One of the strongest aspects of the Zelda series is the incorporation of clever puzzles in uniquely themed dungeons. They comprise a good majority of the games, but despite that, each dungeon feels new and refreshing. I can’t wait for Zelda Wii U and the freedom that game will lend to approaching each dungeon and solving the puzzles. As excited as I am for this new creativity the game will spark, I can’t help but look back on the previous Zelda games I’ve played and what elements I would like to see again in the future. So therefore, it’s only reasonable to compile a list of my favorite dungeons from the series.
On a side note: I’m basing these choices on both the dungeon design and the boss fight, but also on my personal enjoyment solving the dungeon as well. So as much as the Great Bay Temple in Majora’s Mask 3D is well-designed and interesting, it about gave me a brain aneurism trying to navigate the place, understand the water flow, and kill the awful boss (I’m beginning to realize that I’ve never done well with any of the water dungeons), and while the boss fight versus Ganon is incredibly fun and epic in Wind Waker, I didn’t love trekking through his castle as a whole. So without further ado, here are my top ten favorite dungeons in the Zelda series.
Warning: spoilers pertaining to events in each dungeon below! Read with caution.
10. Spirit Temple (Ocarina of Time 3D)
I especially like Spirit Temple because of its reliance on Link solving different parts of the dungeon as both a child and adult. While young Link was sometimes required to access certain dungeons, the Spirit Temple is the only one that forces him to trek part of the dungeon itself. The puzzles revolve around the strengths of both young and adult Link, making the Spirit Temple’s design intuitive and mindful of the time travel aspect of the game. I also really enjoyed the Twinrova boss fight, making it my favorite boss battle in Ocarina of Time 3D.
9. Forsaken Fortress (Wind Waker)
In the case of Forsaken Fortress, I’m basing this choice strictly on the second playthrough. The first time with the stealth is fine and good, but the stakes are stacked much higher in the second visit because Link has gained power and allies in the time between these visits. As a result, the stealth isn’t as important anymore, and nothing is greater than running and killing every enemy in sight with the dungeon item, the Skull Hammer. The boss fight with the Helmaroc King is extremely fun and exciting, especially with the additional drama of Link escaping its wrath in the flooding prison room.
8. Ancient Cistern (Skyward Sword)
I liked that the Whip was brought back in a 3D game, and its introduction in Ancient Cistern is well done and didn’t feel gimmicky. This dungeon is pretty massive, and its sheer size is implied by the noticeable change in the dungeon’s appearance and design as Link descends underground. Koloktos was an extremely fun yet challenging boss to fight, and his battle theme is possibly my favorite in the entire series.
7. Tower of the Gods (Wind Waker)
The ability to control the statues to solve the puzzles is a unique feature in Wind Waker, and manipulating the water level, while already done in Ocarina of Time, is minimal and enjoyable in the Tower of the Gods. The bow and arrow is my favorite Zelda item in the entire series, so anytime I get to shoot things with it, I’m happy. Finally, Gohdan is a fun boss to fight, and is much better in comparison to Bongo Bongo in my opinion because of the improved targeting in Wind Waker.
6. City in the Sky (Twilight Princess)
City in the Sky was a unique dungeon at the time of Twilight Princess’ release, and it took advantage of sky mechanics, such as using the Ooccoos (as hideous as they are) to navigate the dungeon, or manipulating the fans. Argorok was an extremely fun boss to fight thanks to the Double Clawshot that was introduced with this dungeon.
5. Sky Keep (Skyward Sword)
Sky Keep is an extremely unique dungeon in the series because it is the first to have rooms designed to be moved like that of sliding puzzle. In order to acquire the Triforce pieces most effectively, it requires planning and consideration on the player’s part. The rooms themselves are each unique and clever, forcing the player to use all of their items to successfully trek them. Sky Keep is a great example of how Link’s items can and should be applied, forcing said items to be useful (so remember, Nintendo: no more Spinning Top nonsense).
4. Ganon’s Castle (Ocarina of Time 3D)
Split into several sections, making your way through Ganon’s Castle is exciting and foreboding. The puzzles are short yet enjoyable (even though the rooms requiring the Silver Gauntlets screwed me over since I didn’t know that they existed, let alone know to acquire them early on), and summoning the Sages to aid you in the build-up to the final battle is a nice touch as well. I also enjoy the scripted event of escaping the collapsing castle and confronting Ganon’s final form on the debris of the former castle. It is important for the final dungeon to be sinister, fun, and epic, and Ganon’s Castle proved to be as much.
3. Snowpeak Ruins (Twilight Princess)
I liked that this dungeon was designed to be an old, decrepit mansion inhabited by a Yeti couple. The puzzles were cleverly built around this fact, and it created one of the more memorable dungeons in the series. I also appreciate that Yeta herself becomes the boss, rather than an existing one being locked away. I would love to see more dungeons like this one, and in a way that has already happened with games like Skyward Sword, and it goes to show that dungeons don’t have to be designed in a linear or specific manner.
2. Earth Temple (Wind Waker)
The Earth Temple stood out in my mind as a child as one of the scariest places ever in Wind Waker. Having played it again years later, this dungeon still maintains its eerie aura. However, I’ve gained appreciation for the utilization of Medli as a playable character and the mirrors to light up various rooms and the like. The music is appropriately subdued, and the boss fight is pretty fun as well – especially with Link’s crazy spin attack. As a result, the Earth Temple has become my favorite dungeon in Wind Waker.
1. Stone Tower Temple (Majora’s Mask 3D)
The precursor to Mario Galaxy in a single dungeon, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the Stone Tower Temple resonated with me. The puzzles made sense, and I simply loved being able to turn the whole place upside down to create more challenges. The boss fight, in particular on the 3DS version, is fantastic. The fact that the mask isn’t unlocked until the blue Twinmold is killed creates urgency and narrative drama in a single boss fight, and I thought it was extremely well-placed. I also love that the music changes when the dungeon is flipped upside down and vice versa, especially since the music for Stone Tower is already so good. The original Majora’s Mask broke a lot of expectations of how a typical Zelda game could be, and I would love for more of the unusual yet unique creativity in both dungeon design and storytelling.
Lorule Castle (A Link Between Worlds)
Really, the best part of Lorule Castle is the music. As Link climbs each level of the castle, the theme becomes more intense and epic. The events leading up to the final boss is unexpected yet fun, and creates a memorable ending to A Link Between Worlds.