Fans of Zelda often face a frustrating dilemma: after you beat the latest game, there’s not much else to do but wait a whole year or two until Nintendo releases the next one. The blueprint for a fantastic gaming experience is encased in the DNA of nearly all of the Zelda titles, but the fact remains: so few games try to emulate it, and even fewer do so successfully.
But thankfully, there are some that end up containing the elements that make the franchise so compelling. The perfect Zelda adventure contains a mix of dungeons, action, and drama: you’ll be sure to find those attributes in the games on this list as well.
Pikmin 2 (2004, GameCube)
There is no pervading evil, or a princess that needs rescuing. What there is a lot of, however, is exploration. Starring Captain Olimar and his trusty cohort Louie, there is a lot to traverse with limited knowledge of the surroundings. With this exploration comes baddies and dungeons, all in the pursuit of treasure. Sound familiar? In Pikmin 2, the peril is real, as you desperately cling to the resources available while trail blazing in areas unknown. Featuring 201 collectable items, there will always be incentive to explore until you find them all. Plus, it’s a challenging game; that “Oh no” moment that follows the emergence of fearsome Zelda bosses will happen quite frequently in Pikmin 2 as well.
You’ll despise these more than Like Likes.
Tales of Symphonia (2003, GameCube)
Zelda games share many of the same attributes that RPGs have; while containing the action that they usually sacrifice. This is where Tales of Symphonia differs from most RPGs, as all battles take place in real-time. The mad dash to drink the potion before your health is completely depleted is a consistent occurrence in this game (which always makes battles way more lively!). Bosses are formidable, and often will scare the player into backtracking to a save point before facing them. The story contains its cheesy moments, but the characters are strong willed and are reminiscent of some of the eccentric ones featured in Zelda.
It’s like Hyrule Field! Almost.
Each dungeon contains many mind-bending puzzles, and there is no Fi to guide you to the right solution. They are truly difficult and emerging from them successfully gives a similar feeling to that of escaping Jabu Jabu’s belly. You know you made it out, but it’s tough to describe exactly what went down. Swordplay and key items are a prominent feature in the game, along with ghoulish monsters and a group that does its best to impersonate the evil only Ganon is capable of emitting.
The Binding of Isaac (2011, PC)
The original Legend of Zelda for NES introduced the concept of dungeons. Since then, it has become the foundation for the Zelda experience. Explore the overworld, find the dungeon, navigate it to the end, go back to the overworld and find the next one. With Isaac, you get the best of Zelda’s dungeons without much of anything else. The enemies are more diverse, the graphics are more in line with what you’d expect from the 21st century, and a variety of sound effects accompany weapons and explosions; but this game does not attempt to differentiate much from its 1986 source material. That is what makes it great!
From that point on, Isaac took ‘Buy something, will ya?’ way more seriously.
This game does not shy away from horrific imagery, containing cutscenes of the protagonist Isaac crying in the fetal position, and as seen above, a shopkeeper hanging himself. Fans clamoring for a dark Zelda game can get a taste of what happens when E becomes M, and the result isn’t always pretty. People who miss the random nature and excitement of Legend of Zelda’s dungeons will greatly enjoy this game, but those looking for a deeper narrative that defined the later editions will have to look elsewhere.
Okami (2006, Wii)
This is the one most mentioned in the same breath as Zelda. Its director has confessed to being a huge fan of the franchise, using the adage that imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery. Containing the same cel-shaded graphics that we all grew to love with Wind Waker, this game is another justification of cel-shading being the way to go. With a sprawling adventure, numerous side-quests, and serious fighting: Okami invokes the greatest qualities that Zelda consistently brings to the table. The protagonist of the story is a wolf; so for everyone that wishes Twilight Princess utilized Link’s transformation better, you get that here. The various biomes that Zelda uses almost religiously (grass, fire, and ice) are also included. With Okami, there is plenty to explore. With devious boss battles and compelling gameplay, one could see how this is comparable with Zelda’s finest.
There’s gotta be a place to howl around here somewhere…
3D Dot Game Heroes (2010, PS3)
What, a title that contains the word “3D” and isn’t for the 3DS? What is this blasphemy? Like The Binding of Isaac, this game offers the same sort of frenzied dungeon exploring that Zelda made famous back on the NES. There is a more developed overworld with a variety of weapons and equipment to upgrade. Customization, something that Zelda titles never really allowed for, is fully present in this game as you get to design the looks of your character. The majority of the items, NPCs, and scenery will feel straight out of Hyrule. But make no mistake about it: it does not do much to make itself superior to the original in any sort of way. This is essentially a Zelda clone for new gamers that have grown up without the glow of the originals, and perhaps Nintendo’s consoles, gracing their homes.
Essences? Who said anything about Essences?
But that’s not all, folks!…
What an exciting time to be playing video games. Every company is competing with each other to provide the most fun experiences, and the people that created the legendary titles are, for the most part, still working on producing new ones. Without a doubt, there will be games reminiscent to Zelda in the future that do not contain a hero garbed in green. Try as they might, these imitators will never replace the magic that is shared within the series. But they can come close, and there is respect to be gained from that.
The perfect Zelda game has a mix of everything: lovable NPCs, ferocious monsters, innovative dungeons, and exciting items. While many games contain these elements, it takes a special blend to truly make it feel like a Zelda title. If you are ever playing a game and stop for a moment to think, ‘hey, this feels like Zelda…’ the game is probably doing something right. There was not room in this article to cover every game similar to Zelda. If you believe you’ve got a good one, leave it in the comments, as there is a chance that it could be featured in a future article!