The first real adventure many gamers ever experienced was in the world of Hyrule. The Legend of Zelda series was one of the earliest examples of Nintendo paving the way for the types of large-scale, and even non-linear, adventures that really made the player feel like they were venturing into an unknown world and discovering all of its secrets for the first time. Whether your first game was the original adventure on the NES, or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Switch, it can be hard to imagine any other game satisfying that same sense of adventure, action, and freedom.
Just like Nintendo’s Mario series, The Legend of Zelda is another franchise that has managed to keep both its original 2D style of games running alongside the larger 3D offerings. While the two types of games share a lot of the same DNA, there is distinct differences in feeling and satisfaction that each one provides. Whichever style you prefer, many other games have been released that iterate, and improve, on those formulas. With a good while still to go until the sequel to Breath of the Wild finally hits our consoles, we’ve rounded up all the best games like The Legend of Zelda you can play right now.
Comparisons between Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were a little unfavorable to this, at the time, PS4 exclusive. Everyone was riding high on Link’s ability to climb any surface in the game, while Aloy was limited to specific climbing locations. It didn’t help that the two games were released within a month of each other, either. Climbing aside, these two games do have a lot in common that makes the post-apocalyptic robot hunting game a great Zelda-like title. If you were to take Link, make him a strong female character who actually speaks, and make the bow your primary weapon, you essentially have Horizon Zero Dawn.
Horizon is still most comparable to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and depending on what you liked about that game will determine if this is a worthwhile adventure to take. They are both open-world games, but Aloy’s quest is much more story and combat-focused, with not nearly as many secrets or things to stumble upon in the open world as you’d find in Hyrule. There are more extensive RPG elements here, plus a light crafting system, so if you ever wanted to imagine what it would be like for Link to roam around the forests stalking massive robotic creatures with a quiver full of different arrow types, Horizon Zero Dawn is the only place to go.
Read our full: Horizon Zero Dawn review
Link often takes down bosses that could, or at least should, turn him into dust with a single hit. Dark Souls is basically what a 3D Zelda game would be if Link were as fragile as he should be when hit with a massive spear or stepped on by a giant. You play as an unnamed, mute protagonist on a cryptic quest that will lead you through many environments in and around a fallen kingdom. The world is open for you to explore, though there are some areas you’ll quickly learn that are meant to be tackled later rather than sooner. While you could go with the standard sword and shield build to replicate Link’s traditional weapons, Dark Souls offers you tons of weapons to play with and upgrade.
Dark Souls has the reputation of being hard, and it certainly can be, but in so many ways it is what a truly dark 3D Zelda game could look like. The game is absolutely full of secrets, including fake walls you won’t know about until you hit them with your weapon, the bosses are massive, heart-pounding affairs that feel half like a fight and half like a puzzle, and finding your way through the world is half the fun. If Zelda’s combat just felt a little flat and unrewarding at times, give Dark Souls a shot and see how it feels when you’ve toppled your first boss.
Read our full: Dark Souls review
Many, not all, Zelda titles have a simple story of a boy trying to save a princess. Shadow of the Colossus appears that way on the surface, but with a few major twists. You play as yet another silent protagonist named Wander who has brought a woman to the forbidden land in an attempt to have the mysterious Dormin bring her back to life. But, for him to do this, he charges you with slaying 16 colossi that house his shattered essence. Only by killing them can he come back and, supposedly, grant your wish. There are no dungeons or other enemies to fight here. The game is just going from one boss battle to the next, but man do these boss battles hit hard. Each colossus is a test of your platforming and stamina management, just like climbing a cliff in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, only the cliff is alive and doesn’t want you climbing on it.
Wander himself is very similar to Link. He only has his sword, a bow, and his trusty horse Agro. Outside of the extras, you can unlock through other modes, that’s all you have to work with for the entire game. Zelda’s bosses can be huge set pieces from time to time, but Shadow of the Colossus makes each and every one a nail-biting test of willpower and courage as you hold on for dear life as a giant tries to shake you off before you can scramble up to his weak point and plunge your blade in. This is a masterpiece of a game in its own right, but one that Zelda fans in particular should make sure to take a look at.
Read our full: Shadow of the Colossus Remake review
Between the three main Darksiders games, Darksiders is probably the most directly comparable to a Zelda game, but what Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition makes it a little more unique in a way we feel helps from too many direct comparisons that might end up hurting it. And, just because this is the sequel, you don’t need to necessarily play the first one. The story isn’t too tied in with the first game, you play as a completely different character on their own quest, and not all that important, either. All you need to know is you play as Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, trying to save War, another horseman.
Starting with the differences from Zelda, Darksiders 2 is more of an RPG, with loot elements somewhat like a Diablo or Destiny. You have your normal attacks, ranged weapon, unlockable skills, and special moves. The overall progression and design is where the Zelda inspiration really shines through. You will traverse an overworld, mainly by horse, between different dungeons full of different rooms you need to clear enemies out of or solve puzzles to progress through. Many contain unique items that are required to complete the dungeon and defeat the boss at the end. Sound familiar? This one is a little rough around the edges, but the Deathinitive Edition, if you can get over the name, does make it at least run well.
Another game that’s basically Zelda but harder, Hyper Light Drifter is another 2D-style Zelda game with a fantastic sense of style and flair. Mixing fantasy elements with a sci-fi aesthetic, Hyper Light Drifter is certainly cryptic in nature, but the real test is in the combat. Sure, you have a beautiful world to explore, and plenty of secrets to find that will give you that wonderful feeling of puzzling something out using only your wits. You start out with just an energy sword, but pick up more ranged options as you progress through the game in whatever order you decide. The game does little to hold your hand, allowing you to naturally find your own way through this beautiful world.
In the place of puzzles, Hyper Light Drifter challenges you in two ways. We already mentioned combat, which is fast, stylish, and brutal, but there’s also environmental challenges of reflexes as well. Dashing, for example, is one of your primary tools in the game. Not only does it let you move quickly, but is integral to dodging attacks, and some secrets are only reachable if you have fully mastered the timing of this maneuver. There aren’t traditional dungeons as such, but there are certainly boss battles to test your skills against. Like the best games, nothing in Hyper Light Drifter is fair.
OK, we’ve all heard the jokes and comparisons even before the game came out, but Genshin Impact really is similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that’s not at all a bad thing. It takes pretty much all the things people loved about the latest Zelda game and made it into an evolving game that is continuously getting new content. At the same time, those additions may just be what put people off of trying this game. Since it is free to play, Genshin Impact does attempt to lure you into spending money with several gotcha mechanics, daily timers, and currencies to purchase. However, there’s a huge amount of content to enjoy without ever feeling pressured to interact with those systems at all. No part of the main story, as thin as it is, is gated off, and unless you become very invested, you probably won’t hit any progress walls you need to pay to overcome naturally.
Besides the art style, what’s similar between Genshin Impact and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Well, a lot. The world is completely open, you can climb anything you want, provided you have enough stamina, there are secrets and trials all around the world, resource gathering and cooking for buffs, and you even have a glider. The biggest change is in your party. You only control one character at a time but have four characters you can swap between on the fly, each with their own elemental proficiency, weapon, and abilities. This game made a big hit when it launched, and can be just as addicting as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, if not more so thanks to the updates.
If you took Link and made him a wolf…wait, they technically did that with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but instead of only being a wolf part of the time imagine you played as a one for the entire game. Okami HD is such a Zelda game at heart it almost hurts. You play as Amaterasu, a representation of a Japanese god, with a magical paintbrush on a quest to bring life back to the world beset by dark spirits. You’ll venture into dungeons, learn new abilities much like Link acquires new items, and even have a little companion spouting tips at you that you’ll quickly get annoyed with. The game was originally released back in 2006, but the updated version is absolutely the way to play it, enhanced visuals and framerate and all.
Speaking of visuals, this game is absolutely gorgeous. The traditional Japanese painterly style has some resemblance to Windwaker, but is even more breathtaking. Every detail in this game is lovingly crafted and pops off the screen. The combat is different from any Zelda game, it was made by the team who would go on to form Platinum Games if that means anything to you, but follows the classic Zelda formula of entering a dungeon, acquiring a new ability to navigate it, and using that ability to beat the boss. If you love that progression style, Okami HD is a very lengthy game you can sink a ton of time into.
Another game wearing its 2D Zelda inspirations on its sleeve is Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. This is an open-world adventure where you play as Lily, and Knight of the Rose on a quest to save the titular Kingdom of Blossoms from an encroaching darkness. This is a more small-scale game, similar to a handheld Zelda title, which makes it a perfect fit for the Switch. Not only is this pixel-style game just a joy to look at, but it controls just as well as you remember games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past did. The game isn’t too complex, too long, and is that perfect hit of classic Zelda fun.
Just looking at the game reveals how closely it resembles Zelda. You have a heart and magic meter in the upper right, weapons and items mapped to buttons, and the same perspective as previously mentioned Zelda games. You can explore the overworld, interact with NPCs, and explore the different regions of the world. There are only five dungeons in the game, which may sound a little light, but ends up being just right for a game of this scale. It never outstays its welcome or drags on too long before giving you something to new play with or boss to fight.
It can be hard to tell now, after so many years, expansions, items, characters, and more added to this game, but The Binding of Isaac was originally very much inspired by the Zelda series. This rogue-like is basically just an endless series of randomly generated, top-down Zelda dungeons to play through over and over again. But, as mentioned, the game has grown to be so much more than that original idea. New characters change up how you play, though almost all focus on ranged attacks, at least to start, but it’s the items that really put this game over the top. There are literally hundreds of items in this game, from simple HP ups to ones that turn your normal tear attacks into lasers, scythes, coins, and more.
The newest and (supposedly) final update, The Binding of Isaac: Repentance has all the content the developers have been adding for almost 10 years now. If the dungeon crawling, boss fighting, and item getting aspects of 2D Zelda games are what you love most, this game is that in its purest sense. As long as you are ready for a lot of unpredictability, which is what most people find so addicting about this game, you’re sure to be in for a great time. Skill will always determine whether you win or lose, but getting some crazy set of items that completely change how the game plays never gets old.
Finally, we come to Hob, another indie title that hits above its weight class. This is a game all about giving you questions but providing little to no obvious answers to them. You’re all alone in this big, beautiful, and mysterious world with no one to rely on for help or answers but yourself. The style, on the surface, may not seem very Zelda-like, but once you start exploring you’ll quickly find that same sense of adventure and curiosity that strikes when entering a new area of Hyrule. Even your own character’s place in the story isn’t made clear to you, with not a single spoken word or piece of text in the entire game. Everything you learn is through your own experimentation and observations.
You start out in Hob limited to a small zone, but as you solve the game’s environmental puzzles will unlock new powers you can use to open up larger areas to traverse. Combat is very simplistic. You are equipped with a sword and a robotic arm, which you can do quick, slow, and charge attacks with, as well as perform a dodge roll. New combat options will also come about as you progress, as well as stat upgrades. For fans of the days when Zelda’s story was less upfront, and you could almost create your own version of events based on the world, Hob is one of the few games out there offering that experience.