All gamer's have their favorite franchises. Game's that are worth the pre-order and release day purchase. I rarely pre-order, I find aside's from the odd huge franchise like Call of Duty or Pokemon, that most game's rarely sell out and it's a pretty safe bet you won't miss out. Though there is the odd exception for me however, game's that I anticipate so much I don't want to take any chance's. I have a lot of favorite franchise's, Uncharted, Mass Effect, Bioshock... etc but there is one I hold above all others, one that elicits feeling's of excitement and nostalgia in equal measure. While recently Nintendo seem to be on a mission to starve their console of quality games (despite the odd few exceptions of course) I'll still happily keep buying each system's new release for this game series along with Nintendo's other flagship's. I'm honestly not too fussed about the lack of third party support, I buy Nintendo for Nintendo games, if it's a small library of quality game's that's ok by me, I have the other consoles for big libraries.
I'm a sucker for that Nintendo charm, there is something decidedly fun and old school about Nintendo, from the couch multiplayer to successful cartoon mascots (in an age where cartoon mascots are all but dead) they always put a strong focus on fun, first and foremost. My absolute favorite of all their franchise's? It's a series that's history runs all the way back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and has been going from strength to strength ever since, with each iteration offering all new, gameplay changing elements. Weaving a captivating, timeless tale of a legendary hero's coming of age, a calling to stop a great evil and save a land from certain peril. Featuring an always epic story, spanning the ages, filled with kooky character's and awe inspiring locations and danger lurking around every corner as we guide our forever silent protagonist 'Link' through a plethora of secret temples and dungeons on a journey to save a land from great evil and (usually) rescue a princess named Zelda from danger, the Legend of Zelda is easily my all time favorite gaming franchise.
Like a lot of people my first introduction to the series was the Nintendo 64 classic, Ocarina of time. Despite being age appropriate for the earlier games, I was a Sega Master System kid and never had a NES, and although I did own a SNES, being a comic geek kid I only brought (usually) crappy licensed superhero games (Batman Forever comes to mind... but Maximum Carnage owned!!) thus missing out on most Nintendo classics, luckily there was the odd exception, like the original Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. My love affair with all thing's Nintendo didn't really begin until I received a Nintendo 64 one Christmas morning at about 12 year's old. The game was Super Mario 64 and my mind was well and truly blown. The introduction of 3D was a revelation and introduced me to a whole new world of gaming, the possibilities seemed well and truly endless. In numerous gaming publications there were rumbling's of an all new entry in the Zelda franchise, and it looked amazing too, all art work and screenshot's released were simply gorgeous and reminded me of one of my favorite childhood film's 'The Dark Crystal' (which I still love the hell out of btw).
Although I was familiar with the previous entries in the Zelda franchise, they never really interested me too much due to the top down, birds eye view perspective, but ironically I did love the Zelda animated series. I must have been a really confused kid because those early Zelda games were brilliant and the animated series was absolutely terrible (in recent years I purchased the series on DVD so don't argue :P) luckily I quickly became obsessed with the franchise after falling in love with my first outing and instantly snapped up all previous games, though my first will always be my own personal my favorite, and seems I'm not alone, the game often referred to as greatest of all time and pinnacle of the series among many gaming publications and fans. Ocarina of time is entirely deserving of all praise. A truly revolutionary game, responsible for creating numerous gaming trope's in the process ie. lock on mechanic, auto jump, day/night cycle... matched with beautiful graphic's, screen filling bosses and a huge sprawling fantasy world just waiting to be explored. At this point there was simply nothing else like it on the market. Featuring a truly epic story, our hero Link is called upon by fate to save the land of Hyrule from the clutches of the evil tyrant Ganondorf. Literally forced to grow up too quick, our hero Link is shockingly thrown ten years into the future halfway through the game, as we witness all the devastation caused by the evil prince of thieves.
Visiting locales once populated with townsfolk and friendly faces, now replaced with zombie's waiting to grab and smother you, as you trek this (now) apocalyptic wasteland. The brilliant time travelling mechanic was just one of the fantastic ideas on offer, with many different item's received throughout proceedings offering awesome, gameplay changing elements, but none more than the excellent use of Link's trusty Ocarina. Learning the power of playing songs, it is used in such inventive ways, from speed travelling to locales or changing night to day, the mechanic was a stroke of genius. It was the first game to illicit an emotional response from me, and was at times genuinely moving. Since then all subsequent game's in the series have furthered and improved upon that winning formula, with the scope growing exponentially, but the original foundations formed in the original Nintendo 64 release haven't changed. That's a true testament to this boundary pushing Nintendo 64 release. The funny thing is when you play the prior release the Super Nintendo classic 'Link to the Past' it's easy to see those foundation's already being lain, with a lot of 'Ocarina's' theme's and gameplay trope's hard at work even on the ancient 16 bit hardware.
Telling a similarly epic story, with our hero Link, this time thrust into a different dimension, a dark, alternate version of Hyrule, the game play's out like a 2D version of Ocarina, and is a worthy contender for the coveted best in the franchise label, a lot of fan's preferring the charming 2D art style and top down perspective to Ocarina's open 3D world. In the end it just come's down to personal preference, perhaps if I'd played this before Ocarina I might be inclined to agree, regardless of moniker, it is still an absolutely brilliant game and I couldn't recommend it enough, proving myself an idiot for being turned off by the graphic style originally. I found myself every bit as captivated as I was playing the Nintendo 64 release. I've enjoyed a lot of the early 2D Zelda entries since. I downloaded the original two NES entries (Legend of Zelda and Zelda 2 The adventure of Link) on my wii but found them a little too dated and old school to hold my attention throughout, though there is no denying how groundbreaking they were for their time.
Featuring a massive open world and the sequel's introduction of side scrolling platform sections, it really boggles the mind just how ahead of their time Nintendo were, pushing the hardware to it's absolute limit. I did however find myself addicted to the Gameboy Colour re-release of Link's Awakening back in the day. For the first time featuring a Zelda-less story, it begins with our shipwrecked hero washing up on the mysterious island of Koholint. Playing much the same as Link to the Past, this time Link is charged with waking a sleeping egg, in a prophecy involving a slumbering fish God and the very real possibility of reality being nothing more than a dream. Gameboy Colour had a further two releases with Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Season's. Nintendo, with yet another groundbreaking idea, releasing two complete stand alone adventures at the same time, and when a password received at the finale of one game is input into the other, combines both stand alone game's into one cohesive story. Brilliant, and possibly the system's greatest game(s). Many great Zelda games have followed on handheld since.
Gameboy Advance got a great port of Link to the Past, notable for the added mode, Four Swords, an addictive multiplayer variation on the standard Zelda formula. Minish Cap released next and was a completely new and original adventure, it was pretty great too. Featuring a fun, cartoony visual style and that same old quality gameplay. Phantom Hourglass and it's sequel (set 100 year's later) Spirit tracks on Nintendo DS, were the next handheld releases. Continuing the story and retaining the same visual style, as the Gamecube release, the fantastic Wind Waker, they are remembered most for using the stylus on the screen to guide Link through his adventure in many different, inventive ways. The handheld releases have always been high quality affairs, and it's great to see that tradition continue with Nintendo's latest handheld entries on the 3DS with the two stellar remake's of Ocarina of time and it's N64 sequel, the cult hit, Majora's Mask.
Now this is something special, two massive, high class, 3D open world adventures, all fine tuned to perfection, featuring all new, beautiful graphics and new game elements, all in the palm of your hand to take wherever you want. I finished both games on 64 numerous times, but still loved the hell out of those remakes and would recommend them whether you've played the original's or not? If that wasn't enough, the 3DS also received an all original release with Link Between Worlds, the smash hit follow up to the phenomenal SNES classic Link to the Past. Retaining a similar art style to the original, with all the bells and whistles afforded by today's technology, featuring all new, groundbreaking elements like the item borrowing system or the ability to become a 2D painting, moving on walls switching perspectives, opening up new challenges not seen before. Not just a worthy follow up to Link to the Past, being every bit as groundbreaking and inventive, but also proving there is much life left in the old, tried and true 2D top down perspective.
So that's all the 2D and handheld entries covered. Now for the subsequent console releases following the same template as Ocarina of time. Majora's Mask was the sequel to Ocarina. Something of a rare thing, with most Zelda entries being stand alone affair's. This game begin's with Link returning home from his Ocarina adventure when he is accosted by a nasty skullkid, stealing his trusty steed Epona, Link is forced to give chase leading to an arrival in a strange, new land. Termina, kind of a twisted take on Hyrule. Termina featured even kookier character's and a thematically darker story of a looming apocalypse, with Link tasked with 3 days to stop a (terrifyingly) grimaced moon from colliding with earth, thus ending all life. Mask's were the new gameplay mechanic introduced in this title, as Link collects different masks throughout the game gaining different powers with each one. This game is often referred to as "Ocarina's twisted half brother" and it's easy to see why, with it's tribal art style, dark themes and creepy character's, it always reminded me of a Guillermo Del Toro film ie. Pan's Labyrinth. With it's eerie, apocalyptic story and brilliant time altering mechanic it's high up on my all time series favorite's list.
As the Nintendo 64 era came to an end, a new console was announced, the Nintendo Gamecube, at the time code-named 'Dolphin' used a tech demo to advertise it's graphics capability. It was Link fighting Ganondorf, and it looked incredible. Featuring an adult Link, showcasing all his signature sword moves with precision and finesse. It left fan's clamoring for this dark, mature take on the franchise. So when Nintendo unveiled its controversial, all new, ultra cartoony aesthetic, fan's were not pleased. Thankfully they were appeased when it turned out to be one of the greatest entries in the history of the franchise. Featuring beautiful cel shaded graphics with fluid movements and emotive character expression, it had a unique Saturday morning cartoon vibe but was no less epic. Innovative for it's use of boat sailing, Link tackles a great sea, travelling from island to island, and taking control of the winds direction. The game was a real pleasure and I'm happy to say after heading back to this game with the recent Wii U remaster that it's just as fantastic now as when it first released.
Thankfully the Wind Waker series got to continue on DS with Phantom Hourglass. Four Swords Adventures followed on the Gamecube using the same cartoony graphics style basically playing much the same as an enhanced version of the GBA release, this multiplayer title was played using four Gameboy Advances plugged into the Gamecube as controllers making full use of the second screens for maps and item inventory.
Perhaps caving to fan pressure Nintendo followed up Wind Waker with the announcement of a dark, mature take on Zelda to release and was meant as the Gamecube's swan song. Development soon switched to the Wii as a launch title for Nintendo's new system. While still releasing at the end of the Gamecube's life cycle in limited numbers, it was the Wii version that garnered the most attention, because of it's innovative motion controls. A return to the mature adult Link, Twilight Princess is easily the darkest of all Zelda's released thus far and the true successor to Ocarina of time. Though much larger in scope, the game uses a lot of the familiar settings and locales from Ocarina, everything is just much bigger. This time Link has the ability to transform into wolf form, and is joined by the impish spirit guide Midna, having to switch between both our world and the Twilight realm.
This is the first game in the series to add the feature of horseback fighting, something fan's had been wanting since they first climbed on Epona in Ocarina, and it was every bit as visceral as one would hope swords clashing as you chase down goblin mounted boars. Not too long after, Nintendo released Link's crossbow training, playing something like a Zelda flavoured tech demo advertising Nintendo's new gun accessory for the Wii, the gun turned out to play like balls but the game was a lot of fun, and a nice, albeit brief, return to the world of Twilight Princess.
It took the entire lifespan of the Wii but the console did receive another release, the latest console entry in the long running franchise, Skyward Sword. It was a fitting swan song too, releasing at the very end of the Wii's life span, Nintendo Wii had come full circle, starting and ending with Zelda. Using an all new graphic style, the vibrant world came to life in vivid colour. Not as outright cartoony as Wind Waker or as dark and realistic as Twilight Princess, the game is memorable for it's depiction of a brand new world above the sky, and introducing the creepy new bad guy Ghirahim to the Zelda franchise. It's also the very first Zelda story in terms of chronology. Something Nintendo had cheekily alluded to for years, was recently made fact when Nintendo announced during the games release that there was an official timeline and order to all the game's released. Revealed in great detail in the Hyrule Historia, an amazing, official tome released on the history of the Zelda franchise. Each game's Link is a different character (except where direct sequels apply ie. Ocarina/Majora) descendants of the first hero of time, same goes for Princess Zelda and Ganondorf, all reincarnation's, thus tying all game's in the series together.
It's been a long run, and the franchise shows no sign's of slowing down. With the recent release (and success) of Hyrule Warriors, a Zelda-themed spin on the Dynasty Warrior game's released for Wii U, as well as another 3DS title, the multiplayer centric Tri Force Heroes, Nintendo have proven once again they are still unafraid to take risks. Hyrule Warrior's was so popular a new 3DS port has recently been announced. Link is also no longer relegated to just one franchise, popping up in both Smash Bros and MarioKart. It's really great to see that Zelda's popularity has never waned in all these years, it shows how great the game releases have been.
With an all new, open world Zelda currently in the works for Wii U (which looks amazing by the way) and the currently in development NGX, an all new Nintendo console, you can rest assured the franchise will keep going from strength to strength for many, many years to come. In this age where ultra realistic action RPG's are a dime a dozen, it's great to see the franchise flourish as a nice alternative, Zelda has always had it's own charm, that while dark at times, has always been filled with fun, kooky, sometimes campy character's, it's true escapism. I'll take Zelda's beautiful anime styled art direction, over Skyrim's dark, gritty ultra realistic fantasy world any day. As for right now, I'll just have to keep dreaming of that all new Wii U Zelda release looming on the horizon, while replaying past classics, hmmm perhaps a Twilight Princess restart is in order? :P
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Any thoughts or anything you'd like to add, sing out in the comments section.
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