For as storied as The Legend of Zelda series has been on consoles, it has been just as successful on handhelds. Games like A Link Between Worlds and Minish Cap rival grand adventures such as The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess in their own ways. It’s also been the home to more traditional top-down Zelda games that initially made the series such a hit on the Nintendo Entertainment System. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best handheld Zelda games that are not remakes.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 9. Tri Force Heroes
While not an awful game by any means, Tri Force Heroes was a pretty significant disappointment. First off, it used the framework of the excellent A Link Between Worlds and looked to build upon the multiplayer fun of Four Swords. There was so much potential here, and instead players got one of the most generic Zelda titles to date. While the cooperative play can still provide some fun times, the online play was marred with connection and matchmaking issues to the point where it sometimes made more sense to play through the slowly paced solo adventure instead. Plus, the title of the game itself disgustingly misspells the term “Triforce” into two words. Why would you do that, Nintendo?
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 8. Four Swords
While it’s hard to think of a better Game Boy Advance title than The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Four Swords, the multiplayer-only component is definitely the weaker half when split from the Super Nintendo classic. It was later released for free as a DSiWare title, which was a cool gift to players, but it mainly served as a reminder that it’s not as strong as most mainline Zelda entries. Plus, the GameCube sequel, Four Swords Adventures, did a better job of exploring its multiplayer themes. It’s simply not what people want out of the series.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 7. Link’s Awakening
The first handheld Zelda title set a high bar that most of its successors would match. Link’s Awakening delivered a traditional take on the formula, as it had plenty of dungeons to explore and items to unlock. It’s an incredibly charming title that had a bit more charm than some of the other titles on this list. However, it’s limited due to what the Game Boy was capable of, and future games iterated upon its foundation both mechanically and stylistically. A phenomenal first attempt, but not the apex.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 6. Oracle of Seasons
Both The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Seasons were developed by Capcom, and it is remarkable how well the Japanese studio recreated the series’ signature feel. Both are great adventure games in their own right, and it’s splitting hairs to rank one over the other. It comes down to which gimmick you like more. Seasons had players exploring the same world but they could change the season in order to open up new interactions. An example would be needing to cross a lake and then turning the season to winter so it freezes. While that was just one good example, there were plenty of great puzzles in that vein.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 5. Oracle of Ages
Similarly, Oracle of Ages had players changing the world in a different manner. Instead, they used the Harp of Ages in order to go to either the past or present. Similar to Seasons, this was central to puzzle solving and exploring. For example, if a tree had fallen and was blocking a path, going into the past could make it so the player could get through the passageway while the tree was still upright. Ultimately, the dungeon design of Ages slightly edges out its sister product.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 4. Phantom Hourglass
The Legend of Zelda‘s debut on Nintendo DS was a great one. A sequel to The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass featured several familiar faces and a new reason to sail the sea in search of treasure and items. While its touch-based gameplay didn’t win everyone over, it’s quite responsive once one gets used to it. The only thing that held it back was its short dungeons and disappointing Temple of the Ocean King, a gigantic dungeon that the player has to go through multiple times. It also had a deceptively fun online multiplayer mode.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 3. Sprit Tracks
While Spirit Tracks is a sequel to Phantom Hourglass, it takes place over 100 years later. Rather than plotting out boating routes, players instead take a train from one locale to the other. The gameplay builds upon its predecessor, and has more in-depth dungeons and some additional features that flesh it out a bit mroe. While it has some stiff competition, it’s the best touch-based Zelda.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 2. The Minish Cap
Capcom’s final take on The Legend of Zelda was The Minish Cap for Game Boy Advance. Not only is it a vibrant and beautiful title, but it features some of the best dungeon designs in the entire series. The game revolves around Link using a magical hat, called Ezlo, that allows the green-clad hero to shrink down to the size of a bug. Naturally, this is used vary the gameplay and to create interesting puzzle scenarios.
Best Handheld Zelda Games | 1. A Link Between Worlds
There is a lot of pressure when making a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, as it’s largely considered the greatest game of all-time. However, Nintendo knocked it out of the park with A Link Between Worlds. It was a great way to see some familiar locales and the gameplay felt fresh thanks to some new mechanics, such as being able to merge into walls. Plus, the item rental made it so players could tackle whatever dungeon they wanted instead of going in a set order. It’s a brilliant Zelda game from start to finish and arguably the best game ever released on Nintendo 3DS.