, forever.

The main feature it introduced was left-trigger targeting, which is now used in almost every genre you can think of in some way. The open world was unlike any other seen before, with seemingly boundless limits to the exploration and a million secrets buried everywhere. It remains, to this day, the most immersive game I''ve ever played - and I think immersion is the most important part of gaming, a pastime based almost entirely of escapism of real life. Upon release, it was, frankly, perfection.

It has been surpassed in a million ways by then - both by its successors and other games - but that doesn''t stop OOT from having a kind of timeless nostalgia and charm that will never go away. It set a new bar for video games, and many still struggle to hit it. If you''ve never played a Zelda game, this is where to start. Get the updated 3DS version and you''ll never regret it.

MAJORA''S MASK (2000, Nintendo 64)

Another staggeringly brilliant entry to the series (the N64 really did have some of the best software ever), MM basically built and improved upon the already fantastic OOT engine and made the storyline a hell of a lot darker. This is by far the darkest in the Zelda series, as the moon is about to crash into the planet and destroy it, and that moon has a SERIOUSLY creepy face.

The gameplay is brilliant, with the three day time limit allowing for some amazing time-based side quests - the most epic of all being reuniting Anju and Kafei an hour before the world ends - and gives the game a fresh dynamic that I haven''t seen used in many other places. And then of course, the masks system is a lot of fun too.

Many people prefer MM to OOT and it''s easy to see why - but again I go back to the immersion point. I feel very aware that I''m playing a game while I''m playing Majora, but with Ocarina, I feel more like I''m on an adventure. But don''t let it discourage you, because Majora''s Mask is amazing.

ORACLE OF SEASONS/AGES (2001, Game Boy)

By this point it''s been eight years since the last 2D Zelda game (not counting the director''s cut re-release of Link''s Awakening), and so, cashing in on the Pokémon ''you-must-own-both-versions-to-complete-the-game-properly'' phenomenon, Nintendo released the Oracle games. Unlike the Pokémon versions though, they are two completely different adventures. Gameplay wise, it''s basically LA but with dual-world gameplay (quad-world in the case of seasons). Personally, I prefer Seasons, because there''s a lot more variation in the puzzles, but they''re both fantastic additions to the series. The ''linked ending'' seems a little pointless, as the games aren''t really that related, but it''s definitely worth playing both, so why not do the linkage as well?

THE WIND WAKER (2002, Gamecube)

Wind Waker caused such a massive uproar amongst the gaming community and Zelda fans alike due to its controversial use of cel-shaded graphics. In a time when ''realism'' in gaming was hitting a peak, this style was a dangerous decision by Nintendo, but upon release, all controversy was soon forgotten.

The only word I can really think to describe Wind Waker is ''timeless''. The graphical style is timeless - if you replicated the graphics on a higher-powered console, you couldn''t make them any better. The gameplay is timeless - as you sail across the Great Sea, listening to the fully orchestrated music (also timeless) you have a truly epic sense of adventure, and the sword fighting is improved, built upon and expanded from previous instalments. The storyline''s great, too, as it''s diverted (a bit) from the whole ''you need three gems for no real reason'' aspect of other Zelda games.

The only problem I have with Wind Waker is that while it''s huge - which is fantastic - is that maybe it''s a little too huge. It could do with being a teeny bit smaller, as the sailing, while fun at first, does get a little tedious when you have to sail from one side of the map to the other and there''s no convenient warp spots.

THE MINISH CAP (2004, Game Boy Advance)

A last rendition for the 2D Zelda games, The Minish Cap is essentially Link''s Awakening with a new story, world, items and cleaner, crisper presentation. All of this makes for another great adventure, revolving around the titular item the Minish Cap, which allows Link to shrink and enlarge as he pleases. Another worthy addition the series, if not terribly innovative.

TWILIGHT PRINCESS (2006, Gamecube/Wii)

I''ll be focusing on the Wii version for this, as it''s the version I''ve played. After the ''kid-friendly'' Wind Waker, many fans demanded a new, more realistic Zelda game, more similar to Ocarina of Time, and, well, that''s exactly what they got.

Twilight Princess is OOT''s spiritual successor in every single way. The detailed graphics were some of the best seen on the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox generation, and the game world was essentially Hyrule from OOT, but bigger. The dungeons include some of the best level design I''ve ever seen, and Link can turn into a wolf, which is not only cool but plays pretty well too. It utilises the Wii motion controls, in my opinion, perfectly, so it''s great fun without being so gimmicky that it ruins it.

However, despite all this, there''s something a little bit lacklustre about Twilight Princess. It''s amazing, yes, but it''s trying too hard to be Ocarina of Time, when the simple fact is that it''s not. The ending''s also a little disappointing, as they seem to shove Ganon in there for the sake of it, when he''s not even relevant to the storyline. But it says a lot about the series that a game THIS amazing can be qualified as a let-down compared to the other games.

PHANTOM HOURGLASS (2007, Nintendo DS)

The two-dimensional era is well and truly dead as portable consoles embrace 3D, or at the very least, 2.5D. Phantom Hourglass is the first Zelda game to use this, as a sequel to The Wind Waker. Hyrule is still covered in water and so the sailing mechanic is still there but the capabilities of the DS allow you to draw your routes, adding an extra dimension to it. However it''s still the same - too much sailing with an occasional enemy attacking you that''s frankly just a little annoying.

The DS outings also include a new control scheme where you move Link around by the stylus, which is alright, but I do prefer using a D-pad (although admittedly this gives more control than the D-pad). The combat system is used by flicking the stylus across the screen, and to do a spin attack you draw a circle around Link, which is quite fun. You also get to do things like use the microphone and touch screen for certain items which make the game have a few more clever puzzles and more fun to play.

Overall I''m not as much of a fan of the 2.5D as the 2D, but it''d be stupid to dismiss them, as they''re still great games in their own right.

SPIRIT TRACKS (2009, Nintendo DS)

Spirit Tracks is set about fifty years after Phantom Hourglass (you can tell by the age of some minor characters), and yet suddenly the world isn''t flooded anymore, there''s a million different civilisations and apparently there''s been train tracks in place for several hundred years. Great continuity there, Nintendo.

All this aside, the Train mechanic is actually quite fun. It''s obviously very similar to the sailing but overall I prefer it. It allows for some pretty fun side-quests and doesn''t feel as dragged out. Aside from this, though, it''s pretty similar to Phantom Hourglass, with the same basic mechanics. My main complaint is that the last boss feels a bit more like a mini-game than a struggle to save the world, but other than that it''s a very solid game.

SKYWARD SWORD (2011, Wii)

"I've deliberately read very little about Skyward Sword aside from watching the main trailer, which is enough to get me extremely excited. I've pre-ordered it and can't wait to play it. I don't know why, but I have a feeling it will be the best in the series yet."

A LINK BETWEEN WORLDS (2013, 3DS)

"When I reviewed Skyward Sword 2 years ago, it was a tale of disappointment. Not this time."

BREATH OF THE WILD (2016, Wii U/Switch)

"I'm not saying that Breath of the Wild is the best game of all time. But I'm not not saying that either."