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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Tiermaker Funtimes: the Legend of Zelda series

Disclaimer!  This is a tier list about a highly popular series and is, like most everything on this website, my personal opinion.  You're welcome to disagree, and even make your own list if you find mine inadequate, but mouth-frothing hatred and/or sea-lioning over someone's opinion of electronic entertainment is not going to be welcomed by me at any time and will in fact get you blocked in very short order.  So kindly address all temper tantrums, death threats and general internet dumbshittery to the nearest anti-thought cesspool where they're tolerated.  Like Reddit.  Thanks in advance!

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Between this and Mario and Metroid, was it any wonder that the NES was the savior of console gaming?  I certainly don't think so, because the original Zelda was an incredible game in its day and remains an extremely fun one now.  Putting you in a vast open world and setting you loose to uncover its secrets, the game was rife with challenge - a huge variety of enemies, tons of puzzles and hidden secrets, and some hefty atmosphere thanks to its strong music and audio design (hearing bosses roar when you get near made them all the more intimidating, for one big example).  Dungeons, while not as intricate as many of the later games, still had a lot to offer in the way of depth, and each new item you found only unlocked more possibilities and opened new paths later in the game.  But even once you finished the game, it wasn't over - a second quest was unlocked, shuffling everything around and featuring an entirely new set of much tougher dungeons to conquer.  Legend of Zelda was incredible in its time and is still a cult classic to this day for good reason; it's an indisputable masterpiece.  A strong, firm, indelible S.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987)

As much of a huge success as Zelda was, a sequel was inevitable.  And of course, the massive popularity of the first ensured that it sold out literally within minutes of launch, requiring Nintendo to scramble to get more copies out as soon as possible.  However, Zelda II also proved to be the series' first heavily divisive game, changing up its format from a top-down viewpoint and a heavy focus on puzzles to more of a sidescrolling action-platformer with some RPG elements.  Experience points, spells, unlocking new moves by completing subquests... hell, the game even had "random encounters" of a sort on the world map.  It also possessed some notoriously uneven difficulty in places; while relatively easy for the first two dungeons, you then get sent to Death Mountain - a sprawling labyrinth filled to the brim with dangerous, aggressive enemies that required perfectly timed strikes and blocks to defeat.  Later on they also get especially cheap, seemingly always positioned at the perfect place to knock you into a pit for an instant kill.  Still, while the game is very challenging and much different from the series norm, it's well-made enough that I never got fed up with it and quit.  Battling enemies is a real challenge for sure, but they never feel unfair - just tough.  A lot of practice to overcome your foes, plus effectively managing your levels and upgrades, quickly becomes the key to winning out in Zelda II.  It's also an underappreciated influencer in the gaming sphere, directly inspiring a lot of other video games like Battle of Olympus, Faxanadu and even the Wonder Boy games on Sega consoles.  I wouldn't rank it as one of my favorite Zeldas, but it did inspire a lot of other great games and is quite a fun one in its own right once you've adapted to its style, so I'll give it a B.

Zelda Game and Watch (1989)

For those unaware, before Nintendo made game consoles and heck, even before they became popular in arcades with Donkey Kong, they had a line of LCD toys known as "Game and Watch".  At first they were simple little games like Oil Panic, Octopus and Ball, but one of the last ones they made was one based on the Legend of Zelda.  A surprisingly decent adaptation, too, having Link venture through a dungeon with branching paths, defeat "Goblins" to clear a room, and eventually come to a boss fight with one of the eight dragons; once they've conquered all eight, they'll rescue Princess Zelda.  They incorporated a number of Zelda elements in too - you can find the Tomahawk (a powerful weapon to slay the bosses faster) earns hearts and Waters of Life to heal yourself, and even fire sword beams at full health (five hearts).  It's surprisingly good, and though the original handheld is pretty hard to find nowadays, you have a cheaper alternative in Game and Watch Gallery 4 for the Game Boy Advance (though you do have to spend quite a bit of time to unlock it).  Far from the most sophisticated Zelda game, but unexpectedly fun for what it is, I'll give it a C.

(There is also a simpler LCD Zelda game on a literal wristwatch called just "The Legend of Zelda Game Watch", but I've never played that one.)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

After Zelda II proved to be a somewhat divisive followup, Nintendo decided to go back to basics for the third major entry in the series.  Moving up to the Super Nintendo also paid off in spades, allowing it to have polished animations and graphics and some truly incredible, varied music that gave it the feel of an epic adventure.  They also took advantage of the extra ROM space to really give the game a lot of variety - the pause screen now has a massive menu with over 25 items to utilize, and not all of them served strictly as weapons, either.  From the hookshot that let you grab onto distant objects to zip across gaps, to the Fire and Ice rods to freeze and burn enemies, to the Magic Cape that made you invisible and able to pass through certain objects, to empty bottles that let you carry around potions, fairies and even bees to attack enemies, you had a lot of things to experiment with, and finding a new one always opened up so many new possibilities.  Bosses were bigger and more intimidating than ever, requiring some quick reflexes and ingenuity to succeed, and the concept of the game - hopping between two parallel worlds - was used to great effect to hide a lot of clever secrets.  Even the story's stakes felt much higher, with a solid narrative that carried some really good (and shocking) twists.  One of the absolute greatest games of all time, and absolutely top of the Zelda pile in my book.  If the original got an S, well, this one goes even further beyond.  SSS.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993)

The first portable Zelda game was released for the humble green-and-gray Game Boy, and as the first Zelda I ever owned (still have that same copy, too), it holds a special place.  While sacrifices naturally had to be made to fit it onto the smaller system, they did a fantastic job of making it feel like a full-fledged Zelda.  The world map still felt vast, dungeons and hidden secrets were easily on par with any of its bigger brothers, and the atmosphere was great; while not as dark and foreboding as Link to the Past or even NES Zelda, it had a more surreal and jokey tone that lent it a lot of charm (no surprise as it literally takes place in a dream world).  Fitting that as well, it even featured cameos from other Nintendo franchises like Mario and Kirby.  It even had a few clever twists of its own - some items could be combined in pretty clever ways, like using the Pegasus Boots and Roc's Feather in tandem to clear longer gaps, or firing bomb-tipped arrows that did massive damage.  Definitive proof that it's not the system you release a game on, but how well you design it that counts.  Another S.

BS The Legend of Zelda (1995)

Arguably the most obscure of all the Zeldas, BS Zelda utilizes a similar engine to the original game and was never given a proper physical release, instead only appearing for the Bandai Satellaview add-on in Japan.  Basically, the game and an accompanying voice track would be "broadcast" to you at certain times of day, and you'd have about an hour to meet a certain quota - clearing two dungeons, collecting some items, and getting extra points for earning rupees and defeating enemies while avoiding hits.  Those who did that and got the highest score for the week would win prizes (like phone cards). For this reason it's considerably more linear and easy than the originals, but it's nevertheless an interesting piece of history that's worth a play for any serious fan of the series.  Plus, seeing classic Zelda elements reimagined on the Super Nintendo is pretty cool (and makes me a little sad that we never got a proper 16-bit remake of 1987 Zelda).  It gets a B.

BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets (1997)

Very similar in concept to the first BS Zelda, but this one uses Link to the Past as a base instead.  As with the previous one, your goal this time is mostly just to get a high score - complete your base objectives, avoid damage and collect as many rupees as possible before you hit the time limit.  The dungeons are considerably more linear and straightforward, but I did learn a couple of new tricks from this game - in particular, that you can pick up and throw blocks created by the Cane of Somaria (something you never need to do in base LTTP).  Far from the deepest Zelda, but it's fun and definitely worth a play if you're a fan of LTTP.  Another B.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

The first game in the series to appear on the Nintendo 64 and definitely among the most highly-regarded games of all time even today.  It's good, I'll admit, but I don't think it's quite the golden experience it's made out to be.  The massive variety of items from LTTP is mostly gone, going back to the relatively basic bombs/arrows/boomerang of the original game and some rather generic ones like the Megaton Hammer.  It was also the start of the 3D era, so the controls were a bit overdone and clumsy overall and it gets bogged down in near-constant tutorials from Link's ever-annoying sidekick, Navi.  In addition, a lot of textures are compressed and stretched over large portions of the landscape, giving the game a somewhat ugly look.  Dungeon designs also felt a bit generic in comparison, and getting hit almost always results in you stumbling and falling, which got very frustrating at points (particularly when climbing).  Not to mention there are a lot of recycled room layouts and very tedious sidequests.  Basically, it felt like they were fighting against the system's limitations as much as they were utilizing them to the game's benefit, but still trying to flesh it out to full-length.  Still, they had to start somewhere; it laid the foundation for numerous other great games to come, and Zelda, unlike some other franchises, lost surprisingly little of what made it special when it made the leap to 3D.  I'll give it a B.

A bit later on we also got the Master Quest, which was a slightly reworked version of Ocarina that featured remixed dungeon puzzles and was generally quite a bit more challenging than the original.  I tend to prefer that version a bit more as it feels more on level with the design quality of Zelda than the original OOT.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000)

Released two years after OOT and requiring the 4-megabyte N64 Expansion Pak to play, Majora's Mask promised to up the stakes.  And it did; to me, it feels like a more complete vision of what they wanted a good 3D Zelda to be.  Not only were the dungeon designs much more intricate, effectively integrating some creative gimmicks and really clever puzzles and boss fights, but the gameplay is vastly more diverse owing to the introduction of the masks.  There are three primary ones that change Link's form to a Zora, Goron or Deku scrub, each with their own set of new mechanics to utilize, but there are tons more as well - from the rabbit hood that boosts your run speed to the Gibdo Mask that makes you able to converse with undead creatures to the Stone mask that makes many enemies ignore you entirely.  I also just love the weird dark atmosphere and experimental nature of its design.  Not everything it tries works, but at its high points Majora's Mask is fantastic, and as a whole it easily ranks among my all-time favorites in the franchise.  S rank.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons (2001)

Capcom was a great choice to give the series a shot, and they definitely had some creative ideas in mind.  Utilizing the same engine as Link's Awakening, they incorporated some interesting gimmicks - Seasons has you switch the four seasons to alter the overworld terrain while Ages has you hop back and forth between past and present, altering things in the past to change things in current day (not unlike Ocarina of Time).  Completing one game would also allow you to "link" to the other, unlocking a bunch of new features and an alternate final boss. (A third game was also planned that would have utilized a similar gimmick for night and day, but it was ultimately cancelled due to the already heavy workload developing two games at once.).  However, while they're great in concept, the gameplay feels a bit lacking.  Many items are recycled from Link's Awakening but given new purposes with no adequate explanation (for instance, having to lift and throw some enemies to put them in a vulnerable state - generally disallowed in the original game).  This would be fine if they were given explanation, but they rarely are; in fact, messages hinting at new mechanics are doled out when they're obvious and curiously absent for less-obvious elements.  Boss fights and many dungeon rooms tend to be a frustrating experience for this reason, and I was generally relieved - not satisfied - when one was over.  As a result of all this, the games lack any real feel of logical flow, instead just boiling down to constant annoying guesswork.  Attempting to introduce animal companions - somewhat randomized with each playthrough - was another cool element, though I felt they ultimately didn't add a lot to the experience.  There are some great ideas here, but the overall design is more irritating than fun a lot of the time.  Both games get a C.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)

The first series outing on the Gamecube, Wind Waker also drew controversy for its visual style.  While Ocarina and Majora's Mask had a darker and more unsettling aesthetic, Wind Waker was very much the opposite - cel-shaded cartoon graphics, complete with exaggerated animations and heavily stylized bomb explosions and smoke effects.  I found it all very charming, personally but I can see why people who adore those games didn't so much.  Its gameplay also saw a new level of polish, most prominently including a much-welcome camera control via the C-stick, and some creative new gameplay twists like being able to wield enemy weapons and do counterattacks with well-timed button presses.  It had a few hitches in its design - a lot of sailing was required to get from place to place, and the end-game scavenger hunt for the Triforce maps was more tedious than anything - but the presentation, high-quality dungeons and surprisingly fun side-content (with a number of minigames) makes it a really good time regardless.  The Wii U remaster does address several of these elements too, giving you the "Speed Sail" to make travel faster (and not have to change the wind direction every 5 seconds) and the map quest at the end is much shorter.  I loved it and wish more good games followed up using the same visual style, which didn't really pan out.  But regardless, it's an A.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2004)

Capcom took the reigns again for this one, building a whole new engine this time and working in a relatively fresh idea - having you shrink and grow back to full size to get by certain obstacles.  The bosses take advantage of this too - generally they're just normal enemies at giant size, requiring you to adopt new tactics to face them.  The puzzles are more intuitive this time than in the Oracle games as well, so it's a bit smoother to play, but some of the later bosses are just a pain - you have to hit all targets at the same time or in an extremely short period using your various items and failing to do so just locks you into a stalemate (or damages you) until you do.  But the thing that really dragged it down for me was Ezlo; if you thought Navi was annoying in Ocarina of Time, you really didn't know how good you had it, because this guy NEVER shuts up.  Ever.  He's always explaining stuff to you or making snide remarks, and it gets very grating after only a short time.  Between him and the frustrating boss battles and the constant clunky feel of a lot of the game's mechanics, Minish Cap just got on my nerves more than anything else; I was frankly glad when it was over and I have no desire to revisit it in the future.  It's the lowest of the D's.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (2004)

Capcom also handled the GBA port of Link to the Past, adding in a simple multiplayer minigame called Four Swords.  Well, Nintendo took that idea and decided to expand on it, making a four-player co-op game for the Gamecube.  I guess they didn't have much idea of what to actually do with it, though, since it's a pretty tedious collection fest - venture around the map to collect "Power Gems", clear a few simple puzzles, fight a boss, then repeat until you win.  That, plus requiring you to have a link cable and a Game Boy Advance system for each player in the game (with no option to just use normal controllers), makes it feel like a cynical cash grab with a game tacked on as an afterthought.  Sorry Four Swords, you're a great concept but a very boring execution; you get an F.

(But hey, at least the manga adaptation was fun)

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)

Twilight Princess was definitely a return to the darker fare for Zelda, with an almost horror-like atmosphere at times and even having you learn new sword techniques from "a fallen hero of the past" (strongly implied to be the Link slain by Ganon at the end of OOT).  The engine overall has its highest level of polish yet seen and its dungeons are immaculately designed; perhaps to prove that point, one of the first dungeons is a water-themed one somewhat similar in format to Ocarina of Time's, though much more fun to get through instead of tedious.  Also incorporating in plenty of minigames, a wolf form for Link and some downright awesome items like the Spinner and the giant ball-and-chain, as well as some of the most intense boss fights in the franchise to that point, Twilight Princess was simply sublime in its execution.  It doesn't break a ton of new ground for the series, but what's there succeeds handily.  I'm frankly kind of shocked it's not widely regarded as one of the series best, but whatever; to me, it's a solid S.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)

The first game in the series for the Nintendo DS, and much like Mario 64 DS before it, you can tell Nintendo was deeply regretting not including an analog stick in the system's design.  So, instead of simply using the D-pad, we had a game controlled almost entirely by the touch screen - you hold where you want to go and tap to swing your sword, and press on-screen icons to utilize weapons.  It does at least use the DS's capabilities in a few clever ways, though - stretching a rope between two pegs, then bouncing an arrow off it to hit an eye switch that closes when you face it.  Or shouting into the mic to stun Pols Voices (a nice callback to the original game, which utilized the Famicom's microphone for a similar purpose).  Or having to close the system to copy a symbol on the top screen to the bottom one.  They did their best to make it work, but the irritating controls and heavily retreated elements from Wind Waker ensured that, while I did finish it, not much about it stayed in my memory outside of its creative gimmicks.  I don't have any real desire to play it again, either, so this one gets a D.

Link's Crossbow Training (2007)

Another series spinoff, this time made to sell the largely unnecessary Wii Zapper (which was just a plastic shell you fit the Wiimote and a nunchuck into) and gameplay-wise it's another of the legions of mini-game collections on the Wii.  Still, it's more fun than most of those, proving to be a surprisingly addictive target-shooter with a few action segments using assets from Twilight Princess (a game which, notably, does not feature a crossbow as a usable weapon).  It's fun while it lasts, but much too short and it just left me wanting more.  But still, for what it is, I'll give it a C.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (2009)

Released two years after Phantom Hourglass and running on the same engine, it at least goes in a new direction from the first, retaining the cel-shaded style but being set in a separate continuity from Wind Waker.  It also has an interesting new gimmick - Zelda ends up as a disembodied ghost (a parallel to the 80s cartoon series, bizarrely enough) and accompanies you on your adventure, able to possess enemies to manipulate them and solve puzzles.  That's a creative idea, but the design itself was a lot more irritating than fun.  Many of the dungeons just consist of tedious stealth missions where you avoid armor enemies that take you out in one hit, and the titular "spirit tracks" are more of the same - travelling along them, hitting sparse switches to take other routes, all while desperately trying to avoid invincible enemies that kill you on contact and make you redo the whole damn section from the start.  I hate hate hated these segments, and only got a couple of dungeons in before another one of the damnable train sections came up and I quickly decided I never wanted to play Spirit Tracks again.  Never, ever again.  Strong F.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011)

Skyward Sword is widely regarded as one of the biggest black sheep of the franchise, and I can definitely agree it's not one of Zelda's best; the small, restrictive locations, bland and mostly empty sky world, clumsy motion controls and overall rushed feel of things (recycling the same tedious boss fight no less than three times) definitely hamper it from the word go.  However, it has a few really nice elements that make it the "best of the worst" for the series in my book.  The story was one of these - instead of simply being captured and waiting for a rescue, Zelda is off on her own adventure while you're undertaking yours.   A great idea, though sadly we don't get to play or even see much of her side of things.  Groose was another example, starting off as your stereotypical jerk bully character but slowly redeeming himself and coming to accept his role in events as he copes with not being the prophesized hero.   Utilizing the Wii Motion Plus for aiming and swordfighting was a neat idea, if rather clunkily implemented (and mostly just boiling down to slashing in certain directions to hit a weak point or cut through shields).  Being able to brew potions and upgrade your weapons by collecting materials is pretty cool and laid the groundwork for the massive crafting system in Breath of the Wild; in fact, I kinda wish they kept the upgrade system there instead of opting for breakable weapons.  It had a really creative dungeon concept in Lanaryu Desert with its space-time manipulation, and some of the bosses were incredible -  Demise in particular was easily one of the most intense fights in the entire franchise, and it's honestly worth playing through the entire game just to battle him.  There's a lot of great elements to Skyward Sword; they were definitely on to something here.  But, it just feels like it needed more time in the oven to fully flesh it out into a complete game and, dare I say, maybe should have been on the Wii U instead so it could be in HD; the game's visual style is gorgeous but hamstringed by the Wii's low resolution.  Maybe one day we'll get a remaster or remake that polishes things up and puts a lot of its undercooked ideas to better use, but for now, it's a C.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)

A Link Between Worlds is a bit pandery for fans of the classics, as it's billed as a direct sequel to Link to the Past and features its world design, many familiar dungeons and enemies and even most of its music cues (in fact, in Japan the subtitle is even "Triforce of the Gods 2" in reference to LTTP's subtitle there).  Still, they did enough to set it apart, making it largely nonlinear, remixing all the old dungeons and giving you the odd ability to flatten yourself against the wall to evade attacks, slip into cracks in walls and reach new areas.  A strange new mechanic comes in the rental system - all of your items are "rented" from the shop, and dying will return all of your rented items to the store so you have to rent them again.  You can buy weapons to keep them permanently and upgrade them into more powerful forms, but this is a much more expensive option and not very viable until the later stages of the game.  All the dungeons are therefore pretty "item-neutral" in design and almost every chest you find is just filled with rupees or keys, so they're not as fun and rewarding to explore as in most games of the series.  The plot does have a few good twists, they finally ditched that horrible touch-screen control scheme from the DS games and it plays well overall, but it's not one of my favorites despite being based on what I consider to be the best Zelda.  Still, I'll give it a B.

Hyrule Warriors (2014)

Yep, Zelda joins the ranks of popular franchises starring in a spinoff of Omega Force's long running Dynasty Warriors franchise, and it proved to be a surprisingly solid fit.  Like every Warriors game it's a dumb hokey beat-em-up full of over-the-top animations, but that doesn't mean it's not fun.  Seeing a lot of familiar beats from the old Zeldas worked into the format in creative ways kept it fresh, and it even introduced a couple of new fun characters like Lana, Ema and Linkle (who battles evil with a pair of crossbows and an army of cuccoos) and some clever reimagining of classic Zelda foes.  If you hate the Warriors franchise this game probably won't change your mind about it, but if you can just sit back and enjoy silly war battles and cartoonish elements for a few hours at a time, you'll enjoy this one.  It's a solid B from me.

The game later had two rereleases - one on the 3DS and another for the Switch.  The latter has all the content of the previous two versions and is generally the best value for your buck, so get that one if you can.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (2015)

It's another attempt at a multiplayer Zelda, very much in the vein of Four Swords Adventures, and just as drab - clear enemies, solve the same handful of simple puzzles, fight the odd boss here and there.  This time, though, the central focus is on collecting rupees and materials to craft new costumes, which gives it the unpleasant vibe of a cynical cash-grab mobile game (save for lacking microtransactions, thankfully).  It at least has a somewhat amusing self-aware tone, but nothing else about it feels like an attempt at an earnest Zelda - just a quick-and-dirty cashin on the name to try and keep interest alive for the next "real" attempt at one.  It might be a little bit of fun with friends for a few minutes, but let's be honest - there are way better multiplayer experiences on Nintendo platforms than a mediocre farmfest like this.  Easy F.

My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016)

A Zelda-branded game that was only available as a giveaway through My Nintendo Rewards (the very poor replacement for classic Club Nintendo).  I got it anyway, mostly because the My Nintendo Rewards program had nothing else that was any good at the time (and wouldn't for at least four more years), but also I'm a huge dork for Picross puzzle games.  This one is just that - a handful of Zelda-themed Picross puzzles, with Midna giving you some tutorials.  Fun while it lasts, but even for a free downloadable game, there's just not a lot here.  So, it gets a C.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

The much-delayed, long-awaited launch title for the Switch, Breath of the Wild also overhauled the series' gameplay in a very big way.  Taking the open-world design to a new level, BotW lets you swim, glide and climb up virtually anything, all of your weapons, shields and bows are scavenged throughout (and frequently break, requiring you to replace them), there are mountains of ingredients to cook and brew potions with, and tons of hidden treasures (including the now-memeworthy Korok Seeds, which you find basically every step of the way).  They went all-in with the physics simulation too, giving you plenty of powers to play with to that effect - manipulating metal with Magnesis, freezing things in place and hitting them to launch them great distances with Stasis (and you go with them, if you hop on beforehand), surfing downhill on your shields, and setting creative traps for enemies with bombs and Cryosis blocks.  Hell, you can even light fires and use the updraft to propel yourself into the air, then rain arrows on your enemies in slow motion, which is pretty awesome.  Like most, I didn't care for the breakable weapons - it's an interesting element in something like Dead Rising as a way to get you to experiment with the wide variety of wieldable objects and to get you to improvise when you're caught in a pinch, but here it just feels out of place; moreso because almost every weapon type handles the same, just with different damage values applied.  Even the Master Sword breaks after so many hits and needs to recharge before you can use it again, which is just silly.  As a baseline Zelda game it's not that great - the dungeons are pretty drab and there's not a lot in the way of puzzle-oriented boss fights - but as an open-world action game with a ton of entertaining possibilities and highly-polished gameplay elements to experiment with, it's a lot of fun.  Even the DLC is surprisingly good, really putting your skills to the test and giving you some great rewards once you finally overcome all their trials.  The archetypal "fun-to-mess-around" in game, it gets an A.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (2019)

I wasn't sure what to think when a remake of Link's Awakening was announced; being one of my favorites in the series, all I could think of was all the ways they could have botched it.  Thankfully they did a very good job, keeping the fun of the original mostly intact while updating it for a new generation.  The aesthetic is updated but stays true to the original's cartoony feel, even still keeping a lot of its sillier moments (hefting Marin over your head being a personal favorite).  The gameplay is very faithful too - a few bosses are changed up but most is pretty much exactly as I remember it.   It keeps some elements of the Game Boy Color port (the Color Dungeon and its prizes in particular), but a new gimmick is incorporated too - by completing various objectives throughout the game you can build your own dungeons out of pre-existing rooms, challenging them yourself to earn rewards or pitting your friends against them.  It's not quite a full-fledged Zelda maker, but it is fun to play with.  It's aso not a perfect remake - the framerate is a bit choppy in some areas and there's no option for D-pad controls, but overall they did alright by one of my favorites.  I give it an A.

Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring the Legend of Zelda (2019)

Another one I was pleasantly surprised by; not just because it was made by a third party, but because it proved to be so well-done.  2D Zelda is a a surprisingly good fit for a roguelike engine, losing basically none of its iconic elements in the transition.  There are tons of secrets to find, bosses to battle and of course, most of its iconic weapons and items - bows, boomerangs, bombs, hookshots and bottles - all come back too, so you'll feel right at home.  The gameplay utilizes NecroDancer's unique twist of all actions being synced to music, which takes a bit to adapt to but is surprisingly fun once you do (plus, you get to listen to some amazing remixes of iconic tunes from the franchise).  Fitting its roguelike inspirations it's not a particularly long game, but it's very replayable thanks to its adjustable difficulty and procedurally-generated world, not to mention some great DLC missions (all included on the physical release).  Hell, it's even done what the franchise tried and failed to do three times before and provided a fun co-op experience for two players; yes, we finally got a good multiplayer Zelda!  Strong A from me.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (2020)

The first Zelda/Warriors crossover was a strong seller on every platform it was on, so of course they'd make another, and it looks like it's already set to do really well itself (in fact, it's already sold over 3 million copies worldwide according to Famitsu).  But while the first game was a flashy, silly homage to the series as a whole,  this one is a straight-up prequel to Breath of the Wild; set in its world, starring many of its prominent characters and even incorporating a lot of gameplay elements from that game into the Warriors format.  Any time your character ends up airborne you can glide to other parts of the battlefield, arming projectile attacks the air slows the game down so you can make precision shots, a lot of the Shiekah Slate powers return as Link and Zelda's special and primary attacks respectively, and of course, crafting.  So, so much crafting.  Felling foes and opening chests gets you things you can use to build and refine new weapons and potions and pre-battle buffers.  It's a bit less polished on a technical front - the framerate gets pretty choppy at times - but hey, it's more over-the-top action with a Zelda flavor, and that's no bad thing by me.  It's another B.