The Correct Order To Play Every 2D Zelda Game

It’s Zelda season folks. Tears of the Kingdom, the de facto GOTY, is still four months away, which means you’ll have plenty of time to gorge yourself on The Legend of Zelda as you eagerly await its arrival. Many will return for a second run in Breath of the Wild before Tears of the Kingdom, but I don’t recommend it. Rushing through a game to set up a sequel is a trap I’ve often fallen into, and it usually leads to burnout and exhaustion before you can even get started on the game you’re really looking forward to.

Instead, why not steer clear of 3D Zelda entirely and return to Link’s roots? There’s a rich history of 2D Zelda games that you probably haven’t visited in years, if not decades, and they might be just what you need to satiate yourself until Tears of the Kingdom finally comes out . The only question is what is the best order to play them?


Common sense dictates that you should work through them chronologically beginning with the first, but here I hit you with my first hot take: don’t play The Legend of Zelda. The 1986 NES game is a relic of the past and that’s where it should stay. You might think you have to respect the series’ story, but the original Zelda is bewildering, excruciatingly difficult, and almost impossible to complete without guidance. If you start with this one, you almost certainly won’t get through the rest. You should also skip The Adventures of Link, but most people already know that.

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The best way to get acquainted with the beginning of the series is to start with A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo. Here the formula has been solidified, and the gameplay holds up remarkably well even by modern standards. A Link to the Past is included with your Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but if you can get your hands on a SNES Classic, it’s even better.

Legend Of Zelda A Link To The Past Master Sword

Zelda A Link To The Past Master Sword

There’s a spiritual sequel to A Link to the Past called A Link Between Worlds, but it’s such a major departure from and deconstruction of the series that you’re better off saving it for later and working through the rest of the classic games in it in the meantime. Go to Oracle and Seasons and Oracle of Ages instead. Developed by Capcom, these Game Boy games are considered by many to be the best in the entire series. The concurrently released Oracle games have an interconnected story that changes depending on which game you play first. They play very much like A Link to the Past but with more emphasis on characters and story. I play these games more than any other Zelda because they are just so good.

Next you want to round out the Capcom Zelda trilogy with The Minish Cap. This one can be divisive, but I’ve always considered it one of the prettiest games on the Game Boy Advance. If you love sharp sprite work and dense pixel art environments, you will appreciate a lot here. It has a shrinking mechanic that adds a lot of variety to exploration and introduces my favorite Zelda weapon, the Gust Jar.

Your next stop is the latest entry, Link’s Awakening, a remake of the fourth part of The Legend of Zelda. still with me Link’s Awakening Remake might have some performance issues on the Switch, but it’s still an exceptional reimagining of the Game Boy game that retains all of the original level designs and puzzles. You don’t have to bother playing the original Link’s Awakening because the remake is so faithful to the original.

Now it’s time for A Link Between Worlds, the 3DS pseudo-sequel to A Link to the Past. This one breaks many of the “rules” that Zelda is known for, but in a way that cleverly pays tribute to the series’ history. The villain is great, the merge mechanics are unique, and it’s the only other non-linear 2D Zelda besides the original. This isn’t an easy game to copy, so getting your hands on it might be the hardest, but if you still have a 3DS, pre-owned copies are only around $20.

There are two other 2D Zelda games, but I would consider these optional. Phantom Hourglass is a spin-off from The Wind Waker that has a divisive, repetitive structure. As you progress through the game, you’ll keep coming back to progress through a single mega dungeon, starting over with each attempt. It’s got plenty of stealth stages, timed challenges, and touchscreen gimmicks that many Zelda fans don’t care about. However, I’ve played it twice and still recommend it.

Spirit Tracks, on the other hand, is really only for completers. If you’ve made it this far, you might as well go all the way, but there are many frustrating aspects of this turn-based game. Prepare for a barrage of 3DS gimmicks, including touchscreen combat, 3D puzzles, and liberal use of the microphone. The best part is that it’s relatively short.

It may not be chronological, but playing the 2D Zelda games in this order is the best way to experience the series. Next time, turn on a dissertation on the best order to play each 2D Sonic game (hint: we’re skipping three quarters of these).

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