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Ranking The 3D Legend Of Zelda Games

Ranking The 3D Legend Of Zelda Games

Written by 

Tom Chapman

Posted 

3rd Jun 2021 12:30

There's a damsel in distress, and Hyrule needs a hero (again). It must mean we're taking a visit to Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series. Since 1986, we've explored this wild world as the heroic Link. While he isn't even named in the title of the series, the green tunic-wearing Hylian has become an icon of the gaming world and held a legacy that transcends far more than just the Zelda franchise. 

While there have been plenty of Zelda games over the years, the series took a massive leap forward when it entered the world of 3D gaming in 1998. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time marked a milestone for the franchise, and since then, 3D Zelda games have continued to soar to the top of the charts as a cornerstone of Nintendo's catalogue. As with any series, some games are better than others, and with this in mind, let's rank all the 3D Zelda games in order from worst to best. If you're ready, pick up the Master Sword and hop on Epona's back. 

 

6. Skyward Sword

Ranking 3D Zelda Games
Click to enlarge

Firstly, no Zelda game is particularly bad; it's just that some are better than others. Coming at the back of the pack is 2011's The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The Nintendo Wii game took us back to the start and to the skies. The colourful world of Skyloft was a change of pace from the tried and tested Hyrule, but unfortunately, something didn't quite land. Taking place chronologically first in the complicated lore of Zelda, we got to experience the origins of Link and his relationship with Zelda. There was the usual story of gods and the Triforce, however, the villainous Demise and Ghirahim are no match for Ganon.

The nunchuck controls were a cute addition, and we loved soaring around Skyloft on Loftwing, but something was missing. The graphics may have their influence honoured in Breath of the Wild, however, things were a little too serious here. With 2021 being the 35th anniversary of Zelda, Nintendo is celebrating with the HD remaster of Skyward Sword for the Switch. Considering Skyward Sword's sometimes divisive reception, it seems like an odd choice to mark such a momentous occasion. 

 

5. Twilight Princess

Ranking 3D Zelda Games
Click to enlarge

What's popularly dubbed "emo Zelda", The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess took the darkness of Ocarina and Majora's Mask in an even more depressing direction. It was cool that Link could transform into a wolf, but at the end of the day, Twilight Princess wasn't exactly a feel-good title. Still, it was a unique premise as players tried to stop the Twilight Realm from seeping into the world we knew. Twilight Princess tried to bridge the gap between GameCube and Wii by landing on both consoles - with mixed results.

Positives included the fan-favourite Midna taking over from Navi as the game's guide, with her being far less annoying than that bouncing ball of light. The controls were based on the popular ones used in Ocarina, however, many felt the Wii's motion controls were "tacked on". Even though there were plenty of themes already established in earlier 3D Zelda games, Twilight Princess' wolf-like Link made it one of the most imaginative entries in the franchise. If Wind Waker was criticised for being too cartoony, Twilight Princess went slightly too far in the other direction. 

 

4. Majora's Mask

Ranking 3D Zelda Games
Click to enlarge

Made iconic for that terrifying imagery of a smiling moon, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask had some big shoes to fill in a post-Ocarina world. As a direct sequel to the 1998 classic, Majora's Mask again tried something different. Trapping players in a 72-hour time loop, Majora's repetitive nature was its biggest strength and weakness all rolled into one. There were also a lot fewer dungeons than Ocarina, which divided the game's fandom.

Termina was very different to the classic Hyrule, but this kooky land offered up a whole host of colourful characters that we instantly fell in love with. Skull Kid proved to be a complicated villain with a lot more depth than Ganon, while the sheer array of masks was astounding. There were 24 to make the most of, and who didn't love bouncing around in the Bunny Hood or rolling around in the Goron Mask?  

 

3. Wind Waker

Ranking 3D Zelda Games
Click to enlarge

Setting sail on the Seven Seas has never been so much fun. If you thought Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess were experimental, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (literally) blew the rest out of the water. Feeling like a completely different game in style and substance, Wind Waker is remembered for its adorable cel-shaded style. Despite the controversy, it's become one of the franchise's biggest cult entries - even earning itself an HD remake for the Wii U in 2013.

Expanding the lore of Hyrule more than usual, integral creatures like Koroks and Ritos made their debut here, while fun was back at the core of Zelda. Who didn't love sailing out across a flooded Hyrule with the orchestral music washing over our heads? It's here that Toon Link was introduced, and although Wind Waker wasn't as massive a hit as Nintendo expected in 2002, its popularity has grown, there have been two sequels (Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks). We still hold out hope that it could get a Switch port as part of a "classics" collection in 2021.

 

2. Breath of the Wild

 Legend Of Zelda Games Ranked
Click to enlarge

Placing the final two 3D Zelda games is sure to be a point of contention, as Breath of the Wild and Ocarina of Time duke it out for first place. In a different world, you'd be forgiven for thinking the two are brothers in arms, and if not for Ocarina coming out in 1998, it would probably look very similar to Breath of the Wild in modern times. Just slipping into second place, the Nintendo Switch Breath of the Wild rightly earns its place so highly. 

Throwing the Zelda rulebook out of the window, Breath of the Wild really put the open back in open-world. Parts of Hyrule feel familiar here, but with Breath of the Wild taking place in some distant future, it wasn't afraid to tell its own story with some clever Easter eggs to its predecessors. With a dash of Wind Waker/Skyward Sword graphics and a healthy dose of Ocarina mythology, Breath of the Wild proved Nintendo still has the chops to take on Microsoft and Sony.

Sure, there are criticisms that you technically only have four dungeons to tackle, but aside from saving the Divine Beasts, there are literally hours to pour into Breath of the Wild as you grind through every shrine and Korok seed quest. As well as this, taming horses and cooking up a storm in the kitchen means this feels like the biggest Zelda game ever. We can't wait to see what Nintendo offers up with the sequel - if we ever see it!

 

1. Ocarina of Time

 Legend Of Zelda Games Ranked
Click to enlarge

It was always going to be the top choice, wasn't it? Earning the honour of not only being the greatest Zelda game (in our humble opinion) but one of the greatest games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a special place in all our hearts. Dancing Darunia, throwing Princess Ruto around Lord Jabu-Jabu's belly, and the tragic story of Dampe the gravekeeper. All of this is before we get to more heartbreak with the Great Deku Tree and Malon's unrequited love. 

Yes, Breath of the Wild might be the biggest game, but Ocarina felt like it. The real skill here is the fact it's a game of two halves. Whether it's running around Kokiri Forest with your slingshot as a kid or besting Bongo Bongo as Adult Link in the Shadow Temple, Link's journey to adulthood was something everyone could relate to. Not just as a Zelda game, but as a video game in general, Ocarina is frequently cited as one of the best of all time.

Looking back at the Nintendo 64, a golden Triforce of Super Mario 64GoldenEye 007, and Ocarina of Time made the console a system that's hard to beat. Importantly, Ocarina was the first of the 3D Zelda games and set a precedent that's arguably still to be beaten. Elsewhere, it's a defining moment in the franchise's lore - at the point the various timelines split off.

If that wasn't enough, it defined target-locking systems and delivered a tonne of extra content with its Master Quest storyline. It remains to be seen if Breath of the Wild 2 will be able to topple this legend from its throne, but to be honest, we wouldn't bet our Rupees on it. 

 

Images via Nintendo 

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