The Highs And Lows Of Zelda’s Minigames

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The world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is majestic and immersive, but recently I ran into a hitch that took me out of the experience – a frustrating obstacle course for my horse. Minigames have been a staple of the series for decades; some are fun diversions that act as a breath of fresh air, and others…not so much. To find out what makes a good Zelda minigame, we looked at some of our favorite and least favorite minigames and found that they grouped nicely around five major themes. After analyzing what made certain games endearing and others frustrating, we put together a list of Do’s and Don’ts for future minigames in the franchise.

On Motion-Controlled Minigames

Do: Keep It Simple
Example: Clean Cut Challenge – Skyward Sword 

In the Clean Cut Challenge, players are tasked with chopping a bamboo stalk as many times as they can before it falls to the ground. The premise is simple, but makes the minigame a great showcase for the precision of the Wii Motionplus technology. Every swing of your blade cuts the stalk just as you would expect, so playing it again and switching up your technique to get a higher score feels rewarding. The game forces you to wait until you have the Master Sword before you can get a high score, which is poor design. Once you have it though, this becomes one of the best motion-controlled minigames on the Wii. 

Don’t: Be Imprecise
Example: Playing the Harp with Kina – Skyward Sword

The motion controls in Skyward Sword often added to the experience, but they didn’t always work as intended. After destroying the chandelier in the Lumpy Pumpkin to get a Piece of Heart, Link must carry out an array of tasks to repay the owner, one of which is using the harp to accompany his daughter while she sings. In my experience, this was the most finicky of Skyward Sword’s minigames. Players are tasked with waving the Wii remote right and left as the audience waves, but sometimes the controls are just imprecise. Link might move his arm right when you move yours left, or sometimes he may not complete his full strum. Even on a successful run, the harp doesn’t give players as much freedom as they’ve had with other instruments in the series.

On Puzzle-Based Minigames

Do: Make Us Think
Example: Ends of the Earth Station – Spirit Tracks

After bringing five cuccos to Rael in the Sand Sanctuary, the way to the Ends of the Earth Station is revealed. At the Ends of the Earth Station players encounter some of the game’s most challenging block puzzles. One of the core pillars of The Legend of Zelda franchise is puzzle-solving, so adding some more challenging, optional puzzles for players to solve is a great design choice (and one that has carried through to the shrines in Breath of the Wild). With three different difficulty levels, there’s plenty of fun to be had racking your brain to get a Piece of Heart reward.

Don’t: Make Us Guess
Example: Sinking Ships – The Wind Waker

The Sinking Ships minigame on Windfall Island plays out like a one-sided version of the classic board game Battleship. You’re presented with a grid and given a limited number of squares to fire at. The random nature of it is absolutely infuriating. All you can do is pick a few squares and hope that your shots will connect with each of the boats before you run out. If that’s not annoying enough, the host, Salvatore, says “sploosh” every time you miss, which can be a lot if you’re determined to get that Piece of Heart.

On Item-Based Minigames

Do: Make Players Use An Item In An Unexpected Way
Example: STAR Game – Twilight Princess

Down one of the side roads in Castle Town, players discover a large tent that houses the STAR game, which is put on by a man who looks like a Twilight Princess version of Tingle. He places you in a tall cage that has orbs suspended in the air. The challenge is to use your clawshot to zip through the air and collect the orbs before time runs out. It’s a fun challenge that requires you to think up a plan and then be quick and precise with your aim. The host is obnoxious when you lose, so coming back with your double clawshot and proving him wrong makes the game all the more satisfying.

Don’t: Make The Item Frustrating To Use
Example: Bombchu Bowling Alley – Ocarina of Time

One of the buildings in the Hyrule Castle Town market houses the Bombchu Bowling Alley, a dark place that harbors many bad memories. It’s annoying right from the get-go; the prizes you play for are randomized and aren’t revealed until after you’ve paid the entry fee. The game has players send a bombchu slithering down an alley to hit a target, but in each of the three rounds the alley gets longer and more obstacles are added. If you get lucky, and the Piece of Heart or Bomb Bag Upgrade are on the line, you still need to suffer through the irregular movements of your bombchus and the cuccos who are in the way.

On Horse-Based Minigames

Do: Make The Player Feel Like A Badass
Example: Horseback Archery Range – Ocarina of Time

Shooting galleries have been prominent in much of the series, but the classic example, and one of the best, is in Gerudo Valley in Ocarina of Time. When you first arrive in the valley, you start hearing about the impressive archery and riding skills of the Gerudo, which makes the experience of trying to best their challenge more intense. Epona moves on her own, and as Link you try and shoot pots and targets before she completes her figure-eight around the course. Once the difficult task has been accomplished, players feel like a true master of the bow.

Don’t: Be Unclear With The Mechanics
Example: Highland Stable Horse Obstacle Course – Breath of the Wild

Horse obstacle courses have been featured in a few Zelda titles, but the one in Breath of the Wild is particularly obnoxious. When you try to jump over an obstacle and your horse stops dead in its tracks you are lead to think that you weren’t going fast enough or that you didn’t approach at the correct angle. The anger kicks in when the horse sidesteps around the hurdle on its own. There’s a gameplay system that involves building a bond with your horse to make it follow your instructions more consistently, but even at full bond the horse will almost inexplicably sidestep some of the hurdles. With a lack of clarity on what you could be doing better, this is another minigame that feels random.

On Skill-Based Minigames

Do: Provide A Fun Challenge
Example: Cucco Ranch – A Link Between Worlds

In the Cucco Ranch minigame, players are enclosed in a small rectangular area and must dodge flying cuccos until a timer runs out. As time goes on, the cuccos fly faster and in larger numbers. Eventually, comically oversized cuccos join the fray. The minigame requires you to react quickly and to always be thinking a few seconds ahead so that you won’t be caught unaware by incoming cuccos. Not only does it present a difficult, skill-based challenge, but it has fun and catchy music to match. After the three difficulty tiers have been bested, an endless mode opens up for players who want to flex their abilities and have a shot at 3000 rupees.

Don’t: Require Almost 0 Input From The Player
Example: Any Freaking Randomized Chest Opening Game – Way Too Many of Them

Some of the most frustrating minigames in The Legend of Zelda series are the ones that involve randomization, especially when the reward can be as valuable as a Piece of Heart. The pick-a-random-chest-and-see-what-you-get style of game epitomizes this concept, and they continue to show up. The first appearance of one of these minigames was in A Link to the Past, and they’ve been present in numerous games since, including Breath of the Wild. It’s just not that exciting to gate a reward behind a random number generator when a more engaging minigame could take its place.

Are there other things that make Zelda minigames particularly fun or frustrating? Did some of your favorite or least favorite minigames not make it onto the list? Share your experiences in the comments below!