We here at IheartNintendo absolutely love The Legend of Zelda. And how couldn’t we? Zelda is one of the most popular video game franchises in the world, delighting millions upon millions of people with mind-boggling puzzles, a sweeping sense of adventure, and charming worlds for over 35 years and counting.
Folks are always thirsty for information on the next big Legend of Zelda game. Nintendo has seldom delivered anything even approaching “dud” status, and most installments are either very good or downright classic.
But gamers love to revisit Zelda all the time. Good games, after all, can last in our hearts and hands forever. With so many dungeons across so many games, which ones are the best of the best? Ranking something so magnificent is a tall order to say the least, but we’re going to give this our best “Hook Shot.” After all, what would Link do?
10.) Stone Tower Temple (Majora’s Mask)
Majora’s Mask is an odd duck in the Zelda franchise, but that is by no means to say it’s a bad game. In fact, its fans are some of the most passionate you’ll ever meet. The game eschews the more conventional save-the-world approach in favor of a time-twisting story wherein Link must endure temporal reset after temporal reset in his bid to stop the nefarious Majora. Majora’s Mask only has four dungeons, but they’re all quite solid, with Stone Tower Temple being the best of the bunch. You’ll spend half this dungeon upside-down, so don’t get dizzy!
9.) Earth Temple (Wind Waker)
When it first made a splash way back in 2002, The Wind Waker was roundly criticized for its “kiddy” art style. As it turns out, those cel-shaded visuals have held up better to this day than many more recent video games thanks to the bright and poppy colors and smooth assets. Fans tend to think of traversing the Great Sea first and foremost in this game, but the moody Earth Temple, with its catacombs filled with Redead monstrosities and clever statue-shifting puzzles, is simply excellent.
8.) Lanayru Mining Facility (Skyward Sword)
Time travel and The Legend of Zelda go together like bread and butter, but few dungeons emphasize that narrative fact so viscerally as the Lanayru Mining Facility in Skyward Sword. Players must navigate a twisty-turny repeat trip between present-day ruins and a bustling metropolis-like zone in the distant past. The sheer number of shocking differences between the presentation of the two eras keeps us in awe forevermore.
7.) Turtle Rock (A Link to the Past)
A Link to the Past is often considered the first 10-out-of-10 Legend of Zelda title. Released in 1991, it redefined what old-school 2D Link tales could achieve by combining the cheerful Hyrule and a grim manifestation called the Dark World. Every dungeon felt like a sizable step up from what the original pair of NES games pulled off, but Turtle Rock ranks supreme. It’s one of the last dungeons players will encounter, and it tests their understanding of every fundamental aspect that came beforehand. A real gauntlet.
6.) Snowpeak Ruins (Twilight Princess)
Twilight Princess debuted to a ton of hype. Revealed at E3 in 2004 to some of the loudest fan cheers in the history of gaming industry conventions, it went on to break all kinds of sales records when it arrived as a launch title for the holiday sensation that was the Nintendo Wii. One of the best things about Twilight Princess is its dungeons. They’re uniformly superb, but some are naturally better than others. Snowpeak Ruins is one of the coolest — pun not intended — because it is so unlike most other Zelda dungeons. Instead of an oppressive feeling pervading dank tunnels and deadly spikes, Snowpeak is set in an old mansion inhabited by a lovable old yeti couple!
5.) Forest Temple (Ocarina of Time)
It wasn’t until 2017’s Breath of the Wild that it truly felt like Ocarina of Time received a successor so popular that it might have genuinely eclipsed it. Such a statement is certainly arguable, however, and it’s all thanks to Ocarina being a masterclass in how to make a video game. Shigeru Miyamoto’s magnum opus does so many things right, including of course its plethora of dungeons. It would be easy to pluck any of them out of a hat and add them to MyEmulator’s list, but the Forest Temple marries serenity with danger so exceptionally that we still hum its chants.
4.) Wing Dungeon (Oracle of Ages)
Are Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages the most unfairly overlooked entries in the storied Legend of Zelda canon? We think so. Capcom’s bold vision for two interconnected games that can “link” together (this time the pun’s totally intended!) to bridge a single epic story was perhaps a bit much at the time, with negative comparisons to the Pokemon style of releases but nowhere near Pokemon’s annual clamoring. One of the coolest things about running our site is that we get to host forgotten classics, and while no Zelda game could ever be truly forgotten, the Oracle duology isn’t far off. What makes the Wing Dungeon so worthy of its fourth-place recognition? It blends a bevy of brilliant color-based puzzles with a windy avian theme that keeps players clutching the controls to avoid tumbling down into the abyss. It’s tough-as-nails and only the second “level” in Ages, a game that doesn’t exactly keep its kiddy gloves on to say the least.
3.) Skull Woods (A Link to the Past)
Children in the 1990s were terrified of Skull Woods. Even as adults, we’re not ashamed to admit it haunts our dreams. How can a 2D dungeon become such a terror? It’s all in the tone. Zelda is easily one of the most atmospheric franchises in interactive entertainment. But even so, it’s not everyday that corridors in a fiery forest are made of dragon ribs. You know you’re in for a bad time when the only place even approaching safety is a dragon. This is also the first appearance of the only recurring foe in The Legend of Zelda who’s even scarier than Redead — the Wallmaster. What can Wallmasters do, one might ask? What can’t they do? They often lurk within the wooden and metal floors in creepy dungeons, and if Link falls in when they open their maw, it’s lights out forever for our young hero. In the Skull Woods, however, they descend from the ceiling. That’s, if anything, even more horrifying. A giant hand rapidly falling from above and reaching out to grab a poor Hylian kid, squeeze him to death, and celebrate by swiveling back up to the roof as “Game Over” appears on our TVs? The Skull Woods is a lot of things. Forgiving is not one of them.
2.) Arbiter’s Grounds (Twilight Princess)
From the moment players enter the Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess, despair is in the air. The lighting is dim at best and the enemies are among the hardest in the series. This is the first dungeon after Link obtains the Master Sword, so it feels fitting that his following trial is a tough one. The Arbiter’s Grounds isn’t just spectacularly designed, but it’s also what many fans consider the narrative high point of the game, with one particular shocking revelation toward the end that people talked about for years. You’ll need to make ample use of both of Link’s forms, human and lupine, to traverse these barren and foreboding grounds. All of this would have been enough to crack our top 10, if barely, but the final boss here is The Legend of Zelda running on every cylinder. Link must use the dungeon’s key item, the Spinner, to swirl around the walls of a corkscrew-like tower, avoiding the “Twilight Fossil: Stallord,” skeletal remains of a fallen beast of impossibly large proportions from an era long past. Make no mistake, this is a truly epic battle. Your only hope of damaging this mighty monster is by temporarily leaping off your moving Spinner and slashing him again and again. His alacrity is unnerving, but the Spinner can stay just barely ahead if you know what you’re doing. Later in the fight, the Spinner’s railway shifts, keeping players on their toes until the end.
1.) Ganon’s Castle (Ocarina of Time)
When it comes to video games, final levels are important. The classics among classics, the epics among epics, always go out with a bang. Halo’s “The Maw.” Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles’ “Doomsday Zone.” Mass Effect 2’s “Suicide Mission.” Gamers remember these climaxes as the point of no return, when great games became legends. In Ocarina of Time, Ganon’s Castle is the final dungeon. It is everything from every previous dungeon in the game, smashed into one dreary maze of challenge after unrelenting challenge. It’s fast-paced when it needs to be, but allows you to think and plan your next move at just the right points. And the decisive string of fights against villainous warlord Ganondorf are monumental. Link must employ every ounce of his heroics to rescue Zelda and save Hyrule, because slaying Ganondorf simply will not happen otherwise. If Legend of Zelda dungeons were made into songs, Ganon’s Castle would be a ten-part symphony.