This series of articles originally appeared on Gamer.nl in 2017. The text has been adapted in various places with recent information.
In the first part of this series we looked at the origin of The Legend of Zelda series on the NES, the great success achieved with the SNES and Game Boy games and the first missteps that were made with Zelda on the Philips CD-i. The second part focused on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, two toppers in the series who lifted the series to three dimensions.
Experimenting with 2D Zeldas
After the resounding success of Ocarina of Time and the interesting side step that Majora’s Mask made, fans never had to wait so long for a new Zelda game again. The popularity of Nintendo’s handhelds and the never-diminishing demand for full three-dimensional Zeldas for consoles has allowed Nintendo to regularly alternate 2D and 3D Zeldas to keep the series relevant. At the same time, this made the franchise increasingly predictable, which is why Nintendo has regularly tried to reinvent the wheel. That did not always have the desired effect.
In 2001 there was certainly no problem, although Zelda fans were ready for the worst: Nintendo once again lent their acclaimed franchise to other parties. However, Capcom knew what to do with Zelda and the two Game Boy Color games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, turned out to be fine 2D adventures. Oracle of Seasons focused on puzzles related to different in-game seasons, while Oracle of Ages once again focused on time travel. Both games could also be linked via a password, a nice extra for gamers who spend money on both products.
Released a year later another handheld game. The classic A Link to the Past was remastered on the Game Boy Advance and included a multiplayer mode called Four Swords for the first time in which up to four players solved puzzles together. This mode would expand into a standalone game on the GameCube in 2005 in the form of Four Swords Adventures.
All who want to sail
Before that, the real new console Zelda was released, in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. It turned out to be the most controversial Zelda title to date. When the GameCube was announced, a tech demo featuring a realistic-looking fight between Link and Ganon was shown for the time. The surprise to fans was therefore all the greater when Wind Waker was revealed as an interactive cartoon. Gone were the realistic combat – lots of bright colors came in their place instead. With an equally acclaimed and criticized ‘cel-shading’ style, ocean-flooded Hyrule looked like a Saturday morning cartoon and Link looked like a Pixar character.
The fierce reaction from fans eventually turned out to be partly exaggerated. The game world was gigantic and especially the graphic style provided a lot of expression in Left’s face. In fact, of all Zelda games, Wind Waker probably looks the least outdated these days! But other elements in the game were less pronounced. Due to a shortened development time, the ocean in Wind Waker felt empty, there were fewer dungeons in the game than in previous parts and the playing time was unnaturally extended with a mind-numbing treasure hunt.
The varying criticism of the game has led Nintendo to abandon the Wind Waker style to a large extent, on an HD remake on Wii U and two unremarkable spin-offs on Nintendo DS (Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks). Capcom also experimented once with ‘Toon Link’, as the drawn version of the hero is affectionately called, in Minish Cap, one of the better two-dimensional Zelda games in which Link can become as small as an ant through a talking hat.
Zelda Comes of Age
Wind Waker above all made Nintendo fans hungry for a Zelda game that would continue the more mature style of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. At Nintendo’s E3 press conference in 2004, the company finally heeded that, resulting in deafening applause in the audience and raving gamers on the Internet. The GameCube was to feature a second three-dimensional Zelda game, Twilight Princess, and the first trailer, which featured an adult, warring Link, hinted at a dark story and the return of some popular elements from Ocarina of Time.
Like that game, Twilight Princess was postponed several times, until people were finally allowed to get started with Link’s new adventure in late 2006. The timing was strange: due to the many postponements, Nintendo’s new console, the Wii, was in stores that same fall. Nintendo decided to release the game on both platforms. It turned out to be a golden move: while the GameCube version came out above all so as not to break Nintendo’s promise to Cube owners, Twilight Princess sold better than any other Zelda title to date thanks to the unprecedented success of the Wii. Ultimately, nearly 9 million copies of the title were sold. The game was also provided with an HD remaster on the Wii U.
Twilight Princess was received very positively by critics around release. and players, but in hindsight is proof that the Zelda formula became too predictable. Fans wanted an evolution of Ocarina of Time instead of Wind Waker’s unique approach, but that often makes Twilight Princess feel like a repetition exercise without its own face. The addition of the Wii controls, which required players to shake the Wii controller to perform Links attacks, and the option to transform into a wolf during the game, unfortunately didn’t change that enough.
In the air
That predictability was the reason The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a swan song for Wii in 2011, overhauled many familiar elements. took. To appeal to all kinds of fans, the graphic styles from Wind Waker and Twilight Princess were combined into a picturesque whole, but more importantly, the familiar structure of the series went out of the window. Players still walked down dungeons, but the puzzling often started before that in the game world. And speaking of that game world: the game no longer offered one large open world, but separate areas where people could warp between them while flying on a gigantic bird. In addition, the motion controls with the Wii Motion Plus accessory were deepened, allowing for a high degree of precision during sword fights.
Yet it turned out Skyward Sword was also not the ideal innovative combination that Zelda fans and Nintendo were looking for. With some 3.4 million copies sold, it was not the most successful Zelda game, and in retrospect, the lack of an open game world and the way in which the game constantly holds the player’s hand are the main drawbacks. That does not alter the fact that Skyward Sword is worth playing, if only because of the well-developed story that seems like never before to hint at an overarching timeline for the series, as well as the unique graphic style that gives the game its own character. gives. Gamers will get the chance to do so this year when an HD version of Skyward Sword comes to Switch.
Nintendo experimented over the years. after Skyward Sword, eager to find an interesting formula for Zelda. That resulted (apart from 3D remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask) two games on the 3DS: A Link Between Worlds and Tri Force Heroes. Although the latter title is mainly an interesting experiment, comparable to Four Swords Adventures, A Link Between Worlds should certainly not be missing from the collections that are fond of the Zelda. The title is a direct sequel to the SNES classic A Link To The Past and is set in the same Hyrule. However, another unique twist is introduced: Link is given a special power that makes it as flat as a sheet of paper, allowing it to crawl through all kinds of cracks, corners and dimensions.
A link to the first Zelda
In 2017, Nintendo finally created a new, popular formula for the Zelda series with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Just like Twilight Princess, the game was released on two consoles – the Wii U and the Switch – and has become a huge sales hit, partly due to the unprecedented success of the latter console. More than twenty million copies have already been sold!
Not only the popularity of the Switch is the basis for this – Breath of the Wild finds also spectacularly reinvents the wheel, while at the same time feeling like a modern version of the very first The Legend of Zelda. Just like in that game, players in BotW have complete freedom to come and go wherever they want. The order of progression does not matter and the game also explains very little.
Gone are the traditional dungeons. Instead, a massive open world awaits players with dozens of mini-dungeons in the form of Shrines. Instead of a large map of the world with countless icons on it, the developers draw the player’s attention through interesting views that lure you there. A tower or mountain in the distance, a mysterious ruin or an unnaturally formed hill: in Breath of the Wild you create your own adventure.
Breath of the Wild has undeniably revived the Zelda range. The new Zelda games have not been available since then. For example, several Hyrule Warriors games have appeared, in which players with Link and other characters participate in large-scale battles, Link’s Awakening has been remade and a remaster of Skyward Sword is coming to the Switch this summer. Fans are of course eagerly awaiting the now announced and still unnamed sequel to Breath of the Wild. No one outside Nintendo really knows when we can expect the game or what exactly it will offer, but as long as it comes even close to the quality of the previous game, players are in for another great adventure.
The Zelda series has been gluing us to our controllers and handhelds for thirty-five years and we can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives enjoying Link and Zelda’s adventures. Link is an extension of the child in us, who constantly craves adventure, mystery and starring in our own hero story. That a game franchise lasts so long and remains relevant is a tremendous achievement and makes Zelda without a doubt the most legendary game series in existence.