The Top 10 Legend of Zelda Games

It’s hard to imagine video games without The Legend of Zelda. Time and time again, Nintendo uses this iconic series to try and set the action-adventure bar higher than before. Although there’s no perfect list since everyone has their nostalgic and subjective favorites and we’ve all grown to love different Zelda titles in our lives, here’s a Top 10 List of Zelda games you can argue over with your friends:

  1. The Minish Cap
    Game Boy Advance, November 2004

Developed in partnership with Capcom, this mobile Zelda has stood the test of time thanks to its charming visuals and solid gameplay. Instead of going for any big innovations, the developers focused on creating their own colorful take on classic Zelda gameplay. Of course, shrinking down into a tiny version of Link and uncovering new secrets is still one of the most unique abilities of any Zelda game. The quirky cast of characters, including Link’s witty sidekick, also help make The Minish Cap worthy of this list.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

  1. A Link Between Worlds
    Nintendo 3DS, November 2013

Rumors of a remake of A Link to the Past had been swirling for more than a decade by the time this 3DS title arrived. Instead, Nintendo launched a sequel that manages to be both a love letter to the classic SNES title while also giving us a fresh take on the traditional Zelda formula. A Link Between Worlds features an item-rental system that lets players take on its dungeons and areas in any order. Its captivating story, wall-merging ability, and beautiful modern version of Hyrule and its dark counterpart helped remind players why 2D Zelda is just as good as the console ones.

  1. The Legend of Zelda
    NES, February 1986

The first entry in this iconic series arrived in 1986, immediately revolutionizing game design by offering one of the first true nonlinear adventures. In a time when players were used to running from left to right or down a set path, The Legend of Zelda dropped players into a dangerous world with little direction. The thrill of freely exploring Hyrule was unmatched as players learned from their mistakes, collected useful objects, and uncovered all kinds of secrets. To this day it stands as a must-play Zelda for those craving a tough, rewarding journey.

  1. Twilight Princess
    GameCube & Wii, November 2006

After finding success with The Wind Waker’s colorful visuals, Nintendo went back to the dark style of previous Zelda titles. Twilight Princess allowed players to explore the most realistic and expansive Hyrule yet, this time also as a wolf. Looking to Ocarina of Time for inspiration, this 2006 adventure featured some very impressive dungeons and weapons along with a grimmer story. Although there were some pacing problems at the start of in the original, the HD re-release for Wii U fixed most of them.

  1. Link’s Awakening
    Game Boy, June 1993

The dream of fitting a Zelda adventure in our pocket became a reality when Link’s Awakening arrived on the Game Boy in 1993. Doubts that a handheld Zelda could match the acclaimed Link to the Past quickly went away as players got lost exploring the mysterious Koholint Island. Link’s Awakening proved to be everything fans of the series loved while also feeling fresh thanks to its strange story, quirky characters, and challenging dungeons. Despite the technical limitations, this top Zelda game is certainly worth visiting 25 years later.

  1. Majora’s Mask
    Nintendo 64, April 2000

Despite having just completed Ocarina of Time, the Zelda team was challenged with creating another title in less than two years. Forced to come up with unique designs and ideas, Nintendo ended up creating a dark, unforgettable Zelda title experience. Majora’s Mask is brimming with emotion as you meet and help characters dealing with the imminent end of the world. A constant feeling of doom drives the tried-and-true gameplay as Link manipulates time like never before, wields dozens of masks, and takes on various forms to save the day.

  1. The Wind Waker
    GameCube, December 2002

At a time when players had an obsession with realism in games, Nintendo did the opposite by creating a cartoonish Zelda using innovative cel-shading graphics. Their gamble paid off when The Wind Waker immediately captivated players with its combination of gorgeous visuals, addicting gameplay, and memorable cast of characters. Its expansive ocean world and moving story also help make it one of the top Zelda games everyone should play.

  1. A Link to the Past
    A Link to the Past, November 1991

If there’s one Zelda that went on to influence the rest of the series, it’s this one. A Link to the Past was seen as a technological marvel — players couldn’t believe the world’s scale, complete with an entire alternate version that surprises players halfway through the game. Vibrant graphics, thought-provoking gameplay, and incredible music are only a few of the many reasons why this 1991 title is still worth playing nearly three decades later.

  1. Breath of the Wild
    Nintendo Switch, March 2017

The latest Zelda title is also considered by many to be the best. Breath of the Wild arrived when players wanted huge open worlds full of fun things to do and interesting locations to visit. Nintendo delivered by introducing one of the vastest interactive worlds we’ve seen so far in a video game, complete with a design that lets you explore freely with little limitation. Everything from the physics and combat to the breathtaking locales evoke a sense of wonder not many other open world games can provide.

  1. Ocarina of Time
    Nintendo 64, November 1998

One of the most groundbreaking titles in the history of video games, Ocarina of Time‘s achievements resonate even 20 years later. Nintendo’s’ masterpiece pioneered a number of innovations, including being able to lock onto enemies and objects — a mechanic now expected in modern 3D games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption II. Offering a memorable and emotional story, expansive world full of charming characters, engrossing action-adventure gameplay, and much, much more, Ocarina of Time will always stand as a significant leap forward in game technology and design.

What Nintendo Can Teach Us About Game Design

By Scott Rogers – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design

Nintendo recently celebrated its 46th year of creating video games, and with the exception of a few growing pains, the Japanese company has been an industry leader since the 1980s. How has Nintendo lasted so long in a very competitive market?

One important key to their success is great game design. And great game design begins with great designers.

The Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD) is the team that creates Nintendo’s great game design. The team is staffed by “planners” — a position which combines game design with a secondary discipline such as programming or art. It is Nintendo’s belief that all game designers should possess a variety of skills, not just in game design.

When the New York Times asked “what kind of person would Nintendo hire,” EAD leader and legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto replied, “I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they’re not a gamer, but they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.”

Miyamoto knows this from experience. It was his skill in art and love of classic cartoons that led to Nintendo’s first hit video game: Donkey Kong.

Nintendo’s design philosophy is simple; start with a unique idea, concentrate on the “primary action,” go for an emotional experience, teach as you play, and repeat what works.

Start with a unique idea.

During the ‘90s, Nintendo was engaged in a battle with Sony PlayStation. Sony was producing games with expensive pre-rendered cut-scenes that felt like movies.

When Miyamoto was asked if Nintendo should follow suit, his answer was “No.” Instead, he created Pikmin; a real-time puzzle game about a miniature astronaut who recruits an army of aliens to help him fix his spaceship. It was unlike all of the other fighters, shooters, and platformers on the other game consoles of the time. Pikmin was a huge success on the GameCube because of its unique concept.

Concentrate on the “primary action.”

Before he was named Mario, the hero of Donkey Kong was called “Jumpman.” It’s pretty much all Mario does in the game, and as the games evolved his jump became more expressive and flexible. In the classic Super Mario Bros., the jump became an essential part of the design. He can only defeat enemies by jumping, can only break blocks by jumping, and can only finish a level by jumping.

Jumping in the Mario games is what is known as the “primary action” of the game. The “primary action” is the player action from which the rest of the gameplay flows. If a hazard, enemy, or obstacle can’t be overcome by jumping, it doesn’t belong in this game.

Repeat what works.

The classic Super Mario Bros. level 1-1 only uses nine gameplay elements: Treasure Blocks, Breakable Blocks, Goomba, Pits, Pipes, Platforms, Mushroom, Coins, and Piranha Plant. By combing and repeating these elements in a variety of configurations, Miyamoto creates the greatest level in gaming history. These mechanics are so successful that they are used to this day in the most recent Mario games, where they form the foundation of the vocabulary of gameplay.

The lesson is simple. Use a limited amount of gameplay elements and see how many times you can combine them. You will be surprised by the amount of gameplay even a few elements will create.

Go for an emotional experience.

“When I create a game,” said Shigeru Miyamoto, “I try to focus more on the emotions that the player experiences during the game play.”

Whether it is the wonder found in epic vistas like in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, fear of the unknown as in Luigi’s Mansion or the pleasure of discovery experienced in Pokemon, all of the Nintendo games strive to capture a core emotion within the player.

Ask yourself, “What emotion do I want the player to experience?” Then, drive rive all design decisions towards achieving that emotion. If you need some help, just recall your favorite games or movies and the emotions they aroused in you.

Teach as you play.

Even back in the day when video games had manuals, players often didn’t read them. Players preferred to learn the game as they played. Nintendo was well aware of this fact and strived to create games that taught as they played.

Miyamoto has often said about World 1-1, “within that one section … the player would understand the concept of what Mario was supposed to be and what the game was about.”

Each new mechanic, hazard, and enemy is introduced in isolation, which allows the player to recognize it and understand its behavior. As the game progresses, new mechanics are introduced along with the opportunity to learn how it operates and combines with the rest of the gameplay.

By repeating this design system of “introduction-combine,” the players won’t need to stop playing the game in order to understand how all the elements come together.

While you might not design a blockbuster hit like Nintendo with your first game, using their design principles will give you some great tools that you can use for the rest of your game design career.

At the New York Film Academy’s Game Design School, the programs are built around providing a well-rounded experience, where students learn to master all disciplines of game design. Learn more here.

E3 2016: Predictions for Nintendo

Tatsumi Kimishima

Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima

It’s been a rough generation for Nintendo. Plenty of amazing titles have graced the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, but the latter has definitely left gamers wanting more. Great experiences like Pikmin 3, Splatoon, and Super Mario 3D World were superb experiences, but the lack of third party titles meant Wii U’s were left to collect dust for long periods of time.

Nintendo fans, however, are quite resilient. There’s always a high level of optimism that has them positive that their beloved game developer will soon give them what they want. From new Metroid and F-Zero games to a new console as powerful as the competition in the shape of the NX, hopes are always high.

Unfortunately, Nintendo released a wave of news recently that all but crushed most of those hopes. Not only will the NX not be released until March of 2017 but the next The Legend of Zelda title will also be pushed back to make a simultaneous NX and Wii U release possible. As if that weren’t enough, Nintendo announced that they’ll only be showing off Zelda at E3 2016—the same game we were promised to see release at the end of the year.

But as dire as all this news sounds, here’s why these decisions will help Nintendo succeed during the next console generation:

1. Good Launch Lineup for NX

If there’s one thing that Nintendo didn’t get right with the Wii U, it was preparing a launch lineup that would’ve made it irresistible from the start. To be fair, even Sony and Microsoft released their latest consoles with a less-than-stellar collection of games to play. The difference is that previous Nintendo consoles have released fantastic (and innovative) titles like Wii Sports, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario World.

Wii Sports screenshot

Pushing the NX’s launch from Holiday 2016 to early 2017 means Nintendo will have more time to prepare good games to release alongside it. We may be despondent now, but it’ll be worth the wait when the NX goes on sale with not just the next Zelda but other intriguing titles as well.

2. More Time To Get the NX Right

Nintendo took a massive risk with the original Wii. Instead of a standard gamepad and high-definition graphics, they pitched a low-spec machine with motion controls. The risk paid off as the Wii went on to sell like hotcakes and become one of the most successful consoles in gaming history.

The Wii U was a whole other story. Although the gamepad seemed interesting on paper, it’s clear that developers didn’t really find ways to make great use of it. Worse still, even Nintendo seemed like they struggled selling their two-screen concept. The extra months will no doubt help Nintendo (and other developers) figure out if whatever the NX’s big feature is will actually work.

3. Little E3 Presence, No Problem

E3 is easily the most anticipated video game trade fair. It’s the biggest opportunity for developers and publishers from all over the world to show off what they’re developing. The problem, as you can imagine, is trying to stand out when so many devs have something to show.

Star Fox puppets from E3 2015

While Nintendo always used to find a way to get people talking at E3, it seems they got tired of trying to fight for the spotlight. This is evident by their Nintendo Direct approach instead of a live conference. This year they’re apparently only having The Legend of Zelda on the show floor, which means they can use their online presentations for their big reveals.

4. More Time for Third Party Support And Mobile Growth

As we already mentioned earlier, the Wii U’s third party support was pretty sad. The fact that the Wii U’s technical specs didn’t match those of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 meant that developers didn’t feel like spending time and money to make ports. Hopefully the extended development time will give other studios the opportunity to understand the NX and make something great early in its life.

But while the Wii U loses what little steam it had and only a few worthwhile 3Ds title releases, all eyes will be on Nintendo’s mobile efforts. The success of Miitomo, which barely passes off as a game, is proof that people are excited to play Nintendo titles on their smartphone. Hopefully the reveal of a mobile Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem is only the beginning of a great 2016 for Nintendo’s mobile efforts.

The CEO With The Heart Of A Gamer: Remembering Satoru Iwata

Perhaps by the time you’re reading this it has finally started to sink in that Satoru Iwata, one of the most beloved figures in the gaming industry, has passed. It is also possible that you’ve already seen the following quote a thousand times recently:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. In my heart I am a gamer.”

This was said by Mr. Iwata in front of thousands in 2005 at the Game Developers Conference held annually in San Francisco, California.

A loud applause echoed throughout the room upon hearing these powerful words that might have sounded empty if said by any other CEO in the industry. To everyone who knew of Mr. Iwata, whether you worked with him closely or simply enjoyed his presence in Nintendo Direct streams, it was obvious that although he led a multi-billion dollar company, he still genuinely cared about only one thing: making great games.

This passion already showed at a young age when Mr. Iwata was still a student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Here, he worked on several Commodore Japan titles as an unpaid intern before being hired by HAL as a programmer. There he played a large role in the creation of titles still considered classics today, including Kirby’s Adventure and Earthbound, before becoming president of HAL Laboratories. In this role he saw many more great titles released, including the first entry in the very successful Super Smash Bros. series.

When Nintendo’s long-time president, Yamauchi, retired in 2002, Mr. Iwata was handpicked by him to lead the company his family had worked hard to build up since 1889. Although a great honor to be the first CEO that wasn’t directly related to the Yamauchi family, the new president knew the difficulties that were ahead. The most recent console release, the GameCube, was being pummeled in terms of sales by its competition.

However, if there was one man that had enough vision to see Nintendo pull itself out of its poor situation and rise back to the top, it was Mr. Iwata. In the next few years he succeeded by guiding the release of two of the most successful video game devices ever created: the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii. And like most innovative ideas, Iwata and Nintendo would receive plenty of criticism upon the unveiling of both these products.

For the Nintendo DS, having two screens working in tandem while playing a game sounded confusing and tedious. Who wants to look up and down between two screens to enjoy their game?

The Wii was also predicted to be a failure simply because it lacked the specs of its competitors and did away with classic controls in favor of motion. But as both devices continued leaving others in the dust, the industry began to respect the visionary mind of Nintendo’s young new president.

Even when Nintendo began falling behind in 2011 and onward, Iwata continued showing us that he wasn’t in it for the money or position. He voluntarily cut his salary on more than one occasion to avoid having to fire other employees. His frequent presence in the Nintendo Direct series and Iwata Asks interviews gave people the ability to see a very busy president take the time to show his personality, sense of humor, and genuine adoration for the things he and his company develop for us to enjoy.

It was also in these hard times that Iwata gave an inspiring speech at the 2011 Game Developers Conference:

“Trust your passion, believe in your dream… For 25 years, game developers have made the impossible possible. So I ask you, why would we stop now?”

Although Iwata would live to see Nintendo finally turn a profit in 2015, no one can deny that Iwata still had much more to give. Satoru Iwata will always be remembered as the perfect example of just how far patience, dedication, and the courage to innovate can take you in our industry.