The Legend of Zelda series is undeniably a massive success with over 139 million units sold worldwide since its beginning in 1986. Where there is massive success there are bound to be imitators. Over the years many games have come and gone which have attempted to replicate the success of the legendary franchise. While many of these ended up being fairly forgettable, a few managed to rise above the chaff, in some cases becoming classics in their own right.
In this list, we will be looking at nine such titles. To qualify each of these games cannot simply take inspiration from games in the Zelda series — they have to bear enough aesthetic and design similarities to the point where it is very obvious what they are copying. For example, while Okami and Darksiders might be heavily influenced by Zelda, I don’t necessarily consider them clones, no more so than I would consider Half-Life to be a clone of Doom even though the former was undoubtedly influenced by the latter. It should also be made clear that just because these games are derivative does not make them bad — many of these games put their own unique spin on the formula, and in a few rare cases actually manage to surpass the works that inspired them.
9. Golden Axe Warrior
A spinoff of the series of classic arcade beat ’em ups, Golden Axe Warrior was essentially the Sega Master System’s version of the first Legend of Zelda. The game has players setting out on a quest to defeat the series antagonist Death Adder. Gameplay is very similar to that of Link’s seminal adventure but with a few changes and additions. In fact, this game actually beat the series that inspired it to the punch in terms of allowing players to cut down bushes. One interesting wrinkle is that the game features more than one explorable landmass requiring various watercraft to travel between them. The game also introduces armor maintenance wherein too much damage can cause the player’s equipment to rust, requiring costly oil to repair. Golden Axe Warrior is a fun game that ranks among the best available on the Sega Master System.
8. Neutopia II
A standout title for the TurboGrafix-16, Neutopia II was heavily influenced by the original NES Zelda but included a number of smart changes that made for an overall more streamlined and polished experience. Most notably, the game allows the player to move in eight directions as opposed to its predecessors which locked the player into only moving in four directions. The game is also quite a bit more linear with progression being gated to ensure that each objective in the game must be completed in the prescribed order. One area where this game definitely excels is in its dungeon design, the latter ones, in particular, get very creative with their layout and use of traps. On top of that, the soundtrack is also excellent with plenty of driving beats that make the most of the TG-16’s hardware. Unfortunately, the game was somewhat overlooked at the time of its release due to coming out at about the same time as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. While Neutopia II is certainly nowhere near as good as that masterpiece, it is nonetheless a very solid title that is well worth playing for any fans of old-school Zelda.
7. Gunman’s Proof
If you have ever played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and wondered what it would be like if instead of wielding a sword, Link could instead utilize a gun, then this is the game for you. Set in the wild west, Gunman’s Proof puts players in control of a cowboy tasked with stopping a gang of intergalactic outlaws that have come to Earth. Outlandish story aside, gameplay in Gunman’s Proof is nearly identical to that of Link’s Super Nintendo adventure, the biggest difference being that players dispatch enemies using a wide variety of firearms. These range from basic pistols to submachine guns and even rocket launchers. The game places a somewhat heavier emphasis on combat than most Zelda games, and it’s pretty short too, clocking in at only about 8 hours of playtime. It nonetheless manages to be a really fun game with a wacky sense of humor. Sadly it has never been officially released outside of Japan.
6. Crusader of Centy
For those who wanted a top-down action adventure during the 16-bit era, there was plenty to choose from; the Super Nintendo had Zelda: A Link to the Past, and the TurboGrafix-16 had Neutopia 1 and 2, but what did Sega Genesis players have? The answer is Crusader of Centy. One look at this game makes it immediately apparent that this game takes more than a little influence from A Link to the Past, but Crusader does enough unique to set itself apart. For one thing, this game is much more linear than Zelda, lacking that series’ ability to freely wander the overworld and instead being split into smaller areas selectable from a map. Unlike Link, the main character in Crusader of Centy doesn’t use tools, instead, he has the gift of gab and can talk to animals and plants, a skill that he uses to recruit a variety of creatures who can use their unique abilities to help the player. This is easily one of the best-looking games on the Sega Genesis with excellent use of color and detailed sprites. Overall this is a great game that any fan of Sega’s 16-bit machine should check out. Unfortunately, if you want to collect a physical copy, expect to pay out the nose. At the time of writing loose copies have been going for over $500.
5. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
Blossom Tales is an indie game that borrows heavily from the aesthetic and gameplay of 2D Zelda games. It admittedly doesn’t do much to change up the Zelda formula but nonetheless manages to utilize the tried and true experience extremely well. The game utilizes a fairly unique narrative framing wherein a grandfather is telling a bedtime story to his two grandchildren. As a result, the grandfather provides omniscient narration throughout the course of the game along with humorous meta-commentary. At certain points, the player is even allowed to spontaneously alter certain details about the plot as if the grandfather is making things up as he goes along. Overall not the most unique game on this list but very solid nonetheless.
4. Immortals: Fenix Rising
The vast majority of Zelda clones copy the 2D entries in the series, which is likely because 2D games tend to be cheaper and easier to make. While there are games that draw influence from the design and structure of the 3D games, very few outright copy them to the same degree as the 2D games. One major exception is Immortals: Fenix Rising. Set in the world of ancient Greek mythology, Immortals tasks players with exploring the world and reviving the Olympians after they were defeated by the titan Typhon. While there are certain small differences it is uncanny how much of Immortals: Fenix Rising’s core gameplay and design is straight-up copied from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and while it never reaches the heights of the game that it copies, Immortals is still a fun experience that should satisfy those who want more Breath of the Wild. Plus this might actually be the first time in a video game that the Greek gods have actually had Greek accents.
3. 3D Dot Game Heroes
By 2009 the gaming world was fully in the grip of an NES nostalgia wave, with many games utilizing blocky pixel art to evoke games of that period. One game that took an interesting perspective (literally) on this art style was 3D Dot Game Heroes, which translated the look of NES-era Zelda into the third dimension. Everything in the game’s world is constructed out of blocks and characters move in a way that is reminiscent of stop-motion Legos. Defeated enemies explode into a dazzling display of multicolored voxels. The game is an unabashed love letter to classic Zelda, offering classic mechanics and design but with a more modern sense of polish. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either, throwing out plenty of jokes that are sure to get a laugh out of players. Overall this is a great game that PS3 owners shouldn’t miss out on.
To be fair, this game also takes influence from the Souls series, but one look at the main character should be enough to make it obvious that this game takes more than a little bit of inspiration from Link’s Hylian Adventures. In particular, it seems most similar to Link’s 2D adventures on the NES and Super Nintendo. One aspect of older titles that Tunic heavily focuses on is how the instruction manual was often an invaluable resource, containing crucial clues and maps. Tunic heavily revolves around finding missing pages for an instruction manual and attempting to decode its contents to gain clues for hidden secrets. The game puts its own unique spin on things with its emphasis on Souls-like combat and the use of an isometric perspective. The game often uses these isometric camera angles to obscure many of its secrets. Overall a really fun game that is worth checking out for those who miss many of the qualities of old-school Zelda that have been lost over time.
One of the most criminally overlooked games in the PlayStation’s library, Alundra ranks among the very best that the console has to offer. As you would expect, the gameplay is very similar to that of 2D Zelda, but with several changes; first, the player can jump at any time and will sometimes have to utilize basic platforming to traverse the map. The game also has a much bigger emphasis on puzzles, many of which are very complex and difficult. In spite of how challenging they can often be, the head-scratchers in Allundra are well-designed and extremely satisfying to figure out. The game has players take control of the titular character who belongs to a race of creatures able to enter the minds and dreams of others. The game’s story can get pretty dark, dealing with themes of depression, religion, fate, and the meaning of life. Graphics are purely in 2D, a rarety for PS1 games released in the West, and take full advantage of the PlayStation hardware to allow for highly detailed and stylized visuals that do a lot to help set the mood. Put quite simply Alundra is a fantastic game, if you ever wanted a Zelda game with a more complex plot and more challenging puzzles, this is the game for you.