The Best Zelda Dungeons Of All Time
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The Best Zelda Dungeons Of All Time
The Legend of Zelda series has changed a lot since the original game launched in 1986, but one of the few things every game shares in common is dungeons. While their design and importance varies between games--sometimes they’re sprawling combat gauntlets or intricate puzzle boxes, and other times they’re bite-sized challenges hiding helpful loot--the dungeons often represent Zelda gameplay at its best.
While we’re crossing our fingers that the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will introduce us to a new batch of dungeons to overcome, there are already plenty of amazing Zelda dungeons to celebrate. Whether it’s for their smart puzzle design and epic boss encounters, or memorable settings and excellent music, these are the 15 best Zelda dungeons.
15. Skull Woods - A Link to the Past
Deep under the Skeleton Forest in A Link To The Past’s Dark World lies the Skull Woods dungeon. Unlike other Zelda dungeons seen up to this point, there are multiple entry points into the dreary catacombs beneath the forest, and Link will have to cross between the indoor and outdoor sections to access each of the dungeon’s disconnected floors. While it’s easy to get lost if it's your first time through Skull Woods, the segmented design makes for a more expansive dungeon crawl than you find in most other Zelda locations.
14. Bottle Grotto - Link's Awakening
There are quite a few clever dungeons found on Koholint Island--the setting of Link’s Awakening--but few start as memorably as Bottle Grotto. This submerged chamber is nestled in the Goponga Swamp at the north of the island, blocked by overgrown flowers. To access the dungeon, you must take the nearby Chain Chomp for a walk to the dungeon, and he’ll gobble up the obstructing vegetation.
True to the dungeon’s name, everything in the dungeon revolves around bottles. The hallways and rooms are littered with giant pots Link can only move using the dungeon’s hidden item, the Power Bracelet. Even the Grotto’s layout resembles the outline of a giant bottle.
13. Swamp Palace - A Link to the Past
The Swamp Palace is notable as the Zelda series’ first water dungeon, and for many years it reigned as the franchise’s best aquatic-themed labyrinth (or at least the least frustrating). It also introduced the hookshot, which has been a recurring item in Link’s arsenal ever since. But what really cements the Swamp Palace is the way it leverages A Link to the Past’s main gimmick: traveling between the light and dark versions of Hyrule. To progress in the dungeon--which is located in the southern part of the dark world--you must first drain the flooded entryway of the Swamp Ruins in the light world. Many future Zelda dungeons would expand on this world-hopping design with more complex tricks and puzzles, but the Swamp Palace’s subtle presentation made discovering the solution on your own highly rewarding.
12. Eagle's Tower - Link's Awakening
Eagle’s Tower is one of the last few dungeons players tackle in Link’s Awakening. Accessing this sprawling labyrinth is your reward for overcoming the treacherous Tal Tal Heights mountain range, but the Tower can be even more difficult. Eagle’s Tower is big and brutal, and can be difficult to work through--but that’s part of the appeal. Like all the best late-game Zelda levels, Eagle Rock requires you use every tool you'’ve collected in Link’s journey so far to survive the tough enemies and noodle out the many puzzles blocking your progress. And once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with one of the coolest boss fights against the Evil Eagle.
11. Deepwood Shrine - The Minish Cap
Minish Cap has a few dope dungeons, but Deepwood Shrine is one of the most memorable. That's in part because it's the first dungeon in the game, but also because of the puzzles centered around its unique item: the Gust Jar. This clay pot acts as both an air blower and vacuum, letting Link suck up nearby items or puff gusts of wind at enemies and switches.
Along with the magical pottery, Deepwood Shrine also features a room with a large spinning barrel that Link moves to open new pathways. While the animation might not be that impressive by today’s standards, seeing the interior of the barrel spin like a hamster wheel was a neat visual effect for the time--and so was the giant sprite of the Big Green Chuchu boss. It really sold the vibe that you were running around as a little dude in a shrunken world.
10. Arbiter's Grounds - Twilight Princess
Many of the best Zelda dungeons are defined by the new item Link finds within--so, naturally, one of the coolest items in Twilight Princess is tied to one of the best dungeons.
Inside the Arbiter’s Ground, players will find the Spinner. This rideable contraption spins like a top and connects to slots that you’ll see lining the walls of the dungeon, and even along cliffs in the overworld. The spinner puzzles make excellent use of the dungeon’s geometry, and help Link overcome the many sand pits and other dangers hidden in this crumbling desert fortress. The dungeon also makes great use of the spinner during the boss battle against the skeletal titan Stallord--a multi-phase battle where you must use the spinner for offense, defense, and even as a moving platform.
9. Snowpeak Ruins - Twilight Princess
One of Twilight Princess’ best dungeons is a frozen mansion tucked high in the mountains of Hyrule. The large, frozen estate is home to the friendly Yeti-like creatures Yeto and his wife Yeta. Yeta has fallen ill due to the cursed Twilight Mirror Shard locked away in one of the bedrooms, and it’s up to Link to scour the mansion’s halls for keys to unlock the room. You also collect ingredients Yeto will use to make healing soups for Link. After completing the dungeon, you can even return to challenge Yeto and Yeta to sledding races. It’s weird and unlike any other Zelda dungeon, but that’s part of the charm.
8. Ancient Cistern - Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword’s level design is unique among Zelda titles. Rather than stark delineation in the gameplay between overworld and dungeon sections, each overworld location players visit is designed like a dungeon with puzzles to complete, shortcuts to unlock, and enemies to overcome. As such, Skyward Sword’s dungeons feature creative themes and gimmicks to help them stand out, and the Ancient Cistern is easily the best. The dungeon’s multi-level design takes cues from Buddhist cosmology, with different floors representing different planes of existence, and a cyclical pacing where Link unlocks new paths that loop back on each other in novel and rewarding ways.
7. Forest Temple - Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time is packed with memorable dungeons, but the Forest Temple is one of the standouts. It’s the first temple you tackle as adult Link, and where you acquire one of the game’s best items: the bow. The dungeon’s design and central conceit--hunting down four mischievous Poe ghosts--is fun, with plenty of clever puzzles and engaging combat challenges. The temple caps off with a boss battle against Phantom Ganon, which is easily one of the game’s coolest setpieces.
6. The Final Trial - Breath of the Wild - The Champion's Ballad
Breath of the Wild’s fifth and final Divine Beast hides beneath the point where Link’s adventure starts: the Shrine of Resurrection. Unfortunately, it's locked behind the paid Champion’s Ballad DLC, and requires completion of all the other questlines in the DLC to unlock, so it is likely many BotW players never got to see this late-game dungeon--a shame since The Final Trial represents the culmination of the previous Divine Beasts, and is the best execution of the concept. It also ends with one of the coolest boss battles in the series, and completing the trial rewards players with the Master Cycle.
Read our The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - The Champion’s Ballad review.
5. Stone Temple - Majora's Mask
Majora’s Mask is a strange game, so appropriately enough its best dungeon--Stone Temple--is just as unconventional: an unsettling spire whose central gimmick is it flips the world upside down. Flipping the dungeon’s orientation changes everything about the structure; open ceilings are now pits into an unending void, decorative embellishments become platforms or bridges, and hidden paths are revealed. Even the background music is warped from a rhythmic chant to a psychedelic dirge. This creative use of the 3D space makes the relatively simple level layouts feel more complex and forces you to solve puzzles in unique ways that no other Zelda game has attempted.
4. Tower of the Gods - Wind Waker
Players use the shifting water level to access the different levels of the tower--almost like a second draft of Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. However, instead of manually raising and lowering the water level, the reservoirs fill and empty every few seconds, and the player must time their movements with the rhythm of the dungeon’s tides. Tower of the Gods is also notable as the only Wind Waker dungeon where you use Link’s ship to navigate and solve puzzles.
3. Ice Ruins - A Link Between Worlds
The Ice Ruins was one of the best dungeons in A Link to the Past, but The A Link Between Worlds version is arguably even better. While A Link Between Worlds lets you complete most dungeons in any order, the Ice Ruins are probably one of the final--and often the final--dungeons you will tackle. As such, the Ice Ruins feature some of the toughest enemies and one of the largest layouts of any dungeon in the game, with seven floors stacked on top of each other. Many puzzles take advantage of the dungeon’s verticality, requiring precise drops to lower floors or carefully navigating slippery platforms, while the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D enhances the sense of depth and verticality as you explore the ruins.
2. Shadow Temple - Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time features numerous memorable temples, but the Shadow Temple is the most dungeon-y dungeon in the game. This dark and macabre labyrinth is full of undead creatures, vicious traps, and even a few jump scares. Between the unsettling atmosphere and threat of constant danger, the Ocarina’s Shadow Temple often feels like a Zelda dungeon designed by From Software rather than Nintendo--and it certainly freaked us out when we played it back in 1998.
1. Hyrule Castle - Breath of the wild
After dozens of hours (or more) exploring the fields of Hyrule, Breath of the Wild closes out with Hyrule Castle. Unlike the open world of Hyrule or the mechanical puzzle box design of the Divine Beasts, Hyrule Castle is a gauntlet of challenging combat encounters against some of the game’s hardest enemies and mini-bosses nestled within twisting caverns hiding some awesome loot. Chances are players snuck into the castle at least a few times throughout their quest to pick up the castle’s spoils, but the final push through the castle is one of the most satisfying sections of the game, and is an excellent build-up to the final showdown with Calamity Ganon.