The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom came out on May 12th, which means I haven’t had a social life or eaten a proper meal in weeks. Needless to say, it’s an amazing game, somehow expanding on Breath of the Wild’s success, which itself was a massive expansion of what made something a Zelda game. I don’t know exactly how much stuff there is to do in Tears of the Kingdom, but in all my hours, it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface.
As ringing of an endorsement as that is, its release was accompanied by a price hike, which may have kept some from picking up a copy. That’s okay, there will be a sale at some point in the future. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of games were inspired by the thirty-plus years of Zelda releases, so grab one of them to scratch that itch.
Any of the LEGO Games
In college, I went on a bender of indie games that all played great with deep, satisfying stories but the moral of which was the world and everyone in it sucks, cancer’s going to kill all of us, and your parents never actually loved you. By the end, I was looking for something on the lighter side and the LEGO games were on sale, so I grabbed Lord of the Rings and locked myself away for the weekend. I knew all the LEGO games had a good reputation, but I was still pleasantly surprised by what I found and, in retrospect, how much overlap there is with the Legend of Zelda series.
The settings and characters are all refreshingly vibrant, with popping colors, high contrast, and distinctive art styles. There’s decent challenge in both (though the LEGO games are understandably more forgiving), with dungeon crawls, tough enemies, and variety in puzzles to keep you on your toes. The humor of both also relies on larger-than-life characters, with Zelda making Link deal with people whose heads aren’t quite on straight and the LEGO games turning some of pop culture’s best known characters into zanier versions of themselves. LEGO obviously doesn’t deal with some of the darker elements the Zelda series does, but it also doesn’t need to.
A Story about My Uncle
A Story about My Uncle is a very short game and doesn’t play the same as any of the Zelda games, at least not to my mind. It’s a first-person adventure game with more direct storytelling that only takes about two hours to complete, a far cry from Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom and their sprawling world, hundreds of hours of content, and third person perspective. To me, the main similarity is the settings, especially with Tears of the Kingdom. A Story about My Uncle has the player swinging through a world of floating islands that occasionally dives into dimly lit subterranean worlds. The main traversal mechanic even feels like a free-style version of the hookshot from the early Zelda games.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
I was introduced to the Tomb Raider games around the same time as Ocarina of Time and my childhood brain immediately and irrevocably associated the two. Both are dungeon crawlers, both deal fairly heavily with the fantastical and/or supernatural, both are famous for the creativity of their puzzles, and both have intense boss fights to cap off their levels. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original idea from Tomb Raider came from someone playing The Legend of Zelda on one screen and watching Indiana Jones on another. I’m calling out Tomb Raider: Anniversary specifically because it’s a faithful remaster of the original release, which can be difficult to get running on modern computer hardware if you’re relying on the old discs.
The Horizon Series
The timeline for the Zelda games is famously convoluted and Breath of the Wild confused things further by taking the game a few thousand years into the future, while also having Hyrule lose access to most of the technology it used to have. In Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, you encounter and use plenty of futuristic tech, but all of it is presented and understood as ancient relics. It’s similar to the Horizon series, where robot versions of some of Earth’s most recognizable animals dominate the landscape but are relics from an apocalypse that wiped out a futuristic human civilization. It’s an odd similarity to find, but one that proves compelling in both cases.
Shadow of the Colossus
Every Zelda game I’ve played was really good at capturing the sense of scale of a boss fight. The size difference between young Link and Queen Gohma in that first boss fight in the Deku Tree was genuinely a little intimidating. You’re a small kid with a slingshot and a short sword in a tree’s basement and you have to fight an enormous spider in the dark. It was an intimidating prospect. Shadow of the Colossus accomplishes the same thing on an even bigger scale. You’re basically fighting buildings that, like Zelda’s bosses, are polite enough to have glowing weak spots.
Ghosts of Tsushima
Much like how Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings feel like fantasy takes on medieval Europe, Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom both wear their Japanese influences on their sleeve. One of the more important settlements looks like a slightly fantasy-muddled take on the Edo period of Japan, the dragons in the game look like the snaking dragons of Japan artwork, and both games’ ancient cultures use characters that strongly resemble the Japanese writing system.
Ghosts of Tsushima just goes for it sets an open-world adventure game in medieval Japan and plays like someone took out the magical parts of Zelda. There’s plenty of combat, the game rewards exploration, and you strengthen your character by finding new gear and perfecting your own combat techniques rather than the more traditional XP based leveling system. It’s a good followup to Zelda if you’re in the mood for something more realistic.
Death’s Door plays like a classic Zelda game, with dungeons, puzzles, boss fights, gadgets, and secret areas, but it does so almost entirely on its own terms. It’s like all the structure is there, so the game is mechanically familiar, but the dressings are all unique. Instead of Link adventuring through Hyrule, you’re a crow working for the bureaucratic version of the Grim Reaper adventuring through an afterlife-underworld hybrid. The combat pace is a little faster than what Zelda players might be used to, although less so since Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom made fighting enemies a little more frantic, especially when it’s going wrong, but longtime players will appreciate the fresh narrative and familiar gameplay.Buy Now $25+