Posted on November 28 2014 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Coming up with a top 10 list for anything in the Zelda universe is almost an impossible task. There are hundreds of ways we could go and dozens of differing opinions among our staff ranks. Sometimes we like to live dangerously, at least in the world of subjective opinions. We’ve come up with what we feel is a pretty objective top 10 list of dungeons based entirely on subjective thoughts. Wait, that doesn’t entirely make sense does it?
Each staff member submitted his or her own top 10 list, which was awarded points depending on where it placed on the list. Combine the point totals from each list and you come up with our collective staff’s top 10. Doing it in this method isn’t an exact science, but it avoids the endless debates that are sure to occur if we try to present arguments for inclusion. Over 38 dungeons received votes coming from 12 different Zelda titles. The real question is… how close does our collective list come to yours?
10. City in the Sky – Twilight Princess
City in the Sky is a one-of-a-kind dungeon in the Zelda universe. If you had told us in 1986 that some day a Zelda game would feature a dungeon floating in the sky… we would have believed you. That is, until you mention that it’s a mechanical city that is floating due to propellers. This goes beyond the fact it features the Oocca, a race that seem to be pivotal to the foundation of what Hyrule actually is… even though they make no appearance in Skyward Sword. While the dungeon enters our list at number 10, it’s certainly not last in our hearts.
This dungeon featured some very interesting wind puzzles and the final battle with Argorok is one of the more memorable fights in the entire game.
09. Ganon’s Castle – Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time is full of memorable moments, but who can forget the climatic final dungeon, Ganon’s Castle? You were climbing stairwells and fighting your way to the top, only to find Ganondorf waiting for you rather calmly as he played away on his organ. This was quickly followed up by one of the most memorable tennis matches of all time, then leading to escaping the whole place before it fell on your head, just so you can fight Ganondorf’s true form, Ganon, as your reward. To this day the entire process of entering this dungeon over a rainbow-colored bridge, to finally beating Ganon remains as one of the best example of how a game’s finale should take place.
08. Ikana Castle – Majora’s Mask
I think anyone who has played Majora’s Mask can agree that the entire premise around the Kingdom of Ikana is extremely interesting. While little is known, it was once a mighty Kingdom that eventually fell. The castle itself, which is its own dungeon featuring Igos du Ikana (former King of the Ikana), is most known for it’s deep-seeded meaning. Almost every puzzle in the castle involves manipulating light from the outside world to brighten up a dark interior, including the final boss fight. Heavy use of the Mirror Shield is required and the entire place is crawling with undead. I think beyond it’s puzzles and interesting lore, it’s the true sense of atmosphere that nailed this dungeon squarely on our list.
07. Shadow Temple – Ocarina of Time
When folks think about the Shadow Temple from Ocarina of Time, they usually think about trickery. While the dungeon design is straightforward without any alternate paths, it’s extremely easy to fail at many of the temple’s puzzles, remaining trapped by design. I often likened the design to Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, where Indy has to pass a series of traps and trials to get to the Holy Grail. While not required, the Lens of Truth can help greatly by revealing hidden paths that seemingly don’t exist to the naked eye, reveal extra treasures, and even help the fight against the dungeon’s final enemy, Bongo Bongo.
The dungeon itself also does a great job evoking it’s desired atmosphere, almost feeling entirely like a crypt no one was meant to enter. Blood is splattered on the walls and torture equipment, drawing a eerie comparison to the Bottom of the Well.
06. Ancient Cistern – Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword is essentially one never-ending dungeon, but for the places that specifically call themselves dungeons, it contained a surprising variety of different elements. In the Ancient Cistern it was so much more than fighting Koloktos, where you can use it’s own weapons against itself. Rather, the whole design of the dungeon really came together. The atmosphere of some ancient god-like beings combined with mechanical prowess was one thing, but messing with the water levels felt like a proper introductory concept to the idea of screwing around with water mechanics, even though this wasn’t an entirely new idea for the series.
05. Water Temple – Ocarina of Time
Often considered the hardest dungeon in Ocarina of Time, the Water Temple served a harsh reminder that you can’t rush through everything in life, as mistakes can off stunt or completely stop your progress. The Water Temple was the true pioneer of changing water levels, going even further than the Ancient Cistern that landed at number six on our list. It also helps that this dungeon marked the return of Dark Link, a fan favorite from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
The Water Temple is considered one of the hardest and most frustrating temples to date, mostly due to the initial equipping and unequipping of the iron boots, something that was fixed in Ocarina of Time 3D.
04. Tower of Spirits – Spirt Tracks
The Tower of Spirits took an interesting but repetitive experience from Phantom Hourglass and made it not only a passable experience, but one of the very best dungeons in the entire Zelda kingdom, according to our staff. It is an ever-expanding dungeon where new areas unlock as you progress through Spirit Tracks. It contains many of the classic puzzle designs such as block pushing, but also some fresh concepts due to the fact you can now control a Phantom thanks to Princess Zelda. One of the later puzzles in the dungeon toward the end of the game still stands today as one of the most difficult puzzles ever presented in a Zelda game — one that many fans at the time had to look up how to do in order to move on. Even then, it’s a difficult puzzle to pull off correctly on a first attempt, even if you know what you’re doing.
This isn’t exactly a traditional dungeon, so there isn’t a typical final boss encounter, but it still remains as one of the most engrossing dungeon designs ever introduced in the series.
03. Lanayru Mining Facility – Skyward Sword
A machine-themed dungeon, Lanayru Mining Facility stands out as a truly one-of-a-kind experience; home to robotic enemies throughout, conveyer belts, and of course a bit of sand — the entire dungeon was buried in sand, after all. The use of the motion controls was extremely prevalent in this dungeon, where precision and quick decisions often meant success or failure. The dungeon also ended with our first encounter against Thousand-Year Arachnid Moldarach, a unique battle against a scorpion-like fiend that appeared in the first playable demo for Skyward Sword.
02. Sky Keep – Skyward Sword
If you’re someone who loves dungeons for their puzzle aspects, you would be hard-pressed to find a more puzzle-oriented design than that of Sky Keep from Skyward Sword. The entire dungeon itself is a puzzle you must dissect on a grid, moving and changing rooms around to make the pieces fit together just right. Then you have to go into those rooms to solve more puzzles to open up the pathway to get to the next room, which may or may not be a dead end since you’re still working on the overall puzzle of getting the rooms placed in just the right pattern to proceed. It’s a fun trial-and-error experience, with multiple ways to progress, making every visit to the temple unique.
01. Snowpeak Ruins – Twilight Princess
Snowpeak Ruins sparked the imagination and wonder for many Zelda fans back in 2006, as it is currently, at the time of this specific list in 2014, our number one favorite dungeon in the entire Zelda kingdom. The dungeon tells the story of a certain someone with an ailment that her husband is trying to cure; an ailment that can only be fixed when Link beats the evil out of her. This is beyond the tricky ice-based puzzles, brilliant use of the Ball and Chain, and arduous task of defeating many of the enemies within. When it comes to the best combination of atmosphere, puzzles, dungeon crawling, and combat, Snowpeak Ruins takes home the crown.
Like any list, a handful of options will just barely miss the cut. The above list is dominated by dungeons from 3D Zelda games, but that doesn’t mean dungeons from 2D Zelda games weren’t considered. Here is a select group that barely missed the cut:
- Forest Temple – OoT
- Wind Temple – TWW
- Level 9 – TLoZ
- Temple of Time – TP
- Temple of the Ocean King – PH
- Tower of Hera – ALBW
- Palace of Winds – TMC
- Great Palace – TAoL