Everyone’s favorite swordsman, Link, has mastered many tricks over the years. From humble 2D beginnings and a strange side-scrolling sequel, the Zelda series has grown into the third dimension and, most recently, a portable homage to the past. As such, the combat has taken on several different forms, for better or worse. Nearly every time Link again wields the Blade of Evil’s Bane, it is in a decidedly different manner from the last. But which games did it best?
Take the jump to see which games made the cut!
5. Twilight Princess
Personally, I felt like Twilight Princess‘ Hidden Skills, taught by the Hero’s Shade, were a futile attempt to one-up The Wind Waker‘s parries. The Hidden Skills had more weight behind them, so they didn’t quite match the enthralling swiftness of the parries. However, they did bring some light strategy to the table, as many enemies were more vulnerable to certain combinations of Hidden Skills than others. The game’s heavily armored Darknuts were imposing foes that made great use of the system. Items didn’t add or detract much, though. Other than the Ball and Chain and Bomb Arrows, two especially devastating items, use of items in battle was fairly standard for a 3D Zelda game.
4. A Link to the Past
A Link to the Past still has one of the best collections of items and weapons of any Zelda game, ranging from series staples such as the Boomerang and Bombs to unique additions like the Magic Powder and Magic Cape. Each of them had unique properties and were fun to experiment with. Enemies were also quite varied, and to discover and exploit each of their weaknesses was greatly rewarding. A Link Between Worlds might make the controls look stiff and dated by comparison, but A Link to the Past is still perfectly playable. All in all, I believe the combat is an important part of why many Zelda fans still herald A Link to the Past as the king of 2D Zeldas, or even the entire series.
3. A Link Between Worlds
Because of the obvious influences from A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds already had a lot going for it before it released. The classic top-down control scheme was finally unfettered from the D-Pad for the first time since Four Swords Adventures, and a slick 60fps meant every action felt immediately responsive and fluid. All of this translated into the combat, which was easily the tightest of any top-down Zelda. But it was almost too smooth for its own good. Some enemies that were virtually identical to their original A Link to the Past designs were easier to dispatch thanks to the modern controls.
Just like A Link to the Past, the weapon variety was great. You could stun enemies with the Boomerang or Hookshot, pick off dangerous foes from a distance with the Bow, deal powerful blows with the Hammer, freeze baddies with the Ice Rod, melt others with the Fire Rod, and if you had one, unleash a golden bee. The new upgrades made each weapon even more versatile and fun to use. Dueling powerful Shadow Links in A Link Between Worlds‘ StreetPass feature proved to be a surprisingly challenging and entertaining way to test your skill as well.
2. Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword may have dropped the more stylish combat elements of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess to make room for fully-integrated motion controls, but that was fine by me. Free movement of Link’s sword added a whole new dynamic to combat and was used in a lot of interesting ways. Enemy designs like the Lizalfos and Deku Babas were actually constructed specifically to make use of the new motion controls, keeping Skyward Sword from repeating the infamous waggle controls of Twilight Princess. And Spin-Attacks, modified to be quick and powerful strikes capable of inflicting large amounts of damage in a short span of time, were finally practical for more than cutting down grass. Lastly, the items weren’t very exceptional. The Bow’s motion controls in particular made it hard to justify use of the Bow in close-quarters combat.
1. The Wind Waker
The Wind Waker is arguably the least challenging game in the entire series. It’s even fair to say that the game’s unique parry system contributed to the sub-par difficulty by allowing most enemies to be defeated with nothing more than a few well-timed presses of the A-Button. But what The Wind Waker lacked in challenge, it made up for with the most thrilling and engaging combat of any Zelda to date.
The well-established Z-Targeting system made famous by Ocarina of Time showed no signs of age, and was complemented by the aforementioned parries and Link’s new ability to use enemy weapons as his own. Wielding enemy weapons was often humorous, as many of them were amusingly disproportionate to little Toon Link. And tossing a Darnut’s own sword into another Darknut’s face was always good fun. Link’s own items were implemented to great effect as well. Many of the items had their own unique abilities which weren’t always immediately apparent, like the Grappling Hook’s ability to snatch enemy loot. Most of them, especially the Bow and Boomerang, featured snappy, responsive controls that kept the quick-paced combat flowing naturally. However, parries were what best demonstrated The Wind Waker‘s combat excellence. When confronted with several enemies at once, parrying their attacks one by one created a natural rhythm, and each successful strike came with satisfying physicality. The joy of victory was downright infectious, and The Wind Waker still features many of my absolute favorite battles of the entire series.
Obviously my choices won’t slip by without controversy. It wouldn’t be a list without that, would it? Go ahead, bring on the comments!