Every Zelda Game I've Played, Ranked.
First, I'm only placing what I consider to be core Zelda games that I've played on this list. You won't find games I haven't played, like the CD-I games or Triforce Heroes here. And you won't find other spin-off games that I have played like Link's Crossbow Training, Hyrule Warriors or Four Swords Adventures either. Second, this list is constantly evolving. The most recent game I play usually gets a bump in the rankings because..they're all just so good. But as of the date of this article, I stand by these rankings. Cue a late 90's gif!
I'm including the versions of each game that I played for reference, only including Virtual Console if it's the first way I played that particular game.
15. Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS)
I did like that Zelda got to be more of a character in this one. But I just...don't want to ride an ugly train. I don’t want to blow into my system to play the flute thing. And I don't want to stylus anymore. Please don't make me stylus anymore.
This is the only Zelda game on this list that I never finished. Maybe if I'd have played this before Phantom Hourglass they'd be swapped on my list and I'd have finished it, I don't know. I do know a lot people prefer this one. I don't. And I'm not sure I'll ever go back to it in its current form. Well, maybe someday. Depending on how long of a wait we have until the next new Zelda game.
14. Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS)
I bought this, New Super Mario Bros DS and a Nintendo DS Lite back in 2007 but then I fell out of gaming around that time. So a few years later when I started gaming again I popped this cartridge in and played through it. Returning to the same temple multiple times was kind of lame (and tough) but it didn't ruin it for me. It still ranks this low because, again, I just didn't really like using a stylus to control Link and overall it felt lacking in that indefinable Zelda magic.
13. Zelda II (Virtual Console on Nintendo Wii U)
It's not that Zelda II isn't a good game. Just not my cup of tea. I don’t even drink tea! I usually drink coffee, or bourbon. So yeah. I guess it’s kind of just a cup of tea to me. I finally got around to beating it after finishing up the Breath of the Wild DLC, and when I finished it I was just kind of relieved that I didn't have to play it anymore. That said, there's some solid concepts here that were good for the series moving forward. Oh, and the Palace Theme is SUCH A GOOD SONG. Seriously.
12. Skyward Sword (Nintendo Wii)
Honestly, it's pretty good. But it's my least favorite 3D Zelda, and the only one (other than Breath of the Wild) that I've only played through once. The story was pretty cool and other than the recurring The Imprisoned battles, the boss fights were good. Some interesting item and upgrade choices here too. But the harp, the Loftwing, the overworld - they didn’t quite work for me. I occasionally go back and watch gameplay and cutscenes on youtube and try to convince myself to play it again. Hopefully this game gets a remaster soon, and if it does, that Nintendo streamlines the gameplay a bit and let you play without Wii-era motion controls. I didn't mind the controls when this game first came out, but times change and I just don't want to play games like that anymore. If they ever get around to doing that, it will likely jump up the list a bit.
11. The Legend of Zelda (Virtual Console on Nintendo Wii U)
I FINALLY beat this game a month or two before Breath of the Wild came out, which really helped me appreciate BOTW even more. I printed out a map with dungeon locations when I played it, so I think that says it all for me. I adore this game and everything it did, but it's maybe a little too directionless for me to just sit down and play. I still think it holds up and it's a good reminder of what a Zelda game really should strive to be.
10. The Minish Cap (Virtual Console on Nintendo Wii U)
I actually wish I could rank this higher. I really do. I had a lot of fun with this game and I think it's one of the more underappreciated Zelda games. And the figurines, yo. The figurines for some reason had me hooked. HOOKED.
9. Link's Awakening DX (Virtual Console on Nintendo 3DS)
The overall mood of this game is different and it kinda feels like a weird sidequest off on its own. But it's really good, and the ending is a top-5 Zelda moment. It truly is. Considering it was the first handheld Zelda game, it really holds up well. The side-scrolling sections caught me off guard and were enjoyable, the items and characters felt different, and I think the length of the game really helps it.
8. A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)
A cool reimagining of A Link To the Past. I actually played this game first, so it didn't feel recycled or too familiar to me. This game had that cool/weird painting mechanic, a good though familiar story, and I think it more than any other game helped Nintendo realize they can step away from some of the typical Zelda game design tropes.
7. Twilight Princess (Nintendo Wii, Wii U HD Remaster)
I think this would have been top 2 or 3 for me if I made this list when it was first released. The tone is dark, the weapon variety is cool, the bosses are awesome and the dungeons are fun. It's in every way an improvement on Ocarina of Time, right? Well, maybe at first glance. But it trods along kind of slowly, Wolf Link loses his appeal on replays, the world is almost too big for what it has to offer, and even in the HD version the graphics feel dated in a less nostalgic way than OOT. But Midna is great! Midna is awesome. We're pals.
Also, WTH is up with the interlopers? I want more of that nonsense.
6. Oracle of Seasons/Ages (Virtual Console on Nintendo 3DS)
Okay, so I know I should probably rank these separately. But they'd be right next to each other anyways, and honestly without replaying them it would be tough for me to pick between them. They're more two sides of the same coin than say, Ocarina of Time & Majora's Mask are. Anyways, the look of these games, the items, the progression - everything is really solid. I even did all the password stuff when I played through them on the 3DS and it was super strange but very neat. My favorite of the handheld Zelda games, and that's saying something.
5. Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64, Nintendo 3DS Remaster)
In some ways, it's better than OOT. The tone, the characters, the GILDED SWORD (swoon). Considering the short development time and re-used assets, it's fairly remarkable what they came up with here. I mean, once you have the bunny hood it's hard to go back. Who even needs Epona? But the overworld was less memorable, the dungeons and bosses a little less fun. Transformation masks are cool, but really limited in how often you actually want to use them. And you can't even wear the Fierce Deity Mask everywhere (unless you did that one N64 Cartridge glitch, which I most definitely did as a kid). Really good, and I totally respect people who rank it even higher than this.
4. A Link to the Past (Virtual Console on Nintendo Wii U, SNES Classic)
The 2D titles aren't generally my preferred games, as my first Nintendo console was the Nintendo 64. But when I finally played ALTTP on Wii U Virtual Console, I was quickly enamoured. Considering when this came out, it's such an impressive jump from Zelda 1 & 2. Feels so similar to OOT in structure and story, and it's actually smarter in a lot of ways. You can really see where the true heart of Zelda games came from when you play this game.
3. Wind Waker (Nintendo Gamecube, Wii U HD Remaster)
Man, you know what? This game is great. Sure, it's a little easy. And maybe the sailing & island concepts were because of memory limitations or whatever, but who cares! Wind Waker has refreshing combat, quirky characters, a great story (I'd say Zelda's best) and it's simply fun to play. I could just voyage the sea and listen to that music indefinitely to be honest. The fresh paint of coat and faster sail the Wii U version added made it even better. The ending of this game is awesome too, it's very rewarding.
2. Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, Nintendo 3DS Remaster)
I'm sorry, Ocarina of Time. I'm so sorry. You know I love you.
I've beaten, probably even 100% beaten, this game pretty much every time it's been released. N64, GCN Collector's Edition, Wii VC, Wii U VC, 3DS. And every time the adventure is perfect. N64 was my first Nintendo console and thus OOT was my first Zelda game, so maybe that colors my opinion, but you know what? 2D gaming didn't really capture me as a kid. OOT and Mario 64 did, and that's why Ocarina of Time is my favorite Zelda game. Er, that's why it -was- my favorite Zelda game.
1. Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
Okay, so I never thought a Zelda game would pass Ocarina of Time in my personal rankings. OOT was one of two N64 games that turned me from a passive gamer into a Nintendo fanboy. But Breath of the Wild is simply the most fun I've had playing a game in a long time, maybe ever. Every moment was something I wanted to run to the person nearest to me and talk about. My coworkers and friends must have been so sick of me yammering on about it. I've put over 250 hours into my main file on this game, and just thinking about it now I want to jump in and go exploring. Breakable weapons? Grew on me in a big way. The combat? Different, and so good.
Shrines? Loved seeing them from a distance, finding my way to them and beating them. Divine Beasts? Well, those were okay, as were their bosses. But this game wasn't about the temples like most other Zelda games. In this game, the world is more of the temple. Discovering the path to Zora's Domain and making my way TO the Divine Beast is the kind of gameplay that really defines this game. Some think the story fell a little short, and they may be right in the traditional sense. But to me the story supplemented the gameplay just enough to give me my next goal to slowly work towards. Nintendo made the Zelda game that the original was meant to be, and I can't properly explain how awesome that is.
You should play it.