The Legend of Zelda is practically a pillar of Nintendo’s home consoles, as the first game in the series arrived just a few short years after the debut of the Famicom in Japan and just one year after the NES’ Western debut. Knowing that it should come as no surprise that every Nintendo console has its own exclusive titles in the Zelda franchise. Additionally, there are several pieces of Nintendo hardware that now hold the distinction of being veritable museums curating The Legend of Zelda’s best moments. Seeing just how many Nintendo consoles and series games there are makes ranking The Legend of Zelda by platform practically a necessity.
The prospect of ranking each Nintendo console’s Zelda content rests on a few different criteria. First, the system needs to have its own original Legend of Zelda title, even if that title is a cross-platform release with new hardware. Second, systems that contain more than their own proprietary Zelda games and have ports of other titles receive some credit for bringing multiple series entries under one umbrella, but the quality of its own mainline Zelda entries takes precedence. That said, thanks to the prevalence of ports and remasters, almost every Nintendo console past the Nintendo 64 features plenty of classic Zelda games along with its own entries.
11. Nintendo DS
Kicking things off at the bottom of the list is the Nintendo DS, whose two entries into the Zelda franchise are both exclusive to the hardware and the only Zelda games on the system. That said, both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are great titles that make creative use of the DS’ stylus in gameplay and borrow the “Toon Link” art style from The Wind Waker. Unfortunately, the DS is lacking in ports of older titles and an online shop that features previous games in the series, making it sit far below other systems that have those qualities. Outside the two mainline Zelda games that the DS features, it does have some exclusive games featuring the oddball recurring series character Tingle. Additionally, depending on which model of DS players are using, all the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance titles are playable.
When it comes to quality Legend of Zelda content, the Wii is far from lacking. Not only does the console feature two of the most-beloved entries in the series in Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, but it also sees the debut of the Virtual Console program, bringing several older Zelda titles to the console. The only knock against it is the presence of other Nintendo consoles that also feature the Virtual Console or online collections of classic games, as well as the fact that both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword have superior HD versions available on other platforms. That said, the Wii is the home of Zelda during the series’ hitting of its 25th anniversary and players can experience the NES, SNES, and N64 entries via the Virtual Console.
9. Wii U
Right above the Wii is its interesting follow-up to the Wii U. Marketing fumbles on Nintendo’s behalf aside, the Wii U is a veritable treasure trove of Zelda content as well as a system containing some absolutely incredible one-time exclusives. Many of the Wii U games are now available on Switch, serving as a testament to the quality of its software library. Strangely enough, the two HD ports of older Zelda games (Wind Waker and Twilight Princess) are some of the only first-party Nintendo games to not receive Switch ports…yet. Outside of the HD remasters of some beloved series games, the Wii U also boasts several older series titles available via its now-defunct eShop as well as the initial release of Breath of the Wild, which is a cross-platform release with the Nintendo Switch.
Although the SNES is host to only one game in The Legend of Zelda series, that one game is perhaps the best in the entire series. A Link to the Past is the return to form the Zelda series so desperately needed following the departures of Zelda II, and it stands the test of time as the template for practically every 2D Zelda following it. Thanks to the advent of new technologies, porting the older games to the console was a non-sequitur (especially since the practice didn’t become industry standard until much later) and the main Zelda team was hard at work on transitioning the series to 3D. Still, A Link to the Past‘s original SNES version is superior to the later ports, and being able to experience this game on its native hardware helps to elevate the SNES despite only having one Zelda game to its name.
7. Nintendo 3DS
Not only does the 3DS feature one of the best surprises in the Zelda series’ history with the spiritual successor and follow-up to A Link to the Past, it also has the honor of featuring 3D remasters of the series’ two Nintendo 64 classics. In addition to these absolute must-play Zelda titles, the 3DS also features some great spin-off titles such as Triforce Heroes and Hyrule Warriors Legends, not to mention having the NES, Game Boy/Game Boy Color, and SNES series titles available via the 3DS eShop. A Link Between Worlds is one of the best 2D entries in the series and the last mainline game before the series’ paradigm shift with Breath of the Wild, and the 3D ports of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask look brilliant and play great on-the-go.
Yes, both of the Zelda titles available on the NES are playable on a myriad of other platforms. That said, it would be a mistake to rank the console any lower on a list of best Zelda platforms considering that the series gets its start on Nintendo’s revolutionary 8-bit machine. The Legend of Zelda still holds up as one of the greatest action-adventure titles on any console, even when looking at it in the context of the series’ evolution, and Zelda II (for all its faults) is a remarkable experiment showcasing Nintendo’s willingness to take risks and innovate. Both titles are a time capsule of a bygone era in gaming, and as a result, serve as both the foundation of the series and a reminder of its continued mission to surprise and entertain fans.
5. Game Boy Advance
Thanks to the Game Boy Advance’s ability to play both its own library of titles as well as the full Game Boy and Game Boy Color libraries, the Game Boy Advance sits high up on the list of best systems for Zelda games. The Minish Cap is also one of the best and most overlooked 2D entries in the franchise, and the Game Boy Advance is the first Nintendo console to port older games in the series. The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II both receive GBA ports via the NES Classics initiative, and A Link to the Past comes to the system alongside Four Swords for one of the GBA’s absolute best titles. Between the official GBA library and the ability to play the Oracle games and Link’s Awakening, as well as starting Nintendo’s trend of porting older games to new hardware, the GBA is a great platform for Zelda
4. Nintendo 64
Like the SNES, the Nintendo 64 ranks higher on the list thanks to the sheer impact and continued relevance of its Zelda games. The system only has two titles to its name, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, but so significant is the importance of each game (both within the Zelda series and the gaming industry as a whole) that ranking the Nintendo 64 lower would practically be a crime. Ocarina of Time is a definitive step forward for 3D gaming and is still one of the best games in the series. Similarly, Majora’s Mask is a decidedly darker take on The Legend of Zelda that one can’t help but feel its influence all these years later in Tears of the Kingdom‘s darker, more dire take on the franchise.
The GameCube features both the excellent Wind Waker and Twilight Princess as its two mainline entries during the hardware’s life cycle, but it also has a couple of one-off titles that are exclusive to it, pushing its ranking higher than it might have been otherwise. These two GameCube exclusives are Four Swords Adventures (an excellent multiplayer Zelda experience that also has importance in the series’ canon) and the ultra rare The Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition disc. The Collector’s Edition disc and Ocarina of Time GameCube port that was a pre-order bonus for The Wind Waker feature the only US release of Ocarina of Time‘s Master Quest, and having the series’ NES and N64 entries on one disc was a massive boon to players back in 2003 before the age of remasters, remakes, and ports.
2. Game Boy/Game Boy Color
The Game Boy receiving its own Zelda game was a no brainer, but no one could have prepared fans for how incredible that game would be. When Link’s Awakening arrived in 1993, it was undoubtedly the most impressive game available on the platform, taking the visual pallete and gameplay mechanics of A Link to the Past and shrinking them down into a portable title that stands on its own merits. The Game Boy Color would follow just a few years later in 1998, and it’s on that handheld that the Zelda series received three entries that still rank among the franchise’s best. Both Link’s Awakening DX (the full color remake of Link’s Awakening) and the Oracle games are incredible 2D Zelda adventures that borrow from A Link to the Past while also injecting plenty of innovation into the Zelda formula.
1. Nintendo Switch
Without a doubt, the Nintendo Switch is the ultimate home of The Legend of Zelda franchise. Not only does the system include the two most recent (and maybe best) games in the series, it has a slew of ports, remasters, remakes, and classic titles available via the Nintendo Switch Online service and its classic game collections. There are few Zelda games unavailable on the Switch, and the ones that are consistently rank as the absolute best games in the series. In terms of being a curated museum of the Zelda franchise and offering players a place to experience most of the series on one platform, no other console does it better than the Switch. Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom alone can account for roughly 1000 hours of playtime, and then players have improved versions of classics like Link’s Awakening and Skyward Sword waiting for them.