Looking back: The Legend of Zelda

We dissect each and every game in this legendary franchise

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past | SNES (1992) | GBA (2002) | Wii (2007)

As amazing and groundbreaking as the first Zelda is, A Link to the Past outperforms its trailblazing ancestor in every measurable way. It may have sold slightly less overall, but anyone with an eye for adventure should prefer this colossally improved sequel.

The legend: A younger, different Link is woken by a telepathic cry for help. The yelp came from Princess Zelda in Hyrule castle, which is being ravaged by the wizard Agahnim. After a daring midnight rescue, a quest to gather three magical pendants and a trip to reclaim the Master Sword, Link ultimately fails and Zelda is sent to the Dark World. Inside this drearily twisted realm lies Ganon, about to be released from a powerful seal seven sages laid upon him. Link rescues the sages, defeats Ganon and brings Zelda back to Hyrule.

Master swords: The boomerang makes its triumphant return, along with a spell book, a hammer, bombs and a duo of magic wands. Bigger still was the Hookshot, a grappling hook-like tool that let Link cross large gaps with ease. This is the first time you'll see the bug net and the shockingly useful bottles. Overshadowing all of these regular items was the addition of an entirely new map, the Dark World, which basically doubled the game's size. The first time you step into a portal and see what's become of the Sacred Realm is one of the most genuinely startling moments of the Zelda franchise. What was once green is now a dull brown, and even the simplest niceties have been erased from existence. You also realize that this already daunting quest has grown immensely larger.

On top of the whole dual world, light/dark motif, A Link to the Past basically rewrote the first Zelda in terms of gameplay. There were heart containers, hidden passages, dungeons with new items and all the other quirks that made the first game so great. But it was all supercharged, with multi-level dungeons and rich, detailed graphics that were nigh-unbelievable at the time. The overhead view was back too, a welcome return after the five year gap between it and the first Zelda. Basically, everything rocked your face, and then continued to rock said face for all eternity.

Best moment: You think the quest is about over when you stumble upon this disc. Then... a whole new world waits. Oh, and you're a pink bunny.

I AM ERROR: The three main spells, Bombos, Ether and Quake, aren't that useful or necessary outside of their initial castings. Yep, that's about the worst we could come up with. We'll go out on a limb and say seven extra dungeons in the Dark World makes this a lot longer, and therefore harder to dive back into than the first game, but really, that's seven more dungeons of awesome.

It's a secret to everyone: Entertainment Weekly called it the best game of all time in May of 2003 - Even though it's called A Link to the Past, Miyamoto himself has said that the first and second games take place before it - Its Japanese title is actually "Triforce of the Gods" - This is the first Zelda that let you whack chickens until they revolted - The GBA release added a multiplayer game called Four Swords, which would later blossom into its own title.

Hero of time? This game's as evolutionary as Ocarina of Time is revolutionary, so yes. Worldwide acclaim and millions of adoring fans agree that this could very well be the best Zelda of all time. We say it's easily the best traditional Zelda, and that obviously counts for something. 10/10

As amazing and groundbreaking as the first Zelda is, A Link to the Past outperforms its trailblazing ancestor in every measurable way. It may have sold slightly less overall, but anyone with an eye for adventure should prefer this colossally improved sequel.

The legend: A younger, different Link is woken by a telepathic cry for help. The yelp came from Princess Zelda in Hyrule castle, which is being ravaged by the wizard Agahnim. After a daring midnight rescue, a quest to gather three magical pendants and a trip to reclaim the Master Sword, Link ultimately fails and Zelda is sent to the Dark World. Inside this drearily twisted realm lies Ganon, about to be released from a powerful seal seven sages laid upon him. Link rescues the sages, defeats Ganon and brings Zelda back to Hyrule.

Master swords: The boomerang makes its triumphant return, along with a spell book, a hammer, bombs and a duo of magic wands. Bigger still was the Hookshot, a grappling hook-like tool that let Link cross large gaps with ease. This is the first time you'll see the bug net and the shockingly useful bottles. Overshadowing all of these regular items was the addition of an entirely new map, the Dark World, which basically doubled the game's size. The first time you step into a portal and see what's become of the Sacred Realm is one of the most genuinely startling moments of the Zelda franchise. What was once green is now a dull brown, and even the simplest niceties have been erased from existence. You also realize that this already daunting quest has grown immensely larger.

On top of the whole dual world, light/dark motif, A Link to the Past basically rewrote the first Zelda in terms of gameplay. There were heart containers, hidden passages, dungeons with new items and all the other quirks that made the first game so great. But it was all supercharged, with multi-level dungeons and rich, detailed graphics that were nigh-unbelievable at the time. The overhead view was back too, a welcome return after the five year gap between it and the first Zelda. Basically, everything rocked your face, and then continued to rock said face for all eternity.

Best moment: You think the quest is about over when you stumble upon this disc. Then... a whole new world waits. Oh, and you're a pink bunny.

I AM ERROR: The three main spells, Bombos, Ether and Quake, aren't that useful or necessary outside of their initial castings. Yep, that's about the worst we could come up with. We'll go out on a limb and say seven extra dungeons in the Dark World makes this a lot longer, and therefore harder to dive back into than the first game, but really, that's seven more dungeons of awesome.

It's a secret to everyone: Entertainment Weekly called it the best game of all time in May of 2003 - Even though it's called A Link to the Past, Miyamoto himself has said that the first and second games take place before it - Its Japanese title is actually "Triforce of the Gods" - This is the first Zelda that let you whack chickens until they revolted - The GBA release added a multiplayer game called Four Swords, which would later blossom into its own title.

Hero of time? This game's as evolutionary as Ocarina of Time is revolutionary, so yes. Worldwide acclaim and millions of adoring fans agree that this could very well be the best Zelda of all time. We say it's easily the best traditional Zelda, and that obviously counts for something. 10/10

We recommend