the key art from the legend of zelda echoes of wisdoms

All Top-Down Zelda Games, Ranked From Worst to Best

For the first time since 2013, we’re getting a new top down Hyrule adventure in The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom – and it’s starring Zelda herself. As such, it’s a great time to look back at all the less dimensional Zelda games that came before and rank them from worst to best.

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Note that The Legend of Zelda II: Adventure of Link doesn’t make this list, as it’s 2D rather than top-down; however, I’d put it at the very top if I had to due to its punishing difficulty and emphasis on platforming. Furthermore, while we love the co-op Zelda games such as Four Swords, I’ve left them off this list in favor of the single-player mainline games. 

#9 – Phantom Hourglass

a screenshot of the legend of zelda phantom hourglass being played on nintendo ds as part of a list ranking all top-down zelda games from worst to best.

While Phantom Hourglass gets some points for being a fun direct sequel to The Wind Waker, it loses them for a handful of reasons that place it at the bottom of this list. No, it’s not the touch screen controls – those were rather intuitive at the time and I recently found them to hold up incredibly well. Rather, returning to the Temple of the Ocean King dungeon at least five times made the whole adventure feel like a slog, as you’d have to clear several floors over and over again on a time limit. It’s one of the reasons I return to Phantom Hourglass less than every other Hyrule adventure – top down perspective or otherwise.

The other dungeons were almost all short and forgettable as well. That said, I truly enjoyed Link’s companions Linebeck and Ciela as they bantered back and forth, both of them having fun little character arcs that made the story quite a bit more interesting than if they weren’t in it.

#8 – Spirit Tracks

a screenshot of the legend of zelda spirit tracks on a nintendo ds  as part of a list ranking all top-down zelda games from worst to best.

I know what you’re thinking: how could you rank a Zelda game with trains in the second lowest spot? Well, the trains are part of the problem: chugga-chuggaing around Hyrule takes a little bit too long and feels too on rails. It also returns to the central dungeon formula of Phantom Hourglass with the Tower of Spirits, though it’s less of a chore to navigate this time around.

Spirit Tracks also improved upon its immediate predecessor with boss designs, like that of the Forest Temple’s Stagnox. Furthermore, the Spirit Flute makes for one of Link’s more interactive instruments, and I can’t help but love the overworld theme despite how tedious I found those sections. Koji Kondo and pals don’t miss.

#7 – The Legend of Zelda

a screenshot of the original legend of zelda link battling octoroks

I know, I know – without The Legend of Zelda, none of the other titles on this list would be here. It set the groundwork for the entire series by providing an unparalleled sense of discovery back in 1987; that said, it also holds up worse than every other title on this list. I think every single Zelda fan – including myself – has the utmost respect for Link’s first quest through Hyrule, but at the same time it’s likely the one we’d want to replay the least.

It did, however, have a post-game Second Quest, which was far ahead of its time. I think more Zelda games need a remixed second adventure to experience after the first.

#6 – The Minish Cap

link meeting picori in the legend of zelda minish cap  as part of a list ranking all top-down zelda games from worst to best.

The Minish Cap is perhaps the most underrated Zelda game, which might sound like an oxymoron given its placement in the top half of this list. Most Zelda games have a central mechanic, and Minish Cap’s shrinking in size is one of its best; furthermore, it has a fun little plot filled with the tiny Picori race that both helps Link and is helped by him in return, though Vaati is a rather forgettable side-villain standing in for Ganon.

Much like Spirit Tracks, the dungeons are rather short, easy, and forgettable, and I’m a firm believer that dungeon strength makes or breaks a top down Zelda game. Still, I hope one day the Picori return in one of Link’s quests along with the ability to shrink in size, as it’s one of the more clever mechanics.

#5 – Oracle of Seasons

link sleeping in the winter season in oracle of seasons

I played Oracle of Seasons before its sister game Oracle of Ages, thus it holds a special place in my heart, yet even I recognize it’s the lesser of the two. Oracle of Seasons features an amazing weather-based mechanic that turns the overworld into a massive labyrinth that you can shift with the Rod of Seasons; at the same time, it’s a far more action-oriented adventure than Oracle of Ages, and I don’t know about you, but I prefer puzzles over sword swinging in my Hyrule adventures.

Regardless, Oracle of Seasons featured quite a lot of clever designs in its 8 (admittedly short) dungeons along with some fun animal companions to brighten up the adventure. Throw in the fact that you can link up with Oracle of Ages for the true ending made the pair one of the most robust titles on the Game Boy Color, and I’d argue in Zelda history.

#4 – Oracle of Ages

link using the harp of ages item

Yes, I do believe Oracle of Ages edges out Oracle of Seasons as the more memorable game, making it the fourth best top-down Zelda. Much like in Oracle of Seasons, fun animal companions, 8 dungeons to explore, a bevy of items to solve puzzles with, and a true ending to discover if linked together make Oracle of Ages one of the most content-heavy Zelda experiences that no fan could be unhappy with. To say I was excited for these two to make it onto Nintendo Switch Online is an understatement.

Oracle of Ages shines with the Harp of Ages item, allowing Link to travel back in time 400 years, and the changes seen in the land of Labrynna between the past and present are a joy to experience. What’s more, the puzzles related to such a mechanic make for some of the most clever in series history.

a close up of link using the wall merge in a link between worlds

The most recent top-down Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds, does not get enough love for how incredibly creative and non-linear it was. The wall-merge mechanic, which saw Link becoming a painting in order to traverse gaps, avoid enemies, and pop out to knock down obstacles, made for some truly memorable puzzles. Furthermore, the fact that you could rent key items at any point from Ravio and complete the dungeons in any order came as a breath of fresh Hyrulian air in a series otherwise known for linearity to this point.

It also channeled a lot of nostalgia by basing its world design off of A Link to the Past with the addition of Lorule, a second area to explore like the Dark World. It’s truly one of the best Zelda experiences out there.

link being rescued by marin in links awakening

Link’s Awakening and its 2019 remake are the strangest and most whimsical top down Zelda games. Set on the mysterious Koholint Island, it has clever memorable dungeons, a great little item-trading sidequest, fun characters to meet like Marin, and some of the best music in the series. It also laid down framework for later games in the series, including the addition of custom item mapping and introduced an ocarina for the first time.

The quest to wake the Windfish by collecting 8 instruments is one of the most memorable, climaxing with a great nightmare-themed boss fight against a shadowy monster that mimics the form of Ganon. The ending, which sees Link floating on driftwood, also tugs at the heartstrings as it gives a final glimpse of Marin (if you beat the game without dying, that is).

link running from chickens in a link to the past

There’s two simple reasons I believe A Link to the Past is the best top-down Zelda game. Foremost, it inspired later titles in the series even more than the original The Legend of Zelda with how the overworld and dungeons worked while successfully bringing the series into the 16-bit era. And second – while you can argue games above have improved level design – it features some of the most memorable and difficult dungeons in the series’ history.

Pulling the Master Sword after exploring the Lost Woods with its iconic, mysterious tune was a formative experience for my Zelda fans. Throw in some of the best music, Link transforming into a helpless rabbit for a period of time, and the Dark World to explore (along with that unbelievably good tune), and you can’t convince me otherwise that A Link to the Past doesn’t fit on this list.

And there you have it – The Escapist’s official list of the best top-down Zelda games ahead of the release of The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom. Where do you think it will place on this list? One of the great things about the Zelda series is you likely disagree with me and hold this game or that in much higher regard. As a result, you definitely should let me know how wrong I am in the comments.

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Image of Lowell Bell
Lowell Bell
Lowell is a freelance contributor with The Escapist that began his career reporting on live events such as the Penny Arcade Expo and E3 back in 2012. Over the last couple of years, he carved a niche for himself covering competitive Pokémon as he transitioned into game criticism full time. About a decade ago, Lowell moved to Japan for a year or two but is still there, raising a Shiba Inu named Zelda with his wife while missing access to good burritos. He also has a love/hate relationship with Japanese role-playing games.