Posted on January 20 2020 by Rod Lloyd
A new decade may now be upon us, but we at Zelda Dungeon wanted to take one final look at the decade that was before we shut the door on it completely. The 2010’s can be seen as a rollercoaster ride for The Legend of Zelda, full of many euphoric highs and a few disappointing lows. But with all things said and done, it’s hard to look back at the past ten years and say that the series didn’t experience some of its biggest strides since its inception more than 30 years ago.
Over the past decade, we saw Skyward Sword send the Wii off in style, we revisited several classics on the 3DS and Wii U, we embraced fresh takes on the Zelda formula through spinoff titles, and we witnessed the Zelda series reinvent itself in the form of Breath of the Wild. It’s been nothing short of amazing experiencing the evolution of the Zelda series as both a fan and a member of the passionate Zelda community. And now that we’ve transitioned into the 2020’s, we can now, with sober judgment, assess the achievements and failures of the Zelda series and beyond over the past ten years.
So, with that said, join us as we present Zelda Dungeon’s End of the Decade Awards! And, hey, don’t let us have all the fun; cast your votes below to help determine the Reader’s Choice for each category based on our staff’s nominations!
Best Remake / Port: The Wind Waker HD
This past decade saw a unique devotion by Nintendo to update classic Zelda titles for its newest generation of systems. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask saw new life on the 3DS, and The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess received HD re-releases on the Wii U. Of this handful of remakes and remasters, The Wind Waker had the most to gain from a second look. Excitingly enough, Nintendo took advantage and improved nearly every aspect that troubled fans in the original GameCube title. The new visuals were eye-popping, the Swift Sail made navigation more fun, and a few tweaks to the adventure’s final act alleviated the tedium of the dreaded Triforce quest. Nintendo even introduced a clever online feature in the form of Tingle Bottles, with which players could share pictures and hints with fellow adventurers across the world.
Runner-Up: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
A remastered classic, Link’s Awakening for the Switch excels with its reimagined soundtrack, unique art style, and compelling story. Link’s Awakening stays true to its roots while celebrating the 1993 classic in a fresh way.
Best New Character: Groose (Skyward Sword)
As memorable as many Zelda characters are, so few of them boast the level of development exhibited by Groose. Aside from Midna, I can’t think of one with a more fulfilling arc than Link’s Skyloftian rival. His gradual turn from schoolyard bully to Assistant Savior of Hyrule should serve as a template for future heroes and villains. And if nothing else, the guy is just downright hilarious. Honestly, I feel as though my top five funniest moments from throughout the series all involve Groose. His utter bewilderment upon seeing the surface world for the first time — just to name one example — is pure magic. Let’s make Hyrule Warriors 2 happen, Nintendo, if for no other reason than to play as this wonderful doofus.
Runner-Up: Urbosa (Breath of the Wild)
Urbosa is strong, independent, and absolutely gorgeous! I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her fury!
Worst New Character: The Imprisoned (Skyward Sword)
There have been a lot of conversations about this boss, but there’s never really been a discussion of what kind of character it exudes, or simply, lack thereof. The Imprisoned is this sort of whale… blob… thing that meanders around with balloon toes. It doesn’t speak, nor does it have any sort of discernible personality. There’s not even anything terribly interesting about it in regard to its art design. Throughout the adventure, the player is reminded several times of the impending destruction that The Imprisoned heralds and of its role as this malicious threat, but it physical presence is a complete juxtaposition of those things from the moment it escapes its confines. I honestly laughed when this bland, uninteresting creature was revealed in full for the first time, and I can’t imagine I was the only one.
Runner-Up: Master Kohga (Breath of the Wild)
The Yiga were an awesome addition to the Zelda universe in Breath of the Wild; their leader, however… not so much. Master Kohga was fairly obnoxious, didn’t live up to the hype of his followers, and was relatively simple as a mini-boss.
Best Trailer / Promotional Video: Breath of the Wild’s Switch Presentation 2017 Trailer
Breath of the Wild‘s story trailer was a meaningful moment in franchise history, one that will be etched in the memories of Zelda fans across the globe. Filled with beautiful imagery, exciting revelations, and inspiring set pieces, the trailer was a taste of a world that everyone was begging to know more about. Perhaps most uniquely, the premiere of this trailer was one of the rare times at which it felt fans were universally caught up in the joy of the Legend of Zelda series. For that reason and many others, it is the best trailer of the decade.
Runner-Up: Ocarina of Time 3D Commercial Featuring Robin & Zelda Williams
No matter how many times I watch this commercial, I get choked up every time. Robin Williams “confusing” the series’ princess with his amazing daughter Zelda is such a touching and emotional moment. “Hard to say, you’re both pretty magical,” is a line that still puts me to tears eight years later.
Best Zelda-Like Game: Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
Blossom Tales is the best Zelda game you’ve never heard of. Everything you’d expect from your favorite Zelda titles is here, from the charm and whimsy, to the great dungeons and plethora of secrets. More than a simple “Zelda clone” too, this game innovates in the way it tells its story, making you feel even more endeared to its world and its lead heroine, Lily. Playing Blossom Tales gave me that unmistakable feeling of joy, nostalgia, and everything else that you just can’t put your finger on when you start playing a brand new Zelda game for the first time. For that, it earns Zelda Dungeon’s Best “Inspired By Zelda” Game of the Decade.
Runner-Up: Hyper Light Drifter
At its core, Hyper Light Drifter is an excellent action-adventure title that can stand alongside any top-down Zelda game. But its challenging combat, gorgeous neon visuals, and awesome synth soundtrack make it a uniquely captivating experience that all gamers should seek out.
Best New Dungeon: Sandship (Skyward Sword)
Not only does the Sandship have one of the most unique concepts for a dungeon — a pirate ship that swaps between being ruinous and futuristic with the help of time travel — but it is also skillfully executed. For example, running around the ship and flipping a switch from a distance with the bow is simply a really fun experience. The dungeon also has its own story, which makes it that much more memorable. Skyward Sword has fairly strong dungeons as a whole, but this one takes the cake.
Runner-Up: Ancient Cistern (Skyward Sword)
In terms of concept dungeons, the Ancient Cistern definitely stands out with its inspirations from Buddhism. The fact that the contrasts between its floors are symbolic of the different stages of the afterlife — including its nod to The Spider’s Thread — and Koloktos’ resemblance to the demi-god Asura gave this dungeon a nice tone.
Worst New Dungeon: Divine Beast Vah Rudania (Breath of the Wild)
While I absolutely love Breath of the Wild, I will admit that the Divine Beast dungeons were the weakest points of the game. Given our experience with Zelda dungeons of the past, the dungeons of this otherwise amazing game were a true letdown. And for me, Vah Rudania was the weakest of them all. Aside from one or two clever puzzles, it is fairly uninteresting, and the buildup to the dungeon felt anticlimactic as well. All in all, I found Divine Beast Vah Rudania to be greatly disappointing.
Runner-Up: Divine Beast Vah Ruta (Breath of the Wild)
What was many players’ first Divine Beast and thus their first impression of Breath of the Wild‘s untraditional take on dungeons, Vah Ruta has likely come to represent all the maligned aspects of Divine Beasts in general within the fanbase. The drab, rainy weather and water-based puzzles didn’t help it much either.
Best Portable-Only Game: A Link Between Worlds
Just over three years before Breath of the Wild fully bucked series tradition with its “open-air” philosophies, the Zelda team was testing the waters of non-linear gameplay with A Link Between Worlds. A welcome return to the Hyrule of A Link to the Past, this charming 3DS title effectively presented fresh ideas to the Zelda formula by doing so in a safe, familiar setting. Players could tackle select dungeons in any order and rent necessary items from a shop when they were needed. It’s been said before, but A Link Between Worlds can be seen as A Link to the Past with more freedom and Breath of the Wild with more structure. Enhanced by a fun-yet-engrossing story and a cast of memorable new characters, Link’s adventure into Lorule was certainly the Zelda series’ highpoint during the 3DS generation.
Runner-Up: Ocarina of Time 3D
A faithful reproduction of (arguably) the most iconic Zelda title of all time with a gorgeous new set of paint to boot, this game was a fantastic way to make Ocarina of Time more accessible to a new generation by being equally as enjoyable as the original. It was even more beautiful to look at and it even made the Water Temple a little bit easier!
Best New Item: Sheikah Slate + Runes (Breath of the Wild)
Some may scoff at our definition of the Sheikah Slate as an item, but there’s no item more integral to Link’s success in Breath of the Wild. Not only does the Sheikah Slate play an important part in the story, doing its part to free corrupted machines and restore Hyrule to its former glory, but the entire game is really built around the Slate’s capabilities, making it arguably the most relied-upon item in the entire Zelda series. From new ways to interact with the environment with Cryonis or Magnesis, to taking a selfie or whipping out your motorcycle for a nice stroll around the block, the Sheikah Slate never stopped being useful, innovative, or fun.
Runner-Up: Beetle (Skyward Sword)
The Beetle was such a cool piece of technology, useful for investigating those out-of-reach areas in Skyward Sword. This unique item needs to be included in future Zelda titles!
Best Version of Link: Skyward Sword
Establishing what would become canonically the first Hero was a tall task, but the version of Link from Skyward Sword lived up to it. From the emotions that he exhibited when dealing with characters like Groose, Ghirahim, Fi, and of course Zelda, to the role that he played in forging the new identity of the Hero, this version of Link soared above the others. Wielding the Master Sword in his right hand high above his head, Skyward Sword‘s Link adorned all the 25th Anniversary artwork as well, helping make him an iconic part of not just the decade, but all of Zelda history.
Runner-Up: Breath of the Wild
Seeing Link without his signature green tunic was a grievance quickly put aside, as Nintendo provided many complexities for the character with his amnesia and his connection to a Hyrule of old and new. His memories are laced with a subtle type of storytelling, and his interactions with Zelda and the Champions has characterized him in ways never seen before.
Best New Boss Fight: Koloktos (Skyward Sword)
Already a highlight of Skyward Sword, the intricate puzzles and thematic layout of the Ancient Cistern is only a build-up to this golden statue and the curse Ghirahim puts upon it. This fight requires players to think outside of the box, with Koloktos being one of the few bosses in the series to cover its weak spot. Using the newly-acquired whip, Link can “disarm” the statue and use Koloktos’ dropped swords against it. The severe damage of the cartoonishly-large sword always brought me right back to The Wind Waker, in which Link could pick up a sword as big as himself and attack with it. I feel Koloktos is the most satisfying and well-designed boss as a result, as it features one of the best utilizations of a dungeon item in the series as a whole.
Runner-Up: Monk Maz Koshia (Breath of the Wild)
It can’t be denied that the battle with Monk Maz Koshia is an absolutely fantastic boss fight, and probably the best one in Breath of the Wild. With all the tricks that he pulls out, it’s a fight that makes use of many other fighting techniques previously witnessed in the game while also being completely unique and unexpected.
Worst New Boss Fight: The Imprisoned (Skyward Sword)
Though The Imprisoned makes sense in concept — as it grows stronger each time you return to fight it and, in turn, makes the conflict feel more personal — its repetitive and often stressful nature drags down this boss fight considerably. That’s not to mention that any semblance of enjoyment is dashed away if your motion controls aren’t working properly. And if you die… Get ready for tedious repeats. This is a boss fight that was barely tolerable once, let alone three or more times.
Runner-Up: Dark Beast Ganon (Breath of the Wild)
Dark Beast Ganon is a sluggish, meandering boss that is unworthy of the epic music, scenery, and stakes that accompany it. This boss fight completely lacks the inventive design that makes so many other Zelda bosses iconic.
Best DLC Expansion: The Champions’ Ballad (Breath of the Wild)
While I really enjoyed my time with Breath of the Wild, it was lacking in certain areas that the Expansion Pass tried to make up for. And while The Master Trials gave us additional toys to play with, The Champions’ Ballad in my opinion provided more worthwhile content for Breath of the Wild. More story cutscenes, new mini-dungeons, an entirely new dungeon, an additional boss fight that’s easily the best in the entire game, and a brand-spanking-new “travel companion” make this a piece of priced DLC that’s worth paying for.
Runner-Up: The Master Trials (Breath of the Wild)
The Master Trials featured combat and puzzles that forced players to think carefully about how to manipulate Breath of the Wild’s brilliant gameplay systems. The DLC is a showcase for the ways in which clever game designers can use established systems to create fresh and exciting challenges for seasoned fans.
Best Spin-Off: Hyrule Warriors
Hyrule Warriors is the perfect spin-off for a mega series like The Legend of Zelda! The game has something for everyone, from its engaging story mode, to its worthwhile adventure mode, to its epic boss fights. And like any Musou title, Hyrule Warriors‘ hack-and-slash play style mixes fun weapons and characters to produce an enjoyable game that one can lose track of time playing. The game is also a satisfying piece of fan service, with its fun throwbacks to many classic Zelda games and a story that puts a spin on our favorite heroes. This is a fun and addicting adventure for any Zelda fan!
Runner-Up: Cadence of Hyrule
A spin-off in the style of Crypt of the NecroDancer, Cadence of Hyrule made us move to beat in a Zelda adventure like no other. Cadence of Hyrule is a fun pick-up-and-play game with a lot of replayablity; and the awesome music and unique play style made it a worthy Zelda spin-off.
Best Re-Imagined Character: Impa (Skyward Sword)
The gaming world continues to work toward improving representation of minorities in major roles, and the Zelda series took a huge step this decade by bringing back a beloved character in a positive portrayal of a black woman. Impa in Skyward Sword was a pull-no-punches, devoted protector of the Goddess Hylia who could get a player all riled up while chiding Link but immediately soften them as a heartwarming old woman. The revelation that Impa occupies two time periods in and of itself goes to show how much care the developers put into her role in the story and gives a depth to her character that wasn’t present in Ocarina of Time. Young Impa’s design is nothing short of chic, as well, making her all the more memorable. For me, she is a major highlight of the past decade of Zelda!
Runner-Up: Zelda (Skyward Sword)
Even if you don’t ship Zelda and Link, it’s clear that they’re very close friends in Skyward Sword. The fact that she’s given more of an actual character makes saving this version of Zelda more important to the player than with other versions of the series’ namesake.
Best Story: Skyward Sword
Say what you want about Skyward Sword, but you can’t deny it has the most compelling story of any Zelda game we’ve seen this last decade. I would even argue it has one of the best stories of the entire franchise. It’s a fantastic origin story, boldly establishing the central conflict that drives many of Link’s adventures and providing a strong foundation for the Zelda timeline; and it is further supported by gripping characters like Groose and Fi, breathtaking imagery, and amazing world building. There’s no contest. No other 2010’s Zelda game deserves this award more.
Runner-Up: A Link Between Worlds
A Link Between Worlds has a very compelling narrative: the concept of Lorule being an almost-identical parallel world of Hyrule was cool, and seeing what happens to a land that lacks its Triforce does well to expand the lore of the series. Additionally, Hilda’s entire dilemma is peak writing for the series.
Best Art Direction: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild was, in short, a breath of fresh air in not only gameplay, but in art direction. The game was well worth the wait and it shows! Breath of the Wild delivers with beautiful locales, endearing character design, and even great redesigns of our favorite Zelda races. Every moment is worth a screenshot, as the game mimics real-world natural beauty while also taking a portrait-like approach. The style throughout is consistent, clean, and a definite classic among the series.
Runner-up: The Wind Waker HD
The art style for the original Wind Waker was unique in its own right — with its cartoony appearance and charming cel-shaded graphics — but the HD remake took that original look and upgraded it in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The world felt a lot brighter, every model was more crisp and refined, and Link’s hilarious expressions were better than ever.
Best Zelda Thing Outside of the Games: Symphony of the Goddesses + The 25th Anniversary Symphony Concerts
With a full orchestra used to record Twilight Princess’ title theme and major portions of Skyward Sword‘s soundtrack, it was only a matter of time until Zelda music went on the road with a live symphony. What started with the really awesome 25th Anniversary Symphony concert series — which would be recorded for the Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony CD included with early editions of Skyward Sword — would become the acclaimed Symphony of Goddesses tour. If you would have told me in 2011 that Nintendo would kickstart a long-running touring orchestra devoted to playing live Zelda music, I don’t think I would have believed it. Hands down, the Symphony of the Goddess tour is a dream come true for fans of the series. Its success was very impressive, having had a six-year-long run, but sadly it came to an end after 2017. Hopefully these shows will return or something similar will spring up in this decade; but if not, it’s something I’m glad I got to experience.
Runner-Up: The Goddess Collection
The Goddess Collection (Hyrule Historia, Art & Artifacts, & The Legend of Zelda: Encyclopedia) is a trilogy of books filled with knowledge that radically altered (or established) Zelda canon. From giving us a deeper look at how some of the greatest games in history were developed, to the infamous Zelda timeline, to pages upon pages of artwork, this collection of books certainly belongs on the shelves of every Zelda fan and significantly impacted the series as we enter the next decade.
Best New Soundtrack: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword‘s sweeping orchestral pieces and emotional themes far outperform anything else we’ve heard this decade in Zelda music. From the marching Groose theme, to fan favorites like “Ballad of the Goddess” and “Fi’s Farewell”, to the heart-wrenching piano melodies that accompany Link’s memories of Zelda, this game’s soundtrack reaches into every emotional corner. And to top it all off, it has one of the greatest credit rolls of any video game which still makes me tear up when I hear it.
Runner-Up: Cadence of Hyrule
Some of our favorite tracks get the dance treatment in Cadence of Hyrule, as several classic Zelda songs are remixed for a new kind of play. This fun, little spin-off made us battle to the music and is a great example of how Zelda music can stand the test of time, even in vastly different genres.
Best Original Zelda Game: Breath of the Wild
It’s time for the big announcement! Breath of the Wild has nabbed our Game of the Decade award! This title boasts a phenomenal open world, with more detail than we’ve seen in any Zelda game before. The player can get crazy creative as they explore Hyrule, dealing with enemies and puzzles in interesting and imaginative ways. There are strong, memorable characters, brought to life with voice acting and cinematic cut scenes, that would pull on the strings of even the coldest of hearts! And let’s not forget the simple pleasures that come with cooking a meal or watching the sunrise across the horizon. There is just so much to do and so much fun to be had! Breath of the Wild is certainly the Champion of The Legend of Zelda this decade!
Runner-Up: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword is the quintessential Zelda game, fitting every aspect of the “Zelda Formula” we all love so much. It may have its flaws, but I can definitely see it taking the award for Best Remake/Port in the upcoming decade!
And there you have it: the best and worst of the Zelda series from 2010 to 2019! If you want even more of our thoughts on The Legend of Zelda in the 2010’s, be sure to listen to our recent episode of The Champions’ Cast covering the series’ highs and lows from the past decade right here.
Do you disagree with our winners and losers? Did we miss any worthy candidates in any of the categories? How do you think the Zelda series did over the course of the past decade? Let us know all your thoughts in the comments section below!