I’ve played and finished the majority of Legend of Zelda games except the two NES ones, Four Swords GBA, Tri Force Heroes and Breath of the Wild, and decided to write a retrospective, before I reveal my favourite (and least favourite) Zelda games. These are the handheld titles.
Link’s Awakening: I’m basing my retrospective for this game on the enhanced ‘DX’ version. As the first handheld Zelda and still with essentially NES hardware, I found it somewhat unimpressive – and Mario franchise elements (such as Chain Chomps and Thwomps) seemed odd and out of place. The story was very ‘meh’, but a significant improvement on Zelda I’s almost non-existent story. Hard to recommend for any people interested in getting into the series.
Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons: The first impressive handheld Zelda game(s) – Oracle of Ages is more puzzle oriented, while Oracle of Seasons is more action oriented. Highlights of these two games include: animal companions, Linked Game (completing one game, then using a password to continue in the other game unlocks an alternate scenario), the Magnet Glove (a slightly fiddly but underrated piece of equipment), various types of seeds with different effects and obtainable Rings with particular functions. These games are maybe slightly underrated as far as Zelda games go – and definitely worth getting on the Nintendo eShop if you have a 3DS.
Four Swords (GBA): A multiplayer-only Zelda that requires at least two players and two GBAs. There was an Anniversary Edition released on eShop that had single player, but I missed out on it (it was a limited time only download). As I have not finished this game, I cannot comment on it, though trying to play ‘single player’ with two GBAs with quite frustrating.
Minish Cap: Another good handheld Zelda. This featured the ability to shrink, and a talking cap with a colourful personality. Another underrated Zelda that many may have overlooked.
Phantom Hourglass: Boy, was this one disappointing!
Pros: it tried to imitate Wind Waker’s art style on much weaker DS hardware (didn’t look as good, but they tried), excellent use of the DS’ touchscreen, multiplayer (DS online multiplayer no longer available, however).
Cons: Temple of the Ocean King, Phantoms, Temple of the Ocean King (repeated for emphasis). Why did I say it was so disappointing? Because the Temple of the Ocean King was tedious, difficult, and unZelda-like in its design – had to visit it (too) many times throughout the game, puzzles reset every time and you couldn’t skip over sections you’d already beaten – you had to re-beat previous sections then go further in; and enemies that could kill you in one hit (and could only be killed very late in the game). Hopefully this gets a remake someday where offending temple gets some major tweaks (plus better graphics can’t hurt).
Spirit Tracks: When this game was first announced, I almost thought it was an April’s Fool joke or something. I actually found it to be a major improvement over Phantom Hourglass. The Spirit Flute was a nod to OOT and MM’s Ocarina, Zelda was (partially) controllable in the form of a possessed Phantom body, there was still a temple you had to visit several times but it was much better designed and allowed you to skip sections you’d already beaten, the steam train for transportation seemed unusual for a Zelda game at first but grew on me, and the sidequests were more interesting. There are still enemies that can kill you in one hit, but they’re in the form of trains that you can avoid by ‘taking a different track’ (get it?).
A Link Between Worlds: Another very impressive Zelda, and the first direct sequel to a previous Zelda (A Link to the Past). A major highlight was the ability to rent – and later buy – the item needed to complete a particular dungeon, allowing you to complete all the main dungeons in any order (except if you rented an item, you lost it if you got a Game Over, meaning saving up to buy it outright was better long-term.). It was also the first Zelda to have a darker, alternate Hyrule (called ‘Lorule’) with an alternate princess. A signature ability of this game was to transform into a painting and move along walls to find alternative paths, as well as new equipment such as the Sand Rod and Tornado Rod.
Tri Force Heroes: A very multiplayer-focused Zelda. Unfortunately, this meant the single player (yes, unlike Four Swords, there is single player…of sorts.) was at times unplayable, and some levels (which could be skipped to an extent) had to be skipped in single player due to being unplayable without other players. There was an ability to wear costumes with various effects, which there was the ability to craft, but I didn’t do much with that. I appreciate that Nintendo is trying to incorporate multiplayer into Zelda more and more, but the multiplayer focus made the single player difficult and tedious. A somewhat underwhelming Zelda.