The Zelda games are rich with excellence in many different areas. Plot, side-quests, gameplay mechanics, items and landscapes all radiate with wonderful design. Amidst all of the other components of the games, there can be found fun, short activities which are completely independent from the storyline. These mini-games can be a pleasant break from Link’s quest, and can often provide just as much enjoyment as the actual game itself. Here is a look at the top five categories of mini-games in the entire Zelda series.
Because mini-games are almost always unimportant to the main story plot, ideas for these games are often reused from previous installments in the series. Therefore, it is difficult to pin down individual games to label as ‘the best,’ as there may be a group of games which are almost identical, and not every game would fit on the list. So, I have decided to compare mini-games in categories, and discuss each type of game and its standing in regards to the others. But before the games can be compared to each other, there must be a standard by which the games are judged. In this situation, the games will be judged based on the smoothness and flow of the gameplay and the level of creativity with which they are carried out.
#5. Puzzle Games
The Zelda series is famous for its integration of puzzles into its gameplay. It is only appropriate that a few of its abundant mini-games should have this same theme. For example, Thrill Digger from Skyward Sword is a variation of minesweeper, which is a puzzle that is based on addition and logic, and there is a sliding puzzle on Link’s Oasis in The Wind Waker. The flow of these games is usually extremely good, since the rules of play tend to be simple. They are generally located in a remote area, tucked away as a sort of pit stop in Link’s journey. They are creative in design, and fit right in with their backgrounds (for instance, Thrill Digger is located in a cave full of rupee ore). Each puzzle has been redesigned so that the concept is the same but it feels much more like it belongs in a fantastical quest. However, the types of puzzles used are very common, and could be played outside of the series. In fact, with most of these mini-games, it would make more sense to simply play them either online or in real life. So, although these games are impractical to take time to play within the games, they are charming and fun, and a good, simple starter to the list.
#4. Collection Games
In this type of mini-game, players are given an amount of items to collect and a limited time in which to collect them. Some examples of mini-games which fall into this category are the diving game in Ocarina of Time, and the Cucco gathering game, run by Anju from The Minish Cap. There is a lot of room for error in regards to these games, and it is very easy for the controls to become choppy and incredibly frustrating. The Zelda series pulls off these games very well, and with quite a bit of originality in their design. Each variation of the collection mini-game has an interesting theme which makes sense based on its location. These games are more than the random gathering of basic objects while being timed; Link may be diving down a magnificent waterfall to scoop up the hidden treasures which lie below or he might be herding up some stray Cuccos for pocket money, which might evoke memories of simplistic childhood. The only drawback to this type of mini-game is that it is not particularly engaging. It can be fun for a few minutes, but it is not likely to get players excited to come back to it again and again. All in all, this category of games is a fun and quirky diversion from the main storyline, but has little impact on the player overall.
#3. Shooting Games
The Zelda series is typically considered to be an adventure game, but it manages to reliably include many different styles of gameplay and a large variety of settings and themes. One of the most recurring bonus features in the series is the archery mini-game, in which Link simply shoots at targets until he runs out of either time or ammunition. Some examples are the fish-shooting mini-game in The Wind Waker and Fledge’s Pumpkin Toss in Skyward Sword. There are plenty of variations on this theme, for example, Link could be firing a cannon, throwing bombs or shooting a bow, he could be on horseback, he could be aiming at targets, pots, poles, dummies, balloons or living enemies, he could do it for money or for recreation, and sometimes for both, but the main idea stays the same. As the series has progressed, the controls for this sort of game have gotten better and better. There was even a spin-off of Twilight Princess, Link’s Crossbow Training, which was based solely on this concept. The various spins which the designers take on this game are quite creative as well. I actually got a bit obsessed at one point with trying to beat both of the shooting ranges in Majora’s Mask. I love these types of mini-games, and I think that they deserve full credit, but there are two more categories which manage to score even higher on the list, based on the given criteria. Overall, shooting games are quirky and engaging, they flow smoothly, and I personally enjoy them quite a bit.
#2. Motion Control-Based Games
With the introduction of the Wii in 2006, the mini-games in the Zelda series began to evolve in order to adapt to the new element of Motion Control. Now, Motion Control is a bit of a tricky subject, as there is a fine line between the enjoyably challenging and the insanely frustrating. This element, especially in Skyward Sword, has been known to drive people crazy, but this is generally not the case in terms of the mini-games, which tend to be pretty simplistic. Instances of games which use Motion Control include Rollgoal from Twilight Princess and Dodoh’s Freefall from Skyward Sword. Both of these games can be really aggravating if they are played for too long, but the controls are actually quite good and are certainly very precise. What makes these games really special is that there are lots of different ways that Motion Control can be used in a mini-game, a topic which Nintendo has done a thorough job of exploring. All of these games are so different from each other, and that’s what makes them so cool. So, although the controls can be annoying, Motion Control games are still new and interesting, as well as fluent and fun.
#1. Racing Games
At number one sits a tried and true classic, onto which video games fall time and time again. The Zelda series has many such mini-games, including the race against Ingo in Ocarina of Time and the Goron Races in Majora’s Mask. It would seem logical that, after having been done so many times, this type of mini-game would start to lose its appeal. But, no matter how many times these games are released, players always clamor for more. It makes sense that the games in the Zelda series would be able to pull off some races of their own, especially considering how well they tend to present their other mini-games. The controls for these games are excellent, particularly when you consider the limitations of some of the older consoles. The Goron Races are remarkably smooth, and the way that Goron Link rolls gives the impression of a rush of speed and incredible agility, which added to the overall effect. But the thing that I really love about these games is the creativity with which they were designed. The idea of a race has been done and overdone so many times that few themes remain which could be effectively utilized. Yet each race in the Zelda games feels so new and innovative. It’s really impressive to see such a common game revamped in such exciting ways. That is why this type of mini-game has claimed first place in my personal list of the top five mini-games in the Zelda series.
But that’s only my opinion. Which type of mini-game is your favorite? And, better yet, what kinds of mini-games do you think the series should include in the future? Leave your ideas in the comments below!