Control Schemes

A good control scheme is absolutely necessary to an enjoyable experience in a Zelda game. The Legend of Zelda set the tone for the games to come with a simple control scheme based on intuitive item-swapping. It was straightforward, and the number of items meant that switching was never too obnoxious.

Link’s Awakening used a similar control scheme, improving the interface and item-swapping but adding a multitude of items that sometimes made it more difficult to pin down what you really wanted. This was probably due to its direct predecessor, A Link to the Past, which increased the number of items but mostly had the controls to back it up. With the sword and Pegasus Boots assigned to permanent slots, the Super Nintendo controller allowed for more options and wiser implementation.

But it’s the Nintendo 64 interface, first seen in Ocarina of Time, that’s the biggest achievement the series had yet managed control-wise. 3D shouldn’t have been as intuitive as Nintendo made it with Super Mario 64, but even that game had difficult camera controls that sometimes made platforming harder than it had been in a two-dimensional game.

The Nintendo 64 controller was perfectly suited for an action-adventure like Ocarina of Time. The C-buttons made item use simple, with the A and B buttons given prime placement as an all-purpose action button and a permanent assignment for the sword, respectively. As with Link’s Awakening, you triggered the shield manually (probably necessary for the mirror shield), but the R-button kept it both out-of-the-way and easily accessible.

Most ingenious of all, of course, was Z-targeting. It ensured that you could freely navigate the world even during battles if you wanted to, but it allowed you to focus your attacks on a single enemy or area. The control scheme looked complicated on paper, but things like Z-targeting actually simplified everything.

Most control schemes since have been evolutions of what was introduced in Ocarina of Time. The Wind Waker was mostly the same in principle, with the addition of camera control on the C-stick so there was a more cinematic option for seeing the action. Naturally, functions had to be moved to different buttons given the Gamecube controller’s makeup, but it was mostly the same. Twilight Princess on the Gamecube followed suit, and even on the Wii it was remarkably similar, with waggle substituting for a sword button. There was nothing wrong with this, and it actually allowed for more items to be instantly assignable and usable.

Handheld games also saw changes. While the Oracle games built on Link’s Awakening’s controls and The Minish Cap built on what was introduced in A Link to the Past, both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks used the touch screen almost exclusively. This was controversial, but the fact is that the games were designed around it, and they controlled just fine. Regardless, Ocarina of Time 3D naturally returned to more conventional controls, increasing options for item use and streamlining the interface with the touch screen. This is probably the control scheme most would have preferred in the first place, and it’s easy to see why; it maximizes the features of the handheld while preserving much of what was good about conventional control schemes.

Skyward Sword, like Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, simplifies things. There are no longer multiple items assigned to multiple buttons, and motion control is emphasized above all else. As with other control schemes, Nintendo understands their controllers and Skyward Sword maximizes its functions.

My favorite control scheme has to be the Nintendo 64 one, because it balances simplicity with accessibility. Each function is ideally placed. There was a danger of things getting overly complicated, but ingenious design ensured they didn’t. And while the 3DS certainly allows for more options, I appreciate the more economical approach used in the Nintendo 64 game.

What’s your favorite control scheme? Where do you think the series will go in the future? Do you think the controls are consistently good, or are there low points for you?

  • erikingvoldsen

    My favorite was definitely the one used in Twilight Princess. Skyward Sword was pretty accesible, but I like having more than one item at hand.

  • FenderGuitars77

    I did not like Skyward Sword’s controls. I preferred Twilight Princess’s Wii controls. My favorite would be the OoT/MM controls for N64 though.

  • Adam Junichi Kopp

    The best controls? Why, if it isn’t obvious, Twilight Princess!! My god, when you first put your hand on that game, you can just enjoy rolling around the whole village. The arrows control was just superior! Trying to aim&shoot the horrific birds in West Hyrule field from the entrance of Kakariko village needed serious skills but it was awesome when you hit it! Everything (except climbing walls) was great. Link even rides a boar!! xD

  • Vincent À la Mode

    i prefer the classic buttons rather than wii remotes or stylus’ although i understand people want to utilize them aspects of control, i would be very happy to have a control option. I didnt play phantom hourglass for more than an hour because of this, though with the option to use the buttons instead i have no doubt i would have completed it.

    to summarise, i want an options screen for the controlls

  • Red-tuniclink

    My favourite control schemes are SS and the DS zeldas,my least favourite being the wii version of twilight princess due to the fact that all you had to do to attack was waggle.

    • crb

      true I like tp but after playing ss I played tp again and it didn’t feel the same

    • IMFWeirdo

      Everyone complains about the “waggling” in TP…I found it to be just fine…

      • TwilightSword


      • Red-tuniclink

        Because waggling isn’t as good as pressing a button or actually making precise movements.

        • Midna’s Sister

          I perfer TP because it’s very easy to attack. Skyward Sword is too much work, bing percise and all~

          • Red-tuniclink

            How is SS too much work? yeah you have to be precise with enemies,but if anything that’s better,and it doesn’t take much work to move your arm or heck flick your wrist in a certain direction.

          • Elros

            now they need one of those holder things, a remote for the sword and a shield for the nunchuck

            ps. my wii motion plus keeps dying, need to buy a new one.

          • Midna’s Sister

            It’s because I perfer to simply waggle it, to relax and not have my sword go in stupid ways because I don’t feel like being percise. Seriously, TP’s waggling makes it way nice.

        • Wordnerd99

          TP’s attacks are fine, up until the final boss battle with the Dead Man’s Volley. That was much more frustrating than it should have been due to the delayed attack after the waggle.

        • Jonathan Phillips

          Well yeah, but does it actually make it less fun?

      • ZeldaFAN

        Everyone complains about the “motion controls” in SS… I found it to be just fine…

    • zombie_eat_flesh
      • Vink


    • OwnerofTriforce

      Sometimes that was better. It was fun in the beginning of Skyward Sword to be precise and such, but later in the game you had to be precise a bit faster, like in the fights against Ghirahim, and that’s when, at least my controller, started to feel really un-synched. It happened very often that sword didn’t move like I moved the controller, and everything ended up being really frustrating. It kinda ruined my experience with it. Btw, I did try ti synchronize the controllers again, switch batteries, use another controller etc. Nothing helped. Plus, aiming with the bow and such felt really awkward. I always felt the TP-control scheme was more precise and easier to use when it comes to the bow and clawshots.

      What really annoyed me, and probably about everyone that played Twilight Princess before Skyward Sword, was that they changed the buttons for the use of items. In TP you could press and hold B to take out your bow and already have an arrow ready. In SS, however, you had to press B to take out your weapon, and then press A to use it. WHY!? I pressed the wrong button sooo many times. This isn’t a huge thing, I know, but it really did annoy me

      If Nintendo would go back to use a standard controller, or at least a controller with two analog sticks, PLEASE make it so that one of them controls the camera angle. That was so incredibly comfortable in Wind Waker. TP had the same thing for the Gamecube, but in Wind Waker you could zoom in and out as much as you wanted while in TP you could only choose between two angles. I’m just tired of using Z to make the camera face the way Link is facing…

  • Someone

    My favorite are the Twilight Princess (gamecube) and Ocarina of Time control schemes, because they worked the most easy for me. Skyward sword annoyed me a lot in the beginning because I had no idea that it was possible to take out the last item you used by pressing B xD

  • Feanen

    OOT 3D took everything good about the original game’s controls and added the utility of the touch screen and gyroscopic controls very well. Definitely the best, though honorable mention goes to Skyward Sword (after playing it, using bombs and the bow in Majora’s Mask felt downright clunky). The only thing I liked about the DS games’ controls was the ability to draw on the map, which would be so useful in other games. I feel the touch screen is much better for secondary functions, at least as far as Zelda games go.

  • baileygirl99

    OoT 3D had very efficient and useful controls. TP had good contorls, but they weren’t as efficient as OoT. (Efficient meaning “easy to use when needed”)

    • Skeeterbyte

      Never played OoT 3D, but comparing TP to the N64 OoT the controls were almost exact besides the button placement and wagging of the controls. I had no problems with TP controls.

  • linkypete

    I loved everything about SS. OoT 3D also did really well with the ability to move the 3DS around to aim. SS is my favorite overall, though.

  • zeldafreak

    My favorite control schemes are skyward sword because I feel like im link.

  • Zeldaspirit

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  • Link Hyrule

    I notice after playing SS and then playing TP Wii, I noticed TP was a little faster, and then SS seemed a little faster after playing TP again.

  • zeldaspirit note: my page is in spanish

  • Dark

    I thought the Wii version of TP had the best control scheme, with Wind Waker being in a close second, I REALLY loved the camera controls in Wind Waker, however being able to aim my items (such as the bow) was what made TP special to me. Even SS didn’t have aiming quite as good as TP imo, it felt stiff at times.

  • Blackbaldrik

    My favourite has to be Skyward Sword’s control scheme.

    I loved the 1:1 sword controls, they made combat feel so much better, and far more skill based than previous Zelda titles. For the first time, you had 100% control over Link’s actions.

    I also loved the game’s radial item menus. They were great because the game never paused and you had to select things on the fly, which kept the action going. While at the same time it made getting to your items easier than it’s ever been. You could just gesture in the direction of the item you want and select it instantly.

  • Kitsune

    i honastly wasnt a fan of ss control scheme mainly because it was real touchy and i would mess up a boss battle because the game said i swung one way when in reality i swung in another way

    • TwilightSword

      This was especially true when stabbing was required. It would pick up the nunchuk being moved maybe a millimeter and would trigger a spin attack-draining stamina-instead of the stab. I also preferred TP’s use of the sensor bar, which was so much more responsive to the pointer when using the menu or a projectile weapon.

    • Skeeterbyte

      Motion controls are a great technology to use in video games, but developers (even the companies that released the technology) know little to make it work flawlessly. I loved the Skyward Sword motion controls, but the problem with the tech is that you actually have to position the TV the right distance and height for it to work right. You also have to keep resetting the motion controls. I had the same issues during gameplay, but it didn’t hurt my overall experience.

  • adumb

    i think all the zelda games have great controls, my favorite to date has to be skyward sword though, it blew me away, i was really iffy about it when i heard about it, but i quickly learned to love it, zelda has once again revolutionized how games are played.

  • HyruleHistory10

    I prefered the N64 controls just because everything was easyily within reach and functioned great. I do love the SS controls just because you feel like you are actually using.

    • KidNintendus


      • Skeeterbyte

        He’s mastering his joystick…

  • TwilightSword

    OoT3D was my favorite scheme, and I hope they utilize the Wii U game pad to do something similar for the next console game. I also liked TP on the Wii, mainly because of how responsive the pointer was for projectile weapons. SS’s scheme was better in theory than in actual gameplay. I like the game and applaud Nintendo for trying what they did, but the controls failed me more than a few times (even on my 2nd play-through) when I would move the remote one way and the game would do something completely different. The best example of this: trying to stab during a frantic battle and a spin attack happens instead, even when pinning the nunchuk against my leg to keep it still.

  • Oracle of Sages

    My favorite controls were for Windwaker on the Gamecube. Everything was very accessible quickly, and the ability to use items with x, y, and z was easy (this also goes for remakes of OoT and MM remakes on Gamecube). Twilight Princess on the Wii is a close second, because it made aiming arrows not ridiculously difficult, and the d-pad for items is fun, especially with items like iron boots that you don’t have to put in the B spot. My least favorite controls are the N64 titles simply because I hated the N64 spaceship controller and aiming arrows was way too difficult.

  • Zero Wat

    My favorite control was probobly TP, followed by OOT 3D and SS. But I would like a mix of SS and TP with TP’s projectile aiming and SS’s sword control, only not quite as touchy and with a balance between buttons and motion control. I also think you should’ve been able to customize the controls to your liking. With the Wii U I think projectiles should be aimed with the gamepad and use mainly buttons (but if you would rather aim with the analog stick, you can do that to!) OR you could use the Wiimote with the control style I mentioned in the second sentence OR use a mix!

    • TwilightSword

      Options like that would be good to have.

  • iKhan

    My favorite control scheme is probably the Wind Waker control scheme. My least favorite is hands down Skyward Swords. Whose idea was it not to pause the game when you switch items, that was horrible. Same with having only 1 item button and using a cursor to choose, when combined with the former issue, the control scheme for SS became a major headache. Motion controls were nice, but they also interrupted the fluidity of combat

    • Blackbaldrik

      How does not having to pause every time you want to change items interrupt the fluidity of combat?
      Skyward Sword’s combat was super fluid in my opinion, mainly thanks to the easy and fast radial menus.

  • TwilightOcarina

    I liked TP, I thought the attacking was fine, all you do in OoT to attack is press B as many times as you can… It’s Fine to me. I really liked the control scheme in OoT 3d, it seemed to me the best, because switching back and forth was so easy, I downloaded MM for the wii and I keep getting mixed up. The tiniest movements activate things that you didn’t mean to activate and, whenever I try to move, I keep accidently using the wrong control stick so I put on a mask instead. Trying to equip items, I keep getting mixed up, I press down instead of up or it reads my movement as sideways when I really meant down. It also seems to me like the walking controls aren’t as precise. I’m trying to walk across a bridge and I keep falling in the water, even though I’m just pressing straight. All in all it’s just frustrating and so I haven’t played the game in a long time.

  • Vink

    My favourite controls scheme is SS due to it’s simplicity and precise motion controls. TP would’ve been a bit better with Motion+ But I didn’t mind the ‘Waggle’.
    PS. People complaining about SS controls being hard should stop playing Ocarina of Time too much.
    My list of Favourite Ctrl schemes in order.

    1.SS. (Favourite)
    2.Link’s Awakening, Oracle and Minish Cap.
    4.OoT 3D

    • Blackbaldrik

      Your list is awesome. It almost completely mirrors my view on the subject.
      I’m dumbfounded as to why so many people didn’t like Skyward Sword’s controls.
      I thought they were the best in the series, even if they still needed a little fine tuning. (=

      • Skeeterbyte

        Video games these days are subject to extreme criticism. “A little fine tuning” to the modern community kills a game. It doesn’t help that it’s a popular, long lived franchise. People set their expectations too high, like comic book and video game based movies. I enjoyed it, myself. I loved the motion controls, and the flaws did not ruin my experience. ;)

      • Midna’s Sister

        I’m dumbfounded as to why everyone loves SS’s ctrl. scheme so much.

        • Blackbaldrik

          Perhaps you can help me understand your side.
          Could you give me logical reasons as to why you don’t like SS’s control scheme?

          • Midna’s Sister

            I like to relax when I play a video game. Just… Not be percise.

          • Blackbaldrik

            Personally, I don’t care if I have to stand up and be precise in order to play a game. I play as much for the challenge as I do for relaxation.
            But I suppose I can see why some people might not enjoy that.

            Thank you for the actually logical response to my question. (=

  • Jonathan Phillips

    I like the N64. It worked more easily and efficiently than the other ones.

  • Skeeterbyte

    My favorite is the simplicity of OoT and MM, but I enjoyed the experience SS gave me. There is still a ways to go to get motion control tech where it needs to be. However, unlike all the critics that down a game for one minor flaw, I enjoyed the motion controls even with all the flaws. SS was a great gaming experience and the flaws did not put a damper on my fun.