It was February 21, 1986 that Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda for the Famicom Disk System, Japan’s version of the NES. Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, The Legend of Zelda was developed at the same time as Super Mario Bros., though the two were meant to be quite different – while Super Mario Bros. was completely linear and action-oriented, The Legend of Zelda presented the player with a wide open world that was meant to be explored in whatever way the player wished, and though the game definitely had its share of action, it also challenged players to use their brains in order to solve puzzles and explore the world even further. With The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo broke immense ground in the adventure genre of gaming while also laying down the foundation for role-playing games with its compelling narrative. Last but certainly not least, The Legend of Zelda was the first of many, a starting point to a much-beloved series that spans over fifteen entries.
Of course, it’s hard to mention Zelda without thinking about the fond memories that come with playing a Zelda game – the freedom of sailing for the first time in The Wind Waker, the fear of the moon in Majora’s Mask, the awe of, well, pretty much everything in Ocarina of Time – it’s just so easy to wax nostalgia for each and every game in the series, and yet it’s only a select few that people really talk about. So what of the rest, the ones that didn’t make waves in the industry like the original or A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time? I think it’s about time that some of the less talked about Zelda games got a taste of the spotlight, so in honor of The Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary, I’m going to show some love for three of the most underrated Zelda games!
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
I don’t know if this one just got overshadowed by the A Link to the Past remake that came out on the Game Boy Advance, but Minish Cap is up there as one of my favorite Zelda games. Unlike most of the games in the series, the main villain of Minish Cap isn’t that lovable power-hungry pig-beast we all know as Ganon. No, Minish Cap falls in line with the Four Swords games, where the resident bad guy is a power-hungry big-dark-eye-orb monster by the name of Vaati, who turns Princess Zelda into stone. As most Zelda games have a central gimmick that sets them apart from the rest, Minish Cap’s gimmick (as well as both the Four Swords games) is the ability to clone Link up to three times over. Link can also shrink to the size of a jellybean thanks to the help of his magical sorcerer-turned-hat companion named Ezlo, but we don’t need to get into that. Anyways, Minish Cap retains the spirit of the series with its inspired dungeon design and nifty items, not to mention that the art style is vibrant and lively. And yes, while it may be on the short and easy side compared to other Zelda games, Minish Cap’s greatness is in its charm and general fun factor. It’s a short ride, but one that you’ll most likely end up going through multiple times – I know I did.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (NDS)
This one’s actually the most recent game in the series, and I feel like it just slipped under the radar for most gamers, which is really unfortunate. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks took the formula of its predecessor, Phantom Hourglass, and greatly improved upon it – I like to think of it as Phantom Hourglass’s mulligan. This time around you’re not sailing across the ocean like in Phantom Hourglass or Wind Waker, but instead you’re chugging along the great plains of Hyrule in your own magic train, which admittedly is a little more restrictive in its control, but it’s just so damn cool. And while Spirit Tracks has a central dungeon that’s traversed through sporadically during the game like in Phantom Hourglass, Nintendo has gotten rid of the hassle by eliminating the need to go through previous floors as well as that pesky time limit. The main baddie of Spirit Tracks is the demon king Malladus, a power-hungry spirit-train-beast. Yes, spirit-train-beast. You fight a train in this game. Anyways, Spirit Tracks is one of the few Zelda games that I’d consider to have a memorable story that stands out from the others, and the game’s cohesive soundtrack goes a long way to intensify the experience. I know, the 3DS is just about to be released next month with promises of a 3D remake of Ocarina of Time, but until that comes out later this year, Spirit Tracks is more than a worthwhile cartridge to stick in your handheld.
As for the last game, well, you’ll just have to wait until my continuation in the next issue! That should give you enough time to go back and power through these two classics and be ready for my last pick for the most underrated Zelda games!
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