It’s safe to say that few, if any, video game franchises have had more top tier entries than The Legend of Zelda. To put that statement into perspective, there has never been a Nintendo console that has not had a Zelda title in its top 10 best-selling games, except for Twilight Princess on the Wii which was 13th. This is excluding Virtual Boy, of course, because Virtual Boy is generally excluded from pretty much all Nintendo discussions.
The Legend of Zelda hasn’t been limited to consoles, either. Every single handheld Nintendo has ever made has included a Zelda adventure that was not only a bestseller, but was critically acclaimed and beloved by diehard fans. While it’s hard to compare pretty much any game to legendary titles like The Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time, some of these handhelds offered truly unique journeys into the land of Hyrule and beyond that probably deserve a bit more credit than they get.
9 Spirit Tracks
Spirit Tracks is one of the Zelda games that gets the least love from fans. While it may be fair to rank it low on a list of all the franchise’s best, that doesn’t actually mean the game itself is bad. Most titles in video game history would have trouble ranking high on a list that included Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, etc.
Games in the Legend of Zelda franchise are a lot like slices of pizza: some are way better than others, but even the worst are still pretty delicious. Spirit Tracks deserves credit for smoothing over some of the bumps of The Phantom Hourglass, offering a unique way for Link to traverse the map, and incorporating Zelda more interestingly than most other entries ever have.
8 The Phantom Hourglass
It’s pretty common that consecutive Zelda games are not full-on sequels to each other, but it does happen more often that handhelds titles are directly connected to other games in the series. The Phantom Hourglass, for example, is a direct sequel to The Wind Waker.
Although it would have been pretty much impossible for a handheld to rival the sweeping, epic, awe-inspiring adventure that The Phantom Hourglass‘s predecessor was, it certainly holds its own, and it provided fans with a pretty, portable journey through the Toon Link timeline.
7 Majora’s Mask 3DS
One of the strangest and darkest entries in the Zelda franchise, Majora’s Mask may not have quite reached the heights as its direct predecessor, Ocarina of Time, but it carved out its own interesting path in gaming history and remains a fan favorite to this day.
The changes on this 3DS port were about as flawless as the Ocarina ones were, updating the graphics, adding some great quality of life improvements, and throwing in some fun content like brand new side quests. The fact that it’s a port holds it back a bit on the handheld rankings, but it’s still way up there on the overall list.
6 A Link To The Past & Four Swords
It’s almost unfair to include the Zelda console masterpieces that made their way to handhelds via ports when ranking all the best portable games in the franchise, but it also doesn’t feel quite right to leave them out.
A Link to the Past is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time, and nothing was done to this Game Boy Advance port that might take away from that title. There’s even an extra dungeon and the original Four Swords mini-game added in to make it perhaps even better than the original. However, the fact that it’s not a handheld original does keep it from climbing to the top ranks.
5 Ocarina Of Time 3DS
It seems fairly easy to make a handheld port of one of the most beloved games of all time successful: just don’t mess with it too much. That’s basically what Ocarina of Time 3D did and for that reason it may very well be the definitive edition of the game.
On top of the great-looking updated graphics this edition of Ocarina of Time features, it also offers some sensible quality of life updates and some additional things to do, like Master Quest and the Boss Challenge. It is a port, so that takes away from its overall handheld ranking, but this miniature masterpiece can only fall so far down any list.
4 Oracle Of Ages / Oracle Of Seasons
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are an innovative and overlooked pair of Zelda titles that could really, really use a modern remake. Capcom lovingly crafted these handheld sister titles that blended together with one another to create one long, awesome adventure that treads new territory without stepping too far out of the beloved Zelda bounds.
The games look great considering the limitations of the Game Boy Color for which they were made, but to help the modern gamer better appreciate these awesome titles it would be amazing to see them get the full upgrade like Link’s Awakening did on Switch.
3 Link’s Awakening
The fourth entry in the Zelda series was the very first handheld. With the format of the game hopping around a bit in the previous two entries (side-scrolling The Adventure of Link and top-down A Link to the Past) fans probably weren’t all that sure what to expect out of a portable title. What they got was one of the best games ever made.
While the stories in most Zelda games generally follow a similar trajectory, Link’s Awakening took a considerably different path, with Link winding up shipwrecked on a strange island where there is no Hyrule or Princess Zelda or Triforce. The departure is stark, but it works, and it makes for an incredibly charming and memorable entry.
2 The Minish Cap
Capcom’s Game Boy Advance foray into the land of Hyrule got fantastic reviews upon release, but has since settled a bit into the background like even some of the best Nintendo handhelds tend to do. However, it should really be taking up much more space in the Zelda conversation because it is great.
There’s a cool cross in this entry between the simple yet beautiful top-down world of A Link to the Past and the deeper and more nuanced gameplay of later entries, and although some fans do reasonably argue that it’s a little short, the game that is there is absolutely something special.
1 A Link Between Worlds
It’s pretty amazing that it took 22 years for fans to get their chance to revisit the same version of Hyrule as 1991’s A Link to the Past, but it was well worth the wait. This indirect sequel carried much of the look, the feel, and the spirit of its long ago predecessor while still offering fans something fresh and interesting.
The Wall Merge mechanic was an incredibly simple idea that was executed in interesting and innovative ways from the moment players acquired it to the game’s final moments. This entry encompasses all the best things about a traditional Zelda title to bring fans the quintessential puzzle-solving, Ganon-stomping, Master Sword-seeking, Hyrule-saving, Zelda-wooing handheld adventure.
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