Few video game franchises have shaped the industry as profoundly as The Legend of Zelda. Its journey began in 1986 on the NES, becoming a Nintendo juggernaut. Yet, it was the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time that marked the series’ full-fledged leap into 3D action-adventure. Nevertheless, some still yearn for the 2D roots of Zelda.
Especially in the realm of indie games, homages to The Legend of Zelda and its 2D classics, such as Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past for the SNES, are quite prevalent. These eight video games, some of which have achieved iconic status, bear striking resemblance to the 2D Hyrule adventures.
Ittle Dew 2
The original Ittle Dew, released in 2013, pales in comparison to its 2016 sequel in the eyes of many fans. With its cartoonish graphics and top-down view, Ittle Dew 2 clearly draws heavy inspiration from 2D Zelda games. The game’s story also oozes Zelda-esque vibes. Players control Ittle, a green-shirted character, stranded on an island, with a mission to repair their raft and escape, mirroring the narrative of Link’s Awakening on the Nintendo GameBoy.
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Tunic, a recent release, stands as one of the most overt and endearing 2D Zelda clones. Playable on multiple platforms, it puts players in control of an anthropomorphic fox donning a familiar green tunic and wielding a sword and shield. While exploring this fantasy world, players collect pages from an in-game manual to guide their progress. Its charming art design and clever gameplay will undoubtedly warm the hearts of fans nostalgic for The Legend of Zelda’s NES days. However, Tunic manages to avoid being a mere cash grab by skillfully balancing homage and originality.
Nathanael Weiss, the lead designer, crowdfunded Songbringer in 2017, aiming to create a tribute to The Legend of Zelda with a procedurally generated world. This unique approach adds a refreshing twist to the 2D Zelda-esque experience, blending the franchise’s hallmark elements with rogue-like randomness. Notably, the dungeons in Songbringer capture the essence of 2D Zelda adventures as players navigate darkened rooms, solving puzzles to advance. The game’s standout feature is its stellar synthwave soundtrack, perfectly complementing its 1980s retro vibe.
Blossom Tales 2: The Minotaur Prince
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Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, initially released in 2017, offers a polished top-down fantasy world that dazzles even the most ardent 2D Zelda fans. In 2022, it welcomed a sequel, Blossom Tales 2: The Minotaur Prince, which elevates every aspect of the game, as a worthy sequel should. What sets Blossom Tales apart is its choice-based storytelling, allowing players to wield greater influence over events than in traditional 2D Zelda adventures, which often follow a linear path.
Crosscode, a 2018 crowdfunded RPG, unfolds within a fictional MMORPG called “CrossWorlds.” It departs from the typical fantasy and medieval settings of The Legend of Zelda, opting for a neo-futuristic video game world. The game boasts an engaging and intricate real-time battle system that enables players to grow stronger over time. Crosscode also shares similarities with 2D Zelda games through its array of side quests, offering bonuses and items not found elsewhere. It immerses players in its virtual world as thoroughly as Hyrule.
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The Binding Of Isaac
While The Binding of Isaac may not immediately appear as a Zelda-inspired game, its procedurally generated dungeons and roguelike mechanics are unmistakably reminiscent of the franchise. Players guide the vulnerable Isaac through disturbing catacombs beneath his home, escaping and confronting his mother, driven by dark religious themes. Despite controversies, the game has maintained a strong, supportive fan base.
Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter, according to its lead designer Alx Preston, melds the world-building of A Link to the Past with the fast-paced combat of the Diablo franchise. While it may not overtly reference The Legend of Zelda, its top-down perspective and expansive fantasy world resonate with long-time Zelda enthusiasts. Released in 2016, the game continues to feel fresh and original in 2023, having spawned spin-offs and an upcoming anime.
Shovel Knight acknowledges its inspiration from Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. Players control a heroic shovel-wielding protagonist as they take on the Order of No Quarter, reminiscent of Mega Man villains, and explore vibrant towns while using familiar Zelda moves. Although Shovel Knight is much more than a mere 2D Zelda clone, fans of both Zelda and Shovel Knight can anticipate Yacht Club Games’ forthcoming title, Mina the Hollower, an even more pronounced Zelda tribute.