We follow the adventures of Link from the first Legend of Zelda game right up to the recently announced Skyward Sword...
The Legend of Zelda (1986, NES)
This is where it all began. Introduced to our hero, Link, and damsel in distress, Princess Zelda, you were treated to a top-down adventure interspersed with dungeons, puzzles and sword swinging. It brilliantly exploited the idea of a roamable world map that's also been core to the Final Fantasy series. In 1987, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link arrived. In dungeon areas it became a sideways scroller rather than a top-down adventure, but overall felt a little more RPG-ish.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991, SNES)
This is the one that set the blueprint for all successive Zelda games to follow. It featured key weapons, such as the hookshot, Pegasus boots and Master Sword, as well as setting a certain expectation of depth and cleverness for the series. Reverting to the top-down view of the original, it set a graphical style followed by all the GameBoy's Zelda titles.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993, GameBoy)
The first Zelda portable outing was a sequel to A Link to the Past, but doesn't feature the land of Hyrule, nor Princess Zelda or the evil Ganon. A colour version, Link's Awakening DX, was released in 1998 for the GameBoy Color. Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons (both 2001, GameBoy Color) were of note because you could finish one and gain a passcode to play the other as a direct sequel.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998, N64)
Often touted as the best game of all time, Ocarina of Time was indeed revolutionary and the first Zelda game set in a 3D world. Arguably no games before it had been so consistently awesome in every area, from control to graphics, storyline to music, variety to deviousness... Have any since? The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000, N64) followed straight on from the end of Ocarina, but was very much more puzzle-oriented and required the N64's optional memory upgrade. Ocarina of Time is now set to be released for the Nintendo 3DS.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002, GameCube)
Wind Waker took another graphical departure, using cel-shaded graphics that gave it a cartoon-like feel considered by many to target a younger audience. The brilliant storyline and gameplay suggest otherwise – this was a full-on Zelda adventure with tons of intricacy. A neat twist was setting it around an oceanscape, so the world map has to be sailed around. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures followed in 2004 for the GameCube, but focused on the dungeon-based gameplay and eschewed the roamable world map.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006, Wii)
Originally destined for the GameCube, Twilight Princess was held back and adapted to become one of the Wii's launch titles. A far cry from the cartoonish Wind Waker, it went back to the visual style of Ocarina of Time. Use of the Wiimote included some fun aiming of a bow and arrow, but the gameplay otherwise wasn't really revolutionary.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)
The first Zelda title for the DS, Phantom Hourglass took on the cel-shaded graphics of Wind Waker. It also followed Wind Waker's gameplay and nautical themes. In 2009, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks became the second Zelda game for the DS.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, Wii)
Skyward Sword will be the next addition to the Zelda franchise. Apart from a teaser trailer shown at E3 2010, not much is known about it, except that sky and clouds will play a big part – possibly in the way the sea was central to Wind Waker. One thing's for sure, it won't be anything less than a classic.