Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rank Up! - The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks releases tomorrow, and it will be the fourteenth entry in the franchise. The Zelda series has been around for over two-dozen years now, so why not celebrate both the arrival of Spirit Tracks and this occasion with another edition of Rank Up!? We'll be listing everything save for the CD-i games which don't fall under anything besides embarrassing.

Here are the games we'll be ranking:

The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (GBC)

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GCN)

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN, Wii)

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

It was the year 1987, and unbeknownst to the gaming world, a legendary series was about to be born. It was called The Legend of Zelda. It was about a young boy who was tasked with rescuing a princess and collecting all of the shards of the triforce. The game was based on creator Shigeru Miyamoto's childhood. No, he didn't save princesses as a boy, but he did explore caves and forest areas. Since then, there have been more than a dozen entries in this fabled franchise. It is one of the most celebrated franchises in gaming. Let's take a look at the following games and discover why.

13) Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

We start off the list with the only bad mainline Zelda in existence. It's Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Doing away with what made the original Zelda great, Zelda II brought with it a side-scrolling approach as well as a balls-to-the-wall difficulty. Three deaths, and you start the game back from the beginning. And it was very easy to die. For those that could tolerate the cheap difficulty, Zelda II was an enjoyable adventure. For everyone else, maybe you should pass on it.

12) The Legend of Zelda (NES)

The game that started it all, The Legend of Zelda. One could say that this game was the first popular sandbox title as you were placed into a world with no direction-- just save the princess. The goal was to infiltrate eight dungeons spread around the world map, collect the mystical item in each lair, beat down the boss, and gather a shard of the triforce. The only real flaw I could surmise from this title is the lack of direction and sometimes having to know things that only a FAQ could tell you. Play the whistle by a lake to drain it? Really now.

11) The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

The first installment of the Zelda franchise on the DS brought with it stylus only controls. These worked surprisingly well. Point a spot on the screen to have Link to move to it. The game possesses the same look and feel of The Wind Waker with cartoon Link and other visuals. The real problem here is that players had to return to the same dungeon repeatedly after more sand in the Phantom Hourglass was filled. This made for some tedious dungeon crawling after every boss dungeon. Other than that, Phantom Hourglass is a great game to get ready for Spirit Tracks.

10) The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GCN)

A game great for single-players and multi-player gamers, Four Swords Adventures took place through eight worlds of three levels each. The game had a fractured structure to it as after each level ended, you were taken to the next without any items or heart containers picked up in the previous level. I think I love this game so much because it took the audio and visuals from one of my favorite Zeldas, A Link to the Past. This time around there were four Links to contend with-- stepping on switches at the same time, deflect shots from Phantom Ganon back at him, and carry one another across chasms. A great, overlooked entry in the Zelda franchise.

9) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

When the art style of The Wind Waker was revealed, the fanbase was split. Some loved it, some hated it, but by the time the game came out and people played it, these squabbles quickly went away. The game looked beautiful in motion, and really, it still does. The gimmick this time around was the wind waker, a conductor's baton that changed the direction the wind flowed. This allowed for easier travel on the high seas. Mix in some clever puzzles, a charming cast of characters, and a stellar soundtrack, and you have a great Zelda on your hands.

8) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC)

I was going to put Oracles of Ages and Seasons together, but they're really two different games. Oracle of Ages focuses on time travel from past to present Labyrnna. It was much more puzzle-oriented compared to Seasons action-based setup. Really, the only reason why Oracle of Seasons is higher is because I enjoyed that overworld much more. Otherwise, both games are top-notch and can link together to share items and take down the true final boss.

7) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (GBC)

Oracle of Ages and Seasons were the first duo of titles made by Capcom's now defunct Flagship studio. A special rod allowed Link to travel through the seasons. Water blocking the way in summer? Switch to winter where it will be frozen. Leaves in the way in autumn? Switch to spring where they will be gone. The world of Holodrum was much more enjoyable to visit than that of Labyrnna, and that's why Oracle of Seasons has placed higher on this list.

6) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN, Wii)

Labeled as the second coming of Ocarina of Time for some, Twilight Princess is currently suffering the Zelda Cycle. This is where the newest game comes out, and people say the last game was better. Then the newest one comes out, and then Twilight Princess will be seen as better. Regardless, the Zelda franchise went back to a more darker, mature style. Not only that, but Link could transform into a wolf, collecting spirits, taking out enemies, and having a mysterious girl named Midna riding on his back. These wolf sections could get boring to trudge through, and the lack of direction sometimes could be maddening. Otherwise, Twilight Princess is a terrific Zelda in its own right.

5) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)

The first and only new Zelda to hit the Game Boy Advance, The Minish Cap's gimmick comes from the titular item that Link could don on his head. It would shrink him to miniscule proportions allowing him to enter small holes and talk to the Minish people. Again, there were only five main dungeons in the Minish Cap, but these were so cleverly designed. The main sidequest was kinstones that you'd collect and reunite with various townspeople, usually opening hidden doors or unveiling secret treasure chests. While not my favorite handheld Zelda, it surely comes close.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64)

Masks were the main focus of this game, surprisingly so. Different from the other collection of powerless masks were transformation masks which would turn Link into a Deku scrub, a Goron, or a Zora, each with different abilities and powers. Then there was the time limit. Three game days and then the crazed moon would crash into Clock Town, incinerating it and everyone to ash. Link could turn the hands of time back with his ocarina thankfully. While there were only four main dungeons on each direction from Clock Town, there were plenty of mini-dungeons to keep things fresh and interesting. Majora's Mask is the game that altered the traditional formula of Zelda games, and I love it for that.

3) The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB)

The very first portable Zelda, Link's Awakening had no real gimmicks. It was just a traditional Zelda to its core. As Link you journeyed around Koholint Island after being washed up in a torrential storm. The Game Boy Color remake, Link's Awakening DX, brought the adventure into color. It also added a ninth dungeon into the mix that was based on the properties of color. This was the first Zelda since Zelda II that brought back side-scrolling sections and introduced the ability to jump when using Roc's Feather. A memorable Zelda if there ever was one.

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

A Link to the Past is known as Zelda III in the land of the rising sun. It went back to the overhead perspective offering a host of new weapons such as the incredible hookshot, foe-crushing hammer, and fire and ice rods. The main draw of this Zelda was the ability to transport between the Light World and the Dark World using a magical mirror. This brought the level of overworld puzzles to a whole new meaning. The ability to drop down floors in dungeons also made these areas of impending doom another dimension of coolness. Add in superb visuals, one of the best soundtracks in series history, and nearly a dozen dungeons to march through, and A Link to the Past remains one of my favorite Zeldas of all time.

1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

If you read my favorite games of all time list, this choice should be no shocker at all. Ocarina of Time is the eponymous item that allows Link to do a number of things-- call his trusty steed, travel to destinations, open special doors, travel through time, and much more. This was the game that brought 3-D to Zelda, Z-targeting, and a host of other game mechanics that are copied to this day. Ocarina of Time also features the most memorable version of Ganondorf to grace a Zelda game, an arsenal of impressive weapons, and enough exotic locations to call off your family vacation. Ocarina of Time is legendary.

That does it for another installment of Rank Up! Rank Up's going to take the rest of the year off, so it'll see you in 2010!

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