With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom arriving at long last this week, here are our picks for the best Zelda games to get ready for TOTK!
Nintendo fans everywhere are eagerly awaiting one of the year’s biggest games, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The sequel to one of the biggest games in recent memory has been enshrouded in mystery since it was first announced at E3 2019, but soon the curtain will rise on Link’s biggest adventure to date. (For most of us, anyway.)
To make the last few days of waiting a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of the best Zelda games to play in the meantime—games that will whet your appetite and get you in the right mood for Tears of the Kingdom, thanks to their thematic and gameplay connections. It’s dangerous to go alone, so come along with us…
Breath of the Wild
Well, this is a no-brainer, really. Tears of the Kingdom is a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild, continuing its story and expanding its mechanics, so it’s naturally one of the best Zelda games to revisit this coming week.
In its own right, however, Breath of the Wild became a cultural touchstone upon its release, a standard against which most games have been measured ever since. Revisiting the Nintendo Switch’s biggest launch game six years later (or experiencing it for the first time) is a great way to prepare for one of the console’s last big blockbusters.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword rocked some boats with its motion controls when it arrived on the Wii in 2011, but there’s at least one thematic connection that makes it one of the best Zelda games to check out before Tears of the Kingdom: its emphasis on floating islands.
At least in its own time, Skyward Sword served as an origin point for the history of Hyrule, the earliest event on the timeline of games and a sort of creation myth explaining the natures of Link, Zelda, and Ganon. The Goddess Hylia had sent a small colony of humans to live on a floating island, away from the reach of evil’s minions—and as its Link and Zelda lived on that island, a good part of the game revolved around traversing from ground to sky, like Tears of the Kingdom promises.
Skyward Sword was the next logical choice to be remastered, sure enough, but maybe there was a bigger reason why Nintendo wanted to keep its floating islands in mind. Either way, revisiting the series’ earliest known history is a fun way to gear up for the sequel to Breath of the Wild, and maybe you’ll find it’s gotten better with age. It might not grace many lists of the best Zelda games overall, but its potential importance to the timeline keeps it relevant (while the 2021 Switch remaster mitigates its divisive motion controls).
Tears of the Kingdom has the freedom to break new ground as a sequel thanks to the precedent set by Majora’s Mask. (Well, also thanks to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, but Majora’s Mask is by far the more successful departure.) Developed on a sharp turnaround after the monumental success of Ocarina of Time, Link’s apocalyptic sojourn through Termina pushed the series’ envelope to the limit.
What makes it one of the best Zelda games to check out pre-Tears of the Kingdom, however, might be its darker tone. Like the transition from Ocarina to Mask, Tears looks to be venturing into darker territory than Breath of the Wild—which, admittedly, was already pretty bleak by the series’ sunny standards. Whatever’s going on with Link and the broken Master Sword, mummified Ganondorf has been giving us Termina’s Moon vibes since we first saw him.
In broad strokes, Nintendo has a loose pattern when it comes to new Zelda games: one sets a new standard with a classic adventure that includes the usual hallmarks (ie. the original, Link to the Past, Ocarina) and then the follow-up breaks that mould wide open (ie. Zelda II, Majora’s Mask).
The first to do this was the Game Boy successor to A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening. What started as a tech demo evolved into an “after-hours passion project” for Nintendo employees, and finally released as the first game in the series without input from creator Shigeru Miyamoto. It’s one of the best Zelda games in the classic 2D style, despite breaking heavily from so many of the series’ most sacred traditions.
Its tone, however, is what came to mind for me when watching the final trailer for Tears of the Kingdom. Link’s Awakening is a charming and sunny adventure with some dark undertones of existential crisis; the entire kingdom of Hyrule isn’t on the line, but Link’s actions could have a big side effect for the delightful villagers he’s meeting along the way. Balancing the dire threat of a revived Ganondorf with the lighthearted fun of slapping a bunch of junk together to make a car? That sounds like they’ve been taking notes from the cartridge I wore out as a child.
Speaking of Ganondorf, we’re ready to be terrified of the big bad’s return to proper physical form in Tears of the Kingdom (voiced, in an inspired casting decision, by Critical Role‘s Matthew Mercer). Despite his prominence as the series’ iconic villain, he has appeared in startlingly few games, and owes much of his recognition to Super Smash Bros.
Thus, Twilight Princess makes our list for the best Zelda games to prepare for “a king’s revival.” Ganondorf is, arguably, at his best in this iteration—more intimidating and powerful than his previous appearances in Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker. The epic climactic showdown against him has all the hallmarks that make him one of Nintendo’s best villains.
The creepier tones of Tears‘ trailers also remind us of the shadowy vistas of Twilight Princess; Majora’s Mask has the title of creepiest game in the series, but Twilight showed us an eclipsed version of Hyrule that hit much closer to home than the parallel world of Termina.
Hopefully, these suggestions help make the final days of waiting for Tears of the Kingdom more bearable and get you warmed up for the epic adventure that awaits. And let’s face it, now’s the best chance to play other things because we have a feeling Link’s next adventure might be taking over our Switches for the foreseeable future.
Stay tuned to CGMagazine for more Tears of the Kingdom coverage this week, including our review. Will this go down as one of the best Zelda games ever? Thankfully, we’ll be finding out very soon.