It’s time to grab your sword and shield, then head out to explore Hyrule – as we check out the best Zelda DS games!
It’s safe to say that the ’00s were a great time to be a Zelda fan.
The decade kicked off with Majora’s Mask on the N64 then continued with two superb, linked Game Boy Color titles in the form of Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages a year later.
Just one year later, the Nintendo faithful got GBA multiplayer title Four Swords and the classic GameCube title, The Wind Waker.
After a break to catch our breath in 2003, Four Swords Adventures was released on GameCube in 2004 – and The Minish Cap arrived on GBA in the same year.
GameCube/Wii owners received Twilight Princess in 2006, with Phantom Hourglass releasing on DS a year later, and the final Zelda game of the decade came in 2009, with Spirit Tracks on the DS.
You can read more of the wider history of the series in our Legend of Zelda games in order list.
Despite only two Zelda games releasing on Nintendo’s DS, the console could also play GBA games – as long as you had an original DS or DS Lite.
DSi consoles unfortunately don’t have backwards compatibility with the GBA, so you’ll need an older DS for that!
Instead of just giving you a ranking of two titles (where’s the fun in that?), we’re going to cover both of the DS and all of the GBA Zelda games in our best Zelda DS games list, all of which can be played on the first two DS consoles.
Which ones are the best though?
Let’s find out, as we check out the best Zelda DS games!
6. Classic NES Series: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (2004)
First up on our list of the best Zelda DS Games is Classic NES Series: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
One thing that Nintendo can’t be faulted for is their dedication to innovation and their refusal to entirely stick to formula.
Though it doesn’t always lead to the best outcomes, at least you can see where they’ve tried to do something different and unexpected.
That’s the case with the very first sequel to The Legend of Zelda, which was originally released on the NES in 1987.
Released on the GBA in 2004 as part of the Classic NES Series range – in NES style black boxes too – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is an admirable attempt to shake up the formula, but it is extremely challenging and difficult to progress without the aid of a guide.
Exploration from the overhead view that would have been familiar to fans of the original game is interrupted when series hero Link visits a town or encounters an enemy – the game then switches to a side-scrolling viewpoint.
It’s this viewpoint and play style that divides player opinion on Zelda II; the side scrolling combat is often frustratingly difficult, for one thing.
Though met with a strong critical and commercial reception upon its original 80s release – and it definitely has its fans who sing its praises to this day – it’s most definitely the weakest of the Zelda games available to play on the DS.
Don’t take our word for it though – you can play it for yourself on the Switch right now; you might also find it useful to check out our best Zelda games on Nintendo Switch article too!
5. Classic NES Series: The Legend of Zelda (2004)
Here we are, back where it all began with the Classic NES Series: The Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda was an incredibly ambitious title back in 1986; the game’s Hyrule felt like a huge open world, limited only by your skill and the occasional obstacle that you’d have to overcome when you had the right item.
It’s a milestone in terms of action adventure gaming – and to this day, it’s still an excellent game to play, though it has understandably dated in many ways.
The brilliantly designed dungeons, accessed from exploring the overworld, are hugely satisfying to conquer and bosses are great fun to take on.
Many monsters, themes and items have carried through the Zelda series from this very first adventure – it’s well worth checking out if you haven’t already; you’re now also able to play The Legend of Zelda on the Switch, courtesy of Nintendo Switch Online emulation!
Save states and rewind dial down some of the challenge found in the tougher parts of The Legend of Zelda, but purists were well served with this GBA reissue, which of course was also playable on the DS.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (2009)
The first actual DS game on our best Zelda DS games list is this 2009 entry; The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the second and final DS-specific Zelda title, maintaining the Toon Link visual style that first appeared in GameCube title, The Wind Waker.
The standout feature of Spirit Tracks is the train travel; another example of Nintendo wanting to push beyond formula and try something completely new.
Travelling between towns and dungeons is done via train, which features its own set of controls, weaponry (at least in the latter stages of the game) and even the ability to transport cargo and passengers at times.
Though again it’s admirable that Nintendo tried to shake up the formula and give players something different, the train sections can slow the narrative down and do result in quite a bit of repetitive backtracking, which does hinder the game somewhat.
That said, the train travel can occasionally be a fun diversion beyond the usual overhead view, action adventure gameplay.
Good use is made of the unique capabilities of the DS, with extensive use of the touchscreen controls and the Spirit Flute item necessitating use of the microphone.
Though not the best DS outing for our hero and Zelda – who accompanies Link on his adventure – Spirit Tracks is a great game that’s well worth checking out!
3. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2005)
Though at first glance, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap looks like a fairly standard, perhaps even formulaic Zelda title, it does have a particularly fun ace up its sleeve.
Or rather, on its head – as the titular headgear is able to shrink Link to the size of a Minish – with Minish being tiny fairy-esque creatures the size of human thumbs!
This naturally lends itself to all kinds of enjoyable, size-related puzzles and adventures. Puddles that are easy for Link to walk around in his normal size can become impassable bodies of water when he’s in Minish form – just as one example.
New items make their appearance in The Minish Cap too – including Mole Mitts (allowing Link to dig through certain types of wall), the Gust Jar (a sort of vacuum that can suck up enemies and objects) and a cane which can flip objects upside down.
As a sequel to the multiplayer Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, it’s perhaps not surprising that certain puzzles require multiple copies of Link – so this ability is also added in during certain sequences in the game.
Despite being a GBA title, it’s most definitely a great Zelda game to play on your DS – so we have no problem including The Minish Cap on our list of the best Zelda DS games.
Thanks to the launch of Game Boy Advance games on Nintendo Switch Online recently, The Minish Cap is one of the first GBA games available to play – so it’s now easier than ever to try it out on current hardware!
2. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass takes the silver medal in our best Zelda DS games list!
There’s not many games in the Zelda pantheon that take place as direct sequels to previous titles, but the events of Phantom Hourglass unfold immediately after the climax of GameCube game The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
You can tell, too – there’s an awful lot of similarities in both the visual style and the gameplay between the two titles, with nautical exploration – this time in a boat called the SS Linebeck – playing a large part in the game.
The titular device is an hourglass which comes into play when exploring The Temple of the Ocean King, a huge dungeon which drains Link’s life as he spends more time within its walls.
The Phantom Hourglass allows Link to, in effect, pause time within the temple in order to explore deeper and unlock shortcuts so as to progress further and further each time he returns.
The GameCube title was fairly divisive in its day, but the years have been kind to The Wind Waker’s visual style in particular – which has given it a timeless aesthetic that allows the game to shine even more upon revisiting.
Phantom Hourglass is a superb Zelda adventure – and a worthy successor to The Wind Waker.
It would have been our choice for the top of the best Zelda DS games list if we’d only included the two DS games, but there’s one Zelda title – playable on DS – that is even better in our humble opinion.
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords (2002)
For me, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the very best game in the series overall, let alone the best Game Boy Advance or even DS Zelda game.
So it’s no surprise that I rate it as the top Zelda game that you can play on the DS!
Returning to the top down view of the first Zelda game after the divisive, top down/side scrolling hybrid of Zelda II, the third Zelda game features an incredibly strong narrative feel and a superbly implemented light world/dark world mechanic.
A Link to the Past is a decent sized game without being overwhelmingly huge and it features beautiful music, gorgeous pixel art and fantastic overall design.
The dungeons and their bosses are almost all memorable in their design and numerous puzzles use environmental solutions that are incredibly advanced for an early 16-bit console title.
To this day – over thirty years since A Link to the Past was released – it’s barely aged at all.
The GBA version even comes bundled with Four Swords on the same cartridge, allowing up to four players to take on a co-operative, entirely new adventure simultaneously!
That, coupled with the fact that A Link to the Past alone is such a strong entry in the Zelda series, is why it’s the Retro Dodo choice for number one on our best Zelda DS games list!
Still hungry for more Zelda? Check out our thoughts on the best Zelda games in the entire series!
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.