The Legend of Zelda – Best Way to Play Each Game in 2021
Since its release in 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has become the best-selling Zelda game in the United States and introduced the series to a host of new players. While fans await for more news on the sequel, many are curious about playing the older titles. Although the Switch offers a few games from the 8-bit and 16-bit era, Nintendo’s current console does not have many options.
The Wii U and 3DS are the easiest and most efficient means by which to play older Zelda games. Each offers a wide variety of titles; however, both have their strengths and weaknesses. Listed below is the current Zelda offerings for each console as well as a brief description of each title and the current eShop price. We will only cover main entries in the series; therefore, spin-offs, such as Hyrule Warriors, will not be discussed. Enjoy!
The Legend of Zelda Games on the Wii U
The current price for a refurbished Wii U from Gamestop is $109.99; however, the Wii U eShop offers easiest way to play all six of the 3D Zelda titles. Although the 3DS eShop has the definitive editions of the N64 titles Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the Wii U is the best place to play the GameCube editions of Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. In addition, the Wii U is one of the few Nintendo consoles with a digital download of The Minish Cap. Here is the full list of Zelda titles on the Wii U:
1. Breath of the Wild
- eShop Price: $59.99
- Best Known For: Breaking every Zelda convention with a return to what made the original game great.
- Description: If you need a reason to play Breath of the Wild, then this article is not for you. We told you in the description above that the Wii U is home to six 3D Zelda games, and Breath of the Wild is one of them so we included it in the list. It is a great game. Perhaps the best. Play it.
2. Twilight Princess HD
- eShop Price: $49.99
- Best Known For: A dark story and similarity to Ocarina of Time.
- Description: Although released in early 2016, Twilight Princess HD has held its value on the digital and physical front. While $49.99 is a steep price for a remake from 2016, the game is one of the best 3D Zelda experiences outside of Breath of the Wild. The overworld is large and empty, but the dungeons, music, and story arc are richer and darker in comparison to other games and make for an authentic Zelda experience. Not to mention, Twilight Princess has one of the most beloved side characters in Zelda history: Midna.
3. The Wind Waker HD
- eShop Price: $19.99
- Best Known For: A cartoon-style art direction, sailing, and buttery-smooth combat.
- Description: The 2013 HD remake of the GameCube’s 2002 Wind Waker is a steal at $19.99. The updated graphics enhance the toon cel shading, and the overworld exploration is still our favorite in the series. As the title screen suggests, this 3D Zelda title takes place in a Hyrule that has been entirely flooded by water. A few remote islands remain and are home to familiar species in the Zelda franchise. The sailing mechanic feels natural and rewards players who go off the beaten path. While the dungeons are uninspiring compared to other titles, the gameplay and personality are reason enough to purchase this gem.
4. Skyward Sword
- eShop Price: $19.99
- Best Known For: Flying around the overworld map on a loftwing and motion control combat.
- Description: Skyward Sword is a rather divisive game in the Zelda series. Released in late 2011, Skyward Sword took a more cinematic approach to the Zelda universe with its extended dialogue and cutscenes. While Nintendo gave each of the main characters unique personalities, the game suffers from a lack of voice acting and linearity, which removed some of the emotion from the cinematic experience. In addition, the gameplay centers around the motion controls of the Wii remote. Instead of pressing a button to swing the Master Sword, players must swing the Wii remote to attack enemies. While this made for unique combat, the motion controls are not always responsive. In spite of these challenges, Skyward Sword is still a great Zelda title and worth playing in 2020.
5. Majora’s Mask
- eShop Price: $9.99
- Best Known For: Three-day time loop and focus on NPC engagement as opposed to dungeons and combat.
- Description: Majora’s Mask is one of the most original and diverse 3D games in the Legend of Zelda series. Released in 2000, series director Eiji Aonuma had 18 months to create the game. Because of the time constraints, Aonuma reused the Ocarina of Time engine to create a hub-and-spoke world with Clock Town at the epicenter. Although the game has the fewest dungeons in the series, Majora’s Mask feels expansive with its unique three-day time loop. NPCs conduct various activities at set times during the three-day loop, and Link’s actions have a direct impact on the outcome of these events. At the end of the three-day cycle, Link can warp back to the beginning of Day 1 to restart the process. This approach gives depth to NPCs and makes for one of the more memorable experiences in the series. While the 3DS remake is a more refined experience, the original release is still worth playing on the Wii U.
6. Ocarina of Time
- eShop Price: $9.99
- Best Known For: The franchise’s first game in 3D and becoming the industry standard for several action-adventure gameplay mechanics.
- Description: What can we say that has not already been said? Ocarina of Time still ranks as the highest Zelda game on Metacritic. In fact, OOT is still the only game to receive a score of 99. So what makes this game special and is it worth playing over 20 years later? The short answer: yes and yes. The video game industry’s transition to 3D proved challenging; however, Ocarina of Time created many templates that are still in use today. The use of “Z-targeting” was revolutionary in 1998 and is still used in many action-adventure games today. In addition, the ability to control the camera was groundbreaking. The culmination of perfect pacing, storytelling, music, and combat combined with these two elements made for a landmark experience. Do the polygons of the original game still hold up in 2020? No, but the gameplay and music are still some of the best in the series. While we still prefer the 3DS remake to the original, there is no denying that Ocarina of Time is still a special game 22 years later. Go play it. You will not regret it.
7. Phantom Hourglass
- eShop Price: $9.99
- Best Known For: Wind Waker sequel on a handheld console. First Zelda game to utilize the DS stylus for combat and movement
- Description: While it is not well-known, Phantom Hourglass is Eiji Aonuma’s favorite Zelda game. While the puzzles and combat are rather simple, Phantom Hourglass was unique in that it relied on the Nintendo DS stylus for movement and combat as opposed to the D-pad and button. While fans were mixed on this gameplay choice, the overworld exploration is special. As with the Wind Waker, Aonuma gives players the freedom to explore a vast sea. Throughout the journey, gamers must uncover the secrets of the Ocean King to defeat Bellum and the Ghost Ship. The 3DS is still the definitive console to play Phantom Hourglass, but fans of 3DS Zelda titles should not overlook this gem.
8. Spirit Tracks
- eShop Price: $9.99
- Best Known For: Phantom Hourglass sequel with more challenging combat and puzzle elements. Refined the DS stylus combat and movement.
- Description: Fans asked for a more difficult Zelda game on the Nintendo DS, and Aonuma delivered. Spirit Tracks is a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass and offers harder puzzles, a better story, and a more refined overworld experience. As Link connects the broken Spirit Tracks, he is able to access new areas and dungeons. While this gameplay choice is more linear than Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks offers overworld puzzles and combat options not found in the previous DS title. Traversing the overworld via train feels natural and the dungeons are secretly some of the best in the series. While the Wii U gamepad does not offer the best experience, Spirit Tracks is still worthwhile on the Wii U should players choose to play some of the other 3D Zelda games.
9. Minish Cap
- eShop Price: $7.99
- Best Known For: Unique villain, kindstones, and original story. One of the few games not developed by Nintendo.
- Description: While Minish Cap was not developed by Nintendo, Capcom had gained the trust of the industry giant with its Oracle releases. Minish Cap is likely the pinnacle of 2D Zelda experiences in that the GBA sprites are bright and colorful, the overworld is expansive and diverse, and the puzzles and gameplay are some of the best the 2D titles have to offer. While the game is relatively short with six dungeons, the kinstone quests and depth of overworld secrets expand the gameplay. Transitioning between a regular sized human and Minish still feels good, and the Wii U is one of the few consoles to sell the game digitally in 2020.
10. A Link to the Past
- eShop Price: $7.99
- Best Known For: Most Zelda dungeons. Introduction of the Master Sword. Defined the “Zelda” formula for future games.
- Description: Release in 1992, A Link to the Past was a pivotal game for the series. The gameplay of the first two titles on the NES were nothing short of diverse. Miyamoto created the original The Legend of Zelda with a top-down perspective then changed to a side-scrolling 2D style with Link’s Adventure. As the series transitioned to the Super Nintendo, Miyamoto chose to model the next game after the original, which was an iconic decision. A Link to the Past introduced the series to the Master Sword, gave Zelda a more active role, and was the first game to incorporate an alternate world of Hyrule. These elements would carry over to other games and are still important today. While Nintendo Switch owners should play A Link to the Past on the Nintendo Switch Online service, the Wii U is still a viable option for those who do not own the latest console.
11. Link’s Adventure
- eShop Price: $4.99
- Best Known For: Being the black sheep of the Zelda franchise.
- Description: During the NES era, Nintendo struggled to solidify the gameplay of the Zelda series. The first game was created in a top-down perspective and utilized items that could be mapped to NES controller buttons. The sequel took a different approach. Given the success of the Final Fantasy and Metroid franchises, Nintendo incorporated RPG elements into Link’s Adventure. The overworld is still viewed from the top-down perspective; however, the battles and dungeons are executed in a 2D side-scrolling manner. Players earn experience points for each enemy defeated and can level up Link’s Health, Magic and Attack abilities. Speaking of magic, Link’s Adventure is also the first Zelda game where Link can use spells. Instead of mapping items to the controller buttons, players could cast a series of spells to enhance Link’s abilities. The game is still one of the most challenging in the series but is still worth a look in 2020. As with A Link to the Past, we recommend playing on the Nintendo Switch Online if you have the service.
12. The Legend of Zelda
- eShop Price: $4.99
- Best Known For: Being one of the first open-world action games created. Heavily influenced BOTW.
- Description: Many original games in a series are not worth playing nearly four decades later. The Legend of Zelda does not fall into that category. The original still holds up as one of the most cohesive 2D games in the Zelda franchise and is defined by its open-world style. Players can complete the game’s eight dungeons in any order and the overworld is brimming with secrets. While the puzzles and items are iconic, one of the primary criticisms is the game’s lack of direction. The game offers little in terms of NPC interaction and most of the lore is hidden in the instruction manual. The dungeons, exploration, and boss fights make up for the lack of story, and the game should still be played in 2020. As with the previous two games, we recommend playing on the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Zelda Games on the 3DS
The current price for a Nintendo 3DS varies, but all of the games on the list below can be played on the original 2DS priced at $79.99. As the Wii U is home to the 3D Zelda titles, the 3DS family of consoles offers the best way to play the 2D Zelda games. The one glaring exception is The Minish Cap, which was only available in 2011 on a limited basis as part of the Ambassador program. For the games that are available on both the Wii U and 3DS, we will list the titles below along with any major differences. In addition, we will go in-depth with the games only available on the 3DS.
- The Legend of Zelda ($4.99)
- Link’s Adventure ($4.99)
- A Link to the Past ($4.99)
- Ocarina of Time 3D: enhanced graphics and the definitive way to play OOT in 2020 ($19.99)
- Majora’s Mask 3D enhanced graphics, modified gameplay for the three-day time loop, and the definitive way to play MM in 2020 ($19.99)
- Phantom Hourglass: not available digitally on the eShop; must buy physical
- Spirit Tracks: not available digitally on the eShop; must buy physical
8. Tri Force Heroes
- eShop Price: $39.99
- Best Known For: Online and local multiplayer game with crafting elements geared towards unlocking costumes.
- Description: There is no denying that Tri Force Heroes is an odd game. The art style is identical to A Link Between Worlds; however, the gameplay centers on a series of short, multiplayer challenges and boss fights. The end result of each encounter is a treasure chest containing a crafting element that players can use to unlock new costumes. Each costume enhances Link’s abilities in a unique way and can help with certain challenge levels. While the local multiplayer is an original experience, the game feels more like a bite-sized experience than a canon entry into the Zelda series. The current price tag is steep in 2020 so we recommend trying some of the other entries in the Zelda series.
9. A Link Between Worlds
- eShop Price: $19.99
- Best Known For: Direct sequel to A Link to the Past. Allows players to complete dungeons in any order and the best use of the 3D functionality of the 3DS.
- Description: A Link Between Worlds is on many fan lists as one of the best Zelda games of all time. The game is set in the same world as A Link to the Past; however, Nintendo adjusted one key gameplay element: players can complete the dungeons in any order. The way the game accomplishes this feat is by giving players access to most of the weapons and items early on. While this mechanic makes A Link Between Worlds feel more open than the 16-bit spiritual successor, the dungeons are the best part of the game. The 3D functionality adds another layer to the top-down perspective and makes for puzzles not found in any other Zelda game. For owners of a 3DS, A Link Between Worlds is a must play.
10. Link’s Awakening DX
- eShop Price: $5.99
- Best Known For: First Zelda game to not feature Zelda or Ganon.
- Description: Known as an after school project, Link’s Awakening was recently remade for the Nintendo Switch in September 2019. While the remake remains true to the original, players can experience the GameBoy Color version on the 3DS. The major gameplay change pertains to the use of weapons and items. While the remake utilizes nearly every button on the modern controllers, the GameBoy Color version limits items to the “A” and “B” button. This means that players will be constantly opening the menu screen to swap weapons and items to solve puzzles and combat bosses. While the gameplay might appear tedious, the game is well worth a playthrough in 2020. At $5.99, Link’s Awakening DX is one of the best values on the 3DS eShop.
11. Oracle of Ages
- eShop Price: $5.99
- Best Known For: First Zelda game not developed by Nintendo. Focused on puzzle-solving in comparison to Oracle of Seasons.
- Description: Released in 2001, the Oracle games were the first mainline Zelda installments not to be developed by Nintendo. Capcom wanted to expand upon the success of Link’s Awakening for the handheld console, and Nintendo gave the company the rights to create three new Zelda games for the GameBoy Color. Development challenges limited Capcom to two games so the company chose to create one with a focus on puzzle-solving and one with a focus on action. Oracle of Ages focuses on puzzle-solving elements by incorporating a past and present time loop that allows Link to see different versions of Labrynna. While the base game does not have Zelda or Ganon, players can earn a password after beating Oracle of Ages that can be used to unlock the true ending in Oracle of Seasons and vice versa (i.e. Seasons players can earn a password that can be used in Ages). Both games are hidden gems in the Zelda series and well worth a playthrough in 2020.
12. Oracle of Seasons
- eShop Price: $5.99
- Best Known For: First Zelda game not developed by Nintendo. Focused on action in comparison to Oracle of Seasons.
- Description: The major difference between Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons is that the latter uses a seasonal mechanic to change the overworld environment. In turn, this creates new ways for Link to traverse the land of Holodrum. In addition, the game also has an alternate world called Subrosia. As with Oracle of Ages, players can use the passwords found in Oracle of Seasons to discover the true ending. We recommend purchasing both games, which are a steal at $5.99 each.
There you have it: the best way currently to play nearly every Zelda game in 2021. The only games not available on the Wii U or 3DS are the multiplayer games Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures. While these are worthwhile experiences in The Legend of Zelda franchise, the aforementioned titles offer endless hours of content.
As previously stated, fans who enjoy the 3D Zelda installments should look to the Wii U, and fans who enjoy the 2D Zelda games should consider the 3DS. But we want to know what you think? Do you currently own a Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild? If so, would you consider purchasing one of the legacy consoles to play more Zelda games? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links to the right. Be sure to check out our other news items as well as our editorials for more Zelda-related content. We have several articles regarding BOTW 2, Link’s Awakening, A Link to the Past, and many more. Until next time, enjoy!